In the previous post, we considered how Psalm 8 highlights the greatness of God’s being in order to highlight the greatness of His grace and how a greater conception of grace inspires greater gratitude in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Reflecting on the mindfulness of God as the transcendent Creator and Sustainer, we saw, is profitable in every way.
But even more profitable than meditating on the mindfulness of God as Creator is meditating on the mindfulness of God, in Christ, as our Redeemer. As Matthew Henry so beautifully writes,
And it is certain that the greatest favour that ever was shown to the human race, and the greatest honour that ever was put upon the human nature, were exemplified in the incarnation and exaltation of the Lord Jesus; these far exceed the favours and honours done us by creation and providence, though they also are great and far more than we deserve.1
The incarnation and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ together are the greatest testimony to God’s love for fallen humanity. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. Jesus tells us so in John 3:16. Paul, likewise, writes in Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And later in the same Epistle, Paul makes use of an argumentum a fortiori (i.e., from greater to lesser) holding up Christ as the pinnacle of God’s loving provision for the needs of his people, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32) Christ himself is the greatest confirmation of God’s love and mercy. And while this is indeed the clear teaching of Scripture as a whole, one wonders if the mindfulness of God as Redeemer is particularly in view in Psalm 8 as the writer of Hebrews believes it is.
The book of Hebrews was written to a church composed of predominately Jewish converts for the purpose of steeling them against the temptation to return to the Old Testament types and shadows of Judaism and in so doing forsake Christ who is their substance. The message of Hebrews can be summed up in three words—Jesus is better.
The first major step in his extended argument for the supremacy of Christ begins in Hebrews 1:5 where the writer demonstrates that Jesus is superior to angelic beings (cf. Col 2:18). In Hebrews 2:5–9 he reasons:
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
At face value, Psalm 8 is not overtly prophetic or Christological like Psalm 22, Psalm 89, or Isaiah’s servant songs. If read by itself, it seems that the psalm’s focus is exclusively upon God’s grace shown to Adam and all his posterity in granting them dominion over the works of His hands (v.6). There is no explicit mentioning of the Savior to come. The “son of man” designation seems to be limited to Adam and all his descendants by ordinary generation; the children of Adam are the ones made lower than the angels and under whose feet God has put all things (Ps 8:6). How then then can the writer of Hebrews reference Psalm 8 as proof of the superiority of Christ over angels if David is referring to himself and all of Adam’s posterity? Is this another instance of New Testament eisegesis as liberal commentators posit? Is the writer of Hebrews shoehorning Jesus into the Old Testament wherever possible for the sake of his Jewish apologetic? Far from it. In fact, there are sound exegetical, theological, and devotional reasons that demand we read this psalm with Christ as its ultimate referent.
The language of “putting all things under his feet” in verse 6 is pregnant with Christological significance. This same imagery is used in another Davidic psalm, Psalm 110, the most quoted psalm of the New Testament. Hebrews 1:13, quoting Psalm 110:1, reads, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” Elsewhere in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes of the resurrected and ascended Christ, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22, 23). Thomas Goodwin, commenting on the Apostle Paul’s use of Psalm 8 writes:
Now the scope of the Psalm is plainly this: in Romans 5:14, you read that Adam was a type of him that was to come. Now in Psalm 8, you find there Adam’s world, the type of a world to come; he was the first Adam, and had a world, so the second Adam hath a world also appointed for him; there is his oxen and his sheep, and the fowls of the air, whereby are meant other things, devils perhaps, and wicked men, the prince of the air; as by the heavens there; the angels, or the apostles, that were preachers of the gospel.
To make this plain to you, that that Psalm where the phrase is used, “All things under his feet,” and quoted by the apostle in Ephesians 1:22—therefore it is proper—was not meant of man in innocency, but of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ; and therefore, answerably, that the world there is not this world, but a world on purpose made for this Messiah, as the other was for Adam.2
Whether you agree with the “two world” concept posed by Goodwin is immaterial to the point he ultimately makes. Paul’s presentation of Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5 together with his application of the language of Psalm 8 to Christ’s mediatorial authority as the risen God-man indicate that Paul, like the writer of Hebrews, understood the psalm to be pointing forward to Christ himself. Because Scripture infallibly interprets Scripture, Paul’s messianic interpretation of Psalm 8 necessitates that we read the psalm messianically as well.
Furthermore, let us not forget that Jesus is not a tritium quid. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin. Therefore, if we reason from the lesser to the greater, because this psalm is fittingly applied to the first Adam who was fallen in sinful, then how much more does it apply to the Second Adam who was sinlessly perfect? As H.C. Leupold so helpfully comments, “The true character and essence of the original Adam are manifested most effectively in the life of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if the true dignity of the first Adam is strongly set forth, the whole description obviously finds its fullest realization in Jesus Christ.”3 It would be tantamount to denying the true humanity of Christ if we conclude that Psalm 8 has nothing to do with the ideal man himself, Jesus Christ. That which can be said of the type must be said of the anti-type.
If God’s grace is seen so beautifully in granting finite man a restricted authority over the works of His hands despite his descent into sin, then how much more beautifully does God’s grace shine in the incarnation of His only begotten Son, making him “a little lower than the heavenly beings” for the purpose of redeeming fallen man? Psalm 8 refers both to God’s condescending love to the first Adam as Creator and to His condescending love in the Second Adam who is fallen man’s Redeemer. This movement from creational grace to redemptive grace evokes the image of a mountain climber who has reached the summit of what he thought was the highest mountain only to have his breath taken when he sees an even loftier mountain towering above him. Psalm 8 is meant to take our breath away not once, but twice. Christ is the transcendent Creator. The one who spoke all things into being and who created man with a unique dignity that ultimately reflected His own glory. And it is this same Creator who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). All I can say is, Hallelujah!
The singular greatness of Christ’s person makes His incarnation, “his taking the form of a servant,” the single greatest act of humility that the world has ever known. No one is humbler than our Christ because no one has condescended so far. The higher the individual, the greater the condescension. The greater the condescension, the greater the humility. Psalm 8, when read in its fullest sense, gives us one of the best and most comprehensive testimonies to the greatness of God’s being, his love, and His humble work on our behalf. Christian, read this psalm with your glorious and gracious God and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the forefront of your mind. This is the mindfulness to which Psalm 8 calls you. Give your mind to it and receive the full measure of comfort that God has reserved for you in this psalm.
You can find the whole series on Psalm 8 here.
©Stephen Spinnenweber. All Rights Reserved.
1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1968), 269.
2. Thomas Manton in Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Volume I: Psalms 1–87 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, n.d.), 83–84.
3. H.C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 101.
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