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8. Psalm 8
1To the Overseer, `On the Gittith.` A Psalm of David. Jehovah, our Lord, How honourable Thy name in all the earth! Who settest thine honour on the heavens. 2From the mouths of infants and sucklings Thou hast founded strength, Because of Thine adversaries, To still an enemy and a self-avenger. 3For I see Thy heavens, a work of Thy fingers, Moon and stars that Thou didst establish. 4What [is] man that Thou rememberest him? The son of man that Thou inspectest him? 5And causest him to lack a little of Godhead, And with honour and majesty compassest him. 6Thou dost cause him to rule Over the works of Thy hands, All Thou hast placed under his feet. 7Sheep and oxen, all of them, And also beasts of the field, 8Bird of the heavens, and fish of the sea, Passing through the paths of the seas! 9Jehovah, our Lord, How honourable Thy name in all the earth!
2. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast founded thy strength, because of thy adversaries, that thou mightest put to flight the enemy and avenger.
He now enters upon the proof of the subject which he had undertaken to discourse upon, 132132 The doctrine proposed to be illustrated in this psalm is the excellence of God’s name, or his power, goodness, and other perfections, as manifested in his providence and government of the world; and this the Psalmist states in the first verse. He then proceeds to establish and illustrate this doctrine: 1. From the case of infants; 2. From the starry heavens; and, 3. From God’s being mindful of man, and visiting him, notwithstanding his unworthiness, sinfulness, and misery. declaring, that the providence of God, in order to make itself known to mankind, does not wait till men arrive at the age of maturity, but even from the very dawn of infancy shines forth so brightly as is sufficient to confute all the ungodly, who, through their profane contempt of God, would wish to extinguish his very name. 133133 “Qui voudroyent que son nom fust totalement aboli de la memoire des hommes.” — Fr. “Who would wish that his name were totally extinguished from the memory of men.”
The opinion of some, who think that מפי, mephi, out of the mouth, signifies כפי, kephi, in the mouth, cannot be admitted, because it improperly weakens the emphasis which David meant to give to his language and discourse. The meaning, therefore, is, that God, in order to commend his providence, has no need of the powerful eloquence of rhetoricians, 134134 “Que Dieu, pour magnifier et exalter sa providence, n’a pas besoin de la rhetorique et eloquence de grans orateurs.” — Fr. “That God, in order to magnify and exalt his providence, has no need of the rhetoric and eloquence of great orators.” nor even of distinct and formed language, because the tongues of infants, although they do not as yet speak, are ready and eloquent enough to celebrate it. But it may be asked, In what sense does he speak of children as the proclaimers of the glory of God? In my judgment, those reason very foolishly who think that this is done when children begin to articulate, because then also the intellectual faculty of the soul shows itself. Granting that they are called babes, or infants, even until they arrive at their seventh year, how can such persons imagine that those who now speak distinctly are still hanging on the breast? Nor is there any more propriety in the opinion of those who say, that the words for babes and sucklings are here put allegorically for the faithful, who, being born again by the Spirit of God, no longer retain the old age of the flesh. What need, then, is there to wrest the words of David, when their true meaning is so clear and suitable? He says that babes and sucklings are advocates sufficiently powerful to vindicate the providence of God. Why does he not entrust this business to men, but to show that the tongues of infants, even before they are able to pronounce a single word, speak loudly and distinctly in commendation of God’s liberality towards the human race? Whence is it that nourishment is ready for them as soon as they are born, but because God wonderfully changes blood into milk? Whence, also, have they the skill to suck, but because the same God has, by a mysterious instinct, fitted their tongues for doing this? David, therefore, has the best reason for declaring, that although the tongues of all, who have arrived at the age of manhood, should become silent, the speechless mouth of infants is sufficiently able to celebrate the praise of God. And when he not only introduces babes as witnesses and preachers of God’s glory, but also attributes mature strength to their mouth, the expression is very emphatic. It means the same thing as if he had said, These are invincible champions of God who, when it comes to the conflict, can easily scatter and discomfit the whole host of the wicked despisers of God, and those who have abandoned themselves to impiety. 135135 “Et desconfire toute l’armee des meschans contempteurs de Dieu, et gens adonnez a impiete.” — Fr. We should observe against whom he imposes upon infants the office of defending the glory of God, namely, against the hardened despisers of God, who dare to rise up against heaven to make war upon God, as the poets have said, in olden time, of the giants. 136136 “Comme les poetes ont dit anciennement des geans.” — Fr.
Since, therefore, these monsters, 137137 “Cyclopes.” — Latin version. “Ces monstres.” — French version. with furious violence, pluck up by the roots, and overthrow whatever godliness and the fear of God 138138 “Et crainte de Dieu.” — Fr. there is in the world, and through their hardihood endeavor to do violence to heaven itself, David in mockery of them brings into the field of battle against them the mouths of infants, which he says are furnished with armor of sufficient strength, and endued with sufficient fortitude, to lay their intolerable pride 139139 “Leur orgueil intolerable.” — Fr. in the dust. He, therefore, immediately subjoins, On account of the adversaries God is not under the necessity of making war with great power to overcome the faithful, who willingly hearken to his voice, and manifest a ready obedience, as soon as he gives the smallest intimation of his will. The providence of God, I confess, shines forth principally for the sake of the faithful, because they only have eyes to behold it. But as they show themselves willing to receive instruction, God teaches them with gentleness; while, on the other hand, he arms himself against his enemies, who never submit themselves to him but by constraint. Some take the word founded as meaning, that, in the very birth or generation of man, God lays foundations for manifesting his own glory. But this sense is too restricted. I have no doubt that the word is put for to establish, as if the prophet had said, God needs not strong military forces to destroy the ungodly; instead of these, the mouths of children are sufficient for his purpose. 140140 “Comme si le prophete fust dit que Dieu se sert des bouches des petis enfans, comme d’une puissante armee et bien duite a la guerre et qu’elles luy suffisent pour destruire et exterminer les meschans.” — Fr. “As if the prophet had said, God makes use of the mouths of little children as of a powerful and well-fitted army, and these suffice him to destroy and exterminate the wicked.”
