How majestic! (Psalm 8)

Little voices make a world of difference.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1 ESV)

The Psalms proclaim heaven’s sovereignty over the earth. In effusive joy and struggling lament, they declare the reality of God’s reign over us all.

The more we recognize God’s regal authority, the more it develops us. Witness the word of praise expanding as ripples on a pond:

  • God’s anointed leader (David) raises his voice in honour the authority behind his throne: O Lord.
  • He calls his people to join him, recognizing the Authority over the kingdom: our Lord.
  • Together they declare together how God’s regal authority stretches beyond themselves and their borders: how majestic is your name in all the earth!
  • Yet, even that doesn’t begin to declare the weight of God’s regal majesty: You have set your glory above the heavens (8:1).

It’s gloriously true. But it doesn’t always match our experience. The Psalms are wonderfully honest about that. The opening Psalms celebrate God’s Law and God’s kingship (Psalms 1 – 2), but the first we hear of David’s voice is this cry: O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me (Psalm 3:1).

As Israel’s king, David was constantly under threat from foreign powers, sometimes even from his own people. How could Israel survive in the face of kingdoms with an insatiable appetite for power? From the birth of their nation under Moses, that question was at the heart of their history.

Astoundingly, David declares that what they need is not an army to assert their power but a voice to assert God’s power. A baby’s voice will do:

Psalm 8:2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

God does not exercise his power as the rulers of this world do. Enemies threaten you if you don’t submit to them. Avengers seek a life for a life, but the first murder revealed a sovereign who saves lives rather than taking them (Genesis 4:10-16). His solution for humanity faced with violent threats and murder is … a baby! … a new life for the family that calls on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:23-26).

Faced with Pharaoh killing infants to keep his power, God gave his people a baby (Exodus 2). Faced with Herod claiming to be King of the Jews, God gave us a baby (Matthew 2). God does not defeat the rebellious world with brutality, but with a baby. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son … not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:16-17).

In the final week of his life, the Son of God approached Jerusalem to restore his Father’s authority over his people. Crowds saw him ride into Jerusalem and declared the restoration of God’s authority in him: Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey. … Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Matthew 21:5, 9).

The leaders of Jerusalem denounced these proclamations as childish ignorance. What real power did Jesus have in the face of the temple authorities, let alone Israel’s servitude of Rome? Ironically, they ask the king himself to silence the crowd’s childish proclamations:

Matthew 21:15-16 (my translation)
15 But as the chief priests and Bible scholars saw the marvellous things he did, and the children calling out in the temple, “Hosanna to the son of David,” they were outraged 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what they’re saying?”
Jesus replies, “Oh, yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of tiny tots and babies you orchestrated acclamation?’”

Jesus’ response is astounding. Like his ancestor, this son of David is under threat from the leaders among his own people and the foreign rulers who will have no king but Caesar. What kind of childish faith can protect him from being crucified as a declaration of what power really runs the country, who is really the king of the Jews?

Yet, this son of David speaks with David’s voice (quoting Psalm 8:2). He declares that heaven’s authority is established not by an army forcing everyone into submission. God’s kingship is re-established on earth not by giving death to his enemies, but by giving life to his Son (Matthew 16:21; 17:9, 23; 20:19).

Compared to the powers that seem to be running the world, we’re infants in the face of infantry. Nevertheless, God’s kingship spreads wherever his children proclaim his kingship.

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

What others are saying

John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 1:96:

Babes and sucklings are advocates sufficiently powerful to vindicate the providence of God.

Bruce K. Waltke, The Psalms as Christian Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 260:

The ascription of the psalm to David shows that our refers to the king and the nation embodied in him. The royal poet is zealous for the establishment of God’s universal rule through his elect people who own I AM as their supreme lord (ʼadōnay, see 2:5), not to foster jingoistic nationalism. Under this Sovereign they establish a universal, just, and merciful kingdom, not a reign of tyranny.

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 789:

The psalm speaks of how God the creator silences his enemies by means of “strength” (so the Hebrew) which comes from the mouths of children. “Strength” is often ascribed to God in a formula of praise (e.g. Ps 29:1; 59:16–17; 68:34–35), and when that “strength” issues from mouths it is not hard to see why LXX translated it as “praise.” The LXX version makes the relevance of the text to Jesus’ situation in the temple more explicit, but the underlying sense of the Hebrew also is of vindication by what children say, and it is that sense that Jesus’ quotation here depends on. The most striking feature of this quotation, however, is the bold assumption by Jesus that what the psalm says about the praise of God (in distinction from mere human beings, Ps 8:4) is applicable to the children’s praise of him.

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Update 2022-04-07: Original translation added (instead of ESV).

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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