“Who has set thy glory above the heavens?” Psalm 8
“This is nuts.”
That’s not what David says, of course, but it’s where this Psalm begins. This is plain crazy. Trying to praise God Almighty is a task that requires something light years beyond us. “You have set your glory above the heavens”—that high, that far beyond reach. Who can begin to describe it? Where are the adjectives, the metaphors? They don’t exist. Oh, what the sam, he says—let me sing your praises, even though it’s ludicrous to try.
It’s possible—although no one will ever prove it convincingly—that this song of David is the very first musical stomp. The preface addresses the psalm this way: “To the Director of Music according to gitteth.” Now, by my reading, no scholar claims to know for sure what this word gitteth means, but I really like the claim that a gitteth is a musical instrument used to lead singing when folks were in the process of making wine, specifically that step of the process when the grapes were stomped.
And I like it because a sort of drunken celebration booms out of the song. Filled with the triumph of a successful harvest, grape mashers, accompanied by a musician on whatever this gitteth was, shout out impossible praise, roaring as they stomp. The sheer arrogance of the opening lines of Psalm 8 make me think of someone who’s high, not on wine (there’s nothing fermented at the stomping), but on the exaltation of having a humdinger harvest, luscious juice squeezing up from between their toes.
There is something dreadfully yet gloriously human in the exercise, something that speaks of David’s character. He confesses, at the outset, that what he’s going to do here is fail. He can’t begin to describe Jehovah, the great I AM; but he doesn’t let impossibility stop him. He can’t help himself. He takes his best shot, knowing he’ll never get there anyway. The whole pattern is so recklessly human.
Of course he fails. He can’t do what he’s promised he’s going to. The only truth he reaches is the one he confesses—that it’s impossible.
But we’ve got Psalm 8, don’t we? He may have failed at finding divine language, but he hasn’t failed at all in the only language we’ve got. What he created has echoed through the ages, is quoted by apostles and, incredibly, by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His failure has created a song as close to timeless as any human reach can ever come.
Psalm 8 is a miniature of all of our striving. Whether we work to create a song of praise or a novel or a poem; whether our striving results in a log home, a soccer championship, a corporate buyout, a clean kitchen, or a better behaved kid, nothing we will ever do has any permanence, nothing is really eternal. We all know that, but our knowing that’s true doesn’t—and will never—end our typing, our building, our trying.
Our best may well be little more than filthy rags, but that doesn’t stop us giving it our best shot.
Flannery O’Conner once said that people without hope don’t write novels. I believe she’s right, but I also believe that people without hope don’t do much at all.
Jehovah God is eternally beyond our reach, but that won’t stop us from trying to serve him in every way we can. Shout it out.
At the stomping, I wonder if He isn’t the one playing the gitteth.