Title. “To the Chief Musician upon Gittith, a Psalm of David.” We are not clear upon the meaning of the word Gittith. Some think it refers to Gath, and may refer to a tune commonly sung there, or an instrument of music there invented, or a song of Obed-edom the Gittite, in whose house the ark rested, or, better still, a song sung over Goliath of Gath. Others, tracing the Hebrew to its root, conceive it to mean a song for the winepress, a joyful hymn for the treaders of grapes. The term Gittith is applied to two other Psalms 81:1-16, 84:1-12) both of which, being of a joyous character, it may be concluded, that where we find that word in the title, we may look for a hymn of delight. We may style this Psalm the Song of the Astronomer: let us go abroad and sing it beneath the starry heavens at eventide, for it is very probable that in such a position, it first occurred to the poet’s mind. Dr. Chalmers says, “There is much in the scenery of a nocturnal sky; to lift the soul to pious contemplation. That moon, and these stars, what are they? They are detached from the world, and they lift us above it. We feel withdrawn from the earth, and rise in lofty abstraction from this little theatre of human passions and human anxieties. The mind abandons itself to reverie, and is transferred in the ecstasy of its thought to distant and unexplored regions. It sees nature in the simplicity of her great elements, and it sees the God of nature invested with the high attributes of wisdom and majesty.”
Division. The first and last verses are a sweet song of admiration, in which the excellence of the name of God is extolled. The intermediate verses are made up of holy wonder at the Lord’s greatness in creation, and at his condescension towards man. Poole, in his annotations, has well said, “It is a great question among interpreters, whether this Psalm speaks of man in general, and of the honour which God puts upon him in his creation; or only of the man Christ Jesus. Possibly both may be reconciled and put together, and the controversy if rightly stated, may be ended, for the scope and business of this Psalm seems plainly to be this: to display and celebrate the great love and kindness of God to mankind, not only in his creation, but especially in his redemption by Jesus Christ, whom, as he was man, he advanced to the honour and dominion here mentioned, that he might carry on his great and glorious work. So Christ is the principal subject of this Psalm, and it is interpreted of him, both by our Lord himself (Matthew 21:16), and by his holy apostle (1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:6-7).
The Treasury of David.
Ver. 3-4. At the close of that excellent little manual entitled “The Solar System,” written by Dr. Dick, we find an eloquent passage which beautifully expounds the text:—A survey of the solar system has a tendency to moderate the pride of man and to promote humility. Pride is one of the distinguishing characteristics of puny man, and has been one of the chief causes of all the contentions, wars, devastations, systems of slavery, and ambitious projects which have desolated and demoralized our sinful world. Yet there is no disposition more incongruous to the character and circumstances of man. Perhaps there are no rational beings throughout the universe among whom pride would appear more unseemly or incompatible than in man, considering the situation in which he is placed. He is exposed to numerous degradations and calamities, to the rage of storms and tempests, the devastations of earthquakes and volcanoes, the fury of whirlwinds, and the tempestuous billows of the ocean, to the ravages of the sword, famine, pestilence, and numerous diseases; and at length he must sink into the grave, and his body must become the companion of worms! The most dignified and haughty of the sons of men are liable to these and similar degradations as well as the meanest of the human family. Yet, in such circumstances, man—that puny worm of the dust, whose knowledge is so limited, and whose follies are so numerous and glaring—has the effrontery to strut in all the haughtiness of pride, and to glory in his shame. When other arguments and motives produce little effect on certain minds, no considerations seem likely to have a more powerful tendency to counteract this deplorable propensity in human beings, than those which are borrowed from the objects connected with astronomy. They show us what an insignificant being—what a mere atom, indeed, man appears amidst the immensity of creation! Though he is an object of the paternal care and mercy of the Most High, yet he is but as a grain of sand to the whole earth, when compared to the countless myriads of beings that people the amplitudes of creation. What is the whole of this globe on which we dwell compared with the solar system, which contains a mass of matter ten thousand times greater? What is it in comparison of the hundred millions of suns and worlds which by the telescope have been descried throughout the starry regions? What, then, is a kingdom, a province, or a baronial territory, of which we are as proud as if we were the lords of the universe and for which we engage in so much devastation and carnage? What are they, when set in competition with the glories of the sky? Could we take our station on the lofty pinnacles of heaven, and look down on this scarcely distinguishable speck of earth, we should be ready to exclaim with Seneca, “Is it to this little spot that the great designs and vast desires of men are confined? Is it for this there is so much disturbance of nations, so much carnage, and so many ruinous wars? Oh, the folly of deceived men, to imagine great kingdoms in the compass of an atom, to raise armies to decide a point of earth with the sword!” Dr. Chalmers, in his Astronomical Discourses, very truthfully says, “We gave you but a feeble image of our comparative insignificance, when we said that the glories of an extended forest would suffer no more from the fall of a single leaf, than the glories of this extended universe would suffer though the globe we tread upon, ‘and all that it inherits, should dissolve.'”
