Psalm 8 is a hymn I regularly turn to stabilize my internal disruption.
In prayerful adoration the psalmist both begins and concludes the hymn “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
These words are the bookends for the psalmist’s contemplation of how God’s majesty encompasses the whole of this world. Between those bookends are natural expressions by which we perceive and experience God’s otherwise immeasurable majesty.
Firstly, he says “You have set your glory above the heavens”. It is a statement we readily relate to considering how frequently we, like the psalmist, “look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established”, and praise God for his cosmic creation. Our imagination has always been captivated by the faraway glories of stars and sunsets, our eyes and minds dancing to the beauty and elegance of their movements.
Our thoughts cannot long linger here because the psalmist immediately turns our attention away from the skyward splendor to a more average scene down on earth where another majesty resides. Across the luscious landscape, human beings dot the terrain. Though they be frail, they are formidable. The psalmist is astounded that of all God’s creation, he is most mindful of humankind (vv3-4). The psalmist also acknowledges and appreciates that, having been made a little lower than the angels, God has given humankind dominion over his creation (vv5-6). They are a marvelous majesty.
But the psalmist is also aware there is ugliness. That this sacred dominion has been beaten into weapons we frequently wield against one another. It is into this ugly array the psalmist names a much more intimate expression of this majesty: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.”
A bulwark was a piece of a wall or tower that extended outward to provide a greater measure of security to the city’s defenses. Standing tall, it raised the city’s occupants and defenders above the noise and threats of the enemy. But how can the voices of the young offer such forbearance?
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson is in jail awaiting trial when a mob of men arrive one night to lynch him. Tom’s lawyer, Atticus, is also there to dissuade them. They’re facing off when Atticus’ children suddenly run up to the jail porch. Despite Atticus demanding they leave, they stay. The situation is at an impasse when Atticus’ young daughter Scout sees Mr. Cunningham, the father of a school boy she once bullied, then befriended. She begins talking to him about his own young son as if nothing is going on around them. Mr. Cunningham’s head is bowed, and the other men feel awkward as well. Suspecting she’s crossed some line, Scout stops and apologizes, at which point Mr. Cunningham comes to his senses, speaks to her courteously like a gentleman, then goes home, telling the other men to do the same. Life was right in front of them, but their single-minded rage could only envision death. It took a young girl’s innocence to restore them to a sense of dignity and decency.
While our violence, smugness, and exploitation cloud our view to the majesties God has instilled all around us in the form of creation and each other, suddenly, from out of the prattling, atheistic noise, the psalmist points the eyes and ears of our hearts to the innocence of the young breaking through the bleakness like a bulwark emerging in the morning fog. We who are made a “little lower” than the angels, but often elevate ourselves as gods, need these lowest versions of ourselves to remind us of the simple majesty our existence already satisfactorily expresses.
As you hear these innocent infants or babbling babes bellow out what Jesus himself would later refer to as praise God has prepared for himself, receive it as sacred majesty meant to “silence the enemy”, as well as our own nitpickings, and restore us to worshipful awareness of GOD at work in this world.
And if any words must be spoken, let them echo the psalmist by praying “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”