Wednesday, August 08, 2007

'A Little Lower...': Psalm 8, Genesis 1 and Hebrews 2

Read Psalm 8 (ESV) / (NIV).

I (sort of) led a Bible study on Psalm 8 last night, and was quite excited to see it full of biblical-theological (that’s just a fancy way of saying Creation to New Creation) themes. Here is some of what we saw:

This is a psalm of praise, and even a six-year-old can hardly miss the main point! “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. The tone is one of awe. The subject of the Psalm is God, but not just any deity, but the LORD. This is YHWH, the God who has revealed himself, a God who has not chosen to leave his world to its own machinations but who enters into a covenant relationship with his people. This God is regal; note the parallelism in verse 1. Not only is he is majestic in all the earth, but his glory is set above the heavens. David Wells laments the “weightlessness of God” in modern society, by which he means that God has become so domesticated in our thinking that we fail to recognise how transcendent He is, that He is utterly unlike us. There is a basic divide between us and God, because He is Creator and we, created.

Not so the psalmist. The psalmist sees God’s majesty and glory reflected in creation, the moon and the stars, placed there by him. This is contrasted with the tiny, insignificant speck that is humanity. If the sun is a basketball, the Earth is at the very most, a pinhead. What would man be, a dot of a dot? (v.3-4) But the psalmist has phrased this very cleverly! It’s a rhetorical question which has a double effect: it intensifies both our smallness in view of creation, and our importance as the climax of creation. For “though a little lower than the heavenly beings”, we have “dominion over the works of our hands” (v.5-6). God created humankind to steward over creation (Gen 1:27-28). We delight in the universe – the discovery of a new star, the composition of a new song, the regeneration of a dilapidated area.

Or not. By the time the psalmist wrote this, what have we seen? Floods. Slavery. Warfare. The world in tatters. Humanity unable to get its own affairs in order, never mind ruling creation! For creation is in rebellion against the Creator. What does it look like today? Let’s see now, England is still recovering from its worse floods in half a century, and South Asia is still suffering from them. Child labour remains prevalent. War, we know about it all too well. Humanity has messed up bad. Is this psalm simply a nice sentiment then, a wistful longing for the good old days? A nice piece of poetry to sing to when we catch a glimpse of the full moon? O LORD, our Lord, is your name really majestic in all the earth?

The answer comes thundering back in verse 2, not from the psalmist himself, but from the descendant of said psalmist. Having just ridden in on a donkey to cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, indignant teachers of the law appeal to Jesus to put a stop to this. Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 8:2, startling his listeners (Matt. 21:16). Jesus is making an incredibly, incredibly huge claim. He applies Psalm 8:2 to himself! Jesus is claiming to be Lord, the One who has revealed himself, the one who, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “moved into the neighbourhood”. And this personal, promise-keeping God is now executing his rescue plan, deliberately entering Jerusalem in a manner worthy of the Messiah (Zechariah 9:9) but certainly not die in a way expected of a Rescuer.

The writer to the Hebrews unpacks this for us. Writing to Christians who were being persecuted and tempted to give up, he gives us a tour de force of the majesty of the Son of God. Jesus is “appointed heir of the universe” and the one “whom he made the universe” (Heb. 1:2, cf. John 1:1-3, Col. 1:16). Time and time again throughout the chapter, he emphasises how much greater Jesus is compared to the angels. This is the King. Then we get to Hebrews 2:6-9, and the writer quotes Psalm 8:4-6, and applies it to Jesus. Jesus, the King, the One greater than the angels, has become man, “a little lower than the heavenly beings”. More startlingly, the writer is at pains to stress that Jesus is “crowned with glory and honour” because he suffered death. Not in spite of, but because. And in doing so, he has made it possible, once again, that Psalm 8 become a reality. Man has mucked it up, but Jesus, the perfect man, has made it possible that one day we will have dominion over the works of his hands. But ultimately, everything will be subject to Jesus, the perfect God-man. Everything is subject to Him.

And so we get to the end of the Psalm. And we now see that this personal and covenantal God will one day come and be with his people as they enjoy a perfect world with Him at the centre. And the refrain goes up, as we cry:

O LORD, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Applications/ to think about:
♥ Do we take God’s good creation for granted?
♥ How might this psalm magnify and possibly widen our view of Jesus, the Son of David?
♥ How might this psalm encourage those of us who are struggling?
♥ How might this shape the way we live now as Christians?

Additional reading: Philippians 2:1-11

The boring, peripheral, you can totally skip this exegetical bits:
Doesn’t change the main point at all, but anyone knows why the ESV and the NIV translated Psalm 8:2 differently? And why the ESV is inconsistent with regards to the Matthew 21:16 citation?

The wider question of Scripture interpreting Scripture, NT giving a Messianic gloss to the psalm. I’m not really troubled by this, but others might – what are the hermeneutical principles at work here?

1 Corinthians 6:3 claims that we will judge angels in the future. How does that fit in with man being made lower than “heavenly beings”? IMHO, just because we will judge angels doesn’t necessarily mean we have a higher status than them (I made the distinction between an intrinsic status and one ascribed to us). Do you think I’m right?

Do you want to beat up those who nit-pick?

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Blogger pearlie said...

I like your mention of what David Wells said. It is so true, the holiness and the wrath of God is lost to the modern society, and how wrong and sad it is to do that.

You brought up a textual variant I did not pick up :) The thing is, the LXX translated it into "to give you praise". I suppose NIV could have taken that into account and decided for the "praise" translation.

The Hebrew word used means 1) might, strength 1a) material or physical 1b) personal or social or political. Its usage include strength, strong, power, might, boldness, loud and mighty.

So how did it get translated into "praise"? Now you got me perplexed :)

9:27 am  
Blogger BK said...

Ah, the privileges og being a seminarian, having all these tools at hand! :)

Btw, apa tu LXX? Adakah itu buku dari Laut yang Sudah Mati?

5:47 pm  

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