Ver. 3-4. When I consider the heavens, etc. Draw spiritual inferences from occasional objects. David did but wisely consider the heavens, and he breaks out into self-abasement and humble admiration of God. Glean matter of instruction to yourselves, and praise to your Maker from everything you see; it will be a degree of restoration to a state of innocency, since this was Adam’s task in paradise. Dwell not upon any created object only as a virtuoso, to gratify your rational curiosity, but as a Christian, call religion to the feast, and make a spiritual improvement. No creature can meet our eyes but affords us lessons worthy of our thoughts, besides the general notices of the power and wisdom of the Creator. Thus may the sheep read us a lesson of patience, the dove of innocence, the ant and bee raise blushes in us for our sluggishness, and the stupid ox and dull ass correct and shame our ungrateful ignorance… He whose eyes are open cannot want an instructor, unless he wants a heart. Stephen Charnock.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? etc. My readers must be careful to mark the design of the psalmist, which is to enhance, by this comparison, the infinite goodness of God; for it is, indeed, a wonderful thing that the Creator of heaven, whose glory is so surpassingly great as to ravish us with the highest admiration, condescends so far as graciously to take upon him the care of the human race. That the psalmist makes this contrast must be inferred from the Hebrew word אֱנוֹשׁ enosh, which we have rendered man, and which expresses the frailty of man rather than any strength or power which he possesses… Almost all interpreters render פָּקַד, pakad, the last word of this verse, to visit; and I am unwilling to differ from them, since t and as we will often find in the Psalms the repetition of the same thought in different words, it may here be very properly translated to remember; as if David had said, “This is a marvelous thing, that God thinks upon men, and remembers them continually.” John Calvin, 1509-1564.
What is man? But, O God, what a little lord hast thou made over this great world! The least corn of sand is not so small to the whole earth, as man is to the heaven. When I see the heavens, the sun, the moon, and stars, O God, what is man? Who would think that thou shouldest make all these creatures for one, and that one well-near the least of all? Yet none but he can see what thou hast done; none but he can admire and adore thee in what he seeth: how had he need to do nothing but this, since he alone must do it! Certainly the price and value of things consist not in the quantity; one diamond is worth more than many quarries of stone; one lodestone hath more virtue than mountains of earth. It is lawful for us to praise thee in ourselves. All thy creation hath not more wonder in it than one of us: other creatures thou madest by a simple command; Man, not without a divine consultation: others at once; man thou didst form, then inspire: others in several shapes, like to none but themselves; man, after thine own image: others with qualities fit for service; man, for dominion. Man had his name from thee; they had their names from man. How should we be consecrated to thee above all others, since thou hast bestowed more cost on us than other! Joseph Hall, D.D., Bishop of Norwich, 1574-1656.
