Treasury of David
Verse 1.Unable to express the glory of God, the Psalmist utters a note of exclamation. O Jehovah our Lord! We need not wonder at this, for no heart can measure, no tongue can utter, the half of the greatness of Jehovah. The whole creation is full of his glory, and radiant with the excellency of his power; his goodness and his wisdom are manifested on every hand.
The countless myriads of terrestrial beings, from man the head, to the creeping worm at the foot--are all supported and nourished by the Divine bounty. The solid fabric of the universe leans upon his eternal arm. Universally is he present, and everywhere his name is excellent. God works always and everywhere. There is no place where God is not. The miracles of his power and wisdom await us on all sides!
Traverse the silent valleys where the rocks enclose you on either side, rising like the battlements of Heaven until you can see but a strip of the blue sky far overhead; you may be the only traveler who has passed through that glen; the bird may start up affrighted, and the moss may tremble beneath the first tread of human foot; but God is there in a thousand wonders, upholding yon rocky barriers, filling the flowercups with their perfume, and refreshing the lonely pines with the breath of his mouth.
Descend, if you will, into the lowest depths of the ocean, where the water sleeps undisturbed, and the very sand is motionless in unbroken quiet--but the glory of the Lord is there, revealing its excellence in the silent palace of the sea.
Borrow the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea--and God is there. Mount to the highest Heaven, or dive into the deepest Hell--and God is in both hymned in everlasting song, or justified in terrible vengeance. Everywhere, and in every place, God dwells and is manifestly at work.
Nor on earth alone is Jehovah extolled, for his brightness shines forth in the skies above the earth. His glory exceeds the glory of the starry heavens; above the region of the stars he has set fast his everlasting throne, and there he dwells in ineffable light. Let us adore him "who alone spreads out the heavens, and treads upon the waves of the sea; who makes Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south." (Job 9:8, 9.)
We can scarcely find more fitting words than those of Nehemiah, "You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of Heaven worship you!" Nehemiah 9:6
Returning to the text, we are led to observe that this Psalm is addressed to God, because none but the Lord himself can fully know his own glory. The believing heart is ravished with what it sees, but God only understands His own glory.
"O LORD, our Lord!" What a sweetness lies in the little word our, how much is God's glory endeared to us, when we consider our interest in him as our Lord and Savior.
"How excellent is your name!" no words can express that excellency; and therefore it is left as a note of exclamation. The very name of Jehovah is excellent--then what must his person be.
"You have set your glory above the heavens!" Note the fact that even the heavens cannot contain his glory, it is set above the heavens, since it is and ever must be too great for the creature to express. When wandering among the Alps, we felt that the Lord was infinitely greater than all his grandest works, and under that feeling, we roughly wrote these few lines:
Yet in all these how great soe'er they be,
We see not Him. The glass is all too dense
And dark, or else our earthborn eyes too dim.
Yon Alps, that lift their heads above the clouds
And hold familiar converse with the stars,
Are dust, at which the balance trembles not,
Compared with His divine immensity.
The snow-crowned summits fail to set Him forth,
Who dwells in Eternity, and bears
Alone, the name of High and Lofty One.
Depths unfathomed are too shallow to express
The wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord.
The mirror of the creatures has no space
To bear the image of the Infinite.
'Tis true the Lord has fairly writ his name,
And set his seal upon creation's brow.
But as the skillful potter much excels
The vessel which he fashions on the wheel,
E'en so, but in proportion greater far,
Jehovah's self transcends his noblest works.
Earth's ponderous wheels would break, her axles snap,
If freighted with the load of Deity.
Space is too narrow for the Eternal's rest,
And time too short a footstool for his throne.
E'en avalanche and thunder lack a voice,
To utter the full volume of his praise.
How then can I declare him? Where are words
With which my glowing tongue may speak his name?
Silent I bow, and humbly I adore.
