George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 8

1. Subscription

The subscription (appearing at the head of Psalm 9) reads: Upon Muthlabben. Thirtle expounded it along these lines:

Goliath is described as a “champion out of the camp of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 17:4,23) — Hebrew: ish-habbenaim, literally: “a man of the between-the-two (i.e. camps)”. Thirtle reads Muthlabben (or Muth-labbeyn) as meaning: Death to the champion (Goliath). Under this reading, certain details in the psalm seem very relevant, as will be seen.

Alternatively, Al muthlabben can be read as Alamoth...Labben, the first word referring to the women’s choir (cp Psa. 45 subscription; 1 Chron. 15:20; and consider 1 Sam. 18:6); and the second meaning: “Concerning the Son” — David becoming Saul’s son by marriage, or with prophetic allusion to Messiah.

Alternatively again, Muthlabben could refer to the “death of the Son” — for, as the citation of Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2 plainly shows, Christ’s sacrifice is an underlying theme of Psalm 8. As David went down into the valley to face the great enemy of his people, so Jesus was sent into the “valley” of sin and death — there, and there only, could he meet and defeat the true “enemy” of mankind: the devil, “diabolos”, or “sin-in-the-flesh” (Heb. 2:14,15; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:19-21). Jesus, not Goliath, was thus the true “champion” (labbeyn) — the mediator, the man who stood between two camps and won the greatest victory by laying down his own life!

2. Historical Setting

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength can be read as a poetic expression of the immature strength of young David, contrasted with the massive brute force of Goliath. (Also to be contrasted with the great but deceptive stature of King Saul, the would-be “Saviour”: 1 Sam. 9:2; 1 Cor. 1:27.)

Out of the mouth, alone, is certainly appropriate to the magnificent declaration of faith made by David: 1 Sam. 17:45-47.

That thou mightest cause to cease the enemy and the avenger, who was Goliath himself. It was his intention to avenge the previous Philistine defeats at the hands of Samuel, Saul, and Jonathan (1 Sam. 7:11; 13:3; 14:31). Note the remarkable repetition of the number six with regard to Goliath (1 Sam. 17:4,7; cp. 2 Sam. 21:20; 1 Chron. 20:6) — truly the prototypical Man of Sin and Apocalyptic “beast” (Rev. 13:18).
Crowned with glory and honour is an easy allusion to the promotion, praise and privilege which were poured on David after his success (1 Sam. 18:1-7), as also the ensuing phrase: have dominion over the works of thine hands.

The rest of the text does not fit quite so easily, but a little imagination may suggest possibilities. Why, at such a time as this, should David put strong emphasis on the glory of God in the heavens (vv. 1,3)? Could it be that the psalm was composed by David on the evening of his victory when, returning from pursuing the remnants of the Philistine host (1 Sam. 17:51-53), he pauses over the corpse of Goliath?

Now, for the first time since his momentous triumph much earlier that day, he has leisure to pause and reflect on the star-lit splendor of the unseen God of heaven, through whose Spirit this great day has been possible. Now also he reflects upon the threat of Goliath to give his flesh unto the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field (v. 44) — a threat which returned upon the giant’s own head (v. 46; cp. Psa. 7:15,16), probably by this time quite literally so (cp. also 1 Sam. 17:36,37)! This detail finds place, then, in vv. 7,8 of David’s psalm.

There are also wonderful similarities, easily traced, between Psalm 8 and Psalm 144. The latter is the prayer of David in anticipation of his encounter with the great enemy, whereas Psalm 8 is his rejoicing after the event.

3. Messianic reference

This short psalm has strange switches of emphasis, from the glory of the Lord in nature to the smallness of man, to his high privilege and dominion in his smaller world of nature, and back again to the glory of the Lord in all the earth.

This paradox becomes intelligible only when seen as a prophetic and poetic anticipation of Messiah and his kingdom. The psalm proclaims especially that a frail mortal man is to bring all the diversity of nature into subjection to the God who made it. The only frail mortal man who can do this is the Messiah! He is also the one who teaches spiritual babes (Matt. 11:25) to glorify God.

From this point of view there is no exposition of Psalm 8 to compare with the commentary on it provided by other Scriptures.

4. Genesis 1

The allusions to this chapter (and to chapters 3 and 4) are plentiful and obvious: God’s glory above the heavens (1:8); the moon and the stars (1:16); man, not called adam, but enosh, frail mortal man (after the Fall); a little lower than the angels (“Let us make man in our image”: 1:26); dominion over every kind of living creature (1:28). “The enemy and the avenger” suggests the serpent and its enmity (3:15), and also boastful Lamech (4:23,24) of the line of Cain and “the seed of the serpent”. The first Adam failed utterly in his commission, but the second Adam will succeed!

5. Psalm 148

This is clearly a psalm of the kingdom. It celebrates the praise of the Lord by all in the heavens and by all creation, animate and inanimate, upon the earth. And immediately after the mention of “children” (cp. 8:2) there is this: “Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent: his glory is above the earth and heaven” (v. 13).

