“to silence the foe and the avenger” Psalm 8
The equation that is struck in the first two verses of Psalm 8 is probably better admired from a distance than analyzed up close. It’s not easy to understand exactly what David means when he says God Almighty has enlisted little children to silence the foe. I don’t believe he means to sanction the horrible and ill-fated “Children’s Crusade.”
There are moments in all of our lives when we know the nearly divine inspiration by which brand new babies bless us. I remember thinking of old Simeon when I held my first grandchild for the first time; I remember thinking that something triumphantly new had begun, and that I could leave now, depart, in a kind of peace I’d never experienced before, nor even imagined experiencing.
But the way I grasp the sweep of the first two verses of Psalm 8 is to imagine my way into the singer’s mood. Something—don’t we wish we knew what?—inspires him so deeply about God’s love that he literally reaches for the sky, even though he can’t find the words. But then, honestly and truly, there are none. And he knows that too.
But in his reverie he goes for whatever he can pull out of his humanly limited imagination, and what he comes up with isn’t bad, really: first, “majestic” or “excellent,” and then this cosmic comparison. “You who have created nothing less than the heavens,” he says, “have also created magnificence in the humblest of humans—little babies. And thus are your enemies forever stilled by the sheer power of your almighty hand.”
David the writer, like many, many poets before and after, is in love; and this love poem, like all love poems, just can’t reach high enough to describe the joy that fills his soul at the thought of his love, his Lord.
One image that catches at least some of the intent here, may well be the picture of that single Chinese protestor looking up the barrel of a tank during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989. If you’ve ever seen that film clip, you’ve likely never forgotten the little man against tons of a massive war machine. Yet, fragility stymied all that power.
That protestor was not a child, but the equation is what David is after here, the idea that God Almighty, creator and sustainer of the universe, shows his powers in the most outrageously tiny things and thereby shuts up the avenger himself—the Devil.
And there’s this, too, of course. There’s
Bethlehem. A manger.
Straw for bedding. Cows for
nurses. A No Vacancy light flashing
through the only window in the barn.
Meekness in majesty. There’s that
divine, unforgettable picture too.
What David is saying, this poet extraordinaire, with God’s guiding hand, is simply what cannot be said. Not by him, nor by any poet, nor by the long list of commentators who’ve tried to explicate—not me, not Matthew Henry or Charles Spurgeon or John Calvin.
But we all keep on trying to pipe our love songs and to tune our understanding--me too--because there’s so much joy that we can’t not sing, I guess. Even when we don’t rise to the occasion, we sing because, I suppose, that’s what we’re created to do.
Outrageous, isn’t it?