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Psalm 8:5-6

5. For 147147     “Ou, Et tu l’as.” — Fr. marg. “Or, And thou hast.” thou hast made him little lower than God. 148148     “Ou, les anges.” — Fr. marg. “Or, the angels.” and hast crowned him with glory and honor. 6. Thou hast set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things under his feet.

 

5. Thou hast made him little lower. The Hebrew copulative כי, ki, I have no doubt, ought to be translated into the causal particle for, seeing the Psalmist confirms what he has just now said concerning the infinite goodness of God towards men, in showing himself near to them, and mindful of them. In the first place, he represents them as adorned with so many honors as to render their condition not far inferior to divine and celestial glory. In the second place, he mentions the external dominion and power which they possess over all creatures, from which it appears how high the degree of dignity is to which God hath exalted them. I have, indeed, no doubt but he intends, by the first, 149149     “Qu’il n’entende par la premier.” — Fr. the distinguished endowments which clearly manifest that men were formed after the image of God, and created to the hope of a blessed and immortal life. The reason with which they are endued, and by which they can distinguish between good and evil; the principle of religion which is planted in them; their intercourse with each other, which is preserved from being broken up by certain sacred bonds; the regard to what is becoming, and the sense of shame which guilt awakens in them, as well as their continuing to be governed by laws; all these things are clear indications of pre-eminent and celestial wisdom. David, therefore, not without good reason, exclaims that mankind are adorned with glory and honor. To be crowned, is here taken metaphorically, as if David had said, he is clothed and adorned with marks of honor, which are not far removed from the splendor of the divine majesty. The Septuagint render אלהים, Elohim, by angels, of which I do not disapprove, since this name, as is well known, is often given to angels, and I explain the words of David as meaning the same thing as if he had said, that the condition of men is nothing less than a divine and celestial state. But as the other translation seems more natural, and as it is almost universally adopted by the Jewish interpreters, I have preferred following it. Nor is it any sufficient objection to this view, that the apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 2:7) quoting this passage, says, little less than the angels, and not than God; 150150     Certainly the fact that Paul uses the word angels instead of God, does not prove the inaccuracy of Calvin’s rendering. As the Septuagint version was in general use among the Jews in the time of Paul, he very naturally quotes from it just as we do from our English version. And this was sufficient for his purpose. His object was, to answer an objection which the Jews brought against the Christian dispensation, as being inferior to the Mosaic, inasmuch as angels were mediators of the latter, while the mediator or head of the former was in their estimation but a man. This objection he answers from their own Scriptures, and quotes this psalm to show, that Christ, in his human nature, was little inferior to the angels, and that he is exalted far above them in respect of the glory and dominion with which he is crowned. If the apostle had quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, and used אלהים, Elohim, God, meaning the Most High, his argument in support of the dignity of Christ in human nature would have been still stronger. - See Stuart’s Commentary on the Hebrews, vol. 2, pp. 68-71. for we know what freedoms the apostles took in quoting texts of Scripture; not, indeed, to wrest them to a meaning different from the true one but because they reckoned it sufficient to show, by a reference to Scripture, that what they taught was sanctioned by the word of God, although they did not quote the precise words. Accordingly, they never had any hesitation in changing the words, provided the substance of the text remained unchanged.

There is another question which it is more difficult to solve. While the Psalmist here discourses concerning the excellency of men, and describes them, in respect of this, as coming near to God, the apostle applies the passage to the humiliation of Christ. In the first place, we must consider the propriety of applying to the person of Christ what is here spoken concerning all mankind; and, secondly, how we may explain it as referring to Christ’s being humbled in his death, when he lay without form or beauty, and as it were disfigured under the reproach and curse of the cross. What some say, that what is true of the members may be properly and suitably transferred to the head, might be a sufficient answer to the first question; but I go a step farther, for Christ is not only the first begotten of every creature, but also the restorer of mankind. What David here relates belongs properly to the beginning of the creation, when man’s nature was perfect. 151151     “Lorsque la nature de l’humain n’estoit point encore corrompue.” — Fr. “When the nature of man was not yet corrupted.” But we know that, by the fall of Adam, all mankind fell from their primeval state of integrity, for by this the image of God was almost entirely effaced from us, and we were also divested of those distinguishing gifts by which we would have been, as it were, elevated to the condition of demigods; in short, from a state of the highest excellence, we were reduced to a condition of wretched and shameful destitution. In consequence of this corruption, the liberality of God, of which David here speaks, ceased, so far, at least, as that it does not at all appear in the brilliancy and splendor in which it was manifested when man was in his unfallen state. True, it is not altogether extinguished; but, alas! how small a portion of it remains amidst the miserable overthrow and ruins of the fall. But as the heavenly Father hath bestowed upon his Son an immeasurable fullness of all blessings, that all of us may draw from this fountain, it follows that whatever God bestows upon us by him belongs of fight to him in the highest degree; yea, he himself is the living image of God, according to which we must be renewed, upon which depends our participation of the invaluable blessings which are here spoken of. If any person object that David first put the question, What is man? because God has so abundantly poured forth his favor upon a creature, so miserable, contemptible, and worthless; but that there is no cause for such admiration of God’s favor for Christ, who is not an ordinary man, but the only begotten Son of God. The answer is easy, and it is this: What was bestowed upon Christ’s human nature was a free gift; nay, more, the fact that a mortal man, and the son of Adam, is the only Son of God, and the Lord of glory, and the head of angels, affords a bright illustration of the mercy of God. At the same time, it is to be observed, that whatever gifts he has received ought to be considered as proceeding from the free grace of God, so much the more for this reason, that they are intended principally to be conferred upon us. His excellence and heavenly dignity, therefore, are extended to us also, seeing it is for our sake he is enriched with them.

