Psalm 8 was the first Biblical text to reach the moon. It went up on Apollo 11 on a disc that had messages from seventy-three countries. The Vatican submitted a text and included Psalm 8. If you could have made the decision of a part of the Bible to send up, which would you have chosen?
The Psalm begins and ends with the same phrase, “O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,” which frames the content of the Psalm in the majesty of God and our praise of him. The Psalm then encourages us to think about the role of human beings in God’s creation, noting that while we are small in comparison to God, he has endowed us with great significance and responsibility. The Psalm asks a penetrating question and repeats it, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” This may seem like an odd question, “what is man that you (God) are mindful of him?” but what if we started back further and asked, what is man? What sorts of answers are possible to this question?
Notice too that the question occurs essentially in the middle of the Psalm/ poem and then note what leads up to the asking of the question and what follows from it. When we do this, we notice that the Psalm has a particular structure called a chiastic structure. The name comes from the Greek word chiasma, which means “crossing” and the Greek letter, chi, which is shaped like our X. The pattern repeats topics or phrases in a particular pattern typically ABBA or ABCCBA.
For Psalm 8:
A God’s Excellent Name Psalm 8:1
B God’s Rule Psalm 8: 2-3
C Man’s smallness Psalm 8:4
C Man’s greatness Psalm 8:5
B Man’s Rule Psalm 8:6-8
A God’s Excellent Name Psalm 8:9
The building blocks of poems are most often images, word pictures that the poetry creates in our minds. In addition, the most common subject matter for poems is human emotion.
As G. Campbell Morgan writes: “The Book of Psalms …. Is the book in which the emotions of the human soul find expression. Whatever your mood, and I suppose you have changing moods as ell as I do … I can find you a Psalm that will help to express it. Are you glad? I can find you a Psalm that you can sing. Are you sad? I can find you a Psalm that will suit that occasion. … The Psalms range over the whole gamut of human emotions … They were all written for us in the consciousness of and in the sense of the presence of God. … In every one of these Psalms, from the first to the last, whatever the particular tone, whether major or minor, the singer is conscious of God. That gives peculiar character to the Book of Psalms. (The Unfolding Message of the Bible, p. 232)
What are the most central visual images in Psalm 8 and how do they work together to create meaning?