Psalm 8:4
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
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(4) Man . . . son of man . . .—The first, possibly, with suggestion of frailty; the second to his life derived from human ancestry. The answer to this question must always touch the two poles, of human frailty on the one hand, and the glory of human destiny on the other. “O the grandeur and the littleness, the excellence and the corruption, the majesty and the meanness, of man.”—Pascal.

The insignificance of man compared to the stars is a common theme of poetry; but how different the feeling of the Hebrew from that of the modern poet, who regrets the culture by which he had been

“Brought to understand

A sad astrology, the boundless plan

That makes you tyrants in your iron skies,

Innumerable, pitiless, passionless eyes,

Cold fires, yet with power to burn and brand

His nothingness into man.”—TENNYSON: Maud.

And yet, again, how far removed from the other pole of modern feeling, which draws inanimate nature into close sympathy with human joy or sorrow, expressed in the following words:—“When I have gazed into these stars, have they not looked down upon me as if with pity from their serene spaces, like eyes glistening with heavenly tears over the little lot of man?”—Carlyle.

8:3-9 We are to consider the heavens, that man thus may be directed to set his affections on things above. What is man, so mean a creature, that he should be thus honoured! so sinful a creature, that he should be thus favoured! Man has sovereign dominion over the inferior creatures, under God, and is appointed their lord. This refers to Christ. In Heb 2:6-8, the apostle, to prove the sovereign dominion of Christ, shows he is that Man, that Son of man, here spoken of, whom God has made to have dominion over the works of his hands. The greatest favour ever showed to the human race, and the greatest honour ever put upon human nature, were exemplified in the Lord Jesus. With good reason does the psalmist conclude as he began, Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth, which has been honoured with the presence of the Redeemer, and is still enlightened by his gospel, and governed by his wisdom and power! What words can reach his praises, who has a right to our obedience as our Redeemer?What is man - What claim has one so weak, and frail, and short-lived, to be remembered by time? What is there in man that entitles him to so much notice? Why has God conferred on him so signal honor? Why has he placed him over the works of his hands? Why has he made so many arrangements for his comfort? Why has he done so much to save him? He is so insignificant his life is so much like a vapor, he so soon disappears, he is so sinful and polluted, that the question may well be asked, why such honor has been conferred on him, and why such a dominion over the world has been given him. See these thoughts more fully expanded in the notes at Hebrews 2:6.

That thou art mindful of him - That thou dost remember him; that is, think of him, attend to him - that he does not pass away wholly from thy thoughts. Why should a God who is so vast and glorious, and who has all the starry worlds, so beautiful and grand, to claim his attention - why should he turn his thoughts on man? And especially why should he honor him as he has done by giving him dominion over the works of his hands?

And the son of man - Any descendant of man - any one of the race. What was man, as he was originally made, that such exalted honor should have been conferred on him; and what has any one of his descendants become, in virtue of his native faculties or acquired endowments, that he should be thus honored? The design is the same as in the former part of the verse, to express the idea that there was nothing in man, considered in any respect, that entitled him to this exalted honor. Nothing that man has done since the time when the question was asked by the psalmist has contributed to diminish the force of the inquiry.

That thou visitest him - As thou dost; that is, with the attention and care which thou dost bestow upon him; not forgetting him; not leaving him; not passing him by. The word used here - פקד pâqad - would properly express a visitation for any purpose - for inspection, for mercy; for friendship, for judgment, etc. Here it refers to the attention bestowed by God on man in conferring on him such marks of favor and honor as he had done - such attention that he never seemed to forget him, but was constantly coming to him with some new proof of favor. What God has done for man since the psalmist wrote this, has done nothing to weaken the force of this inquiry.

4. man—literally, "frail man," an allusion to his essential infirmity.

son of man—only varies the form of speech.

visitest—in favor (Ps 65:10). This favor is now more fully illustrated.

What, i.e. how mean and inconsiderable a thing is man, if compared with thy glorious Majesty, who art so infinite in power and wisdom, as thou hast showed in the frame of the heavens, &c. Man, Heb. infirm or miserable man; by which it is apparent that he speaks of man, not according to the state of his creation, but as fallen into a state of sin, and misery, and mortality.

Art mindful of him, i.e. carest for him, and conferrest such high favours upon him.

The son of man, Heb. the son of Adam, that great apostate from and rebel against God, the sinful son of a sinful father, his son by likeness of disposition and manners, no less than by procreation; all which tends to magnify the following mercy.

