One of the glorious things about the Bible is that it tells us a story. Amazingly, it’s a book filled with commands, poems, exhortations, proverbs, and more, written by multiple authors over hundreds of years, and, yet, it tells a story. It’s a story that begins with the creation of all things and ends with a glorious new creation. And throughout this story, there are many threads that you can trace. For example, many of you have heard me note in the myriad of wedding messages I’ve done recently the reality that the Bible begins and ends with a wedding scene. So, you can trace this theme of marriage throughout the Bible. God brings about the first marriage in Genesis 2:24, speaks of himself to Israel as her husband, pictures our sin in terms of adultery, and then Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that the marriage relationship of a husband and wife was created to picture the relationship of Christ and his church, which will lead to a great wedding feast to come. Thus, you see how you can trace the development of that theme throughout the Bible’s storyline.
Within that storyline of Scripture and the various threads you can trace, Psalm 8 is crucial, and the reason this text is crucial for us is because it seems to be (at least in part) David’s commentary and devotion as he reflects on the opening chapter of the Bible—Genesis 1. Now, yes, as you read the psalm, you may imagine that David writes this as he walks outside, looks up at the moon and stars at night, and is moved by the Spirit to reflect on God’s glory in creation and in humankind. That’s most likely true. But David’s meditation on the glory of God in the sky undoubtedly led him to consider what God had revealed about mankind and our purpose in Genesis 1:26-28.
And because David reflects back and provides commentary on that glorious text that describes our creation, it helps move the storyline forward to a day that Paul tells us in Romans 8 is so far greater in glory than any suffering we experience in this life, it is not even worth comparing the two. But maybe that’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit. So, let’s first walk through a couple of notes we see in the psalm before settling in on its main point. First, we see God’s glory in his creation.
God’s glory in creation
You can imagine David walking outside as he writes verse 1, saying, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” As David beheld the moon and stars, he saw that it reflected the glory of God, and he was right. Paul would go on to say it this way in Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God had shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Here’s what this means. When God created the world, he decided that he would make himself known to his creatures by putting the imprint of his glory on everything. The grass, trees, sun, moon, stars, and everything else in all of creation displays the glory of God. You can’t hide from it. It’s there.
This means that the impulse, when you’re looking at a glorious sunset, to say, “God is awesome,” is right. That’s what that sunset is saying. When you look at the vast heavens, even into space, and you see the moon and stars and note the immense and eternal power of God, that’s the right response. That’s why God made the creation as he made it—to make himself known. And when God purposes to make himself evident to everyone, he succeeds. There is no person on the earth who doesn’t know God exists because God has made himself known. They may suppress what they know to be true, but they know the God of the Bible exists because he’s revealed himself and his glory to every person in the created order. He has indeed set his glory above the heavens, as David has said. But David doesn’t stop there. We also see that God chooses to demonstrate his majestic glory through what is weak.
God’s demonstration of glory in what is weak
After being awed at the glory of the heavens, David begins to think about babies. Have you ever seen one of those videos that starts on someone’s eyeball or something like that and then zooms out into the vast expanses of the universe, showing even the tiny nature of our enormous galaxy in the midst of all that is? Well, David does something like that in reverse. He’s looked at the heavens, been overwhelmed, and contemplated how it displays God’s glory and majesty. And then he thinks to one of the smallest, seemingly most inconsequential, powerless beings—babies and infants—and notes that out of their mouths the Lord also shows forth his strength, enough strength to still his enemies.
In other words, God doesn’t need what we consider mighty in order to demonstrate his strength and greatness. In fact, he often chooses the weak, vulnerable, foolish, and poor realities to highlight his power and might. This happens in Matthew 21. Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last week of his life, and as he enters, people line the street, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9). That is, they were speaking of Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one who is the fulfillment of Psalm 2. Then, as Jesus enters the temple, some children begin echoing that same refrain, crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (v. 15), perhaps merely mimicking what they’d heard their parents say earlier. And as they do, Jesus quotes this psalm, noting that God had chosen to bring his praise out of the mouths of those whom others wanted to dismiss and brush aside. This is the way our God works. He displays his glory in the greatness and majesty of the created order, and he demonstrates his strength in the mere babbling of the weakest of creatures.
