“When I Consider Your Handiwork!”
August 15, 2010
God’s majestic nature is revealed throughout creation.
I. His Majesty (Psalm 8:1-2)
II. Overawed by His Majesty (Psalm 8:3-4)
III. Enobled by His Majesty (Psalm 8:5-8)
What do you think when you hear the word ‘majestic?’ Maybe of royal splendor, like the palace of the French kings at Versailles. After all ‘majestic’ is derived from ‘majesty’ and seems to have been coined by Shakespeare when he needed an adjective to describe the best of the kings in his many plays.
Or maybe you think of the glory of creation, the majestic mountains of the Alps or Himalayas. The definition of majestic according to dictionary.com is “characterized by or possessing majesty; of lofty dignity or imposing aspect; stately; grand:” And they use as an example ‘the majestic Alps.’
Of course that definition is guilty of using a word to define itself – majesty: “regal, lofty, or stately dignity; imposing character; grandeur.” Second definition: “supreme greatness or authority; sovereignty.” So we apply this word to a sovereign, a king or queen: as in “Her Majesty's Navy;” or “Will your Majesty hear our petition?” Majesty is rightly assigned to sovereign power.
But probably the most awesome uses of the word majestic are its application to the Lord God, alluding to a splendor that cannot be pictured even in the grandest of cathedrals. As early as the Exodus the people of Israel sang “Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. 7In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. . . . 11"Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
Biblical authors love to describe God with this word. 1 Chronicles 29:11 “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Psalm 29:4 “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.” Psalm 76:4 “You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game.” Psalm 93:1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.”
One of the great mentors of our generation of believers, J. I. Packer, taught us that if you want to grasp the greatness of God you should compare him to powers and forces you consider great. ‘Majestic’ does that kind of comparison in a single word. And our Psalm for this morning takes expands that single word to teach us that God’s majestic nature is revealed throughout creation.
It’s day eight of 100 days in the Psalms. Psalm 8: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
5You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: 7all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The Psalm opens and closes with by affirming God’s majesty, or more specifically, the majesty of his name. Now there are some who pursue impressive sounding names. The winged horse in John White’s The Tower of Geburah loved the sounds of cheese names; he was “Theophilus Gorgonzola Roquefort de Limburger V.” My Hannah refers to Mike Bauer as “Mr. Pastor Brother Reverend Mike, the righteous, noble and exponential.”
But that’s not exactly what the Psalmist is talking about. When Scripture highlights or describes someone’s name, it is talking about the character, the identity, the nature of the one described. So the Psalmist is saying “O Lord, our Lord, how majestically is your character revealed in all the earth! O Lord, our Lord, how majestically is your very nature revealed in all the earth”
And the implication is that the one with this majestic name, nature and character is sovereign over all the earth. The remainder of Verse 1 says “You have set your glory above the heavens.” God’s glory is greater than all that he has made: it is above the heavens, which are above the earth. The word ‘heavens’ in Scripture can mean the place where God is, but it can also mean the sky and all that is in it – sun, moon, stars, planets. I believe that’s what the Psalmist means here – that God is greater than all he has created.
It reminds me of Psalm 113, as sung by Rich Mullins: “From the rising of the sun, to the place where it sets, the Name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations; his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the one who sits enthroned on high, who stoops to look down on the earth, down upon the earth and its sky.”
Verse 2 responsds to this glory: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
The heavens declare God’s glory, as a witness to all men. No one looks honestly at that witness without seeing the reality of a creator God. But God’s enemies, his foes, the scoffers from last week’s Psalm, deny God and don’t see it. Only the children and infants who are less sophisticated, less jaded by the thinking of the world. They look at the glory of God and give him praise. Some translations use the word ‘strength’: this is ‘strength attributed to God in song,’ which is praise: and that’s how Jesus translates it in Matthew 21.
