1 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, he introduced us to Frodo, Gandalf, and many others, but he never wrote himself into the story. You won’t find Tolkien wielding a sword against the orcs or enjoying a second breakfast with Pippin.
But, of course, it would be ludicrous to claim that Tolkien had no part to play in the story. He is simultaneously not in the story (as a character) and everywhere in the story (as its creator). Tolkien created this literary world, populated it with characters, love and war, good and evil. Every word, every page, every story, has his fingerprints on it.
The Bible’s story is both like this and unlike this. Like Tolkien, God is the creator of the scriptural story, its author. The biblical world exists only because of him. But unlike Tolkien, the Lord is also a character—though very much more than a character—in the story itself.
He is already in the opening verse: “In the beginning, God created….” Later, he wields a sword against his people’s enemies and enjoys a lunch with Abraham. Not only does every word, every page, and every story have his fingerprints on it, but his very presence.
The divine Author has written himself into his own story.
This has far-reaching implications for how we, as Christians, read the Old Testament, including the Psalms. Why? Because we confess that Jesus of Nazareth is this divine Author. He is the enfleshment, the incarnation, of the God who introduces himself to us in the opening verse: “In the beginning God created…[and] in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (Gen. 1:1, John 1:1, John 1:14).
For Christians, therefore, the God who created the heavens and the earth, called Abraham, redeemed Israel from Egypt, spoke the Ten Commandments, and dwelt between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, is the same God who nursed from Mary’s breasts, called fishermen to his disciples, and was crucified between two thieves.
In the beginning, God made man, and in the fullness of time, God became man.
This is what Psalm 8 is about. It is a masterful poem that, in a mere nine verses, rushes us from the Garden of Eden, to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, and finally to the enthronement of Christ at the Father’s right hand. Psalm 8 is a trailer for the entire biblical movie, and the entire biblical movie centers on Christ.
In the opening verses, we are introduced not only to creation but to a creation in conflict. We hear of three groups: (1) the LORD, our Lord; (2) babies and infants; and (3) foes, the enemy, the avenger. This latter group, foes and enemies, are in cahoots with the serpent who introduced discord into our world in Genesis 3. They are a brood of vipers, that is, children of the father of lies who twist the Word of God.
Jesus puts the chief priests and scribes in this unsavory category on Palm Sunday. When the chief priests and the scribes were fuming at him for receiving praise from the children crying out in the temple, Jesus replied by quoting Psalm 8, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, you have prepared praise’”?” (Matt. 21:16). God was using the weak of the world—children, babies, infants—to shame the strong, to “still the enemy and the avenger” (Ps. 8:2).
The conflict that began in the Garden of Genesis 3 continued into the temple of Matthew 21.
Psalm 8 goes on to show what lengths the Lord would go to bring peace to our conflicted world, to usher in the reign of a righteous Last Adam who is the Seed of the woman, promised in Genesis 3:15. In verses 3-5, we read:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet.
These verses echo the creation of Adam. In fact, the Hebrew בֶן־אָדָם [“son of man”] could be translated “son of Adam.” But if they echo Adam’s creation, they shout Christ’s incarnation. In the NT book of Hebrews, the author sees this “man” and “son of man” in Psalm 8 as Jesus (Heb. 2:5-9). How so?
For a little while, the Son of God was made a little lower than the angels. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). He who made the heavens and the earth was swaddled in a manger. In time, his servant form was even more servile, for “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Born as the Seed promised to Eve, he grew to be the man who crushed the head of the serpent even as the serpent sank his hellish fangs into his heel. By the grace of God, Christ tasted, chewed, and swallowed up death for us all (Heb. 2:9; Isa. 25:8).
If you want a job done right, do it yourself. The greatest job to be done was the defeat of Satan, the salvation of humanity, and the establishment of the kingdom of grace. So God did that job right; he did it himself by becoming a son of Adam, suffering the death of Adam, and crushing the serpentine skull of Adam’s foe.
Having predicted the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus, Psalm 8 trumpets forth his resurrection, ascension, and enthronement as well. The Son of God is crowned with glory and honor, given dominion over the works of his Father’s hands, so that all things are now under his feet (Ps. 8:5-8).
When Christ takes his place on the throne alongside his Father, he does so as a human being. Long before, Ezekiel had seen in a vision someone with “a human appearance” on the divine throne (Ezek. 1:26). He saw correctly. A man with skin, bones, blood, and crucifixion scars is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is divine and human, Creator and creature, perfectly and everlastingly the one God-Man.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8 concludes. In all the earth, from shore to shore, the name of Jesus is magnified. This Son of God and Son of Adam, who conquered his foes, silenced his enemies, crushed the head of the serpent, rose again, and took his seat on the celestial throne, his name is great in all the earth.
All this he did for you. God wrote himself into his own story that the story of your salvation might not be fiction but a truthful reality. Foretold in Genesis, sung in Psalm 8, and enacted in the Gospels is the account of the Lord doing whatever it takes to make you his child—forgiven, free, and full of divine mercy.
So, when you think of Christmas hymns, do not just recall “Joy to the World” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” but also remember Psalm 8 and the incarnate Lord whose name we praise.