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ONLY GOD IS GREAT
When you hear the word “great”, what comes to mind? My spouse is great? My parents? My kids? My church? My friends? Maybe you’d declare, “My team is great.” Or, “My school is great.” Or you might be saying, “My debt is great, my weight is too great, my girth is great…” Adjectives for great are countless, famous, wonderful and important. Synonyms for great are inordinate, excessive, abundant, and numerous. What is great?
Alexander called himself, the Great. Mao Zedong, the original communist founder of China, called himself the Great Helmsman. Mohammed Ali called himself the Greatest. Barnum called himself the Greatest Showman. Even Gonzo of the Muppets called himself, the Great Gonzo.
Louis the XIV, King of France for 72 years, thought of himself as great–he referred to himself as the Great Monarch. When he died, to symbolize his own greatness, he prearranged to have a single candle burn above his jewel-laden casket with no other lights in the room, to point to his greatness, as if he was the light.
At the appointed moment, Bishop Massillon, who presided over the state funeral, stood up, walked over to the casket, and shocked everyone. With his fingers, he snuffed out the candle. Then, allowing a pause for everyone to close their mouths, the bishop uttered these words–“Only God is great.”
Regardless of how good your videos are, or how capable you are at taking selfies, your narcissism is getting in the way of your relationship with God. If you’re constantly looking at yourself, you’re not going to be looking at God. If you think you’re great, you won’t acknowledge that God alone is truly great.
Think about His greatness–not only is God the creator of all, He is also the Master of all circumstances and people. God, not man, is great. And God alone is to be praised. When you look at a picture, the first thing you do is look for yourself and determine if you look good. When you approach a meal, you immediately consider if you’ll like it.
For some, when in a group, it’s only a nice experience if you’re the center of attention. When with friends, it’s okay only as long as they all still like you. I’m here to tell you, you and I need a big dose of the greatness of God to free ourselves from self. Your very salvation is based upon you no longer living for yourself, but living for the great God who became a man, suffered and died so you could have life now and eternal life forever.
He sacrificed all for you so you could live for the one who died for you. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Christian, repent of your ingrown eyeballs and live for someone who is far greater, better and more glorious than anything you have ever known or can ever experience in this life. Only God is truly great.
And nothing makes that challenge more clear than Psalm 8.Turn in your Bibles to Psalm 8 and follow along with your outline. Psalm 8 is about the greatness of God–that God alone is truly great. This is a psalm written by King David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that testifies to the magnitude of God’s name.
Throughout all creation, God’s unsurpassed greatness is clearly seen–from the vastness of the universe to the complexities of a human being to a weak man who overcomes his enemies by the strength of God. All creation testifies only God is great. Look at God’s scene for this Psalm.
#0 God’s SCENE over ALL the superscription
Look at the superscription over this psalm–it begins with, “For the choir director”, or “For the director of music–PATRICK!” Meaning this Psalm is a hymn of praise to be sung–how? On the gittith–the gittith is a guitar-like harp associated with Gath in Philistia. Gath is about 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea in a pretty area of planes and rolling hills. It is also famous for being the hometown of Goliath.
The gittith, as best we can tell, is a handheld harp. David was skilled at playing the gittith and wrote this psalm as he worked it out musically on the gittith. We know, because it is called, “A Psalm of David”–Israel’s king for 40 years. But before and during his reign, he is the sweet psalmist of Israel.
Do you remember laying down in your sleeping bag in the desert or high mountains and being blown away by the stars in the black sky? My first thoughts of God were in the High Sierras staring at the stars. As I looked at the thick strip of stars that ran through the sky showing me our galaxy, the Milky Way, it was so majestic, I began to ponder about God’s existence.
Derek Kidner, in his two volume commentary on Psalms says, “This Psalm is an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating the glory and grace of God, rehearsing who he is and what he has done and relating us and our world to him, all with a masterly economy of words and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe.”
The exact historical background of Psalm 8 is not known, but it arose from David’s heart in a contemplative moment when, perhaps, as he stared up into the vast skies, he pondered the greatness of God. The greatness of God is seen in the vastness of his creation, both in his power to use the weakness of man to overthrow the mighty and in his ability to manage his creation. Instead of rushing to see yourself in this picture, look at God first. As you and I look up and see our God today, what should we see?
#1 God’s SPLENDOR over All Verse 1
Dale Davis, in his commentary on Psalms, shares this. “You all know the packaging of a product is meant to give you a specific impression. If you see the bag of chewy cookies in a brown paper packaging with plain marker pen lettering and no glitzy cellophane or plastic tray–the intent is to say these cookies are the back home, down-to-earth, mother used to make after school cookies we used to love.”
