The Magnificence of God in a Mote of Dust (Psalm 8:2)

Part 1: The Lord displays his magnificence by elevating the insignificant. (v 1)

The Lord strengthens the weak to subdue his adversaries. (v 2)

Let’s help colour in this majesty, this magnificence. If we think of this psalm as a painting, we’ve already examined the frame; now let’s look at how the artist uses colours, lines, and shapes so that we see and feel and understand the magnificence of the Lord in the same way he does.

So the general shape of this psalm is that David looks at the night sky in v 3 and concludes that mankind is insignificant in comparison to that sort of glory. And then in vv 5–8 he argues that despite this truth, the Lord has placed man in a position of dominion over the created order.

So here’s the question I had when I began to study this psalm: what do we do with v 2? “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” It sounds really beautiful. But it seems really out of place. I mean, if you chopped this verse right out of your Bible, Psalm 8 would flow a lot more smoothly. In v 1, David tells the Lord, “You have set your glory above the heavens.” And then in v 3, he looks at the heavens and describes their glory. But v 2 is kind of like an uninvited guest at a party who sticks his face into a conversation you’re having and starts blathering on about his vacation in Florida or something else no one cares about.

So what is v 2 doing here? Well, it seems to be setting the stage for the rest of the psalm. If you’ve ever been to a high school play—and hopefully I’m not dredging up any bad memories—then you know the importance of “setting the stage,” of putting out the right props. If before a scene takes place, the stagehands place a bed, a dresser, and a lamp on stage, you wouldn’t expect the scene to take place in a nuclear submarine. You’d expect it to take place in someone’s bedroom. And that’s what v 2 is doing. It’s setting the stage. It’s getting you into the right frame of mind, giving you the right context, to understand the rest of what David has to say. Here’s the big idea in v 2: The Lord strengthens the weak to subdue his adversaries.

Now, let’s stop and consider this for a moment. David refers to “the enemy and the avenger” as “your foes”—that is, the Lord’s foes. So we learn here that the Lord has enemies. His enemies are both human and demonic. And he subdues these adversaries by taking small, weak, and helpless things like babies and infants, and giving them words of strength.

Well, that’s kind of weird. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense without a specific example. What’s great is that we have an example of this sort of thing taking place in the gospel of Matthew. In fact, this psalm is fulfilled as little children are shouting praises to Jesus, the Messiah, in Matthew 21:12–16. Here’s the story: Jesus has just entered the city of Jerusalem and makes his way to the Jewish temple. And beginning in v 12, we read:

…Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”

So basically, the religious leaders are upset that Jesus has barged into their temple and driven out all the profitable enterprise that was taking place. And they are galled to hear these children shouting “hosanna to the Son of David!”—as though this carpenter from the hick town of Nazareth were really the Messiah, God’s anointed king from the line of David! The chief priests and the scribes want these kids to shut up. But Jesus throws Psalm 8:2 in their faces. What he’s saying is that the praise of these children has been given to them by the Lord God. They’re praising Jesus for what he’s doing. And their proper act of praise and worship in the temple clashes with the corruption of the religious leadership. It exposes their hypocrisy. The religious leaders are humiliated by the strong words of praise of these children.

That is how the Lord subdues his adversaries. He humiliates them by strengthening the weak with powerful words of praise. As they praise him, they show that they have on their side one who is stronger.

Now, I want to pause for a moment because this is a very encouraging thought. I don’t know about you, but most of the time for me other people’s opinion of my faith is very intimidating. I know that most people think that what I believe is foolish or arrogant and isn’t worth taking seriously. But the fact is that even Jesus’ enemies thought the same thing of him. Even the mighty words of praise from the mouths of children didn’t convince them. Rather, it was before the one true Judge, before the Lord God Almighty, that Jesus stood vindicated. So do not be afraid to tell the truth. Don’t avoid talking about Jesus and what he has done for you. Be loving and gracious, but be crystal clear about what you believe. Your words have strength that you do not know and that your enemies may not understand. The Lord uses strong words from weak people to subdue his adversaries.