But then, David brings these two threads together, noting that God has made mankind his image-bearers.
Mankind as God’s image-bearers
He gets to contemplating the glory of mankind by first asking why God cares for humanity at all. He writes, “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?” (vv. 3-4). You can see his reasoning, can’t you? If you go outside and look up on some clear night when the moon is full and the stars are shining bright, it is magnificent. As David noted in verse 1, God’s glory is set above the heavens. And if you stop and imagine just as vast and great all of that is and how small you and I are in comparison, it can make you feel tiny and insignificant. That’s what David is doing. As he looks at the glories of the heavens, he wonders what is mankind that God would even be mindful of us or care for us? We would hardly seem to register.
But it is precisely at this point that his mind turns to Scripture, specifically Genesis 1, and specifically within that chapter, verses 26-28, where the Lord clearly shows humanity as the crowning work of his creation, creating mankind in his image and giving them dominion over all the creatures on the face of the earth, charging them to multiply and fill the earth with his glory. Therefore, as David’s mind moves to that text, he provides his answer to the seeming insignificance of mankind in the midst of the universe, saying in verses 5-8, “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, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” And that realization leads him again to exclaim, as he does in verse 9, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
You see, in an amazing turn in the midst of creation, though humanity is smaller than much in the universe, less powerful even than many other creatures, and not nearly as glorious to the eyes as the moon or stars in terms of brightness, it is humanity that is God’s crowning work in creation. In fact, after noting that it is God’s own glory that he’s set in the heavens, he says of humanity that God “crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5). We bear and show forth God’s glory as brightly (really, more brightly) than the heavens. And the use of the word “crowned” there I don’t think is accidental, for the next thing he mentions is that humanity was given dominion, as we read in Genesis 1.
So, let’s pause for a second and consider once more who God created mankind to be. In the beginning God made humanity as his image-bearers. Now, what’s interesting is that when Genesis 1:26-28 tells that humanity was made in God’s image, it doesn’t define it. Why wouldn’t you define such a big, important term? Well, if we think about it for a second, I think it makes sense. Earlier, when I told you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 8, I didn’t define it. Does that mean that I don’t think the Bible is important? Of course it doesn’t mean that. Our whole service is built around the Bible. The reason I didn’t define what I meant by “the Bible” when I asked you to open it earlier, is obvious. It’s because I assumed (I think, rightly) that you all would know what I meant.
Well, I think that’s the same thing that is happening in Genesis 1. Moses knew his readers would understand. How? Well, this language of a god having an image-bearer was language used in the Ancient Near East. For example, the people might build a large statue that represented the god. That statue was supposed to reflect, resemble, and represent the god, sending the message, as you see the statue, it was to image the god who reigned over this territory.
Similarly, the king himself was seen as a living image of a god. If you ask how the god exercises his or rule over the territory, the answer would be that it is through the king. Because of this, some kings in the ancient Near East were called “sons” of god. That is, there was a relationship between the king and the god. The king was called the god’s “son” because he was in the likeness of his god, reflected the god’s behavior, and represented the god’s rule. Therefore (using Egypt as an example), the king of Egypt was the son of the god of Egypt and was the living image of the god of Egypt. And, as the god’s son, he was to bear the god’s image as he resembled, reflected, and represented the god in his rule over the land of Egypt.
As a good summary, Peter Gentry writes, “In the ancient Near East, since the king is the living statue of the god, he represents the god on earth. He makes the power of the god a present reality. To sum up, the term “image of god” in the culture and language of the ancient Near East in the fifteenth century B.C. would have communicated two main ideas: (1) rulership and (2) sonship. The king is the image of god because he has a relationship to the deity as the son of god and a relationship to the world as ruler for the god.”1
This is what Moses is telling us in Genesis 1:26-28. When God created humanity, he made all of us his image-bearers. Every person is like a king over the earth, a son of God, called to resemble, reflect, and represent God as we exercise dominion over the glorious creation he has made. And humanity existed in that moment in a state of “glory” to use the language of Psalm 8 (“crowned with glory”). I think this is what Paul is referencing in 1 Cor. 11:7 when he says that man “is the image and glory of God.” And that’s what David is thinking about. What a glorious reality that God has done in blessing us as humans, when we’re so seemingly insignificant in the universe.
