Looking Back and Looking Forward: A Psalm about Our Place and Purpose

Psalm 8 Pic.jpgHave you ever wondered where or if you belonged, or where your place was? Have you ever wondered what your purpose is in this world? If so, this is the psalm for you. This psalm—Psalm 8—is all about our place and our purpose as people created as God’s image. It’s a psalm positioned in the middle of scripture, but its themes reach back to the very beginning and look forward to the very end.

The Bible starts as God orders a world that serves as both a canvas for his glory and a home for human beings. It tells us about our place and our purpose in the created order. In this psalm, the psalmist looks back at that creation account to consider humanity’s place and purpose in light of God’s greatness. And, in spite of many years of setbacks from the events in Genesis 1 to his day, he also looks forward with hope concerning the future of humanity’s place and purpose.

With that said, I hope that you will see the enduring significance of this great psalm and are encouraged by it. I hope that you discover where you belong and what your purpose is in this life.

LOOKING BACK: A MEDITATION OF THE CREATOR’S GLORY AND MAN’S EXALTED PLACE AND PURPOSE IN CREATION

The first thing I want to do is walk you through the majority of this psalm as the psalmist looks back. He looks back and praises the LORD—Israel’s God—for his greatness as the Creator, and he comments in amazement at the exalted place and purpose that this great God has granted humans in the created order.

However, as the psalmist looks back and thinks upon the creation account, the first thing that he does is step outside and gaze up into the heavens. There, he sees the moon and the stars that have been intimately crafted by the fingers of the LORD God. And, upon seeing his handiwork, he praises the LORD. In verse 1 and verse 9, the beginning and the end of this psalm, the psalmist declares:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

And, in the last part of verse 1, he adds to this the words:

You have set your glory above the heavens.

One of the things that the psalmist does for us here is that he shows us how Genesis 1 ought to be read. Christians and non-Christians today often read Genesis 1—11 in an attempt to figure out what it says about the material origins of this universe. They want to know how old the earth is, exactly how God made the earth, and what all of this means and how or if it correlates with today’s science.

However, what we should do first, when we read Genesis 1 and when we step outside at night to gaze at the heavens, is what the psalmist does here. We should declare, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens!” We should be astounded and stand in amazement of the being who has the power to craft the moon and the stars and set them in place with his fingers.

That is the first thing the psalmist did when he thought about Genesis 1 and looked up into the starry heavens. The second thing that the psalmist did, after standing amazed at God’s greatness and praising God for his glory, is that he comments in astonishment at God’s great care for people. Look with me at vv. 3-4.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

As the psalmist looked at the night’s sky and thought about the greatness of God, he wondered why God cared so greatly for human beings. Who are we compared to the LORD, the one who created the heavens and the earth? And, who are we compared with the heavens that declare God’s glory? The heavens are an infinite display of God’s greatness, and we are tiny specks of dust on one tiny planet in one particular solar system. Yet, the assumption here is that this great God does indeed care for us!

In verves 5-8, the psalmist goes on to talk more about the exalted place and purpose that God has given to humanity in this world. However, before we look at those verses, I first want to take a stab at the question that the psalmist raises in verves 3-4: What is man that God is mindful of him and cares for him?

Now, I realize that this question is a rhetorical question—that it is not intended to be answered. But, I want us to think about it a little more deeply anyway. Why does God care for us in light of his greatness and in light of the vast expanse that is the heavens?

We are like a blade of grass, here one day and gone the next. We are like a vapor that vanishes almost as soon as it appears. There are turtles and trees that live longer than we do! Yet, God cares for us. God cares for you. Did you know that? He does! And, he cares for me. Why? It’s one of the most confounding questions that can be asked or thought, isn’t it?

Well, I think the most that we can say when it comes to answering this question is that he cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. That is who he is. When the LORD revealed his glory to Moses at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 34, he revealed some of the most intimate details about himself in all the Bible, and what he said was this:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.

Exodus 34:6-7a

For whatever reason, the LORD created humans as his image and entered into a covenant, an agreement, with us to be our God. And, when the LORD is your God, he is faithful to you and he cares for you. That is just who God is. Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He is just in punishing the guilty, but he also makes provision to acquit those who cry out to him for help. God cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. And, there is really not much more that can be said about it than that.

Now, as we turn back to this psalm, we see that when the psalmist thought about Genesis 1 and looked up at the night sky, he also marveled at humankind’s exalted place and purpose in the created order. Look with me at verses 5-8.

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

At this point, the psalmist is reflecting upon Genesis 1:26-28. In those verses, we discover that the LORD God created humankind as his image-bearers and gave his people dominion over the work of his hands. The LORD put everything in the created order under the rule and authority of human beings—all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, and the one who passes along the paths of the seas. I will talk more about the one who “passes along the paths of the seas” in a few moments, but first let us think about what all this means.

God made the earth our place, and he gave us a purpose as people created as his image. The earth is our home. It is God’s place, but it is also our place. God crafted it for the benefit of all his creatures, but he crafted it primarily for our benefit. Why? Again, all we can say is that he cares because cares. He loves because he loves. He created people as his image and has chosen to share dominion of this earth with his people.

The earth is our place; it is our home. You belong here. And, our purpose—every single one of us as people created as God’s image—is to serve as co-rulers with God over the created order. Our purpose is to have dominion—to share in bringing order to this earth—and it is to reflect God’s gracious character throughout the earth through our own action and attitudes and relationships and dealings with other people.

As we work, live, and build toward a better and more peaceful community, we are to reflect the compassion, mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness of the LORD God. That is who he defined himself as to Moses, and that is who he has proven himself to be as our faithful and loving Creator and Redeemer.

I don’t know if you saw the movie Jupiter Ascending or not. Probably not. It didn’t receive great reviews or buzz in the media. But, Jessica and I saw it, and it reminds me a little of these verses.

At the beginning of Jupiter Ascending, we meet this young woman named Jupiter played by Mila Kunis. She is poor and spends her life cleaning toilets for her rich neighbors. However, while Jupiter cleans toilets, she dreams about the stars and cannot get past the fact that she feels as if she were born for something more. What Jupiter soon discovers is that she was right. She discovers that she was really royalty and that the rights to planet earth really belonged to her.

From that point, she and an alien played by Channing Tatum team up in a battle against other aliens to save her birthright! If you are not sold on that plotline, I don’t blame you. It was a silly movie, but the basic idea concerning Jupiter should ring true to you today if you believe God’s word.

If you ever wonder where your place is in this world, if you ever wonder where or if you belong, if you ever wonder what your purpose is, Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 tell us that we were created as God’s image-bearers, that the earth is our place, and that we were created to serve him as earth’s royalty. We were created in rank just below the heavenly beings and our purpose is to share in bringing order to the earth and to reflect God’s gracious character throughout the earth.

Our purpose is to have authority over all—all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, and over the one who passes along the sea. “And the one who passes along the sea,” I want us to think about that for a moment. Now, when you and I think about what passes along the depths of the sea, we may have in mind a shark, a dolphin, or some kind of large whale—none of which strike any particular fear in us as those who spend the majority of our time on land. However, when the ancients thought about the one who passes along the paths of the sea, they envisioned a terrible monster. Such a creature left the ancients spellbound.

The reason is that, for them, the sea monster ultimately didn’t symbolize a sea-dwelling creature at all, but what we would call a supernatural being that brought about great disorder in the universe. We meet a creature like that in Genesis 3 as a crafty serpent. He resurfaces again in Job, the Psalms, and Isaiah as Leviathan, the fiery serpent. In the New Testament, this ancient serpent is called the great dragon, the adversary, and the devil.

Amazingly, the psalmist remarks in verse 8 that even this great one who passes over the paths of the sea is meant be subject to us in the dust beneath our feet. God is glorious. He is eternal. He created the heavens and the earth. His fingers set the moon and the stars in place. And, yet, for some reason, he created us to populate the earth and to serve as his co-rulers with all things beneath our feet. That is what the psalmist saw when he looked back. He thought about our place and our purpose in light of God’s greatness, and he marveled and praised the LORD.