In verses 3-4 the Psalmist continues to see the majesty of God in the heavens, but his meditation leads to one of the most common of human questions: what is man, a speck of dust in the face of all this heavenly glory? “When I consider your heavens, the moon and the stars which you have set in place.” The psalmist stands out in the night, maybe keeping his sheep, or journeying in the desert, and he sees the glory of the heavens circling above him, the Moon descending in the west, while the Milky Way rises in the east.
Like you, like me, the Psalmist is overawed by the immensity, the beauty, the mystery of what God has made. When Tim took the young men to hike in West Texas, they did a night hike, and saw this beauty full blown. The guys who just got back from New Mexico saw the same beauty – the same stars the Psalmist saw, the same moon God set in the heavens for a light.
But even as the heavens magnify God, they can so easily de-magnify man. Just as the Psalmist was not the first to feel this awe, so also he was neither the first nor the last to feel small in the face of such wonder. And without a word from God, without the testimony of the Scripture, it’s easy to let this ‘speck of dust’ attitude rule your life. This famous video of the Hubble Deep Space Field, was intended by it’s creators to be a witness against God, because it points out just how much less than a dust speck we really are: the narrator says “We pointed the most powerful telescope ever built by human beings at absolutely nothing for no other reason than because we were curious, and discovered that we occupy a very tiny place in the heavens.”
The Psalmist didn’t need a telescope to realize this. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” The Psalmist isn’t questioning whether God cares for man, as Carl Sagan would have or Richard Dawson does. What the Psalmist is asking is not ‘whether’ but ‘why?’ Why would a God whose majesty extends beyond the ends of the universe and whose power allowed him to create it all at his word pay attention to the speck of dust?
Because he does? A huge part of his greatness and his majesty is seen in the fact that among the billions of stars he cares for us, and among the billions of people he cares for each of us individually. He loves us. He keeps man in mind; he takes care of us; he sends rain on the just and the unjust. He remembers how we’re formed; he knows we’re dust, yet “as a father has compassion on his children, the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” In many ways this is the saving truth of our existence. If there were not a God who loved us, then looking in the night sky would not uplift.
This love was finally demonstrated, of course, when Jesus came, while we were still sinners and died for us. The Psalmist, here, is reflecting on the glory and responsibility of man as created; he isn’t addressing the issue of salvation. And yet the call to trust God is seen throughout the Psalms. It is at the heart of both the Old and the New Testaments. Only in the New Testament, however, is it clear that this trust is effective in creating a relationship with God only because Jesus died on the cross to make it happen.
Man, as created, was in the image of God and reflected his majesty. But the first man and woman rebelled against God’s commands and against God’s rule. So all men are separated from God by sin, disobedience and rebellion, and doomed to spend eternity apart from God. But Jesus came to pay the price for our sin, to be the ransom that rescued us from death. He died on the cross to bridge the gap between God and man and rose from death to seal the gift of eternal life to all who will believe in him.
And among the gifts of his salvation is the restoration of God’s image in those who believe: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This means that we can read the next four verses of Psalm 8 with confidence not in our own merit, but in God’s gift. These verses show how God’s design reveals his majesty; they show that God didn’t want there to be anything in all creation that didn’t show his majesty in its own way.
Verse 5: “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” This whole Psalm, but especially these verses, is a reflection on Genesis 1 and 2 in which we learn that God made man in his own image. Unlike the stuff of creation itself, unlike the plants or even the animals, man was made uniquely, in many ways, to be like God. For example, man has an ability to think and reason that reflects God’s abilities more than other creatures. In the same way man can communicate, using words, images, sounds and sights to convey deep levels of truth and feeling.
More than that, people have been made use those thinking and communicating abilities to be personal and relational beings, needing each other and being born into essential relationships with each other. In this we reflect the image of a God who from eternity past was triune, one God but three persons in vital communication and essential relationship with each other. Furthermore, people were made to be creative, as God is, people were made to work and rest, as God modeled, people were made to think and plan as God did.
We are made in God’s image. The Psalmist depicts this as being made little lower than the angels or “heavenly beings.” That word is the plural word for God. It can refer to the angels of heaven, or to the triune God himself. What does it mean that God made us a little lower than himself or the angels? One thing it means is that we are earthly and mortal creatures. God and the angels are spiritual, heavenly beings. We are made out of the dust of the earth along with the other animals in creation, and to dust we will return.