But we all know that that scene of paradise didn’t last. Though mankind, as god’s sons and the image and glory of our God, didn’t reflect God’s behavior but, in fact, rebelled against him. Far from humanity as sons, we became rebels. Far from imaging God rightly, the image was corrupted, and we fight against our Creator. Far from glory, mankind became object of God’s just wrath. Far from exercising dominion over all the creation (as Genesis 1:26-28 tells us and Psalm 8 celebrates), we find ourselves in a place where creation is against us. If we met a hungry lion in the middle of the field and we were unarmed, it would quickly become apparent that we do not exercise dominion over the beasts of the field. Far from exercising dominion over the earth itself, the ground will one day house our dead bodies. Paradise was lost.
So, here’s a question: Why did David write this psalm? Why did he celebrate a reality that is lost? He lived after Genesis 3 had happened. In his own life experience, he’d have to fight off and kill bears and lions when guarding his sheep. He was well acquainted with the fact that creation doesn’t simply submit to mankind’s dominion. So why, years after the fall, did David sit down, meditate on Genesis 1:26-28, and celebrate what God had done in creating man as his those who were his sons and bearers of his image and glory?
I think the answer is because David knew that the story of redemption wasn’t finished with Genesis 3. In other words, David was looking back at Genesis 1:26-28, even as he knew the mess than mankind had made of ourselves, because he knew that God’s plan was one of redemption. God wasn’t done with humanity, and he hadn’t cast his purposes aside.
And sure enough, one day God sent his Son into the world, and he became human. He was (and is) the God-man. And the reason he became human specifically is because he was coming to fulfill the role God had purposed for humanity and redeem his people to that place of glory. The Scripture tells us that Jesus himself “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). As we discussed last week looking at Psalm 2, he is God the Son, who as a man, was appointed in the line of David as the “son of God,” meaning God’s reigning human king, by his resurrection from the dead. And, speaking of his resurrection, he was the first, after dying for our sins, to be raised in glory. In other words, Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of everything that God made humanity to be. Even in his life before the crucifixion, we see him exercise his dominion over the sea and even death itself.
So, one reason David writes Psalm 8, reflecting on the glorious state of humanity is because he is pointing us forward to the second and more glorious “Adam,” our Lord Jesus Christ. But as I mentioned, Jesus didn’t come merely to be the fulfillment of all that God intended for humanity but to redeem his people. To use the language of Hebrews 2:10, he came to bring “many sons to glory.” He came to restore paradise and more.
Think, for a second, about how all of this comes together in Christ. Concerning the image of God that has been marred in mankind after the fall, when we place our faith in Christ, the Scripture tells us that we are being conformed to the image of Christ who is the image of God (Rom. 8:29). Also, being united with him by faith, so that what is true of him is true of us, in Christ, we are made sons of God. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” What then about glory? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” What then about dominion? After all, isn’t the exercise of dominion over the earth one of the elements David celebrates in Psalm 8? Indeed it is. And listen to what the author of Hebrews notes in 2:5-10. He writes, “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.” That is, the author of Hebrews is noting that dominion is complete. But then he notes that right now we don’t see that. Right now we don’t see creation under our dominion. He writes, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” But he wants us to know that we do see something. He continues, “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. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
In other words, you and I don’t yet experience the glorious situation that David was celebrating in Psalm 8. But we do know that there is a human bring right now reigning over all things—the God-man, Jesus Christ. And we see him, reigning at God’s right hand. And, as we sang earlier, he has raised our human nature, in the clouds, to God’s right hand. A human is reigning. And one day, Jesus will return, and, in an instant, God’s sons will be revealed, we will be glorified, and we’ll be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ. And in that moment the creation itself will be made new, and we will reign with Christ in glory as God’s sons and image-bearers forever. Therefore, encourage one another with this glorious news. Preach the gospel to those who do not believe so that they might hear, believe, and be part of that glorious redemption. Fight against racism, and abortion, and euthanasia and everything else that fails to recognize the glorious dignity of all humans. And hold fast in obedience to our Lord, walking by faith, beholding Christ reigning, knowing that one day our faith will turn to sight. Amen.