The Psalms

Highlighted Text: Psalm 8

Summary of the text:

Anyone know what a “plenipotentiary” is? Try that compound Latin word on for size! It is derived from the Latin words plenus “full” and potens “power.” It refers to a person who possesses the full powers of the one who sent them, who can act on behalf of the executive or sovereign whom they represent. “Fancified” language that is descriptive of the function of a diplomat or ambassador. 

Psalm 8 declares that the human race is God’s plenipotentiary, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;” (Psalm 8:4-6a, NRSV). 

This is the first Psalm of praise in Book One of the Psalter (Psalms 1-41). It contains an inclusio in verses 1 and 9, “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” This literary device provides bookends of praise. It is a kind of Dewey Decimal classification which indicates that everything within the shelf of this Psalm deals with the adulation of God’s majesty manifest in the visible world. 

James Mays in his commentary on the Psalms says, “The Lord is the divine cosmic monarch to whom the earth and all that is in it belong because the Lord mastered chaos and founded the world” (Mays, 66). 

The wonder and praise within this Psalm is directed at the Creator God whose glory is manifest in his creation. The second verse following the inclusio expresses the stupefying reality of God’s splendor and majesty. “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Why not “Through the praise of soldiers and statesmen…”? The marvel of the Creator God is that in the babbling innocence of an infant and the vulnerability of a nursing child, the enemies of God are silenced. The gospels’ description of the incarnation give life to such a reality in the infant Jesus. 

The remainder of the Psalm (vv. 3-8) addresses the existential question of humanity. What role does humanity play in the largess of the cosmos? What attention does God pay to this lowly creature whose finitude, fallibility, and frailty make it a species seemingly far from special? The Psalmist, in humility, recognizes the wonderful choice of God to make humanity a little lower than himself or as the Septuagint says, “a little lower than the angels,” and endow the human race with his qualities and characteristics  alongside a mandate to govern the world as subordinates to his sovereign reign. 

Echoes of Genesis 1:26-28 reverberate throughout this Psalm. It is easy to hear the ringing of God’s words, “Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and overy every creeping thing that creeps on earth” (Genesis 1:26). 

A challenge, though, to the Psalmist’s awe at the majesty of God in his choice of humanity to represent him within this world is that we haven’t done a very good job of fulfilling this plenipotentiary office. While the “royal” office of the human race is to be completely God-centric, Mays says, “…humanity in its career has performed the office in an anthropocentric mode. Dominion has become domination; rule has become ruin; subordination in the divine purpose has become subjection to human sinfulness. Creation suffers” (Mays, 70). 

This is Trinity Sunday and Psalm 8 may not seem to highlight what one would typically expect, that is the relationship between the three persons of the triune God. However, Psalm 8 magnifies the relationship between God, the Father, and the singularly perfect representative of humanity, Jesus, the Son of God in the New Testament’s Christological repurposing of the Psalm. 

The author of Hebrews freestyles on Psalm 8, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:5-9). 

There is a sympatico relationship between God the Father and God the Son and by extension God the Spirit at both creation and restoration which makes whole the failed role of humanity in God’s rule and reign. Jesus perfectly executes the Creation mandate that humanity was ordained for by obeying God’s woof and warp to the point of suffering unto death. His actions express his intimate relationship with God the Father and a rightful lordship over land, sea, sky, and humankind. The Spirit aids us, his followers, in fulfilling that rule afresh in his newly established kingdom.

Angle for Preaching 

The Trinity is not simply a codified doctrine of the Christian Church wrought through contentious councils or even an inexplicable mystery of our faith. Yes, these it is, but it is more intimate and personal. It is an expression of a relationship of mutual affection, care, service, agreement, and concern within the divine. 

The fellowship of the Trinity should inform us of the relational connection expressed in Psalm 8 and the role that we play in God’s subordinate rule. It is to serve God and his purposes. We are to share concern and care for that for which he cares and finds concern. Our affection is to be rooted in our relationship with him and to reflect the triune fellowship as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit affectionately relate to one another.  

To circle back to Mays comment on the “royal” office that humanity holds, it always is in relationship with and adherence to the God who has created us, loves us, and endows us with his image. It is Trinitarian in the sense that it is relationally dependent upon him in the intimacy of fellowship, with the caveat that we are mortal and God is not and that our refrain is to praise him at every turn in awe of his majesty and splendor, to marvel that he would be mindful of such infinitesimally insignificant creatures as us. This above all should inform our work in the world.

Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.

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Key Quote

Sam Allberry

We see in the relationships between the Father, Son, and Spirit a dynamic of love, of other-person-centeredness.

Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity, P&R, 2013, p.87.

Key Sermon Illustration

What Do You Reflect?

When my two daughters, Hannah and Nancy, were about two or three years old, I noticed how they imitated and reflected my wife and me. They cooked, fed and disciplined their play animals and dolls just the way my wife cooked, fed and disciplined them. They gave play medicine to their dolls just the way we fed them medicine. Our daughters also prayed with their stuffed animals and dolls the way we prayed with them. They talked on their toy telephone with the same kind of Texas accent that my wife uses when she talks on the phone. It was amazing. Most people, I am sure, have seen this with children. But children only begin what we continue to do as adults. We imitate. We reflect, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.

Most people can think back to junior high, high school or even college when they were in a group and to one degree or another, whether consciously or unconsciously, they reflected and resembled that peer group. Members of the group may have worn polo shirts with a certain logo, and a newcomer needed to have the same shirt in order to feel a part of the group. Others may have been in a group that was very athletic, and so to be accepted in the group the new kid had to pursue athletics. And still others, unfortunately, ran with a crowd in which they felt they had to use drugs or participate in other harmful activities.

All of us, even adults, reflect what we are around. We reflect things in our culture and our society, sometimes consciously and sometimes subtly and unconsciously.

These contemporary examples follow a very ancient pattern that has its roots in the beginning of history. In Genesis 1 God created humans to be imaging beings who reflect his glory. What did God’s people in the Old Testament, Israel, reflect, whether consciously or unconsciously? We will see fleeted, we should ask ourselves whether we reflect anything similar in our culture today.

What do you and I reflect?

…At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.

G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, InterVarsity Press, 2009.



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