Out of the Mouths of Poets

January 08, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 2 Kings 21–25, Psalm 8, Proverbs 8.

Sometimes, the core idea of a passage–especially when in poetic forms like in the Psalms–cannot be understood apart from the structure of the passage itself. Tonight I was reading Psalm 8, and thinking about the aims of reading the Bible. Specifically, my aim is to know God and worship him more as I read Scripture. Thus, my goal is that each time I read through a section I would come away both more aware of who God is and more set in both my will and my affections1 to honor him.

As I read Psalm 8, I was wondering, “Okay, how does this lead me to worship?” Echoing the psalm is a good start, of course, as it opens and closes:

Oh Yahweh, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

But the rest of the psalm is a meditation not only on Yahweh’s majesty, but on the people he made. This is an interesting turn, and it caught me off guard as I started thinking more carefully about it. The key, I soon realized, is in the fact that this is a Psalm, not a letter or a sermon or a treatise. David felt free to get at his point sideways, as it were, and as is the fashion of poetry.

The whole poem turns back and forth between the God who made the heavens, who set his glory above them, and the people he made. The contrast is striking, and the more so because of the wonderful turns of phrase.

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?

Now, I can sum up the point David is making here. One could say simply, “Humans are small compared to the universe, so it is surprising that God would pay attention to them.” But to do so without further reflection is to miss some of the beauty of what David does in the poetry, and therefore to miss the force of the passage. It is to miss an opportunity to have my emotions interact with this truth, and not only my mind. We have all felt the awe of staring at a night sky full of lights, a billion miles away and burning brighter than our own sun so that we can see them here across the aeons. We have all felt small against that vastness.

And if we stop for a moment and feel that here with David, and then are caught by the sudden turn—“what is man?”—we can feel with him the wonder that the God who set his glory above the heavens is the God who gave man dominion over creation. We can feel with him the surprise that God would not only establish his strength before the nations and before those who rebel against him, but that he would do it through babies and infants. We can feel with him the greatness of a God who is not limited by our feeble strength and our mortality, whose majesty goes beyond the tinyness of humanity and yet is somehow the greater for the ways he uses us, little beings that we are.

How majestic is the name of Yahweh in all the earth, indeed.

  1. My desires, ambitions, emotions–all the pieces of me that include but are not limited to my thoughts and feelings, and which are distinct from though closely interacting with my will.