When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and stars, which You have set in place;
What is man that You think of him,
And a son of man that You are concerned about him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You have him rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put everything under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the animals of the field,
The birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8:3-9, NASB)
It is easy to imagine David looking up into the clear, starlit night as he is writing this psalm. Have you ever looked up on a clear night like that? One of my childhood friends had a birthday in late October, and when we were kids we always had a sleepover for his birthday. Late at night we would climb up into the strip mine fields above his house, and that clear October sky, free of light pollution, would be so vast, and the stars so bright and vivid. And then several years ago I traveled with a New Hope mission team to Kenya, and we stayed way out in the bush at Olderkesi. The night sky on the Maasai Mara, with lions moaning off in the distance – wow! – it made those brilliant night skies of my childhood pale in comparison.
When David sees the vastness of the night and the moon and the stars, and he considers the awesome power that must be required to set the universe in motion, his mind is blown – look at this! What is a human in the context of all of this?!? We are so, so small.
And yet! David says, God has made humankind “a little lower than God”, and crowned us with glory and majesty! (Note: if you have a variation of the King James or the NIV, your Bible may say, “a little lower than the angels”. That is an accurate translation of the Greek Old Testament, but not of the original Hebrew. The original Hebrew reads Elohim – God.)
David goes on to say that humankind has been given rule over all of the works of God’s hands – everything in creation was placed under the dominion of humans. This is an affirmation of the promise made at creation: “God blessed them (Adam and Eve); and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).
How, David wonders, could God hold such insignificant specks of His creation in so high esteem, that he would make them in His own image and give them dominion over all the works of His hands?
The writer to the Hebrews quotes from Psalm 8, which William Barclay described as “a great lyric cry of the glory of man as God meant it to be,” in Hebrews 2:6-8. But though God indeed subjected all things to mankind, the writer to the Hebrews admits that “we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain – man is not what he was meant to be.”
Mankind is constantly frustrated by weakness, by temptation, by the circumstances of a fallen world – and so we don’t see mankind living, as was intended, in dominion over and subjugation of the created world. This is not how it was meant to be!
“But,” the writer to the Hebrews testifies, “we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of His suffering death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (2:9). When mankind could not live up to what it was created to be, Jesus became a man, and because of His obedient death on the cross, He was “crowned with glory and honor” and by the grace of God tasted death for everyone.
Though God created mankind to have dominion over all things, because of sin mankind was stuck in a cycle of defeat instead of dominion. Jesus entered into that cycle of defeat so that by His death and the glory that it earned Him, He might make mankind what it was meant to be and what, without Christ, it could never be.
~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair