Tuesday, December 6, 2011

PSALM 8 - The Majesty of God

This Psalm was clearly composed by David, whilst he was on  a  mountain top in terms of his experience with God.   His heart is full of God  and his pen explodes  with  poetry as he  seeks to describe the majesty , the awesomeness and the greatness of God  . The Psalms are  poetry . Have you  ever wondered why ? Eugene Peterson  has helped me here  : “Poetry is original speech” . “The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make  a relationship, shape beauty , form truth[1]  It is significant  that  the biblical prophets and psalmists were all poets.” [2]  Poetry is  language that is highly condensed and crammed with meaning . It is  language pondered  over  and prayed over  and then  put to pen .

The majesty  of God ! That is David’s experience here , and it happened   while his soul was  enraptured  by something that he had seen of God .  This sort  of experience is not uncommon  in the Scriptures :  Abraham , Moses, Isaac , Isaiah and other  prophets , Peter James and John   saw  the glory of God ( Matt 17:1-9)  .  The apostle Paul   had experiences with God – some that were  unspeakable - he could not talk about them ( 2 Cor  12:1-4). There can be no doubt that in Paul’s  many and difficult experiences , the vision  of  the majesty of God  must have sustained him  at many times  . How else could he have  remained   so joyful in a jail in Philippi ?
The apostle John  (who had been with  his brother James and with Peter on the Mount of Jesus’  Transfiguration)  also tells us of an experience  where he was “ in the Spirit”  on the Lord’s day ( Rev 1:10)  and  where he saw unspeakable things  – and the result is  the  book of  the Revelation of John . Revelation  really  employs strongly ‘poetic language’ . Eugene Peterson  thinks that the  Revelation  is a poem, " the one great poem which the first Christian age produced."  ( Eugene Peterson : Reversed Thunder: p. 5)

I  believe that  God gives  such visions of Himself  in varying strengths to His servants  to sustain  them in  difficult times  in their ministries . I can only speak for myself  at this point .  I  was radically  converted  in June 1978 , when   during  the course of a University Mission  a sermon  strongly spoke to me . At once I saw God for who He was . My life was radically changed .  That,  for me was a foundational experience , and I needed that , for God knew  what He had in store ahead  for me .  I also remember  the time , when in  August 1989  Eastside Baptist Church  had called me to be their  pastor,   I  was engaged  in   prayer,  seeking God’s face as to whether I should accept the call or not . His majestic  hand was heavy upon me then  , and I remember being very afraid , and the Lord spoke to me through the Scriptures  and  made me aware  of the fact that I would have to suffer  many  things for His sake.   I am so glad that the Lord  had showed me this then  , and this  ' vision'   has helped me at various times  when the going got tough.  
Why  is the  experience of the  majesty of God   something  which we should seek ?
John Piper has written an excellent  book entitled ,  The Supremacy of God in Preaching . His thesis  is   this :  “The majesty of God is an unknown cure for troubled lives.  I quote :
"People are starving for the greatness of God, but most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is the unknown cure. There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow. It does not matter if surveys turn up with a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme  greatness of the sovereign God of grace." This is the deepest need: our people are starving for God. [...]

Most often  God is pleased to show us His majesty by the plain reading of Scripture  , and through   personal  study and hearing  the Word of God preached . 

....And so we turn to the 8th Psalm :

It is attributed to David.  We are not quite sure  what the background or occasion  to this Psalm  might be . It is also entitled : “according to Gittith” . Nobody is quite sure what that means, but it is probably  a reference  to some musical term. The same term is found in Psalms 81 & 84. All of these psalms share one thing in common – they are all Psalms of adoration and praise to the Lord!

“O Lord our Lord…” The Hebrew uses two words (a) Yahweh, the proper name of the Lord God of Israel and (b) Adonai  ( lit. “Lord” )  used to describe the bearer’s position and authority. The  eternal “I am that I am” ( the eternal and uncreated God; all powerful , all knowing ; all seeing) is our Lord (Master). He is at once,  the transcendent and the immanent  God .