To put to flight. Interpreters differ with respect to the word השבית, hashebith. It properly signifies, to cause to cease; for it is in the conjugation Hiphil of the neuter verb שבת, shabath, which signifies to cease. But it is often taken metaphorically for to destroy, or to reduce to nothing, because destruction or death brings to an end. Others translate it, that thou mayest restrain, as if David meant that they were put to silence, so that they desisted from cursing or reviling God. As, however, there is here a beautiful allusion to a hostile combat, as I have a little before explained, I have preferred the military phrase, to put to flight. But it is asked, How does God put to flight his enemies, who, by their impious slanders and detractions, do not cease to strike at, and violently to rush forward to oppose all the proofs of a Divine Providence which daily manifest themselves? 141141 “Lesquels par leurs mesdisances et detractions plenes de sacrilege ne cessent de heurter et choquer impetueusement encontre tout ce en quoy la providence de Dieu se manifeste journellement.” — Fr. I answer, They are not routed or overthrown in respect of their being compelled to become more humble and unassuming; but because, with all their blasphemies and canine barkings, they continue in the state of abasement and confusion to which they have been brought. To express the whole in a few words: so early as the generation or birth of man the splendor of Divine Providence is so apparent, that even infants, who hang upon their mothers’ breasts, can bring down to the ground the fury of the enemies of God. Although his enemies may do their utmost, and may even burst with rage a hundred times, it is in vain for them to endeavor to overthrow the strength which manifests itself in the weakness of infancy. A desire of revenge reigns in all unbelievers, while, on the other hand, God governs his own children by the spirit of meekness and benignity: 142142 “De douceur et benignite.” — Fr. but, according to the scope of the present passage, the prophet applies this epithet, the avenger, to the despisers of God, who are not only cruel towards man, but who also burn with frantic rage to make war even against God himself.
I have now discharged the duty of a faithful interpreter in opening up the mind of the prophet. There is only one difficulty remaining, which is this, that Christ (Matthew 21:16) seems to put upon this passage a different meaning, when he applies it to children ten years old. But this difficulty is easily removed. Christ reasons from the greater to the less in this manner; If God has appointed children even in infancy the vindicators of his glory, there is no absurdity in his making them the instruments of showing forth his praise by their tongues after they have arrived at the age of seven years and upwards.
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.
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.
The preceding question, with respect to the extent of man’s dominion over the works of God, seems not yet to be fully answered. If the prophet here declares, by way of exposition, to what extent God has put all things in subjection to us, this subjection, it seems, must be restricted to what contributes to the temporal comfort and convenience of man while he continues in this world. To this difficulty I answer, That the Psalmist does not intend in these verses to give a complete enumeration of all the things which are subjected to man’s dominion, and of which he had spoken generally in the preceding verse, but he brings forward an example of this subjection only in one part or particular; yea, he has especially chosen that part which affords a clear and manifest evidence of the truth he intended to establish, even to those whose minds are uncultivated and slow of apprehension. There is no man of a mind so dull and stupid but may se if he will be at the trouble to open his eyes, that it is by the wonderful providence of God that horses and oxen yield their service to men, — that sheep produce wool to clothe them — and that all sorts of animals supply them with food for their nourishment and support, even from their own flesh. And the more that this dominion is apparent, the more ought we to be affected with a sense of the goodness and grace of our God as often as we either eat food, or enjoy any of the other comforts of life. We are, therefore, not to understand David as meaning that it is a proof that man is invested with dominion over all the works of God, because he clothes himself with the wool and the skins of beasts, because he lives upon their flesh, and because he employs their labor for his own advantage; for this would be inconclusive reasoning. He only brings forward this as an example, and as a mirror in which we may behold and contemplate the dominion over the works of his hands, with which God has honored man. The sum is this: God, in creating man, gave a demonstration of his infinite grace and more than fatherly love towards him, which ought justly to strike us with amazement; and although, by the fall of man, that happy condition has been almost entirely ruined, yet there is still in him some remains of the liberality which God then displayed towards him, which should suffice to fill us with admiration. In this mournful and wretched overthrow, it is true, the legitimate order which God originally established no longer shines forth, but the faithful whom God gathers to himself, under Christ their head, enjoy so much of the fragments of the good things which they lost in Adam, as may furnish them with abundant matter of wonder at the singularly gracious manner in which God deals with them. David here confines his attention to God’s temporal benefits, but it is our duty to rise higher, and to contemplate the invaluable treasures of the kingdom of heaven which he has unfolded in Christ, and all the gifts which belong to the spiritual life, that by reflecting upon these our hearts may be inflamed with love to God, that we may be stirred up to the practice of godliness, and that we may not suffer ourselves to become slothful and remiss in celebrating his praises.