That thou visitest him; not in anger, as that word is sometimes used, but with thy grace and mercy, as it is taken, Genesis 21:1 Exodus 4:31 Psalm 65:9 106:4 144:3.

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?.... That is, the psalmist, while he was considering the greatness and glory of the celestial bodies, thought this within himself, and so expressed it; which is to be understood, not of man in general, nor of Adam in a state of innocence; he could not be called "Enosh", the word here used, which signifies a frail, weak, sickly mortal man; nor could he with any propriety be said to be the son of man, as in the following clause: nor of fallen man, or of Adam's posterity, descending from him by ordinary generation; for all things are not put in subjection to them, as is hereafter said of man: but this is to be understood of the man Christ Jesus, as it is interpreted in Hebrews 2:6; or of that individual of human nature which Christ assumed. The name of Enosh well agrees with him, who was a man of no note and esteem among men, a worm and no man, a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, encompassed with infirmities, and was subject to death, and did die. Now it was a marvellous thing that God should be mindful of that individual of human nature; that he should prepare it in his council and covenant; that among the vast numbers of individuals which it came up in his infinite mind to create, he should choose this, to exalt it, and appoint it to union with his own Son, and take that delight in it he did; that when it was formed by his Spirit, he should anoint it with the oil of gladness above his fellows; that he should take such providential care of it, and so often and so strongly express his affection for it; that he should regard it, and support it under sufferings; and when in the grave, did not leave it, nor suffer it to see corruption; but raised it from the dead, and gave it glory, and exalted it at his own right hand;

and the son of man, that thou visitest him? The name of "the son of man" is the name of the Messiah, in Psalm 80:17; and is often given to Christ, and used by him of himself in the New Testament. And this visiting of him is not to be understood in a way of wrath, though he was so visited by God, when he bore the chastisements of his people; but in a way of favour, by bestowing upon him without measure the gifts and graces of his Spirit; by affording him his gracious presence, and tilling him with spiritual peace and joy.

What is {b} man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

(b) It was sufficient for him to have set forth his glory by the heavens, though he had not come so low as to man who is but dust.

4. Then (so the ellipse may be filled up), the thought is forced upon me

What is frail man that thou shouldest be mindful of him?

And the son of man, that thou shouldest visit him?

The words for man are chosen to emphasise his weakness in contrast to the vast and (apparently) unchanging structure of the heavens. Enosh denotes man in his frailty, impotence, mortality (Psalm 103:15); hence it is used with special frequency in Job, where man is contrasted with God (e.g. Job 4:17, where A.V. renders mortal man). Ben-âdâm (son of man) denotes man according to his earthly origin. Cp. Job’s ‘man that is born of a woman’ (Psalm 14:1).

God’s ‘visitation’ of man is His constant, loving, providential, regard (Job 10:12). It is to God’s present and continuous care that the verse refers. It is not until Psalm 8:5 that the Psalmist looks back to man’s original creation.

There is an echo of these words in Psalm 144:3, and Jeremiah 15:15; and Job parodies them, when he asks in the bitterness of his soul how man can be of such importance to God that He should think it worth while to persecute him (Psalm 7:17 ff.).

On the quotation of Psalm 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:6 ff., see above.