6. 1 Corinthians 15

Messiah is to reign until he has “put all enemies under his feet” (v. 25; Psa. 8:2,6). “All things are put under him” (the assertion comes six times in only five verses), until “God is all and in all” (equivalent to “How excellent is thy name in all the earth”: 8:9). Paul then goes on to discuss (in vv. 39,40) the character of the life to come from the emphasis in Psalm 8:1,3,7,8 about the glory of the Lord in the heavens and in the earth.

Also, “death” as the last enemy may be Paul’s inference from “whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea”: note (a) fish have already been mentioned; (b) it is only men who “journey” (LXX) on paths; (c) the Egyptian enemy of Israel sought to journey through the sea, and met with destruction; (d) the verb for “pass through” has provided the name “Hebrew”. (For the idea of “sea” = death, compare Isa. 63:11 with Heb. 13:20, also a Passover/Red Sea connection.)

7. Matthew 21:15-16

After the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, little children cried out in the temple: “Hosanna to the Son of David”, and provoked priestly protest. Jesus gave a curt reply: “Have ye never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected (fashioned) praise’?” What could be more appropriate that this? Jesus quoted, and thus fully authenticated, the LXX reading. The phrase implies “founded (a new temple of) praise” (cp. 2 Chron. 20:22), with the further implication that the existing temple, controlled by “enemies and avengers”, was to be done away with (Matt. 23:38). God’s new house would henceforth be a house of praise, and David in vision sees the babes and sucklings (the spiritual newborns) as they lay the foundation stones of that magnificent edifice.

8. Luke 10

Luke 10

Psalm 8
Subject unto us through thy name
All things under his feet

How excellent is thy name
I saw Satan fall
To still the enemy
Tread on serpents and scorpions (v. 3: wolves; 9:58: foxes)
All....beasts of the field....under his feet
Your names written in heaven
Thy glory upon the heavens
Lord of heaven and earth
Heavens....all the earth
Babes and sucklings
All things are delivered to me
All things under his feet
The Son
Son of man
Prophets and kings

David: both prophet and king

9. Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1

Psalm 8
Father of glory
Thy glory (toward the Son?)
His power to usward. according to the working of his mighty power
Ordained strength
In heavenly places
The glory above the heavens
Far above all principality and power....
Madest him to have dominion
He hath put all things under his feet
Thou hast put all things under his feet
Filleth all in all
In all the earth

10. Hebrews 2

The emphatic use made of Psalm 8 about Christ being lower than the angels here is preceded by a sequence of passages in Hebrews 1 demonstrating that the Son has higher status than that of angels, and therefore higher than the Law which they ministered (2:2). Some of these Scriptures seem to have been selected not only to prove this but also to establish, by anticipation, verbal links with Psalm 8:

The majesty on high


A more excellent name

Laid the foundation of the earth (cp. Psa. 8:1: “hast set”)

The heavens....the works of thy hands

Thine enemies

Thy footstool

The notes on Hebrews 2 (which really belong to a commentary on Hebrews) must here be very brief:

The sequence of passages in ch. 1 about the Son being greater in status than the angels may now encounter the objection: ‘But Jesus was an ordinary weak human like the rest of us!’ To this the answer is: This argument about Jesus concerns “the world to come”, not the days of his flesh (5:7).
A certain one somewhere bore clear witness. This phrasing is not through uncertainty (for what could be more familiar than Psalm 8?), but rather to lead the thinking away from David to the Messiah.

What is man....? Hebrew enosh, frail mortal man. A powerful wit-ness to the truth concerning the nature of Christ.

Mindful of him, i.e. rememberest him. Are death and resurrection implied here? Compare Psa. 88:5.

The Son of man. In Dan. 7:13,14 the Son of man has a higher status than angels (this is at the ascension of Jesus).

That thou visitest him. The word means either a visitation in judgment, or in help and blessing. Here it is certainly the latter.
A little. See notes on 8:5 in section below.

Made a little lower. The Greek verb means “to diminish”. This happened to Christ at the end of his ministry — “for the suffering of death” (vv. 14,15).

Thou crownest him with glory and honour. Heb. 5:4,5; Exod. 28:2,36 indicate priesthood.

And didst set him over the works of thy hands. Messiah’s royal majesty. This verse beautifully sums up the three great aspects of the work of Christ!
He left nothing not put under him. When Psalm 8 says “all things”, it means “all things”!
We see Jesus. Interestingly, the first mention of his name in this epistle.

That he....should taste death. The phrase implies death and resurrection, as in Luke 9:27.

For every man, i.e. for all kinds (classes, or races) of men. Other examples of “all” probably meaning “without distinction” rather than “without exception”: John 1:7,9; 3:26; 5:28; 8:2; 12:32; 13:35; Rom. 10:13; 1 Tim. 2:1,2; 4:15; 5:20; 6:17.
In bringing many sons to glory. Along with my brethren (v. 12), this recalls the army of Israel (which included three of David’s brothers), who shared in the benefits of David’s victory, although they contributed nothing (and could contribute nothing) toward it.
As David had to go down into the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4) before he could win his victory — so Christ had to be sent into the “valley of death” before he could destroy sin. Flesh and blood was the only “valley”, the only arena, where the power of death could be encountered, and challenged, and conquered. An angel could not go there — only a man!

