Reflecting on the Psalms: The Majesty of God, The Dignity of Man

Israel was conscious of the saving work of God in her history. The theologians of this people who were chosen by God began to see the wonders worked in history as part of the Divine plan.

Aug 07, 2021

By Msgr James Gnanapiragasam
The idea of creation was not unknown outside Israel. The surrounding nations had their own concepts of creation. In Egypt, the stories of creation were engraved on the pyramid walls. In ancient Ugarit, the god was El and he was considered the ‘creator of creatures’. In Mesopotamia, there were stories which depicted creation of the earth as the outcome of a combat among the gods. How did Israel come to her own idea of creation?

Israel was conscious of the saving work of God in her history. The theologians of this people who were chosen by God began to see the wonders worked in history as part of the Divine plan. As they reflected on the saving plan of God, they began to see creation as the starting point of this plan of God in salvation history. God saves because he is the Lord of the world and its creator. They came to understand that ‘creation is salvation and salvation is creation’.

Psalms of Praise to Creator and Saviour (4) Ps 8 Week 2 Sat Morning Prayer page 531.

The hymn begins with praise to the greatness of God throughout the whole world, praise that is repeated at the end of the psalm. The “name” of a person brings out the reality of the person. The psalm then goes on to speak of the majesty of God in various ways: Even simple people (“children”) are praising God because they see their relationship to God in all things. On Palm Sunday Jesus quoted this psalm, Mt 21:16. The creation of the world is like a fortress against the enemies, “to silence the foe and the rebel” – an idea that may have been associated to the conquering of the darkness and the waters in Genesis 1. This could be an influence from the idea of combat in the Mesopotamian myth.

The next strophe brings us to the insignificance of man in contrast to almighty God who created the heavens, the moon, and the stars. Yahweh even arranged the galaxy of the heavenly world. Within such an awesome picture, this great God thinks of human beings who are just creatures whom he had fashioned out of clay (son of ‘Adamah). He cares for them. Clay is something which even animals step on. Man is so little in comparison to this majestic and powerful God.

The tone abruptly changes in the following two strophes. “Yet”! A contrast! The human being is created a little lower than a god. Some see this as a reference to man being lower than angels. However, even in that lower posture, man is almost a king. Notice the words that are used to describe this status of man: with glory and honour he is crowned. He is now dominant over all that God has created. He wields his power over the three spheres – the land, the air and the seas. God has “put under his feet” all the creatures within these spheres. The dignity of man is firmly established.

The letter to the Hebrews applies this psalm to Christ: “For in putting all things under him he made no exceptions… but we do see Jesus, who was for a short while made less than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he submitted to death....” Heb 2:9. The victory that man gained was because of the victory of Christ over death. His resurrection gained for us this victory. Christ must have prayed this psalm conscious of God’s majesty and his own dignity as a truly human being born of the Virgin Mary.

This psalm is recited on a Saturday which is a day of rest for the Jews. A day when the work of creation was completed. One can just sit on a clear night and gaze at the wonders of the heavens, the moon, and the stars. As human beings, we can just sing the praises of God the creator. Man finds his true being only in relation to God. He can feel his insignificance as he faces the greatness of the cosmos. On Sunday, the Christian stands with the risen Lord who has perfected the dignity of man by his resurrection. Is this not why we sing at mass just before the consecration: “Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” Man should give glory to God instead of glorying in the work of his own hands!

Total Comments:0