Monday, June 6, 2011

“O LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Psalm 8

Many scholars think that Psalm 8 was written during Judah's (the Southern Kingdom's) exile in Babylon (about 587 to 538 BC). How did it come to this? To make a long story short, despite the fact that God was faithful to the people of Israel, leading them out of Egypt, providing for them and sustaining them as a people and later as a nation, the people went back to worshiping other gods AGAIN!   It was the golden calf times a thousand. Despite warnings from several prophets, the people just didn't get it. Moses wasn't around anymore to argue with God so God finally let Israel suffer the consequences of its actions. By the year 930 BC the nation of Israel had been divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). In 720 BC, the Northern Kingdom was conquored by the Assyrians. The people of Judah may have thought they were safe when Assyria was defeated by Babylon (Iraq) in 612 BC, but that wasn't the case. Babylon continued to grow more powerful ans in 587 BC the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and deporting most of the people to slavery in Babylon.

It may not seem logical that such as beautiful psalm was written by a captive people. But it may have been written to encourage the exiled people in the absence of their religious symbols and holy places, and to bolster the people's faith in Yahweh when confronted with the idols and gods of Babylon. Babylonian religion asserted that humanity was created to be slaves for the gods; Israel's historic faith claimed that human beings are created in God's image, a little bit lower than God, crowned with glory and honor, and assigned important tasks in relation to the created order. The psalm inspires God's people to speak the truth about the Creator. It also leads the people to speak the truth about God's view of human dignity and responsibility, whatever their circumstances.


Our studies in the book of Exodus demonstrated the significance of the name of Israel's God, Yahweh. The name conveyed the character of Yahweh, the One who will always be, the One who creates everything, the "Is" behind everything that exists. The Third Commandment prohibits wrongful use, or profanation, of the name of God. Profanation of the name involves any casual use or misrepresentation of the character of God. If a person swears to an oath while invoking the Lord's name and while telling a lie, he or she profanes God's name. Many people today invoke God's name a lot. But if they act in ways that are contrary to the essence of God's character, they are committing wrongful use of the name.

Such was Israel's dilemma. The Old Testament testifies that the people constantly chased after other gods and worshiped idols, all the while speaking Yahweh's name, just as they did during the golden calf incident. The kings and queens of Israel and Judah, in making every sort of political alliance, led their citizens to the embrace of false gods. "Yahweh" became interchangeable with "Baal" or any of the names of the gods of Canaanite mythology. The God who changed history by rescuing Israel from Egypt became a deity subject to the cycles and seasons of nature. The prophets contended that Israel's idolatry and profanation of the name of God resulted in the Babylonian exile.

The exile, as devastating as it was for the people, was more so for the name of Yahweh in the eyes of the nations of the world. Neighboring nations would have surmised that Israel's God was a weak God. Yahweh had not protected the people from the advancing Babylonian army; Israel's God was apparently incapable of living up to the divine name. That was Moses' argument in persuading Yahweh to spare Israel following the golden calf incident: "What will the nations say if you forsake and destroy your people, Yahweh?"

God does decide to rescue Israel, thereby putting an end to the profanation of the divine name (Ezek. 36:22-24). But God returns the people to Judah from Babylon not because of the people's need, rather, to restore the name Yahweh among the nations. And, interestingly, before He frees them, He allows Babylon itself to be defeated by another world power, Persia (Iran).

Following the devastation of their holy temple and while suffering the indignation of living under the rule of a despotic monarchy, the covenant people wondered, Where is God? When their captors ordered them to sing a song of Jerusalem (Ps. 137), their voices could not bear to speak of their devastated homeland and the God who apparently had failed them in their time of greatest need. We can imagine a dispirited people, vulnerable to all manner of religious propaganda, struggling against the myths of Babylon that promoted the violent overthrow of whole nations. We can imagine them asking, What hope do we have? Psalm 8 sings hope into a hopeless world.


The psalmist, having observed God's actions as revealed in creation, is in awe that human beings are the center of God's creation. God is mindful of and cares for humans. The word "mindful" (v. 4) can be translated "remember." The word "care" (or "caring") can be rendered "visit." God remembers and visits us.

We have been crowned with glory and honor. Crowns, glory, and honor are normally associated with people of great power, kings and queens, sovereign rulers. But here they are assigned to all humanity. Every person has been marked with this glory and honor. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that humanity is created in the image of God. Humans are not divine but we do have a special place in all of creation. We are different from the rest of creation, a bit lower than God.

That we human beings are a little lower than God brings us a solemn responsibility. The Sovereign of the world calls us into a particular relationship with the creation. Whereas Babylonian myths encouraged domination of the world, Yahweh has given human beings dominion over creation. Psalm 8 calls on the faithful to claim the truth of God's creation: Yahweh has called human beings into stewardship of the created order. To have dominion over something means to have authority and responsibility. The humans are not given authority for its own sake. As we exercise our dominion over creation, we are expected to do our best to care for that which has been placed under our feet. Dominion is not the same as domination: We do not have license to abuse creation but to honor the Creator by using resources of the world wisely.


It is one thing to imagine reading the psalm in a particular historical context. Admittedly, hearing Ps. 8 as the exiles might have heard it can inspire us to greater courage as we live our faith. Yet, does the psalm speak to us in our particular time?

Perhaps it is fitting to imagine the psalm's call to dominion as a call to our faithful stewardship of the earth and its resources. As God is mindful of and cares for us, we had best be mindful of the creation, to care for it, to crown it with glory and honor. If we were to imagine the earth to be our neighbor, the neighbor Christ calls us to love, would we exercise our stewardship any differently? Being mindful of my stewardship of the earth might be as simple as refusing to litter or appropriately observing air-quality days in major cities.

Yet how many people look at the magnitude of the world's environmental disease and throw up their hands helplessly? How does the church call a powerless people from the mire of helplessness to responsible stewardship of the earth? Sing Ps. 8 and embrace its truth.


How do you see God when you look at the world around you?

What are some of the challenges of exercising dominion over the earth in a responsible manner?


O majestic and creating God, thank you for creating us and giving us dominion over the works of your hands. Guide our exercise of dominion in faithful and responsible ways. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

1 comment:

  1. Great lesson!! Looks like the system will work!!

    Kermit Gay