"How excellent is your name in all the earth!" "How illustrious is the name of Jesus throughout the world! His incarnation, birth, humble and obscure life, preaching, miracles, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, are celebrated through the whole world. His religion, the gifts and graces of his Spirit, his people--Christians, his gospel, and the preachers of it, are everywhere spoken of. No name is so universal, no power and influence so generally felt, as those of the Savior of mankind. Amen!" Adam Clarke
Verse 2.Nor only in the heavens above is the Lord seen, but the earth beneath is telling forth his majesty. In the sky, the massive orbs, rolling in their stupendous grandeur, are witnesses of his power in great things--while here below, the lisping utterances of babes are the manifestations of his strength in little ones.
"From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise." How often will children tell us of a God whom we have forgotten! How does their simple prattle refute those learned fools who deny the being of God! Many men have been made to hold their tongues, while sucklings have borne witness to the glory of the God of Heaven.
It is singular how clearly the history of the church expounds this verse. Did not the children cry "Hosanna!" in the temple, when proud Pharisees were silent and contemptuous? and did not the Savior quote these very words as a justification of their infantile cries?
He who delights in the songs of angels, is pleased to honor himself in the eyes of his enemies by the praises of little children. What a contrast between the glory above the heavens, and the mouths of babes and sucklings! yet by both the name of God is made excellent.
Verses 3, 4."When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4
When I consider. "Meditation fits for humiliation. When David had been contemplating the works of creation, their splendor, harmony, motion, influence--he lets the plumes of pride fall, and begins to have self-abasing thoughts!" Thomas Watson
When I consider Your heavens. "The carnal mind sees God in nothing, not even in spiritual things--his word and ordinances. The spiritual mind sees him in everything, even in natural things, in looking on the heavens and the earth and all the creatures. "Your heavens" The Christian sees the heavens as God's work--and he stands in awe." Robert Leighton
When I consider your heavens, etc. "Could we transport ourselves above the moon, could we reach the highest star above our heads--we would instantly discover new skies, new stars, new suns, new systems, and perhaps more magnificently adorned. But even there, the vast dominions of our great Creator would not terminate; we would then find, to our astonishment, that we had only arrived at the borders of the works of God.
It is but little that we can know of his works, but that little should teach us to be humble, and to admire God's wisdom, power and goodness. How great must that Being be, who produced these immense globes out of nothing, who regulates their courses, and whose mighty hand directs and supports them all!
"What is the clod of earth which we inhabit, with all the magnificent scenes it presents to us--in comparison of those innumerable worlds? Were this earth annihilated, its absence would no more be observed, than that of a grain of sand from the sea shore! What then are all our fine homes and belongings--when compared with those infinite worlds? They are but atoms dancing in the air, which are revealed to us by the sunbeams.
"What then am I, when reckoned among the infinite number of God's creatures? I am lost in my own nothingness!
"But as little as I appear in this respect--I find myself great in others. There is great beauty in this starry firmament which God has chosen for his throne! How admirable are those celestial bodies! I am dazzled with their splendor, and enchanted with their beauty! But notwithstanding this, however beautiful, and however richly adorned--yet this sky is void of intelligence. It is a stranger to its own beauty, while I, who am mere clay, molded by a divine hand, am endowed with sense and reason. I can contemplate the beauty of these shining worlds; nay, more, I am already, to a certain degree, acquainted with their sublime Author; and by faith I see some small rays of his divine glory.
"O may I be more and more acquainted with his works, and make the study of them my employ, until by a glorious change I rise to dwell with him above the starry regions!" Christopher Christian Sturm's "Reflections", 1750-1786.
"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place--what is man that You are mindful of him?"
"A humble soul is filled with astonishment when he considers the heavens. Oh, says the humble soul, will the Lord have respect unto such a vile worm as I am? Will the Lord acquaint Himself with such a sinful wretch as I am? Will the Lord open His arms, His bosom, His heart--to me? Shall such a loathsome creature as I find favor in His eyes? This is love indeed, that God should take a filthy, wretched thing--and make it His! Oh, the depth of the riches of the bounty and goodness of God! How astonishing is His love, and His grace past finding out! Oh, the wonder of God's goodness! Oh, the condescension of His love--to visit me, to wait upon me, to be acquainted with me!" James Janeway, 1674
The stars. "When I gazed into these stars, have they not looked down on me as if with pity from their serene spaces, like eyes glistening with heavenly tears over the little lot of man!" Thomas Carlyle.
