Transforming lives on four continents

Reflection on Psalms 8

Posted by Dave and Michele Mahon at 16:22 on 23rd March 2017

Psalm 8

Here is a collection of my reflections on Psalm 8, based on a class presentation at IMC, whilst in training for mission in 2017. I chose this Psalm by way of a method to engage in discipleship, with a believer from an Animistic background.

The psalms were probably collected together after the Jews’ return from their exile in Babylon. This editing work is said to have been done by a group of scribes or scholars called the Masoretes, who marked them for public reading and singing. The events they cover spans nearly the whole of Israel’s history. The sadness in Psalm 137 captures a feel of some of their struggle during that time in Babylon, after which the book of Psalms was put together.

Ps 137:1-4 ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.  There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?’

But they did sing. These poems, hymns and laments gave them a way to express their feelings, awe and worship to the Lord whilst preserving their identity as a people, and passing down their legacy and customs to another generation.

There is a lot of word play in the Hebrew language used in the Psalms. It also has double meaning at times. The heights of praise and the depths of despair are illustrated with rhythm, and different ideas and thoughts echo and complement each other. Some psalms are very personal, while others are suitable for a congregation, a small group or even singing at a religious festival.

The psalms function as prayers themselves, as Psalm 8 does, as well as an invitation to the reader to add their own prayers to these as a springboard to continue to worship God and have continual dialogue with our heavenly father. It is a model and gives us permission to take it further. They act as an invitation to pray without ceasing, as these ancient words are used and re used, because we really have no better words than these. These words have been tried and tested throughout the Jewish community and found to be good words. They touched the people and continue to strike a chord with us in our own lives and experiences.

The God to whom we pray is real and cares about us personally, and as a community. God’s love should be celebrated and shouted aloud from the rooftops, in all the earth. These are not prayers to be said in our heads or even under our breath. They are to be said out loud, sung or even shouted, sometimes in anger or in anguish.

Jesus knew the Psalms well and often quoted them, and so have many other Jews and Christians over the centuries. As you may know, David wrote about half of them, reflecting on his experiences at various points of his life.

The psalms can be divided into 5 sections, and we are looking at a psalm from the first section, which has themes that tie in with the preceding psalms 1-7. It’s a song of praise about God’s majesty in creation. It talks about how human beings have been given a unique position within God’s creation, using ideas echoed in psalms 119, 104 and 139. It establishes God’s sovereignty over the universe, yet marvels at His love for people, even babies. This encourages me; it proves that my young children are extremely powerful in God’s eyes, as their praises destroy the works of the enemy!

It’s a hymn of praise, wonder and adoration about the magnificence of God, or Yahweh. But it also reminds us that this is our Lord. He is Lord over me and you.

Try to imagine David the shepherd boy laying on his back in the fields of Bethlehem at night, enjoying the brilliance of the moon, stars and planets and his heart erupting with praise, awe and wonder about God’s greatness. As a community, it is possible that this song was sung at night, perhaps during the Feast of Booths.

Paul mentions this passage when he illustrates in Romans 1 the witness of creation, leaving people without excuse. Genesis 1 is also a mirror of this passage, along the themes of the creation story. We chose this for our Animist background believers because heavenly bodies and creation in general tends to have huge significance for them. The absence of written, sacred scripture means that they rely on nature, including trees, flowers and animals, to tell their stories and legends, and to aid their worship.

This psalm truly values creation, yet plainly states that it is the author of creation that is to be worshipped, not creation itself. Though God is above the universe, he is involved and engaged in the works of His hands, and human beings have a very important role in enjoying and preserving it. It could be used for prayer and worship, both personally, in a small group or congregational setting, to set our perspective on the bigger picture, and simply remind us of the greatness of our God.

Michele Mahon

 

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