To be continued…

The Magnificence of God in a Mote of Dust (Psalm 8:1)

National Geographic Aug 1990 Portraits of Our Celestial FamilyI spent hours as a child poring over the August 1990 issue of National Geographic. This was the magazine that featured the final discoveries of Voyager 2, the intrepid space probe on a grand tour of the outer planets of our solar system. I’ve loved to learn about outer space ever since.

And I’m not the first to look up at the night sky in wonder.

Psalm 8 (ESV)

TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO THE GITTITH. A PSALM OF DAVID.

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The Lord displays his magnificence by elevating the insignificant. (v 1)

So what is this song, this psalm, about? Well, maybe your first thought is that this psalm is all about how terrific human beings are! After all, we have the Israelite poet-king, David, speaking to the Lord God about man, and he’s writing, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” And then he rattles off a list of things that the Lord has placed under the authority of man. So maybe this psalm is a monument to the greatness of man! That does feel pretty good. I mean, we build entire museums devoted to explaining how awesome we are. And in the postmodern mindset of our culture, we even believe that truth is something that exists only in an individual human being. So you and I must be really hot stuff, right?

Well, no. When he wrote this psalm, David made it pretty clear what he thought was the central idea. Verse 1 reads, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” And just in case you missed it, verse 9 reads, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Again!

These two verses frame the entire psalm. They prevent us from misunderstanding it. They tell us that David’s message is not that human beings are awesome. It’s not that man is magnificent. David’s message is that the Lord is magnificent. And the Lord’s name, his reputation, is declared to have a royal majesty about it.

But you can’t just say that and not explain what it means. What makes the Lord so great? Well, in this psalm David is writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord displays his magnificence by elevating the insignificant. That’s going to be the story of this psalm in between the two frame verses. David isn’t just saying that the Lord’s name is “majestic” and then letting you and me fill in the details with our own imaginations. No, he’s going to fill this word “majestic” with meaning from vv 2–8. The Lord displays his magnificence by elevating the insignificant. That’s going to be the central idea of this psalm.

To be continued…

A commitment

After years of neglecting a once-flourishing blog, I’m gonna do an about-face and start posting regularly again. I’m committing to blogging once a week through the end of March, starting two weeks ago. Yes, this is a retroactive commitment, which is the best sort of commitment there is, because you’re already partly successful. For me, the joy of blogging regularly is the accountability it provides. It forces me to do some heavy thinking and study on the subjects I’ll write about, whether it’s the fifth chapter of Mark or the fifth planet from the Sun. It’s not fun at the time, but the discipline is worth it because of the result it brings about. I don’t usually enjoy writing, but I sure enjoy having written.

And then, after March, who knows? I kinda picked that time arbitrarily. If all goes well, I’ll keep writing and posting. I’ve got plenty of material to draw on already. I have three dozen or so sermons I’ve preached over the last couple years. I have speeches I’ve delivered in Toastmasters. Above all, I want to post my thoughts on one of the greatest crises facing the church today: whether or not we truly fear the Lord.

I’m looking forward to it!

The Best of All Worlds #1: Earth

The Best of All Worlds

We’re #1!

OK, so maybe I’m a little biased and just a touch geocentric. I’m old-fashioned that way. But I think I’m being fair when I say that Earth is the best planet in the Solar System, and it’s not even a close call.

The most famous photograph in the world: "The Blue Marble" taken on the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972.

The most famous photograph in the world: “The Blue Marble” taken on the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972.

Blue waters, swirling white clouds, rainy temperate zones, harsh deserts, snow-capped mountain peaks, deep ocean trenches. Every nook and cranny of Earth is bursting with life, from desert ecosystems to subterranean Antarctic lakes to undersea reefs to tropical rainforests. The plants and animals and single-celled organisms of our planet stabilize its temperature and its atmosphere, preventing it from turning into the ice planet Hoth and replenishing it with life-giving oxygen that is all but absent on any other planet we know.

Circling our planet is a massive Moon that generates ocean tides and stabilizes Earth’s tilt, ensuring regular seasonal cycles and ocean currents that circulate nutrients throughout the planet’s ecosystems.