What the apostle therefore says in that passage concerning the abasement of Christ for a short time, is not intended by him as an explanation of this text; but for the purpose of enriching and illustrating the subject on which he is discoursing, he introduces and accommodates to it what had been spoken in a different sense. The same apostle did not hesitate, in Romans 10:6, in the same manner to enrich and to employ, in a sense different from their original one, the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:12:

“Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it to us, that we may
hear it and do it?”

etc. The apostle, therefore, in quoting this psalm, had not so much an eye to what David meant; but making an allusion to these words, Thou hast made him a little lower; and again, Thou hast crowned him with honor, he applies this diminution to the death of Christ, and the glory and honor to his resurrection. 152152     “Tu l’as fait un peu moindre; puis Tu l’as couronne d’honneur, il approprie ceste diminution a la mort de Christ, et la gloire et bonneur a la resurrection.” — Fr. A similar account may be given of Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 4:8, in which he does not so much explain the meaning of the text, (Psalm 68:18) as he devoutly applies it, by way of accommodation, to the person of Christ.

6. Thou hast set him over. David now comes to the second point, which I have just now spoken of, namely, that from the dominion over all things which God has conferred upon men, it is evident how great is the love which he has borne towards them, and how much account he has made of them. As he does not stand in need of any thing himself, he has destined all the riches, both of heaven and earth, for their use. It is certainly a singular honor, and one which cannot be sufficiently estimated, that mortal man, as the representative of God, has dominion over the world, as if it pertained to him by right, and that to whatever quarter he turns his eyes, he sees nothing wanting which may contribute to the convenience and happiness of his life. As this passage is quoted by Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 15:27) where he discourses concerning the spiritual kingdom of Christ, some may object and say, that the meaning he puts upon it is very different from the sense which I have given. But it is easy to answer this objection, and the answer which I give to it is this, That generally the whole order of this world is arranged and established for the purpose of conducing to the comfort and happiness of men. In what way the passage may properly apply to Christ alone, I have already declared a little before. The only thing which now remains to be considered is, how far this declaration extends — that all things are subjected to men. Now, there is no doubt, that if there is any thing in heaven or on earth which is opposed to men, the beautiful order which God had established in the world at the beginning is now thrown into confusion. The consequence of this is, that mankind, after they were ruined by the fall of Adam, were not only deprived of so distinguished and honorable an estate, and dispossessed of their former dominion, but are also held captive under a degrading and ignominious bondage. Christ, it is true, is the lawful heir of heaven and earth, by whom the faithful recover what they had lost in Adam; but he has not as yet actually entered upon the full possession of his empire and dominion. Whence the apostle concludes, that what is here said by David 153153     “Que ce qui est yci dit par David.” — Fr. will not be perfectly accomplished until death be abolished. Accordingly, the apostle reasons in this manner, “If all things are subdued to Christ, nothing ought to stand in opposition to his people. But we see death still exercising his tyranny against them. It follows then, that there remains the hope of a better state than the present.” Now, this flows from the principle of which I have spoken, that the world was originally created for this end, that every part of it should tend to the happiness of man as its great object. In another part of his writings, the apostle argues on the same principle, when, in order to prove that we must all stand at the last day before the judgment-seat of Christ, he brings forward the following passage, Unto me every knee shall bow,” (Romans 14:10.) In this syllogism, what Logicians call the minor proposition must be supplied, 154154     “Car il faut suppleer en ceste argument la proposition que les Dialecticiens appellent.” — Fr. namely, that there are still too many who proudly and obstinately cast off his yoke, and are averse to bow the knee in token of their submission to him.


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