The Use of the Old Testament in the Psalms (Part 12)

(This is the last installment in this 12-part series.  Go here for the previous article.)

I am finally at a point where I can start reading my Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on the Psalms by Tremper Longman III that I bought a couple of months ago to help me with this study.

In the Introduction, my own insights were confirmed when Longman acknowledged the category of Remembrance in his overview of the various types of psalms.  He advised, “Many psalms look back to the past, particularly to the great acts of God’s redemption.  In laments, the psalmist looks to the past to gain confidence to live in a difficult present and hope for the future (see Ps. 77).  In hymns, God’s rescue (like from Egypt at the exodus) becomes the occasion for celebration (see Ps. 114)” (p. 41).

Longman continues: “A handful of psalms, though, focus on the past, as they rehearse God’s intervention in Israel’s history.  Psalm 136 is a classic example, as it acclaims God’s enduring love by remembering his creation of the world, his redemption at the exodus, and his establishing them in the land of promise” (p. 41).  He also references Pss. 78, 105, 106, and 135.  I had captured all of these psalms listed in my initial survey.

Later, in a section on the theology of the Psalms, I was encouraged to see this statement, which is central to why I have come to appreciate these types of psalms so much: “As we read the Psalms, we hear of God as Creator, Redeemer, Protector, Sustainer, Provider, Guide, and more” (p. 47).  As I read the Bible, I am always looking for indications of God’s attributes.  These prevalent references to what God had done for His people in the past consistently point to who God is.  When the psalmist recalls God’s creative acts, I know that as Creator, God not only made all that I see, but that He continues to sustain His creation.

I want to dive into each of the psalms I listed at the beginning of this study to see what Longman has to say about them.  I will be looking for the reasons as to why the psalmist looks back to God’s mighty works and what we can learn from this reflection on the past.  What was his purpose?  What is the application for us?

The first one is Ps. 8:3-8.  Longman provides the context, stating that it “meditates on the glory of God reflected in his work of creation of the heavens and of humanity, a theme well known from wisdom literature (e.g. Prov. 3:19-20; 8:22-31). . . One purpose of the psalm is to express wonder at the exalted place of humanity in God’s created order.  God has granted men and women dominion over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:28)” (p. 79).

The close links between this passage in Ps. 8:3-8, and Gen. 1:26-28, known as the cultural or creation mandate, cannot be overemphasized.

In Ps. 8:3, David describes God’s creation as “the work of your fingers”.  Longman notes that this gives a sense that God was “personally and intimately involved” in creation (p. 80).  This reminds me how God formed Adam from “the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7).  In Ps. 8:4, David asks in humble reverence and awe why the transcendent Creator of the universe thinks of and cares for mankind.

Longman instructs that the psalmist answers his own question from verse 4.  “The reason why God pays attention to, and cares for, human beings is because of their exalted status within the created order.” (p. 80).

In Ps. 8:5, David states that Yahweh made man “a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.  This bold statement alludes to Gen. 1:26-27, where we read three times that man was created in God’s image.  Longman wisely adds, “Humans are less than God, to be sure, but they are closer to God than anything else in the created order. . . God is glorious, and humanity, as created in the image of God, reflects that glory.  It is a derivative glory, analogous to the way in which the moon reflects the light of the sun” (p. 81).

David, in Ps. 8:6-7, praises God for making man “ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea”.  This is another easily understood connection to Gen. 1:26 and 28, where the triune God stated in both verses that man would rule over all of the animals found on sea, air, and land.

Longman draws our attention to the fact that this psalm ends in verse 9 the same way it began in verse 1.  David sings of “God’s majesty that extends throughout the whole earth” by carefully using a helpful literary device called an inclusio “that gives the poem a strong sense of closure.  This opening and closing proclamation indicates that the psalmist’s main purpose is to draw attention to the majesty of God.” (p. 79).

Certainly, Psalm 8, with its many allusions to Gen. 1, focuses us on God’s magnificence and great care over His creation.  Our natural response is one of humble submission to and acknowledgement of our divine responsibilities to fulfill the creation mandate to expand God’s kingdom on earth, rule carefully over His creatures as good stewards, and subdue the resources He has graciously provided to sustain His creation.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.