We are made lower than the heavenly beings, but amazingly only a little lower: the Psalmist says that since we are made explicitly in the image of God we are crowned with glory and honor. That’s amazing. We’re used to thinking of ourselves as sinful, fallen, broken, desperate. And we are. We have to recognize that before we can understand God’s grace in salvation. One of my favorite passages in the Bible, Ephesians 2 makes it clear that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. But that’s not the end of the story. God, who is rich in mercy made us alive in Christ.
The glory and honor from which we fell and to which we are being restored are just as much a part of this story as the fall itself .God did not want anything in all of creation that didn’t on some level reflect his majesty, his supreme greatness, his awesome power and glory and honor. So when he made man he intended that, like all of creation, we would reveal and reflect his majestic greatness, but that as his image bearers we would do it in unique ways of communication and relationship and intellect and creativity.
So, verse 6: “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: 7all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.” This reflects Genesis 1. Listen to verses 27-28 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
So God made man to be ruler, or more accurately steward over his creation, so that as image bearers of God, we could reflect his majesty in that stewardship. Our rule should reveal his majesty. We read in Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” The word translated “work” is the Hebrew word for “serve.” The word translated “take care” means “to keep, to guard, to watch over and protect.” In other words, man is not to be a tyrant ruler over creation, but a servant leader over creation. God gave man the stewardship of the earth.
This is where so many get it wrong: When it comes to creation God gave man both rulership and responsibility. If you leave out either, you are out of balance. If you leave out responsibility, you get the view that the world is ours to do with as we please and so it’s okay if we trash it. That is not a biblical view of creation. If you leave out rulership, you get the view that man is on the same level as the rest of creation, and that any tree frog or slug is to be weigh on a par with human life – with a new born baby. This is not a biblical view of creation or of the unique value God places on people made in his image.
Now I’m not an extreme environmentalist, but I do feel that these verses and others like them give us responsibility both to use wisely and to conserve wisely the environment God has made. All of these creatures – the flocks and herds, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea were made in beauty, they reveal God’s majesty, his awesomeness in creation, and we need to work both to preserve that beauty and to enjoy it. Even after the fall we have some ability to promote their welfare or to so mismanage the environment that we damage or endanger. Admittedly we can’t always see the consequences of our actions; we may do harm accidentally. And because the world is fallen, there will be hard choices between our care for the created planet and our care its people. But we do have responsibility.
Why has God made all these things part of our stewardship? Because as his image bearers this is one of the ways we reflect his glory and honor. God displays his own majesty through us as we do what we are designed to do in his creation, whether we are loving one another or stewarding the earth
But it is important to note that these final verses in Psalm 8 are applied specifically to Jesus in the New Testament, briefly in 1 Corinthians 15 and more fully in Hebrews 2, which says “It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8and put everything under his feet."
“In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” We are so limited in our attempts to fulfill our rightful place in God’s majesty - because of sin and its consequences. But Jesus came as the perfect Son of God and perfect son of man, the second Adam, to do what we could not do, and to fully reveal God’s majesty. He came to deliver us from sin so that one day we can fully reveal the plan of God’s majesty to us.
In fact Jesus will come again to restore all the creation to its original glory. Paul teaches in Romans that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Next time around, with Jesus on the throne, we will have the opportunity to care for creation as it was intended. But even now we must be faithful stewards of God’s creation, rejoicing in the gifts of creation and returning those gifts in thanksgiving and praise back to God, because this is one of the ways that we say “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
God’s nature is revealed to be majestic by his glory above the heavens. God’s nature is revealed to be majestic by the heavens themselves; God’s nature is revealed to be majestic in all the details of earthly creation; God’s nature is revealed to be majestic in the works of his image-bears. God intended that all of his creation, including us, would reveal the majesty of his nature, so that around his throne all would cry “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."