Psalm 8: “What is Man”

Some of the most powerful writing is expressed in the fewest words, and Psalm 8 is no exception. The last time I wrote about one of the psalms was in February 2007. I’ve been prompted to take up that thread again, in no particular order. The psalm appears in quotes, my commentary in parentheses.

“Oh Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
(Whatever name we use to identify that which is beyond us—creator, universe, source, god,–the sheer wonder we experience when contemplating the vastness, infinity, and power of such a one as that is almost impossible to set down in words. This sentence, with the exclamation point that couldn’t wait until the end, is as good an attempt as any.)

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”
(“Enemies” and “avengers” aren’t always necessarily people. Events, illness, circumstances,–we can even be enemies to ourselves if we keep ourselves from making choices, or purposely choose ways for ourselves that we know lead in a direction opposite of where we are supposed to be going. As for “babes” and “sucklings,” these are the people, events or circumstances that, though they seem simple on the surface, have a profound effect on our lives. We can never tell where inspiration or direction will come from, or who will be the messenger. If we approach everyone with the openness to accept what they have to give us as lessons, then we are always prepared to receive, even if the lesson takes a lifetime to absorb and put into practice.)

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
(As if “the work of thy fingers” wasn’t enough to send chills running up and down my spine—consider that phrase next time you stand and watch an eclipse or any other astronomical event that’s not as “ordinary” as the rising and setting of the sun—“What is man, that thou are mindful of him?” … the idea that the creator of the universe holds each of is in mind leaves me speechless. I once heard a choral setting of this psalm, with very close harmonies for this particular verse. I can’t remember who composed it or who sang it or even the specific notes. But the effect of hearing those men’s voices, echoing in some hall somewhere but, even more, continuing to echo in my own mind, is one of the most profound musical events I have ever experienced. I will never forget it to my dying day.)

“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”
(This verse always makes me think about the power of reason and choice we have been given, as well as the great abilities of expression—language, art, science, philosophy,–that set us apart from other animals. With those gifts, though, come the responsibilities of using them in ways that are constructive and reflect the compassion and wisdom of the universe.)

“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”
(This is just an extension of the previous verse and puts specific expression to it, mentioning the animals of earth, water and air. From the great whales to the tiny hummingbirds, even if we can’t see a use for a particular creature, it has its place, and we must honor it and preserve it as best we can.)

“O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”
(There are nine verses in the psalm (three times three), and it ends as it began. So much of creation is circular and spiral—galaxies and orbits, planets and stars, cells and atoms. How fitting that this expression of wonder should be a circle, too. That wonder, whether it’s at the forefront of our minds or carried as an underlying principle, should be with us always.)

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4 Comments on “Psalm 8: “What is Man””

  1. astralwicks Says:

    Hi half-note, wonder is the only emotion that makes even the perversely confident – human. it is the only time that we let our own guard down…overwhelmed by the external.

  2. tobeme Says:

    Very well done! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  3. halfnotes Says:

    Astralwicks,

    Yes, leave it to the Creator of the Universe to find a way to reduce us to pure wonderment! Great way to make us all be quiet for a moment and listen, too. Thanks so much for visiting.

  4. halfnotes Says:

    Tobeme,

    “Wisdom” … not quite! Perhaps you can help me with something: How do I reply to individual comments on these posts so the person commenting knows I’ve done so without them having to revisit my blog? Visits are always welcome, but I’d like to be as courteous as I can and don’t want people thinking I don’t respond to comments.

    Thanks for any wisdom on that one!


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