Him that had the power of death. The personification of this passage, which can be difficult of explanation, is seen, in the light of Psalm 8, to be an allusion to Goliath. There was a personal, in fact human, “Devil”: Goliath was the very personification of the power of sin and death! The author of Hebrews naturally uses the figure of personification, because as he contemplates Christ’s great victory over sin, he sees it against the vivid backdrop of 1 Samuel 17.

The head of Goliath was taken to Jerusalem, and buried there (1 Sam. 17:54). Golgotha, just north of the city, signifies “the place of a skull”; its name is possibly derived from this very incident. Thus the burial site of the head of the “man of sin” was also the site of the utter destruction of the serpent power of “sin”, bruised in its head in the crucifixion of Christ (Gen. 3:15).
Fear of death....subject to bondage. The Israelite “army”, cowering in their tents, too much the slaves of the Philistines ever to find the faith to defeat them (1 Sam. 17:24,32). An eloquent picture of mankind, helpless to save themselves from the greatest Enemy. (Yet these abject cowards do at last find courage, not in their own strength, but only as derived from the observed faith of their leader. After he strikes the first blow, they know the victory is already won, and they stream out of their tents and thoroughly rout the enemy: 1 Sam. 17:52,53.)

11. Other details of Psalm 8

O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth. Strictly, these words will be true only in Messiah’s kingdom. The sword (1 Sam. 17:51) and praise together, as in Psa. 149:5,9: This honor will ultimately belong to all the saints!

Above the heavens. Compare 1 Kings 8:27. Does this mean that the glory of God is more remote than the moon or the stars (v. 3)? A possible, but not certain, allusion to the theophany in Exod. 24:10.
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings. Not “mouths”. One mouth for a number of people suggests a unanimous assent, in this case to the praise of God, and of His Son (Matt. 21:16). Compare Zeph. 3:9 and Zech. 14:9; both are Kingdom prophecies.

Babes and sucklings. Not literally, but because they are seen in this derogatory light by the “enemies” (cp. 1 Sam. 17:42; also Isa. 28:9). There is another splendid example in 1 Chron. 25:3-7.

Hast thou ordained strength. The authority of Jesus (Matt. 21:16) vindicates the correctness of this LXX reading: fashioned praise.

That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. In Psa. 44:16, these words describe the Assyrian reviler at the gate of Jerusalem. Could this v. 2 be a Hezekiah addition, as does happen in other psalms (see on 25:22)?

The enemy is referred to also in 7:4-6; 9:3,6. In Psa. 7 the enemy is a fellow-Israelite; in Psa. 9, Gentile nations, as in 2 Sam. 8. In 2 Sam. 7:1 “the Lord gave him rest from all his enemies” echoes the Hebrew of Psa. 8:2: “that thou mightest still the enemy”.
When I consider thy heavens. Modern astronomical knowledge only reinforces the natural awe with which ancient man surveyed the heavens.

The work of thy fingers. Deut. 9:10; Psa. 19:1-7; Exod. 8:19.

The moon and the stars. Compare Job 25:4-6, with several contacts to this psalm. “Stars” are symbols of the glorified saints in Dan. 12:3 and Matt. 13:43.
What is man....? For the same idea see 80:17; 144:3,4; Job 7:17,18.

Mindful means remembering after he is dead. So here is the hope of resurrection. Contrast 88:5.
A little lower. The Hebrew may mean either a little lower in status or a little while lower (as in Heb. 2:9, RV mg. and RSV). But the marked difference in Greek phrasing between 2:9 and 10:37 surely shows that here the former reading is correct.

Angels. Heb. 2:9 establishes the correctness of this LXX reading of Elohim. But such instances are rare: cp. Heb. 1:6 (= Deut. 32:43, LXX exactly); Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 19:29(?).
Thou madest him to have dominion. Combined with v. 5, there is here a summary of the three great phases of the work of Christ:

v. 5a:         the days of his flesh.
v. 5b:         his priesthood: Exod. 28:2,36.
v. 6a:         his royal majesty.

The works of thy hands. But in v. 3 “the work of thy fingers” = the moon and stars. This suggests that Messiah’s kingdom will extend beyond this earth. Space travel in the kingdom of God? But, if “moon and stars” are to be read symbolically (as in Gen. 37:9,10; Jer. 31:35,36), then vv. 3,6 together cover the people of the Old Covenant and those of the New (145:10).

Thou hast put. Heb. 2:8 adds “not yet”, thus insisting on reference to Messiah in his kingdom.

Under his feet. The powers of sin and death: see Gen. 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:25-26; Phil. 3:21.
Beasts of the field. Mark 1:13; 5:13.
8. References to the Gentiles, a great multitude who at the last come under the dominion of Christ: Mark 11:15; Matt. 17:27; Gen. 48:16 mg., 19 (= Rom. 11:25); Acts 10:12. Compare also Ezek. 39:17.

The fish = Dagon, the fish-headed god of the Philistines, fallen upon his face before the glory of God — like Goliath, with his head cut off (1 Sam. 5:3,4).
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