At the close of that excellent little manual entitled "The Solar System," written by Dr. Thomas Dick, we find an eloquent passage which beautifully expounds the text:
A survey of the solar system has a tendency to moderate the pride of man, and to promote humility.
Pride is one of the distinguishing characteristics of puny man, and has been one of the chief causes of all the contentions, wars, devastations, systems of slavery, and sinful projects which have desolated and demoralized our sinful world. Yet there is no disposition more incongruous to the character and circumstances of man!
Perhaps there are no rational beings throughout the universe, among whom pride would appear more unfitting or incompatible, than in man, considering the situation in which he is placed. He is exposed to numerous degradations and calamities:
the rage of storms and tempests,
the devastations of earthquakes and volcanoes,
the fury of whirlwinds,
the tempestuous billows of the ocean,
the ravages of the sword, famine, pestilence, and numerous diseases;
and at length he must sink into the grave, and
his body must become the companion of worms!
The most dignified and haughty of men are liable to these and similar degradations--as well as the lowest of the human family. Yet, in such circumstances, man--that puny worm of the dust, whose knowledge is so limited, and whose follies are so numerous and glaring--has the effrontery to strut in all the haughtiness of pride, and to glory in his shame!
When other arguments and motives produce little effect on certain minds, no considerations seem likely to have a more powerful tendency to counteract this deplorable propensity to pride in human beings, than those which are borrowed from the objects connected with astronomy. They show us what an insignificant being--what a mere atom, indeed, man appears amidst the immensity of creation!
What is the whole of this globe on which we dwell, compared with the solar system, which contains a mass of matter millions times greater? What is this earth, in comparison of the billions of suns and worlds which by the telescope have been observed throughout the starry regions?
Could we take our station on the lofty pinnacles of Heaven, and look down on this scarcely distinguishable speck of earth, we would be ready to exclaim with Seneca, "Is it to this little spot that the great designs and vast desires of men are confined?"
Verses 5-8.These verses may set forth man's position among the creatures before he fell; but as they are, by the apostle Paul, appropriated to man as represented by the Lord Jesus, it is best to give most weight to that meaning.
In order of dignity, man stood next to the angels, and a little lower than they; in the Lord Jesus this was accomplished, for he was made a little lower than the angels by the suffering of death.
Man in Eden had the full command of all creatures, and they came before him to receive their names as an act of homage to him as the viceregent of God to them. Jesus in his glory, is now Lord, not only of all living, but of all created things, and, with the exception of him who put all things under him. Jesus is Lord of all, and his elect, in him, are raised to a dominion wider than that of the first Adam, as shall be more clearly seen at his coming.
Well might the Psalmist wonder at the singular exaltation of man in the scale of being, when he marked his utter nothingness in comparison with the starry universe.
You made him a little lower than the angels--a little lower in nature, since they are immortal, and but a little, because time is short; and when that is over, saints are no longer lower than the angels. The margin reads it, "A little while inferior to."
You crown him. The dominion that God has bestowed on man is a great glory and honor to him; for all dominion is honor, and the highest is that which wears the crown. A full list is given of the subjugated creatures, to show that all the dominion lost by sin, is restored in Christ Jesus.
Let none of us permit the possession of any earthly creature to be a snare to us, but let us remember that we are to reign over them, and not to allow them to reign over us. Under our feet we must keep the world, and we must shun that base spirit which is content to let worldly cares and pleasures sway the empire of the immortal soul.
Verse 9.Here, like a good composer, the poet returns to his key-note, falling back, as it were, into his first state of wondering adoration. What he started with as a proposition in the first verse, he closes with as a well proven conclusion. O for grace to walk worthy of that excellent name which has been named upon us, and which we are pledged to magnify!