The packaging was meant to give you a basic, back-to-grandma attitude about them. That is the way it is with Psalm 8–with its top and bottom wrapping in verse 1a and v9 look at them both, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth.” These are not here to stir an appetite for cookies, but to tempt you to delight over the splendor of God. By packaging the Psalm with this wrapping in verses 1 and 9, David wants to excite you over the greatness of God and incite you to adore Him for it.
The word Lord in verse 1 is yehovah–YHWH, which occurs 5,321 times in the Hebrew Bible, the most frequent name of God in Scripture. God was considered so holy that the name yehovah was never to be pronounced aloud. Instead, the vowel markings for adonai, YHWH, were inserted to direct the reader of Scripture to say adonai instead of yehovah.
The meaning of jehovah is debated–but all agree it certainly refers to God’s underived, unoriginated self-existence. The Hebrews connected the name to the verb “to be” and YHWH has direct reference to God describing Himself to Moses with, I AM WHO I AM–describing God’s eternality, autonomy, independence and immutability. God is great!
Psalm 8 is about reasons why you should praise God and live for Him. Psalm 8 is a compelling call to worship–every thought, word, and action of your life is to be filled with praise for God. You’re not the center of the universe, God is. Psalm 8 says live your life under the shadow of God’s greatness.
Listen–life is not about you being a mature believer, a together believer, a gifted believer, a saint with a good marriage and adequate parenting– a thousand times no. Life for the Christian is about you living dependent, weak, and inadequate as God’s redeemed child who relies upon and trusts in the greatest God.
So this Psalm begins and ends with a declaration of God’s epic greatness and splendor, Psalm 8:1, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!” The word majesty (the Hebrew adder) is an adjective that is translated excellent, famous, high, noble, splendid, superior and magnificent. In some passages it refers to nobles and princes and here it describes the excellence of God Himself.
Majesty is that which should inspire our respect and our admiration, leading to awe. Majestic describes the Lord’s radiance–His display, like it was His awesome outfit. But verse 1 says it is the majesty of His name, meaning all of who He is–God’s awesome character and amazing perfections are God’s clothes.
Every aspect of God is splendid. And this shine of God is seen in not only who God is, but what God does. His majesty is seen in the beauty of his created world. And His majestic perfections are higher and better than anything (verse 1) in all the earth. By the works of his hand, David declares to you in verse 1, “…have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”
God’s glory, the shining greatness of his character, cannot be contained by creation. His glory exceeds the heights, beauty and awesomeness of his creation. Listen, the heavens and earth can only partially express His excellence, because our creator is far greater than what He has created.
Think about the most majestic thing you’ve ever seen–something that took your breath away. The view of Yosemite, Vernal Falls, the stars on a desert night, a field of flowers, an ocean view, an amazing sunrise or sunset, a shooting star, a full moon reflected in a lake–David reminds you, God is greater than what He created.
God is more beautiful, more epic, more majestic than what He’s made. David sees himself as very small here before his great God. God is an awesome splendor and He is powerful!
#2 God’s STRENGTH over All Verse 2
David continues to sing, using this song to point to God’s choice to use the weakness of men to defeat His enemies. Read verse 2, “From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength. Because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease.” Like a leaky pipe in a plumber’s house, David uses irony to display God’s strength.
Look at verse 2–the contrast is between the foes, the enemy, the seeker of revenge compared to children. David compares hairy-chested brutes who flex their muscles and show off their tattoos with helpless infants. Why? Good news for you! God is so strong He can use the weak to defeat the mighty.
Alright, you are in! You’re appointed. You fellow weak-aholics–you can be used of God to do great things. Underneath Psalm 8 is probably the true story of David and Goliath. Puny, young, weak, teenage David battles the greatest warrior of his day, the giant navy SEAL, Goliath–and God, through David, prevails and defeats God’s enemy.
In this, God’s greatness is even more obvious. God’s strength is more than sufficient to empower the weakest of you to overturn the mightiest foe, most difficult trial, the deepest hardship you’re experiencing right now! Second Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God reveals His strength when you’re weakest, the most dependent–when you truly know that you’re nothing and He is everything. This is your problem–you are so busy trying to live for Christ in your strength, doing your schoolwork on your own, handling the tensions of your home by yourself, you are not seeing God’s strength through you.
Sometimes you are so consumed with looking at yourself, you forget just how great, powerful and strong God is. We don’t see ourselves as weak, but we think we can handle it. We think we’re sufficient, when the truth is, reality is, only God is sufficient.
