This psalm was born on a clear night. David had gazed up into the darkness, and had seen the moon and the stars shining like jewels. Nighttime brings its own vision. You can see most in the heavens when you can see least on the earth. Divine truth is enjoyed most by those for whom this world holds least attraction.
The opening verse is an exclamation of worship and praise. David wrote as an Israelite, “O Jehovah our Lord”, involving a reference to Israel’s special relationship with God, who centuries earlier had said through Moses, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God”, Deut. 11. 1. But David saw beyond the frontiers of Israel, and asserted that the name of God is excellent “in all the earth”. He looked upward too, away from Israel and from the earth, to discern the glory of God above the heavens. Just as the work of a great artist discloses his identity, so the little corner of the universe visible to David that night revealed to him the divine Architect. The name and glory of God were revealed in creation. We know that sunlight was as eloquent to David as moonlight, for Psalm 19, which begins “The heavens declare the glory of God”, refers to the sun as “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber”, and rejoicing “as a strong man to run a race”.
As David gazed up into the night sky, he was awed and humbled. He felt like an infant before the immeasurable and impenetrable vastness of it all. It was fitting that a frail creature should be humbled by creation’s glories. God intended this reaction; in fact He was prompting it. He was revealing Himself in His handywork in order to elicit this response. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength”, v. 2. The Lord Jesus Christ rejoiced that the Father revealed Himself to such lowly hearts, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes”, Matt. 11. 25. Learned astronomers have since learnt much about the stars, but David saw by faith what they cannot see through their telescopes.
David gives an arresting reason as to why God prompts praise through His creation. It is “because of thine enemies”. So the almighty Architect of the universe has enemies! Who are they? For a godly Israelite, they were often the neighbouring heathen nations, practising and propagating idolatry and the manifold wickedness which went with it. They lay under bondage to Satan and his hosts, who are the ultimate enemies of God. They took character from their masters. As the enemies of God they were the enemies of His people. They were never more dangerous than when they were offering friendship to Israel. Suggestions of alliance and inter-marriage, however well-meant, threatened the spiritual and moral life of God’s people. So today, believers who fraternise with strangers to the new birth jeopardise their own spirituality and usefulness to God. Paradoxically, we impart most benefit to the world when maintaining spiritual separation from it.
Since God has enemies, it is to be expected that He will deal with them. He often did so through Israel. He gave skill and strength to Joshua and his army, enabling them to take possession of the promised land. He later equipped men like Barak, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson to deal with subsequent generations of adversaries. David himself had done many exploits for God on the battlefield. But here he is referring to a very different means by which God deals with His enemies. He ordains strength “out of the mouth”, v. 2. Strength is seldom thought of as proceeding from the mouth, and still less from the mouth of “babes and sucklings”. Unfamiliar as the idea may seem, though, it is by no means unknown in the Scriptures. When human words are inspired by the Spirit of God, they become very powerful. They can reach the heart and conscience of their hearers, convicting, humbling and silencing them. That is how God’s purpose is described here — to silence: to “still the enemy and the avenger”. Perhaps the transition from the plural “enemies” to the singular “enemy and … avenger” means that Satan himself is in view. Certainly he is the avenger as well as the enemy. When God makes inroads into his territory, Satan doubtless seeks to avenge himself, perhaps by mounting swift counter-attacks upon God’s people. But God has the last word. He is always able to still the enemy. This is a striking expression. To still, not to kill, is God’s intention here. He does it by the guileless, childlike testimony of humble believers. “Babes and sucklings” imply those who are infants in the ways and wisdom of the world. They may at times be “unlearned and ignorant men” by earthly standards, but they are in the secret of the Lord. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty … and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence”, 1 Cor. 1. 27-29.
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained”, v. 3. David considered the heavens. This was more than mere star-gazing, more than simply an interest in the night sky. He considered the universe and drew conclusions from it, conclusions as to the place of man in relation to it and to its Creator. We should notice the phrases “the heavens”, v. 1, and “thy heavens”, v. 3. Those heavens which revealed the glory of God were the property of God. Listen to the emphatic language of Psalm 115. 16, “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men”. The closing expression of that verse strikes a topical and relevant note. God has been very kind to allow men to make their little excursions into space, since the earth is their intended habitation as far as the psalmist is concerned.
David speaks of the heavens as “the work of thy fingers”. The universe is certainly a work of God, but David saw it as a work of art rather than of labour. It was not so much, for David, a gigantic structure involving the massive expenditure of divine energy, but a thing of beauty and intricacy revealing consummate skill and artistry. Remarkably, David reserves the phrase “the works of thy hands” to describe the relatively miniature creatorial activities of God on earth, v. 6. But now comes the psalmist’s reaction to the splendour of the skies. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?”, v. 4. He has already sensed his own smallness, but now he recognizes the smallness of his race. If the earth itself seems tiny and lost in the unimaginable vastness of space, what of the creatures who dwell there? We may loom large in our own eyes, but measured by the scale of the universe we are fractional particles, infinitesimal, practically non-existent! What folly is all human pride in this context! Yet we are by no means the tiniest of God’s creatures, the fact of which any virus could remind us if it could speak. What staggers David, though, is that, tiny as we are, we are the objects of divine attention. The two phrases of verse 4 express this progressively, “thou art mindful of him … thou visitest him”. The second clause is more intense than the first. That God is mindful of man at all is sufficiently remarkable. That He visits him, cares about him, is concerned about him is a greater marvel still. And Christians know far more than David of the full extent of God’s concern. We know of the Babe of Bethlehem and the Man of Calvary. We have grounds for a much greater sense of wonder and adoration than was achieved by Old Testament saints.
“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour”, v. 5. Here is a description of man’s God-given status in the created universe. God has made him “a little lower than the angels”. Angels and men are God’s creatures. Angels were created first and are described as “spirits”, and as God’s “ministers, a flame of fire”, Heb. 1. 7. They are described in the same chapter as “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation”, 1. 14. In Psalm 103. 20, we read the writer’s bold exhortation, “Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word”. Luke records the words of a famous angel to Zacharias, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee”, Luke 1. 19. Mark records that, during the Lord’s forty days of temptation in the wilderness, He was “with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him”, Mark 1. 13. Luke records that, as the Saviour prayed in Gethsemane, “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him”, Luke 22. 43. A little later in the garden, at the time of His arrest, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”, Matt. 26. 53. In the course of two well-loved parables, the Lord Jesus said, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth … there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth”, Luke 15. 7, 10. Speaking of little children the Lord Jesus gave the solemn warning, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven”, Matt. 18. 10. The law of God is described in Hebrews as “the word spoken by angels”, 2. 2, and Paul similarly describes it in Galatians 3. 19 as having been “ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator”. Writing of God’s salvation in his first Epistle, Peter states that it involved things which “the angels desire to look into”, 1. 12.
Clearly, then, angels are august and exalted creatures, dwelling in God’s presence, beholding His face, excelling in strength, bearing His messages, commuting between heaven and earth, always prepared for divine service, deeply interested in mankind, rejoicing in our blessings and desiring to investigate God’s wondrous purposes for us. God evidently conferred great dignity upon man by making him “a little lower than the angels”. This was the status in the universe which God originally intended for man. In passing, how pathetic in the light of this are the status-seeking ambitions encountered amongst men grappling for position and esteem in our fallen society!
To be concluded
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