We as humans have thrived on this planet, multiplying across it and finding ways to survive in just about every niche and ecosystem above sea level. Some of us have accessed a planetary information network called the Internet and voted on this very blog that Earth is the worst planet in the Solar System. This is because we are sometimes ungrateful and dumb. Every day we see and hear beauty all around us, and we take for granted the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, neither of which we can find on any other planet in the Solar System.

Earthrise as viewed from Apollo 8 as it orbited the Moon in 1968.

Earthrise as viewed from Apollo 8 as it orbited the Moon in 1968.

In a thousand years, we could not exhaust the richness of Earth. Our planet is not merely the crown jewel of the Solar System; it is the greatest wonder of the universe.

So here’s our final ranking of all the planets in our Solar System, from worst to first:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
6. Uranus
5. Neptune
4. Mars
3. Saturn
2. Jupiter
1. Earth

Thanks for reading! Next week I will return to blogging on whatever I feel like. I’m committing to increasing my blogging rate from once a year to once a week, which is a big step up. While you wait for that, go ahead and cast your vote for the best and worst planets in the Solar System.

The Best of All Worlds #2: Jupiter

The Best of All Worlds

Now we come to the king of the planets, the undisputed heavyweight champion of our Solar System.

21 Jumpiter Street.

21 Jumpiter Street.

Jumpiter.

I mean Jupiter.

(I kept typing Jumpiter at first, so I thought I’d leave it there.)

Jupiter is a straight up amazing planet. First of all, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s the heaviest planet. In fact, it’s twice as massive as the other seven planets combined. It’s so massive that it alters the center of mass of our Solar System—the Solar System (including the Sun) revolves around a point just beyond of the surface of the Sun. It’s so massive that, if you were to throw more matter into it, it wouldn’t even get any bigger than it is because the sheer gravitational pull would cause the planet to contract in on itself.

Yes, Jupter is a big boy.

(I mean Jupiter. Sheesh.)

Jupiter is also super energetic. It emits more radiation than it receives from the sin. Once Venus disappears behind the horizon, Jupiter is the brightest “star” in the night sky—bright enough to cast shadows on Earth. You can’t hide from Jupiet.

(Jupiter Jupiter Jupiter. Why can’t I spell it right)

You'll need more than Neutrogena to make this case of acne go away.

You’ll need more than Neutrogena to make this case of acne go away.

Jupiter has the most dramatic surface features outside of Earth. It’s got colourful bands of clouds in its atmosphere, and outrageous ovals of red and white sprinkled across its surface. These ovals are storm systems, some as large as Earth itself. The famous Great Red Spot, in fact is larger than two Earths and has spun around Jupiter for hundreds of years.

Jupiter has a super powerful magnetic field that sweeps out as far as the orbit of Saturn. If you were to travel through Jupiter’s magnetic field, you’d be cooked by all the energetic particles trapped along the field lines. So don’t do that.

Finally, Jupiter has dozens of little moons like any respectable gas giant would have. But four of them are amazing—some the best moons in the Solar System:

  • Ganymede, the most massive moon in the Solar System
  • Europa, the most icy moon in the Solar System
  • Io, the most volcano-y moon in the Solar System
  • Callisto, the most ordinary moon in the Solar System

Seriously, Callisto might be the forgotten middle child of these four “Galilean moons.” I mean…it’s a good moon, better than the moons of nearly every other planet…but in the Jupiter family, it struggles to stand out. Such is life.

Callisto, why can't you be more like your brothers and sisters?

Callisto, why can’t you be more like your brothers and sisters?

So even though Jupiter isn’t really a great place to visit unless you’re a specially designed robotic probe, it’s still the second-best planet in the Solar System. And that’s no small feat, because the best planet is freakin’ unbelievable. Bet you can’t guess which one it is.

Our rankings so far:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
6. Uranus
5. Neptune
4. Mars
3. Saturn
2. Jupiter
1. ???

If you were a Galilean moon, which one of the four would you be? Let us all know in the comments below, and then vote for the BEST planet and the WORST planet in our Solar System!

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