Verse 4. - What is man, that thou art mindful of him? In comparison with the lofty heavens, the radiant moon, and the hosts of sparkling stars, man seems to the psalmist wholly unworthy of God's attention. He is not, like Job, impatient of God's constant observation (Job 7:17-20), but simply filled with wonder at his marvellous condescension (comp. Psalm 144:3). And the son of man, that thou visitest him? The "son of man" here is a mere variant for "man" in the preceding hemistich. The clause merely emphasizes the general idea. Psalm 8:4(Heb.: 8:4-6) Stier wrongly translates: For I shall behold. The principal thought towards which the rest tends is Psalm 8:5 (parallel are Psalm 8:2 a, 3), and consequently Psalm 8:4 is the protasis (par., Psalm 8:2), and כּי accordingly is equals quum, quando, in the sense of quoties. As often as he gazes at the heavens which bear upon themselves the name of God in characters of light (wherefore he says שׁמיך), the heavens with their boundless spaces (an idea which lies in the plur. שׁמים) extending beyond the reach of mortal eye, the moon (ירח, dialectic ורח, perhaps, as Maurer derives it, from ירח equals ירק subflavum esse), and beyond this the innumerable stars which are lost in infinite space (כּוכבים equals כּבכּבים prop. round, ball-shaped, spherical bodies) to which Jahve appointed their fixed place on the vault of heaven which He has formed with all the skill of His creative wisdom (כּונן to place and set up, in the sense of existence and duration): so often does the thought "what is mortal man...?" increase in power and intensity. The most natural thought would be: frail, puny man is as nothing before all this; but this thought is passed over in order to celebrate, with grateful emotion and astonished adoration, the divine love which appears in all the more glorious light, - a love which condescends to poor man, the dust of earth. Even if אנושׁ does not come from אנשׁ to be fragile, nevertheless, according to the usage of the language, it describes man from the side of his impotence, frailty, and mortality (vid., Psalm 103:15; Isaiah 51:12, and on Genesis 4:26). בּן־אדם, also, is not without a similar collateral reference. With retrospective reference to עוללים וינקים, בּן־אדם is equivalent to ילוּד־אשּׁה in Job 14:1 : man, who is not, like the stars, God's directly creative work, but comes into being through human agency born of woman. From both designations it follows that it is the existing generation of man that is spoken of. Man, as we see him in ourselves and others, this weak and dependent being is, nevertheless, not forgotten by God, God remembers him and looks about after him (פּקד of observing attentively, especially visitation, and with the accus. it is generally used of lovingly provident visitation, e.g., Jeremiah 15:15). He does not leave him to himself, but enters into personal intercourse with him, he is the special and favoured object whither His eye turns (cf. Psalm 144:3, and the parody of the tempted one in Job 7:17.).

It is not until Psalm 8:6 that the writer glances back at creation. ותּחסּרהוּ (differing from the fut. consec. Job 7:18) describes that which happened formerly. חסּר מן signifies to cause to be short of, wanting in something, to deprive any one of something (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:8). מן is here neither comparative (paullo inferiorem eum fecisti Deo), nor negative (paullum derogasti ei, ne esset Deus), but partitive (paullum derogasti ei divinae naturae); and, without אלהים being on that account an abstract plural, paullum Deorum, equals Dei (vid., Genesis S. 66f.), is equivalent to paullum numinis Deorum. According to Genesis 1:27 man is created בּצלם אלהים, he is a being in the image of God, and, therefore, nearly a divine being. But when God says: "let us make man in our image after our likeness," He there connects Himself with the angels. The translation of the lxx ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ ̓ ἀγγέλους, with which the Targum and the prevailing Jewish interpretations also harmonize, is, therefore, not unwarranted. Because in the biblical mode of conception the angels are so closely connected with God as the nearest creaturely effulgence of His nature, it is really possible that in מאלהים David may have thought of God including the angels. Since man is in the image of God, he is at the same time in the likeness of an angel, and since he is only a little less than divine, he is also only a little less than angelic. The position, somewhat exalted above the angels, which he occupies by being the bond between all created things, in so far as mind and matter are united in him, is here left out of consideration. The writer has only this one thing in his mind, that man is inferior to God, who is רוּח, and to the angels who are רוּחות (Isaiah 31:3; Hebrews 1:14) in this respect, that he is a material being, and on this very account a finite and mortal being; as Theodoret well and briefly observes: τῷ θνητῷ τῶν ἀγγέλων ἠλάττωται. This is the מעט in which whatever is wanting to him to make him a divine being is concentrated. But it is nothing more than מעט. The assertion in Psalm 8:6 refers to the fact of the nature of man being in the image of God, and especially to the spirit breathed into him from God; Psalm 8:6, to his godlike position as ruler in accordance with this his participation in the divine nature: honore ac decore coronasti eum. כּבוד is the manifestation of glory described from the side of its weightiness and fulness; הוד (cf. הד, הידד) from the side of its far resounding announcement of itself (vid., on Job 39:20); הדר from the side of its brilliancy, majesty, and beauty. הוד והדר, Psalm 96:6, or also הדר כּבור הוד ה, Psalm 145:5, is the appellation of the divine doxa, with the image of which man is adorned as with a regal crown. The preceding fut. consec. also stamps תּעטּרהוּ and תּמשׁילהוּ as historical retrospects. The next strophe unfolds the regal glory of man: he is the lord of all things, the lord of all earthly creatures.

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