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what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
As the Hebrew particle כי, ki, has often the same meaning as because or for, and simply affirms a thing, both the Greek and the Latin fathers have generally read the
fourth verse as if it were a complete sentence by itself. But it is, doubtless, closely connected with the following verse; and, therefore, the two verses ought to be joined together. The Hebrew word כי, ki, might be very properly translated into the disjunctive particle, although, making the meaning to be this:
Although the infinite majesty of God shines forth in the heavenly bodies, and justly keeps the eyes of men fixed on the contemplation of it, yet his glory is beheld in a special manner, in the great favor which he bears to men, and in the goodness which he manifests towards them. This interpretation would not be at variance with the scope of the passage; but I choose rather to follow the generally received opinion. My readers, however, must be careful to mark the design of the Psalmist, which
is to enhance, by this comparison, the infinite goodness of God; for it is, indeed, a wonderful thing that the Creator of heaven, whose glory is so surpassingly great as to ravish us with the highest admiration, condescends so far as graciously to take upon him the care of the human race. That the Psalmist makes this contrast may be inferred from the Hebrew word, אנוש, enosh, which we have rendered man, and which expresses the frailty of man rather than any strength or power which he possesses.
The other phrase by which man is described, בן אדם, ben Adam, is literally the son of Adam, — man, the son of Adam, and who, like him, is formed of the dust of the ground, as
the name Adam implies, man, the son of apostate and fallen Adam, and who is depraved and guilty like him. As before, men are called Enosh for their doleful estate by sin, so are they called Adam and sons of Adam, that is, earthly, to put them in
mind of their original and end, who were made of Adamah, the earth, even of the dust, and to dust shall return again, Genesis 2:7; 3:19.” — Ainsworth. Some are of opinion that this expression, ben Adam, means man in his most exalted state, and that it is contrasted with the former, אנוש, enosh, which represents man in a frail, weak, and miserable condition. Dr Rye Smith renders the words thus:
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
Even the [noblest] son of man, that thou visitest him?”
And adds, in a foot note, “Our language has no single terms to mark the distinction so beautifully expressed by אנוש, frail, miserable man, βροτὸς and אדם, man at his best estate, ανθρωπος I have endeavored to approach the idea by the insertion of an epithet.” — Scripture Testimony to the Messiah, volume a. p. 217. Bishop Patrick observes, that “Ben Adam and bene ish, the son of man and the sons of men, are phrases which belong in the Scripture language to princes, and sometimes the greatest of princes;” and he explains the phrase, the son of man, as here meaning: ”the greatest of men;” “the greatest prince in the world.” — Preface to his Paraphrase on the Book of Psalms. We see that miserable men, in moving upon the earth, are mingled with the vilest creatures; and, therefore, God, with very good reason, might despise them and reckon them of no account if he were to stand upon the consideration of his own greatness or dignity. The prophet, therefore, speaking interrogatively, abases their condition, intimating that God’s wonderful goodness is displayed the more brightly in that so glorious a Creator, whose majesty shines resplendently in the heavens, graciously condescends to adorn a creature so miserable and vile as man is with the greatest glory, and to enrich him with numberless blessings. If he had a mind to exercise his liberality towards any, he was under no necessity of choosing men who are but dust and clay, in order to prefer them above all other creatures, seeing he had a sufficient number in heaven towards whom to show himself liberal. 146146 “Veu qu’il avoit assez au ciel envers qui se monstrer liberal.” — Fr. Whoever, therefore, is not astonished and deeply affected at this miracle, is more than ungrateful and stupid. When the Psalmist calls the heavens God’s heavens, and the works of his fingers, he has a reference to the same subject, and intends to illustrate it. How is it that God comes forth from so noble and glorious a part of his works, and stoops down to us, poor worms of the earth, if it is not to magnify and to give a more illustrious manifestation of his goodness? From this, also, we learn, that those are chargeable with a very presumptuous abuse of the goodness of God, who take occasion from it to be proud of the excellence which they possess, as if they had either obtained it by their own skill, or as if they possessed it on account of their own merit; whereas their origin should rather remind them that it has been gratuitously conferred upon those who are otherwise vile and contemptible creatures, and utterly unworthy of receiving any good from God. Whatever estimable quality, therefore, we see in ourselves, let it stir us up to celebrate the free and undeserved goodness of God in bestowing it upon us.
The verb, at the close of the third verse, which others translate to prepare, or to found, or to establish, I have thought proper to render to arrange; for the Psalmist seems to have a reference to the very beautiful order by which God has so appropriately distinguished the position of the stars, and daily regulates their course. When it is said, God is mindful of man, it signifies the same thing as that he bears towards him a fatherly love, defends and cherishes him, and extends his providence towards him. Almost all interpreters render פקד, pakad, the last word of this verse, to visit; and I am unwilling to differ from them, since this sense suits the passage very well. But as it sometimes signifies to remember, and as we will often find in the Psalms the repetition of the same thought in different words, it may here be very properly translated to remember; as if David had said, This is a marvellous thing, that God thinks upon men, and remembers them continually.