Psalm 8:3-4 – What Is Man?

By Wayne Jackson

In the 8th Psalm, Israel’s shepherd king exclaimed:

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have established [I am constrained to ask]; What is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit [care for] him?” (3-4).

This is a magnificent declaration of Holy Writ. Consider the following matters.

First, the heavens and their hosts are the creation of God’s fingers. “Fingers” is a form of anthropomorphism whereby human traits are ascribed to deity for the purpose of accommodating our limited level of understanding. “Fingers,” as opposed to “arm” or “hand” — which terms are frequently employed to denote Jehovah’s strength — likely suggests the idea of intricate skill. The amazing design of the Universe is certainly evidence of the creative genius of its Maker (Psa. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). Make a note on this point.

Second, the heavens are God’s — “your heavens.” He made them and he manages them (cf. Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3); he owns them. No one can say to the Lord: “What doest thou?” (Job 9:12). God is sovereign over his creation. Underline the pronoun.

Third, there is the implication that the Universe is vast in comparison to man. No one knows the size of the Universe. Astronomers speculate (but what do they really know?) that it is 20 billion light years across. That is the distance light would travel in 20 billion years at the speed of 186,000 miles per second. It is estimated that there are 1027 (100 septillion) stars in the heavens. Jeremiah said they are “numberless” (33:22). Little did David realize how very accurate his observation was.

Fourth, man’s uniqueness in the Universe is implied. When David reflected upon the splendor of the heavens, he wondered: What is man that Jehovah has so benevolently blessed him with all this marvelous creation? He appears to suggest that man stands alone in the Universe in this regard. The great scholar George Rawlinson once noted that the thought that he who made the heavens should have such regard for humanity “is well nigh overwhelming.” Thus, rather than suggesting that man is but an insignificant speck in the Universe, this passage reveals that the Lord has bestowed a signal honor upon him who is in his very image (Gen. 1:26).

Fifth, God appointed man to have dominion over the creation. Humanity, because of sin, has failed to perfectly achieve that task. Ultimately, however, the epitome of manhood, the Lord Jesus, will demonstrate his supremacy over the entire creation. This appears to be why the writer of Hebrews gives the 8th Psalm a messianic application (cf. Heb. 2:6-8). We do not believe, as some allege, that the author took the original reference out of context and gave it a meaning alien to its intended design. Rather, the Holy Spirit, who inspired both writers, saw a partial application to man, and then an ultimate fulfillment in the Son of man.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.