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou shouldst visit him? And (Job 7:17-18) “What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him? and that thou shouldst set thy heart upon him? and that thou shouldst visit him every morning?” Man, in the pride of his heart, seeth no such great matter in it; but a humble soul is filled with astonishment. “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15. Oh, saith the humble soul, will the Lord have respect unto such a vile worm as I am? Will the Lord acquaint himself with such a sinful wretch as I am? Will the Lord open his arms, his bosom, his heart to me? Shall such a loathsome creature as I find favour in his eyes? In Ezekiel 16:1-5, we have a relation of the wonderful condescension of God to man, who is there resembled to a wretched infant cast out in the day of its birth, in its blood and filthiness, no eye pitying it; such loathsome creatures are we before God; and yet when he passed by, and saw us polluted in our blood, he said unto us, “Live.” It is doubled because of the strength of its nature; it was “the time of love” (Ezekiel 16:8). This was love indeed, that God should take a filthy, wretched thing, and spread his skirts over it, and cover its nakedness and swear unto it, and enter into a covenant with it, and make it his: that is, that he should espouse this loathsome thing to himself, that he would be a husband to it; this is love unfathomable, love inconceivable, self-principle love; this is the love of God to man, for God is love. Oh, the depth of the riches of the bounty and goodness of God! How is his love wonderful, and his grace past finding out! How do you find and feel your hearts affected upon the report of these things? Do you not see matter of admiration and cause of wonder? Are you not as it were launched forth into an ocean of goodness, where you can see no shore, nor feel no bottom? Ye may make a judgment of yourselves by the motions and affections that ye feel in yourselves at the mention of this. For thus Christ judged of the faith of the centurion that said unto him, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof. When Jesus heard this, he marvelled, and said to them that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” Matthew 8:8-10. If, then, you feel not your souls mightily affected with this condescension of God, say thus unto your souls, What aileth thee, O my soul, that thou art no more affected with the goodness of God? Art thou dead, that thou canst not feel? Or art thou blind, that thou canst not see thyself compassed about with astonishing goodness? Behold the King of glory descending from the habitation of his majesty, and coming to visit thee! Hearest not thou his voice, saying, “Open to me, my sister: behold, I stand at the door and knock. Lift up yourselves, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in”? Behold, O my soul, how he waits still, while thou hast refused to open to him! Oh, the wonder of his goodness! Oh, the condescension of his love, to visit me, to sue unto me, to wait upon me, to be acquianted with me! Thus work up your souls into an astonishment at the condescension of God. James Janeway, 1674.
Man, in Hebrew—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, Hebrew, 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 divine mercy. That thou visitest, him—not in anger, as that word is sometimes used, but with thy grace and mercy, as it is taken in Genesis 21:1; Exodus 4:31; Psalms 65:9; 106:4; 144:3.
What is man? The Scripture gives many answers to this question. Ask the prophet Isaiah, “What is man?” and he answers (Isaiah 40:6), man is “grass”—”All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” Ask David, “What is man?” He answers (Psalms 62:9), man is “a lie,” not a liar only, or a deceiver, but “a lie,” and a deceit. All the answers the Holy Ghost gives concerning man, are to humble man: man is ready to flatter himself, and one man to flatter another, but God tells us plainly what we are… It is a wonder that God should vouchsafe a gracious look upon such a creature as man; it is wonderful, considering the distance between God and man, as man is a creature and God the creator. “What is man,” that God should take notice of him? Is he not a clod of earth, a piece of clay? But consider him as a sinful and an unclean creature, and we may wonder to amazement: what is an unclean creature that God should magnify him? Will the Lord indeed put value on filthiness, and fix his approving eye upon an impure thing? One step further; what is rebellious man, man an enemy to God, that God should magnify him! what admiration can answer this question? Will God prefer his enemies, and magnify those who would cast him down? Will a prince exalt a traitor, or give him honour who attempts to take away his life? The sinful nature of man is an enemy to the nature of God, and would pull God out of heaven; yet God even at that time is raising man to heaven: sin would lessen the great God, and yet God greatens sinful man. Joseph Caryl.
What is man? Oh, the grandeur and littleness, the excellence and the corruption, the majesty and meanness of man! Pascal, 1623-1662.