“How majestic (excellent) is your name in all the earth…”  . The “Name” means far more than by what we mean when we name our children . In Hebrew , a name   reflects a person’s attributes, qualities and excellencies. God’s name describes who He is  i.e. in this instance He is  the eternal God who is also our personal Lord!  That is who He is!

In all the earth !
No name is so universal ; no name has such power, and no  name such influence as  the Name of  our   God.   His Name  has been praised ever since  man was created with the breath of God in him .  Even after the fall , when man’s spirit died  within him  , and when man  no longer  was able to see clearly ,  or to perceive  and desire  God  ,   God had  not removed  the longing  , after Himself . There  remains  a God shaped vacuum in all of us , "and we are restless until our hearts are found in Him"  (Augustine of Hippo : Confessions )  .

You have set your glory above the heavens…! Not “in” , but “above!”…  His Name  is  even greater, and  much beyond and infinitely  higher than the heavens. Who can  fathom the size of the Universe ? Who can understand its limits ?  Who can conceive of an end  to the heavens ? ( see Job)  No one !  And yet that will be the place where we will be one day  This God is our God!

“Out of the mouths of babies and infants you have established strength (NIV  you have ordained praise…”  ) Not only in the highest  heavens  above , but in the humblest quarters of the earth below (i. e. amongst children and infants) the name of the Lord our God is praised.  Spurgeon says : “How often will children tell us of a God whom we have forgotten. How often does not their simple language about God refute those learned fools who deny the being of God!” 
What a contrast between the glory  that  reflected in the created  heavens ( Psalm 19:1)  and the glory  that  the humble  lips of children and infants express ,  and yet by both the name of God is  equally powerfully exalted . 

It is  this  which silences the enemy of  God, the foe and the avenger!”   
Evil men can do what they will. Our God is still praised by the highest and lowest of all beings! God has established this principle , and , my brothers and sisters , even if we should  fail to praise God with our mouths , God will  cause the  stones to cry out  in praise of His Name ! (Lk  19: 40)


 When I look at  your heavens, the work of your fingers,…
A survey of the solar system has the tendency to humble us. Pride is one of the chief traits of our human sinfulness. We think  that the world rotates around us – at least that is how we often act.  That is why we have quarrels, strife ,wars etc. What man is in reality,  is quite sobering : we are frail , fallible and feeble. (See 1 Peter 1:24 ; cf Isa 40: 6 – 8).
In comparison to the earth we are like a little grain of sand on the beach, and in relation to the Universe, our earth is nothing! But the Lord our God cares for this earth, and He cares for us!

 “What is man that you are mindful of Him…. In the course of the  next few verses David expounds the reasons why God  even regards man . God regards man because  man is one of His created beings. He is the choicest of God’s created beings , because men are made in His image ( Gen 1:27.  And does not God make all things well?  Should not God think highly of that which He made?

“He made Him…”  
(a)  a little lower than the angels , but still glorious (as is true of all  His creation). This fact also reminds us that man is not everything in this           universe – i. e. this should humble us. 
(b)   God made man to  exercise dominion over  His creation (vv 5 – 8 - see Gen 1:28) . God  permits  and commands  man  to share  His attribute of  kingship , ruler-ship  and dominion in a delegated  way . This world  must be  subdued  for the glory of the Great King . The order which mankind brings  into this creation brings praise to God  and  truly glorifies Him . Conversely , to allow things  to  run into disorder  dishonours God  and   this detracts from  the  testimony  of  His majesty .

This is our God; my God ; your God; the great and awesome God; the majestic God ; the God who speaks through infants ; and who speaks from the highest heavens. This is the God who is mindful of us, and cares for us. This is the God who esteems us , and trusts us to take care of His creation. This God deserves our praise, our love and devotion.
This God ought to be feared alone! This God alone is our refuge and strength , for He is in total control , for He is the God  (without beginning or end) our Lord- our Master!  
When you are captured by such  a vision  of God’s majesty ,  it is unlikely that you will ever be in search of idol ! 

[1] Eugene  Peterson : The Contemplative pastor , p 44
[2]    p.156

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