With this Psalm we come to a completely different theme. This is the first Psalm of praise and I can’t say I am sorry to finally be able to read a passage that is not filled with troubles and woes, but with solid praise of our Lord.
Praise is after all what God likes to hear the most. Does that sound selfish? To my grandson, it does. One night he asked me to read the Ten Commandments to him and at reading the very first one (Deut 5:6-21) he said, “Isn’t that a little bit selfish?” I explained that if the Israelites were to reap the benefits of what God would bestow on them, He made it mandatory that they would have no other God but Him.
Throughout the Old Testament history of the Jewish people we see what happens when they started following other gods or just their human desire, of which the latter could be and often is considered an idol when it begins to consume the thoughts. Here’s the general pattern:
1. The Israelites’ lives would be humming along — they’re safe and prosperous.
2. Eventually, they begin to fall away from God, following false idols or neglecting their worship of Him.
3. As a result, God withholds His favor from them and they are attacked from surrounding countries or their crops fail.
4. A prophet hears God and raises his voice, telling them they need to return to God, which they do, and they once again return to safety and prosperity.
5. These good times last a generation or two and the whole cycle starts over.
This went on for years and years. The lesson we need to learn is to follow God and praise Him.
In our own lives, we like to hear people praise us, at least to a certain degree. What does praise really tell us? First, it shows appreciation for what we have done for someone else. Second, it shows us that we are on the right track as far as the work we have done for someone else. Third, those who are doing the praising are actually “counting their blessings” – something that we should do daily. Fourth, it gives us impetus to do more for people. Praise is sometimes hard to accept, but accepted (and given) in the right frame of mind, it benefits both parties. Just don’t start strutting around like the big man on campus.
In this Psalm, God’s glory is seen in starry heavens. His grace is magnified through His act of raising insignificant man above all creation. He raised man to a higher place through the person of Jesus Christ. This is one of those psalms which foretell the coming of the Messiah. When the first Adam fell from grace, man forfeited all of nature . This Psalm is about the redemption or recovery by the second Adam (the Messiah) of dominion over the earth.
For the music director, according to the gittith style; a psalm of David.
No one knows what a “gittith” was. Some folks think it could be a style of music and the use of the word “style” would make that the most likely, but a gittith could also be an instrument. Perhaps the playing technique of the gittith could be mimicked on another instrument. Yet another source merely has the phrase “upon Gitteth.” It isn’t something we should get caught up with, however. The importance lies in the Psalm itself.
1. O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Notice the first four words. The first “O LORD” is all in capitals. If you recall from earlier entries, I explained that when the typography is all in capitals, it is the English rendering of the Hebrew name of God – Yahweh (Jehovah). The distinction between the two is complicated, but I will give it a try, hopefully without stepping on anybody’s toes.
In Hebrew language and thought, one’s name is extremely important. For the Hebrew, a name given to someone is not merely a tag which allows us to address that person; it is the image and the expression of his or her nature. Therefore, to love God’s name is to love Him; to praise God’s name is to praise Him; to bless God’s name is to bless Him. He has manifested His nature to us by means of the heavens which declare His glory to us. The stars, the moon, the sun and all the members of the night sky are jewels in His crown. For the Jew, the name of God is sacred and must not be spoken.
As a result, they use another name, Adonai, which is written as: Lord (both upper and lower case letters). This indicates an attribute of God, in this case “Adonai” meaning sovereign or master. Specifically, He is the sovereign over creation, since this is what this Psalm is all about.
The whole earth knows how excellent or majestic or holy God is and so, His name is excellent throughout all the earth.
2. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
God has seen to it that children are able to put to shame the enemies of God and Christ through their wonder and admiration of God’s works. Consider the passage from Matthew 21:15. Here, the chief priests were angry at the “Hosannas” the children were raising when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey. It was the children who were singing truth in that episode and the religious leaders could not stomach it. God has established with authority (ordained) strength in that which is weak. He uses our lowliest weakness to overthrow man’s great enemy (Satan) through the redemption he provides. It is because our enemy thinks he is so mighty, smart and powerful that God wishes to humiliate him by working through the weakest of us or through our own most troubling weakness. The greatest example of this concept is expressed in the baby Jesus. He was at the same time both a weak and innocent infant in a manger in Bethlehem and the Mighty God (Isa 9:6). One other thing: notice also that Jesus’ disciples were all children in spirit if not in age (Matt 11:25,26).
Thus far, this verse says that God has ordained (founded with authority) strength through the weakest person and our own lowest weaknesses because of His enemies. This term, enemies, refers to the offspring of Satan, not Satan himself. The next phrase gives us the reason for establishing this strength: “that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”
That is to say that God would defeat Satan through our weakness. Satan is the spiteful avenger against man and the Messiah is the vindicator (Job 19:25; 1 John 2:2).
3. When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained;
4. What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5. For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.
When David was a shepherd, he often looked at the stars. In doing so, how could he not ascribe to God the splendor that he saw? We have to remember: three or four thousand years ago there were no cities with street lights to dim the stars in the night sky. The sky was pitch black and the stars shone like arc lights in that blackness. I have seen nights like this and it is a wonder. David saw the glory of the heavens and he asks how God, who made the sun and the moon and the stars, could even consider man. How could God even pay any attention to us? It’s a good question — Why should He? We turn our back on Him and disregard and break every commandment He ever issued, and still, today, right now, He is concerned for us and cares about us and will help us when we call on Him.
The “son of man” in the second line of verse four refers to mortal man – the sons of Adam, if you will (Gen 2:7 and Gen 3:19). The name, Adam, implies “of the earth,” earthy, and frail. When God visits man in the form of Jesus Christ, He is waiving His superiority to become an equal with man. It is through Jesus Christ that we get an adequate view of not only God, but also of man. It is only through Jesus that man has become aware of his source and of his potential.
Finally, the greatest enigma of all: God made man only a little lower than the angels who are near to God, Himself. There is no reference to man being close to God in the scriptures. The opposite is actually true: there is infinite distance between God and man. (We must remember that it was part of Jesus’ mission to be a path for man to approach God.) It is only the angels who are closer to God than man and so, man is only a little lower than the angels. If that wasn’t enough, He crowned man with glory and honor. How is man crowned with glory and honor? The next three verses reveal this:
6. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet:
7. All sheep and oxen, –yea, and the beasts of the field;
8. The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, And whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
Genesis 1:26, 28 tells us that God gave man dominion over all creation. This is the honor we have been given. This includes everything in the air, on the land, and in the sea. This is not an act that God bestowed lightly. Consider a business owner of a wonderfully successful company. How likely is he or she to work hard to start it, build it up, make it a success in every way and then just hand it over to the employees without any special abilities in running a business? Not too likely, I think. But is that not what God did?
One commentator states that prior to the Fall, the animals voluntarily accepted man’s sovereignty over them, but after the Fall, this willingness became constrained. Man still has some sovereignty because even wild animals are able to be tamed, but it is not the same. As man revolted against God, so did the animals revolt against man.
9. O Lord, our Lord, –how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Here we have a repeat of the first verse. The Psalmist affirms the truth that was first stated at the beginning of the Psalm. It is as if, after thinking about the nature of God and all the things God has done for humankind that he has proven that the Lord is indeed excellent throughout all the earth.