Verse 2, when you see yourself as an infant, you know just how dependent you are. And this might have something to do with the power of praise in Matthew 21:15. When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant, verse 16 and said to Him, “‘Do You hear what these children are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself”?‘”
David is possibly describing in Psalm 8 the lethal punch of praise–the praise of God is especially powerful when it comes from sources you consider weak. David may be referring to the strong wallop of the praises of God’s people that silences God’s enemies.
Notice verse 2, “adversaries…enemy…revengeful“–God can stop anyone. Verse 2, they will cease, stop, be finished–and God can use the weak to stop them. God is strong–his strength is mightier than any trial or difficulty or person or enemy. So not only is God strong, He is in control. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases and all He does is for His glory and our good. So David looks at . . .
#3 God’s SOVEREIGN CARE over All Verses 3 to 8
Read verses 3 to 4, Psalm 8:3, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; 4 what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”
David never forgets, this earth is a God-directed world. David is not buying into secular thinking. This universe is your heavens, the work of your fingers–heavenly bodies you have put into place. You and I can see more of the heavens than David could with his unaided eyes. You have more data than David.
You know a one-second beam of light travels 186,000 miles, which is about seven times around the earth. It takes eight minutes for that beam to go from the sun to the earth. In a year that same beam travels almost six trillion miles. Scientists call this a “light-year”. Eight billion light-years from our earth is halfway to the edge of the known universe. Within the universe, there are a hundred billion galaxies, each with an average hundred billion stars. In all the galaxies, there are perhaps as many planets as stars, ten billion trillion.
These statistics take us beyond human comprehension. It is no wonder, when you consider all that David asks, “What is man … ?” If the entire universe is minuscule in the sight of the creator, how much less is the significance of mankind? Even the word used for “man” used in verse 4 alludes to weakness–it means ordinary.
It is important to see that for David, beyond the vastness of the universe is the vastness of God. The moon and stars are merely “the work of His fingers.” God has molded the universe as a potter might form a jar on his turning wheel. The entire universe remains on His workbench. So David’s, “What is man” is not asking a question, but making an exclamation. David is really saying, “What a great God–He is!”
The title, Son of Man–which is the Hebrew word, ben-Adam, was deliberately chosen by David to underscore man’s frailty, mortality and weakness. Ben (son) is used about 5,000 times in the Old Testament to refer to human male offspring or as an idiom for children, descendants, and sons. Man (adam) is used more than 5,000 times to speak of mankind.
Son of man is a poetic term deliberately emphasizing our frailty. Son of man is also a proper title–Ezekiel used son of man to describe himself 93 times, pointing to his own finiteness compared against the infinite God. It was also used in Daniel 7:13, pointing to the coming Messiah. And Son of Man was Jesus’ favorite self-designation of Himself in the New Testament, describing His own dependence upon the Father in His humanity.
David knows God is in control, pays attention and cares for His creation of dust. How do we know human kind matters to God? David reveals, because the Bible tells me so in verses 5 to 8, “Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! 6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7 All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.”
The Bible has just beautifully informed you that David asks the question, “What is man” with a hushed expression of wonder and joy! Now this value of people is in contrast to the rest of the world–not everyone has a high view of God nor a correct view of the crown of his creation–people.
Paganism says when I look at the heavens, the moon and the stars, I fall down and worship them, for I believe they represent the powers of the universe over man. Fatalism says man is a slave–he lives only to serve greater beings than himself. Nihilism says man is nothing, only a piece of rubbish at the dump, as important as a newborn maggot inside your garbage can on a hot summer day–man is merely trash that temporarily breathes.
I know you agree–humans are weak and ordinary? Yes! But there is another picture, another perspective here. The human family, you and I, have been given a position in God’s creation (verse 5) a little lower than God. Some say the Hebrew Elohim–God here, refers to angels. But the best translation is God. Humans are under God Himself.
The human family has been given dominion over the created world, including all the other creatures. The list of created beings in verses 7 and 8 (land animals, birds, sea creatures) is in reverse sequence to the order of creation found in Genesis 1 (sea creatures, birds, land animals). David is pointing to all of creation and all the creatures in creation. Humans have been given dominion over all the world and over all the creatures.
Your front lawn is not more important than you–walk on it. That deer, bear, moose is not more important than you–shoot it. That smelt fish is not more important than you–let’s use its water to irrigate fields in California. This world is not eternal, nor does it need salvation–but people are and people do. People are eternal and people do desperately need salvation.
Don’t give the environment or its animals more rights than people–give people ownership and oversight of animals and of the environment. And I know you must have noticed the royal language here in verses 6 to 8? Forget the queen and that Charles is next. Forget William and Kate and especially forget Harry and Meghan–they are not eternally royal, but you are.
