Psalms have been considered poetry for millennia. Many of them have been ascribed to David, king of Israel, but there is some doubt as to his authorship of all of them. In fact, some have other authors . Psalm eight for today has no named author, so we don’t know who to think for this lovely bit of poetry. It’s one of the Psalms that’s easy to read because it captures so many thoughts and emotions that we all share.
The Psalm starts with an exaltation of God as Creator and governor of all that is. It goes back to the Genesis stories of creation, where God put everything in motion. According to the Psalmist, even infants and children praise God’s majesty. God is also the protector against those who would seek to overpower or strike back at the people of God.
I love verse four, the one that talks about “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses.” That one verse pops into my mind just about every time I go out at night and look up at what stars I can see from here. We must have our city lights which blank out most of the stars in the sky, but enough can be seen to remind me of all the others, Like a little diamonds on a deep plush velvet.
The next verse is a bit touchy, mainly because it is something that I feel can be misconstrued, especially in this day and time. “What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?” The problem I have with it is the question “What is man?” Now, I realize that we often think about correctness and use the term human instead of man to be a little more sensitive to the fact that it there are women in this world. Many would possibly use instead to put power in the hands of men, especially when reading verse seven where it says, “You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet.” There’s also the problem of verse six, “You have made them but a little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor.”
The part about making man a little lower than the angels part bothers me because, throughout most of my life, power has been the sole property of males. Women were to be subservient, meek, and present only, as the old German saying goes, for “Kinder, Kuchen, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church.) Even the angels were male. Honestly, it was a man’s world. Still is, in some places.
Perhaps I am petty about this, but from my experience throughout my life, especially growing up in a very different time than we live in now, I have a somewhat jaundiced outlook on certain things. I remember the first time I heard the Eucharistic prayer that included Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was as if I heard it as a new story, one that included essential people that had never been mentioned in that way before. It was the beginning of my awareness that indeed had significant parts in Biblical history, whether it was acknowledged or not.
We have had women scientists, astronauts, poet laureates, Nobel prize winners, conductors of major orchestras, artists, and heads of corporations. There are a lot of places we haven’t been yet, but I am sure they will at some point in time. I hope I live long enough to see it.
I have no problem reading this Psalm in the way in which it was written, because I look back at the time of the writing, the context of it, the culture from which it came, and understand that it was a reflection of the way things were. God was male, Father, governor. Men made all the decisions, but when women controlled something, even as small as a tavern or even their own body, it seemed to point to them being prostitutes. Not very heartening for women at all.
The purpose of the Psalm was to glorify God. It does that very clearly and very poetically. It reminds us of all that God has done and all that has benefited us throughout the millennia. It’s something we forget, though, especially now. We seem to have replaced the God of Psalm eight with the god of money, power, and privilege. No longer is God our governor, or exalted in all the world. Instead, the moguls of industry, the captains of real estate, the lawyers, bankers, corporate CEOs, and politicians have taken the place of God. We hear the teachings of Jesus on Sunday morning, but then it’s off to the links, a nice restaurant, or home to watch a football game, forgetting what we were told in church, sometimes before we even reached the church door. That’s why we have scriptures like the Psalms. They are supposed to be reminders to us of the way things should be. Hopefully, we’ll go back to remembering that. Maybe one day, when the kingdom of God comes, we will see this kingdom of equality and glory under God.
I hope it’s not too much to add to wish for.
Image LH 95 star forming region of the Large Magellanic Cloud, Author: European Space Agency/Hubbel Telescope. Found on Wikimedia Commons
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and -retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.