PSALM – 8
4 To see your sky, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you stared at,
5 what is man that you think of him?
the son of a man, do you care?
6 You wanted him a little less than a god,
crowning him with glory and honour;
7 You set him over the works of your hands,
you put everything at his feet:
8 herds of oxen and sheep,
and even wild beasts,
9 the birds of the air and the fish of the sea,
anything that goes its way through the waters.
WITHIN THE IMMENSITY OF THE WORLD
“To see your sky, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you stared at…” Perhaps we are within the framework of a night celebration; a very likely hypothesis, since the prophet Isaiah sometimes alludes to nocturnal celebrations, for example when he says: “You will sing like the night when the feast is celebrated, you will have a joyful heart…” (Is 30,29 ). So let’s imagine that we are on a summer evening, in Jerusalem, during a pilgrimage, a celebration under the stars.
We have not read this psalm in full, but if we refer to our Bible, what is obvious from reading this psalm is that the first and last sentences are exactly the same! “O LORD our God, how great is your name in all the earth! So no need to look any further for the theme of this psalm: it is a hymn to the greatness of God!
In passing, moreover, let us note that the name used for God here is once again the name of the Covenant, the famous four letters, YHVH, the Most Holy Name that is never pronounced: therefore, even if the word Alliance is not used once, it is implied; it is the people of the Alliance speaking here.
Let’s go back to this sentence which is repeated at the beginning and at the end: “O LORD our God, how great is your name in all the earth! So we have here a perfect symmetry… It frames what? A meditation on man. This build is very interesting. At the same time, man is indeed at the center of creation, AND at the same time everything, including man, is related to God: He alone acts and man contemplates… Everything is “the work of the fingers of God” , everything is “the work of your hands… You stared at the stars… You think of man, You take care of him, You crown him with glory and honor, You establish him on the work of your hands, You put everything at his feet.
The “crown” of man is precisely the cosmos: and it is certainly no coincidence that the psalm is constructed in such a way that the enumeration of the works created by God frame man, making him like a crown. If we take the overall structure of this psalm, it appears as concentric circles: in the center the man “What is the man that you think of him, the son of a man that you take worry ? You wanted him a little less than a god, crowning him with glory and honour; you establish him over the work of your hands, you put everything at his feet”… Then a first circle, Creation: on both sides verses concerning man: on one side the starry sky, and the moon… on the other all living beings: herds, wild beasts, birds, fish… Then the second circle, the famous phrase repeated: man contemplates the true King of Creation: “O LORD our God, Your name is great in all the earth! »
SPLENDOR OF GOD, SPLENDOR OF MAN
The kingship of God is already expressed by the word “great”, a word from the language of the court which says the power of the victorious king. It is also said of course by the word “splendour”. This king is victorious over the adversary, over the enemy, apparently without difficulty, since he is content with the babbling of an infant as a bulwark; (the translation of this verse is much debated…we choose here the liturgical translation, since it is this one that we hear at Mass and it is very suggestive): “Up to the heavens, your splendor is sung by the mouth children, toddlers: rampart that you oppose to the adversary, where the enemy breaks in his revolt”. (Implicitly the song of the little ones: here is the rampart that you oppose to your enemies; that is enough).
This royalty, God does not keep it jealously for himself: since he crowns man in his turn. Man also has the right to a royal vocabulary: man is “barely less than a god”…he is “crowned”…all things are “at his feet”: there is the image of a royal throne: the subjects prostrate themselves at the bottom of the steps. To say the same thing, the book of Genesis had told the creation of man as coming last after all other things, after all other living beings, to show that man was at the top; and then the book of Genesis again had shown man giving a name to all creatures, which is a sign of superiority, of mastery… In Creation, man’s vocation is indeed to be the king of Creation: To the first human couple, God had said: “Be fruitful and prolific, fill the earth and dominate it. Subdue the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that stirs on the earth! (Gn 1,28).
I come back to the sentence: “To see your sky, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you stared at, what is man for you to think of him, the son of a man, that do you care? A fine way of expressing God’s presence with man, his solicitude.
Obviously, such a psalm exudes the joy of living! But there may well be days in our lives when this presence of God with man will be felt as heavy. This is what happened to Job on a day of great suffering: he was a great believer, a prayerful person and he knew this psalm by heart, most certainly; well, one day, in his despair, he comes to regret having sung this psalm with such enthusiasm, when everything was going well: and he goes so far as to say: “Leave me… When will you stop spy on me?… Spy of man… What is a mortal to make such a big deal out of it, to fix your attention on him? That day, her faith nearly shattered; and some of us, too tried, know this vertigo; but for them, as for all of us, as for Job, God watches over and continues, whatever happens, to “take care of man”.
The Bible is a “happy” book! This whole psalm exudes joy. Joy before the splendor of God, and also before the splendor of man. This human king of Creation submits in turn to the One who is its true Master: he recognizes his smallness, he recognizes that he owes everything to his Creator.
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Sunday, June 12, 2022 – Catholic Church in France
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