HOPE AMIDST DISORDER AND CHAOS: HUMANITY’S CHAOTIC PLACE AND UNFILLED PURPOSE

From here, I want to move to a second point. The last point will be what the psalmist looked forward to. But, right now I want to address an obvious fact. All things on this earth are not subject to us, are they? Do we have the dominion that we were created to have? Of course not! How can we be said to have dominion over the dust of this earth when we return to the dust ourselves? What kind of authority do we have—what kind of dominion—when we are subject to heart disease, cancer, aging, strokes, heart attacks, and death? What kind of dominion do we have over this earth when the earth can wreck our lives in a matter of moments through thunderstorms and floods? What kind of authority do we possess to order this earth, when we can’t even get our own lives in order? What kind of power do we have over the devil, when he is able to sift us as wheat?

The obvious answer is that we don’t. We are like Jupiter. We may have been born royalty, but right now we spend our lives on lessor things! I assure you that reality was not lost on the psalmist. For instance, the previous five psalms before this one (Psalms 3—7) all address the fact that God’s enemies, wicked peoples, and distorted justice are what marks this present world. In other words, the world does not appear to be ruled over by God’s obedient people at all, but by their enemies. This world doesn’t appear to be our Father’s world at all, but it appears to belong to the enemy. The world, our place, is not as it should be. It is not subject beneath our feet. And, we are all simultaneously culprits and victims.

The psalmist realizes that our place is not currently as it should be. It has been subjected to the futility of enduring disaster, disease, and death rather than the freedom of the children of God. Our purpose is not being carried out either, is it? Left to ourselves, we are slaves to sin and death, we do not reflect God’s glory on the earth, and we certainly do not exercise dominion as kings. We don’t bring order but are part of earth’s disorder.

Again, these realities were not lost on the Psalmist. However, in the midst of the disorder and chaos of this evil age, the Psalmist could still see the glorious hand of God evident in creation, and he looked forward with great hope to what God would do in the future through the Messiah. And, we see this in this text. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but there is one verse that we have not looked at and that is verse 2.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

The psalmist recognized our current predicament as fallen creatures subject to sin and death. He recognized that we have foes, enemies, and avengers. He recognized that the devil wishes to destroy us all and that on this earth is not his equal. However, he believed God’s promise: that one day a human child from the line of Eve would crush the head of the ancient serpent and restore to us our place and our purpose on this earth. He recognized that through the veiled cries of infants came a profound truth. The human race continues, and the promised child is coming!

I don’t know what you hear when you hear babies cry. You probably have never thought about it before and if you had, you would have probably concluded with most people that they are not saying anything at all. But, the psalmist tells us that they are uttering something profound. When he heard their cries, he was reminded of the promise of Gen. 3:15—that one day a particular infant would be born from the line of Eve and that that infant would grow up to crush humanity’s enemy and avenger, reverse the curse of sin and death, and restore to us our place and purpose in the created order. That’s what he heard coming out of the mouth of babes and infants—the articulate sounds of a God faithful to his promises.

The suffering and wrongs of this world were not lost on the psalmist, but he could stare at the sky in wonder and praise God because he believed the good news of God’s promise and looked forward to its arrival.

LOOKING FORWARD: PURPOSE AND PLACE RESTORED IN THE MESSIAH’S VICTORY

This brings us to the last thing that I want us to see. Psalm 8 looks back, but it also looked forward to the time in which our place and purpose as God’s servants and image-bearers would be restored through the promised King. And, when we come to the New Testament, we find that our place and our purpose as people created in God’s image have been restored through the Messiah. We see this most clearly in Hebrews 2:5-11b and in the way that the writer uses Psalm 8.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.

Hebrews 2:5-11b

I don’t have time to unpack all that’s in these verses for you, but I do want to comment quickly on how our place and purpose are restored through Jesus. Jesus the King is the promised offspring that came from the line of Eve. And, he lived on this earth as our representative. God’s plan from the beginning, as Psalm 8 shows us, has been for this world to be ruled over by his obedient children. Right now that is not the case with us—at least not completely. However, it is so for Jesus, and if we belong to him through faith, then what is his now will be ours when we he stands again on this earth.

Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor as God’s obedient Son. Where we all fail to live in obedience to God’s commands and exercise dominion over the earth, Jesus succeeded. He lived obediently to the Father’s will. He exercised dominion over the winds and the seas. Even demons threw themselves off cliffs at his command. He underwent a showdown with the devil himself for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness and came out on the other side victorious. He took all that the devil and the nations could throw at him at the cross and came through the other side resurrected, vindicated, and glorified. And, for his obedience, the Father exalted him over all powers and has given him all authority over heaven and earth.

He has been given this world as his inheritance. And, when he appears again, he is going to make creation right again. He is going to destroy the devil once and for all, he’s going to remove disease and death, and this world—our place—will finally be all that it was intended to be.

And, the good news is that he shares his victory, he shares his inheritance with all those who belong to him through faith. As it says in verse 10, Jesus underwent suffering not only for himself, but to bring many sons to glory! This means that those of us who trust in Christ are forgiven our sins through Christ’s sacrifice and we are granted eternal life. We were created to have dominion and to share in bringing order to this world. And, Jesus restores to us this purpose and our place by granting us an eternal inheritance.

We were created to serve God through reflecting his character. Jesus restores that purpose to us as well. He frees us from slavery to sin and death. When we come to trust in him, he forgives us, cleanses us, and gives us new life. He gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we can begin to walk in newness of life, so that we can begin to bring order to the world around us, and so that we can live out our divinely-ordained purpose as God’s obedient children and image-bearers. Through Jesus the King, we do have victory over the devil and our place and purpose are being restored!

CLOSING APPLICATONS

I want to leave you with a few applications that you can take with you. I have two for Christians and one for those exploring the claims of Christ.

First, to those of us who hope in Jesus, let us praise God! If we should praise God in astonishment that he is our Creator, which is what Psalm 8 does, then how much more should we exclaim in wonder that he is also our Redeemer? Why does God care for us? Why did he exalt us in place and purpose? Those are the questions that the psalmist asked.

But we have new questions to ask, don’t we! Why did he come to restore us when we never got it right to begin with? Why did the Father give his only son to make a wretch his treasure? Why did Christ the mighty Maker die for man the creature’s sin? Why? He cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. He always keeps his promises to his people. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Second, we should live for God. Christ has redeemed us from the curse to restore to us our purpose. And, our purpose is to be God’s obedient children who reflect his gracious character and who help bring order to this world. God cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. He always keeps his promises. That is what we are to strive for as well. That is what the church is to be in its communities.

Everyone loves their friends. Everyone is kind to those from whom they have much to receive in return. Everyone does what they say they will do when it is convenient. But, we are to reflect the character of God. We are to love those who don’t love us back. We are to care for those who cannot give us anything in return. We are to be honest and loyal in our dealings with people even when it is difficult and may cost us something. All that God is toward us in Jesus the King we are to be toward others in this world. God created us to be his obedient children who reflect his glory. Let us seek to live according to that grand design.

Let us also share right now in bringing order to this world. You may be wondering, “How on earth can I share in bringing order to this earth? I can’t calm the seas as Jesus did!” That’s true. We can’t calm the seas. But, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can help bring order and restoration to human relationships and to our communities. We can help bring order when we are quick to forgive, when we seek to make peace with those who offend us and those whom we’ve offended. We can seek to restore the down and out from the margins of society. We can minister to those in need, find help for the addicted, and open our lives and doors to the forgotten. We can love justice and pursue righteousness by holding elected officials accountable when they cater to the rich and powerful and overlook the needs of the poor. We can seek to foster reconciliation between estranged parties, whether separated racially, economically, or politically. We can seek to come to understand, respect, and love those who are different than we are.

Finally, I want to close with a word to those who have not yet hoped in Christ. My friend, in light of what we have seen today from God’s word, you should hope in Jesus. You will never truly know your place or purpose in this world until you have turned your life over to the King. Even if you have all riches and earthly power, you are still on the bottom rung, if you do not belong to the one who made you.

Our idols and sin separate us from our God and keep us from inheriting our place and living out our purpose. But Jesus died to cleanse us from our sins and rose from the dead to rescue us from our idols. He battled the one who passes along the paths of the sea so that through faith in him we could be forgiven and given new life and so that we could be given a place and a purpose in his new creation.

Look to him today. If you have no place and feel as if you have no purpose or story, then find your life and your story in his.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

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