Tehillim - Psalms, Chapter 8
(The following material is compiled predominantly from an anthology of Orthodox Jewish commentary, written and arranged by Rabbi Avroham Chaim Feuer from the Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume 1. Additional insights from a Nazarene Israelite perspective have been added by Jason Jordan. Additional Tehillim translation by Rabbi Hillel Danziger)
Rambam (Hilchot Yesodei haTorah 2;2) derives from the rapturous verses of this Psalm a set of guidelines leading to the loftiest accomplishments to which man can aspire – the love and fear of Elohim.
What is the correct path to obtain love and reverence for YHWH? When a person contemplates His greatness, His wondrous acts and creations, he sees a glimpse of Elohim’s endless wisdom which is beyond compare. When this is beheld he will promptly yearn to cleave to YHWH with love, praise and glory. As King David said, “My soul thirst for Elohim, the living Elohim” (Psalms 42:3)
When this man continues to ponder this subject in greater depth, he will be startled and recoil in fear filled with the realisation that he is no more then a lowly, insignificant, obscure creature possessing a weak, miniscule intellect, standing in the presence of He Who is perfect in His wisdom. “When I behold the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place. What is the frail human that you should keep him in mind? And what is the son of mortal man that You should care for him” (Psalms 8: 4-5)
Rambam encourages the study of nature as being the preferred way to come to love YHWH. Guided by Torah, observation of natural phenomena can lead to an awareness of the One Who created them (cf. Sefer HaMitzvot 3; footnote to verse 3, Psalms 8
). The formula is: First study Torah. Then you will discern Elohim in the natural phenomena of the universe.
King Solomon was a master of natural sciences and he was a master in all matters involving botany and zoology. His wisdom was so great it extended far beyond the boarders of Israel according to 1 Kings 5:11.
The Secret of YHWH’s Greatness Revealed Through Lowly Men
Verses 1-4; “For the Conductor; on the Gitis. A song of David. YHWH, our Lord, how mighty is Your Name throughout the earth, For it were fit that You place Your majesty above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have established strength. Because of Your tormentors: to silence foe and avenger.”
“For the Conductor; on the Gitis.”
The Sages Ibn Ezra and Radak cite the Gitis as referring to the family of Oved Edom the Giti, who were charged with performing this Psalm, because the Ark of the Covenant resided in Oved’s house and greatly blessed him and his family.
On the Ark’s Journey from Israel’s enemies to the City of David a tragedy occurred. The Priest Uzza put his hand up to steady the ark when it faltered. On doing this he fell done and never rose. David was afraid to take the Ark any further. 2 Samuel 6:1-11; “David was afraid of YHWH that day and said, "How can the ark of YHWH ever come to me?" He was not willing to take the ark of YHWH to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of YHWH remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and YHWH blessed him and his entire household.”
This incident and the Ark’s temporary housing are also related in Chronicles 13:1-13
The Sage Meiri explains that the Set-Apart Ark was also called “Giti” because it was safeguarded in the home of Oved Edom, the “Giti” for three months. After this, David took the Ark to its permanent abode. The King rejoiced ecstatically in honour of the Torah. He danced and leaped with all of his might in its honour (2 Samuel 6)
. At that time he composed this impassioned psalm to refute all of those who deny the Torah which demonstrates that Elohim created and forever rules the cosmos.
Giti was also a musical instrument that was manufactured in the town of “Gat.” Little is known about the Levitical instruments, because when the Temple musician’s went into exile they vowed to permanently put away their instruments and their knowledge of them in case their heathen captors requested they play sacred music for entertainment.
The Musicians with No Thumbs
When the Israelites returned to the Land from their Babylonian exile Ezra declares that he inspected the people at one point "but found none of the sons of Levi" (Ezra 8:15)
. This was because according to Rashi, based on Psalms 137:1-4
, which describe the exiles weeping by the rivers of Babylon, where they hung their lyres upon the willows took an extreme measure to assure their vow. The Babylonian King Nebuchadentzar demanded the Levites gather there to play for him a song of Zion. They responded by saying, "How can we sing a song of Elohim in a foreign land?"
They were not saying that they do not wish to play for the king, but rather that they were physically unable to do so because in order to make themselves incapable of playing their lyres they had bitten off their thumbs. Thus when Ezra examined those who had returned it appeared that there were no Levites.
“YHWH, our Lord…”
The Sage Malbim notes that the Four-Letter Name is known as the “the name of perpetual brining forth into existence,” for it is with this Name that YHWH reveals Himself to us by means of all the creations which he brought out into the visible world.
“…how mighty is Your Name throughout the earth, For it were fit that You place Your majesty above the heavens.”
YHWH’s might is beyond the measure and capacity of the creatures below to comprehend and therefore they are unworthy of having the Holy Spirit dwell in their midst.
“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have established strength. Because of Your tormentors: to silence foe and avenger.”
YHWH’s miraculous works do not have to be sought out in the far flung reaches of space. They are evident in a tiny baby who freshly enters the world and instinctively suckles milk which provides ideal sustenance in measured quantities. Priests and Levites who work in the Temple, a shadow of the great heavenly Temple not made with human hands, were once merely babes who rolled in filth and dirt and relied on their mother’s milk. YHWH is humble enough to desire the praises of creatures so lowly as us. A worm who does not sin was created before a man, yet from a man who gives into the Evil Inclination is sought by YHWH to perform such a significant task.