Thou visitest him. To visit is, first, to afflict, to chasten, yea, to punish; the highest judgments in Scripture come under the notions of visitations. “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children” (Exodus 34:7), that is, punishing them… And it is a common speech with us when a house hath the plague, which is one of the highest strokes of temporal affliction, we used to say, “Such a house is visited.” Observe then, afflictions are visitations… Secondly, to visit, in a good sense, signifies to show mercy, and to refresh, to deliver and to bless; “Naomi heard how the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread.” Ruth 1:6. “The Lord visited Sarah,” etc. Genesis 21:1-2. That greatest mercy and deliverance that ever the children of men had, is thus expressed, “The Lord hath visited and redeemed his people.” Luke 1:68. Mercies are visitations; when God comes in kindness and love to do us good, he visiteth us. And these mercies are called visitations in two respects:
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visiteth him?
Lord, what is man that thou
So mindful art of him? Or what’s the son
Of man, that thou the highest heaven didst bow,
And to his aide didst runne?
Man’s but a piece of clay
That’s animated by thy heavenly breath,
And when that breath thou tak’st away,
Hee’s clay again by death.
He is not worthy of the least
Of all Thy mercies at the best.
Baser than clay is he,
For sin hath made him like the beasts that perish,
Though next the angels he was in degree;
Yet this beast thou dost cherish.
Hee is not worthy of the least,
Of all thy mercies, hee’s a beast.
Worse than a beast is man,
Who after thine own image made at first,
Became the divel’s sonne by sin. And can
A thing be more accurst?
Yet thou thy greatest mercy hast
On this accursed creature cast.
Thou didst thyself abase,
And put off all thy robes of majesty,
Taking his nature to give him thy grace,
To save his life didst dye.
He is not worthy of the least
Of all thy mercies; one’s a feast.
Lo! man is made now even
With the blest angels, yea, superiour farre,
Since Christ sat down at God’s right hand in heaven,
And God and man one are.
Thus all thy mercies man inherits,
Though not the least of them he merits.
—Thomas Washbourne, D.D., 1654.
What is man? How poor, how rich, how abject, how august, How complicate, how wonderful is man! How passing wonder He who made him such! Who centred in our make such strange extremes! From different natures marvelously mix’d, Connexion exquisite of distant worlds! Distinguish’d link in being’s endless chain! Midway from nothing to the Deity! A beam ethereal, sullied and absorb’d, Though sullied and dishonour’d, still divine! Dim miniature of greatness absolute! An heir of glory! a frail child of dust! Helpless immortal! insect infinite! A worm! a god! I tremble at myself, And in myself am lost.—Edward Young, 1681-1775.
What is man, etc.:—
Man is ev’ry thing,
And more: he is a tree, yet bears no fruit;
A beast, yet is, or should be more:
Reason and speech we onely bring.
Parrats may thank us, if they are not mute,
They go upon the score.
Man is all symmetrie,
Full of proportions, one limbe to another,
And all to all the world besides:
Each part may call the farthest, brother.
For head with foot hath private amitie,
And both with moons and tides.
Nothing hath got so farre,
But man hath caught and kept it, as his prey.
His eyes dismount the highest starre:
He is in little all the sphere.
Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
Finde their acquaintance there.
For us the windes do blow;
The earth doth rest, heav’n move, and fountains flow.
Nothing we see, but means our good,
As our delight, or as our treasure:
The whole is, either our cupboard of food,
Or cabinet of pleasure.
The starres have us to bed:
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws:
Musick and light attend our head.
All things unto our flesh are kinde
In their descent and being; to our minde
In their ascent and cause.
Each thing is full of dutie:
Waters united are our navigation;
Distinguished, our habitation;
Below, our drink; above, our meat:
Both are our cleanlinesse.
Hath one such beautie?
Then how are all things neat!
More servants wait on man,
Than he’ll take notice of: in ev’ry path
He treads down that which doth befriend him,
When sicknesse makes him pale and wan,
Oh, mightie love! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.—George Herbert, 1593.
Man’s insignificance. God’s mindfulness of man. Divine visits. The question, “What is man?” Each of these themes may suffice for a discourse, or they may be handled in one sermon.
The Treasury of David.
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