The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Psalm 8

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 25, 2011

Psalm 8 is one of the most popular of the Psalms, used often in the Church’s liturgy and office. The text of the psalm was entrusted to the first men to land on the moon by Pope Paul VI in July of 1969. Clinton J. McCann, in his commentary on this psalm in THE NEW INTERPRETER’S BIBLE notes that the choice of this psalm for that event was an apt one, celebrating as it does the dignity and beauty of creation, including the heavens, and man’s dominion.

8:1 Unto the end, for the presses: a psalm for David.

unto the end, for the presses is often taken as a musical direction of some kind. Perhaps the presses refers to a specific melody which was to be used throughout (unto the end of)  the psalm. The word presses in Greek is ληνων, a wine vat. The Hebrew has הגתית, transliterated as gittith, a word the meaning of which is controverted.

8:2 O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.

The word how (Heb.  מה, Gr.  ως) is used both here and in verse 9 which repeats the first part of this current verse: O lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! Significantly, the Hebrew מה, (Gr. ως) reappears in verse 5 (translated “what”) to introduce a question concerning man (see note there). A connection is thus drawn between the admirable name of God and what he has done for man.

For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens. A reference to the heavens that are the works of thy fingers: as well as to the moon and the stars which thou hast founded (verse 4).

8:3 Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger.

Out of the mouths of infants and of sucklings thou has perfected praise. Some scholars relate this opening part of verse 3 to verse 2. God’s magnificence is manifested in the fact that mere mortals, here described as infants, babes at the breast (sucklings) can praise him. Others see the terms in relation to the enemies of God mentioned in this verse. The perfected praise which comes from those devoted to God is seen to be praise of God’s name which, in the Bible, is synonymous with his person, power, characteristics, etc.  Such praise of God brings to an end the enemy and avenger. These terms suggest arrogance and power, a marked contrast to babes and sucklings. See 1 Cor 1:27-29~”But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen: and things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his sight.”

That thou mayest destroy the enemy and avenger. In my opinion (for whatever its worth) destroy is a poor translation. I think the translation still, or put at rest the enemy and avenger are better translations. I would like to propose two possible interpretations; the second-which I’ve put in green text-being more plausible.

The Hebrew text employs the word להשׁבית (shabbath)which is related to השׁבת, (sabbath);  while the Greek has καταλυσαι (katalusai), which is related to the word κατάλυμα, designating a place of rest or sitting (Luke 2:7; see also Gen 18:1). Both words can have the sense of “still the enemy and avenger.” The meaning would then be: “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst still the enemy and the avenger, making them content as nursing infants.”  The people’s devotion to God, even in the midst of oppression, violence, hatred, etc., serves as an example leading the enemies to shame and, perhaps, conversion:  1 Peter 3:13-16~”And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear: and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

The psalmist may be implying or wishing that the enemy and avenger be not set, or have rule over the works of thy (God’s) hands (verse 7) because they have been stilled from doing so.

Enemy and avenger are taken by some scholars as an allusion to the chaotic powers taken control of by the creator God (Psalm 89:10-12; Psalm 93:3-5). The unpredictable and often chaotic sea sometimes symbolizes powers inimical to God which he must control (Job 38:8-11). To me it seems more likely  that they represent human enemies of God and his people as noted above.

8:4 For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
8:5 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For, the opening word in verse 4, is causal in both the Greek and Hebrew text and is to be connected to the question in verse 5. When the psalmist beholds the heavens, etc., he is moved to ask what is man, etc . The word what is identical to that translated as how in verses 2 and 9. The question how admirable is God’s name over all the earth is directly related to the question, what is man, &c.  The grandeur, magnificence, beauty, of God’s creation, here ascribed anthropomorphically as the works of God’s fingers-an insignificant part of any body, real or anthropomorphic-causes the psalmist to wonder about man and what great gifts God has bestowed upon him. (By anthropomorphically I mean the act of giving a human descriptive to something non-human; in this case God).

8:6 Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
8:7 And hast set him over the works of thy hands.

Thou hast made him a little less than angels. This translation reflects the Greek version which uses αγγελους (aggelos). The Hebrew uses the term אלהים (elohim), a word often used to designate God himself. The word is also used to designate the non-gods, i.e., pagan deities, but also angels. The psalmist is stating that God has made man a little less than God himself, or, a little less than the angels. Scholars are not in agreement concerning how the phrase is to be understood (a little less than God? A little less than angels?).  The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews understands it to refer to angels and interprets it christologically (Heb 2:6 ff). In light of the text of Hebrews I understand that man (with the exception of the God-Man Christ) is lower than the angels but, in virtue of Christ final victory, man will be placed higher than the angels and a little less than God.

8:8 Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover, the beasts also of the fields.
8:9 The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea. 

An obvious allusion to Genesis 1:29.

8:10 O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!

Repeats the opening of the psalm.

2 Responses to “My Notes on Psalm 8”

  1. […] My Notes on Psalm 8. […]

  2. […] My Notes on Today’s Responsorial (Ps 8). […]

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