According to the writings of the Maccabean era a virtuous Jewish woman Hannah lost all her seven sons to hideous tortures, one after the other for refusing to bow to an idol. Her last remaining youngest seven year old son not only refused like his brothers to bow, but also spoke words of great wisdom to the evil Antiochus before he was tortured and killed in his mother’s presence. Part of his speech to the king went, “O evil-doer, you are afraid of created things, And forsake Elohim Most High, living and existing, who is all-powerful. How can you tell me to worship your images made of wood from the street? I pity your intelligence. You have taken leave of your senses.”
The Hebrew word “Kleidon” describes that act of listening to children study Torah to hear omens in the verses they recite. There is a story that relates how Mordechai listened to the recital of a portion of the week’s Torah Parshah from a child who quoted a verse detailing how Israel will prevail over its enemies and from this deduced that Haman’s evil decree would not only be nullified, but returned on his own head.
Matthew 21:15-16; “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things (Yahshua) did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant “Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Yahshua, "have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"
Verses 5-8; “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have set in place. What is the frail human that You should remember him? And what is the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him? Yet You have made him only a little less than the angels, and crowned him with a soul and a splendour You gave him dominion over the works of Your hand, You placed everything under his feet.”
“When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have set in place. The Sage Rambam (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:12) writes: “When a person ponders over these matters and analyses all creation – from the lofty angels to the planets down to man and the like, he comes to recognise the wisdom of Elohim inherent in all creatures. This comprehension will cause his love of the Creator to increase. His soul will thirst and his flesh will pine to come to adore The Blessed One. He will tremble and fear his own insignificance and minuteness when he compares himself to one of those great and holy bodies.”
“What is the frail human that You should remember him? And what is the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him? Yet You have made him only a little less than the angels, and crowned him with a soul and a splendour You gave him dominion over the works of Your hand, You placed everything under his feet.” Like the angel’s, man’s soul is not matter, but pure spirit. The only difference is that a man’s soul is imprisoned in a coarse body which threatens to corrupt it (Radak).
quotes verses 5 and 6 of this Psalm. “(YHWH) made him (Yahshua) a little lower than the angels; thou crowned him with glory and honour, and did set him over… and put all things in subjection under his feet…”
This quotation is used in context to establish that Yahshua performed the most crucial aspect of his mission as a lowly man, possessing no more faculties than a fit carpenter and yet he was before, at that time, now and in a time to come, master over all creation."
The saying, “…You have made man only a little less than the angels”
means that man’s mission; specifically to overcome his Evil Inclination, is a more meaningful than any mission assigned to angels.
Verses 9-10; “Sheep and cattle, everything, even the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea; for he crossed over the paths of the sea. YHWH, our Master, how mighty is Your Name throughout the earth!”
“Sheep and cattle, everything, even the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea; for he crossed over the paths of the sea.”
No living creature is beyond the grasp of man, even the fish in the most remote seas, for man has conquered the art of transportation and can build ships to cross over many waters (Metzudot David).
“…how mighty is Your Name throughout the earth!”
David concludes the Psalm by exclaiming in awe the tremendous might of the Creator (Radak).
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said; When Moshe ascended to heaven, the ministering angels said to the Set-Apart One, blessed be He, “Sovereign of the Universe, what business has one who is born of a woman among us?” “He has come to receive the Torah,” was the divine answer. “What!” said the angels to Him, “Are You about to bestow upon frail man that cherished treasure that was with You for nine thousand and seventy four generations before the world was created? What is the frail human that You should remember him, and the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him? YHWH, our Master, is not Your Name (already sufficient) mighty all over the earth? Now place Your glory above the heavens!” (Psalms 8:2-5)
. The Set-Apart One, Blessed Be He, then called upon Moshe to refute their objection. Moshe said the them” “Of what use can the Torah be to You? It is written, “Remember the Shabbat and keep it Set-Apart (Exodus 20:80)
, Are you angels doing any work (on this day that you need a reminder) that you need rest? Again it is written “Honour Your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12)
. Have you a father and mother? And also it is written, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:13)
. Does jealousy exist among you? Does an evil impulse exist among you?” The angels at once confessed that the Set-Apart One, Blessed be He, was right.
The Apostle Sha’ul speaks of a mystery in Ephesians 3
. This mystery is the revealing of an even greater aspect of YHWH’s plan to the angel’s of heaven that carried the same reservation as the Jews to the unfolding of the New Covenant when it included the opportunity for the Gentile to be saved. Ephesians 3:8-10; “ Although I am less than the least of all Elohim’s people, this grace (unmerited power) was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Messiah and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in Elohim, who created all things. To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of Elohim might be made known by the congregations (i.e., gatherings of Torah observant humans) to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (i.e., angels).”
This isn’t the first time Israel displayed characteristics of angels. The children of Israel’s declaration of obedience at Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:7
mirrored a unique characteristic found only among angels in the heavenly realms. All twelve tribes stood before YHWH and declared that they would do His Commandments first and listen to them second. This same seemingly unusual order of obedience is also described as a trait found in the heavenly host. Psalms 103:20; “Bless YHWH, you His heavenly malachim (messengers), that excel in strength, that do His Commandments, that listen to the voice of His Word.”
This doesn’t mean that angels or humans blindly follow YHWH, but they should obey Him without initial inquiry like a small child obeys a parent who commands him abruptly not to run out into a busy road to retrieve a ball. If the child resolved to ignore his parent’s objection until he made inquiry and proceeded to fetch his ball he would be cleaned up by a passing car. This is why it is good to follow a Command even without first acquiring knowledge as to why it was implemented.