Look at verse 5, “You crown Him with glory and majesty.” Verse 6, “You make him to rule.” The Hebrew word for dominion–and You have put all things under his feet. These descriptions, are now added to the kingly, royal terms of sovereign and majestic. God has made human beings, you, to be “king” or “vice-regents” over His creation.
These verses now emphasize the significance of man–people are created in the likeness of God to exercise dominion over the rest of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26 to 28). The greatness of God is seen here in the fact that God has entrusted so much of his creation to man. Only a supreme God, a great God, could elevate those who are so weak and dependent, to such a high position as to have dominion over creation.
But there is something else you’re not seeing in these verses–read verses 5 and 6 again and look for a three-letter word which should cause you concern. “Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! 6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put ALL things under his feet.”
Not everything is as it should be, friends. It is one thing to affirm that mankind is Yahweh’s vice-regent over this entire created order, but when you add the word all–sometimes translated everything, which happens to be emphatic, or emphasized in the Hebrew text. Those who are honest will protest and say, “I don’t see that in reality. I don’t see mankind/people ruling or controlling all the created order. In fact, it seems to me that cancer rules, or tragedies rule or political tyrants rule or economics rule. The haves rule over the have nots–that is what I see.
Psalm 8 is famous in the New Testament, quoted in 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1 and Hebrews 2. And when the writer of Hebrews quotes a bit of Psalm 8, he answers this concern. His paraphrased answer is this. We don’t see man ruling all creation, but we see Jesus ruling all now. His argument is this–we don’t yet see God’s plan in final living color, but we do see one man, Jesus.
And because of His suffering and death, He has been crowned with glory and already reigns over the entire created order. And Jesus will bring many of his children to glory to share in His reign. Mankind does not yet enjoy the destiny mapped out in Psalm 8, but one Man does and that gives us solid hope.
In the Middle Ages in European circles, there was a lot of speculation about a sea route to India–a route around the southern tip of Africa. No one was certain, but many believed there was a route. Many attempts were made but failed to get through the Cape of Storms. But one sailor was determined, and finally Vasco da Gama made it around and returned through what is now called the Cape of Good Hope.
That is the point of Hebrews 2, quoting Psalm 8. Psalm 8 is not a pipe dream. We don’t see it yet full blown, but one Man is already reigning. He already made it, and He is our hope that one day we will rule as well. Revelation 5:10, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
How can you doubt your royal future when the Man, Jesus has already begun enjoying it? David concludes this Psalm with the same charge as appeared in verse 1 . . .
#4 God’s SUPREMACY over All Verse 9
In light of all David has written here, what should you do? The wrapping of the Psalm is pointed. Fall down in honor and praise Christ saying, Psalm 8:9, “O LORD, our Lord [Yahweh], How majestic is Your name in all the earth.”
Now let’s take this home:
1 Creation is God’s finger work, but salvation is the work of God’s right arm, requiring all His strength. The Bible teaches creation was like finger painting to the Lord, but providing salvation to sinful people required the great God the greatest effort.
In order for God to make salvation available, it required God to be born as a man, live a perfect life, choose to die, while bearing God’s punishment for all the sins of His children, then rise from the dead and ascend to Heaven. Only Christ can forgive you, cleanse you and bring you home to Heaven.
And if you do not receive the loving gift of salvation, then Jesus will judge you and condemn you to Hell forever for your rebellion. Turn to Christ. Only God can save you, for only God is great.
2 Living weak is the path to strength in Christ. Never forget, you did nothing in your salvation and you continue to have nothing to do in sanctification. You are a vessel. It is not what you do that grows you, it is what God does through you.
Live this life as dependent, weak and inadequate in order for the great God to use you greatly. Never allow yourself to think you are something when you are nothing–only God is great.
3 Joy comes as you focus on Christ and forget yourself. You and I are meant to fix our eyes on Jesus–to live for Him, to love Him first, to trust Him most, to talk to Him about your trials. Are you looking at yourself or God? Is your thoughtlife a perpetual selfie or a life of praise? Only God is great–focus on Him.
4 God is more beautiful than anything in creation. I have seen some of the prettiest places on planet earth. I have seen sunrises and sunsets no painter can capture. I have seen night skies that take your breath away. I married the most beautiful woman ever. But God is so great, He is more beautiful than anything in existence. And He is greater than anything you can imagine. Praise Him–only God is great.
5 Even though you are lowly now, you are a royal and one day will rule with Christ. In the future, in Christ’s Kingdom, you will rule with Him on this planet. I’ve already claimed Maui–you can have Hemet. (I better be careful–I might be asked to be prince of Hemet.) God is so great, He is going to take lowly Bill, Gary, Cindy, Marcy and have them rule–oh what a great God we have. Only God is great, amen? Let’s pray.