NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Psalm 8

8:1 your glory in the heavens. In Egyptian cosmology, the sky-goddess Nut was pictured arching over the earth, bearing the stars and heavenly lights on her body (see the illustration in the article “The ‘Vault’ and ‘Water Above’”). Mesopotamian religion also viewed the heavenly objects as deities (see notes on 19:1 – 2104:2). In one Egyptian text, the god Amun, the “Hidden One,” is conceived in some way as “farther above than heaven”; however, this refers to the mystery that shrouds his nature in comparison to the other Egyptian gods, and even Amun was born out of the waters of chaos. In contrast, the psalmist declares that Yahweh’s glory transcends the majestic heavens, even as they are merely his workmanship (see v. 3).

8:3 stars … set in place. In Akkadian literature, the various levels of heaven are made of various types of stone. The lower heavens were considered to be made of jasper, upon which Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, was reported to have drawn (etched) the constellations. The verb “set in place” is used when pictures or reliefs are being made. In Enuma Elish, Marduk draws the boundary lines for the year in the heavens. This refers to his setting the courses of the stars. The second half of v. 3 indicates that this psalm also has the heavenly bodies in mind. God elsewhere inscribes with his finger (Ex 31:18Dt 9:10), but fingers can also be used parallel to hands with regard to handiwork (Isa 2:8).

8:4 what is mankind … ? The dignity of human beings is stressed in this passage in a way unparalleled in the ancient Near East. According to Mesopotamian sources, men and women were created to relieve the workload on the lesser gods who were forced to cultivate land in order to feed the gods (see note on 103:14). When the growing human population became too noisy, the gods thought to extinguish human existence through the great flood. As a result of the flood, food offerings to the gods were no longer forthcoming. Only then did the gods find that humans were nonexpendable after all. Although humanity survived the flood, the gods decreed certain afflictions to keep the population from ever growing out of control again. According to Ps 8, far from being expendable slaves to the gods, human beings are the special objects of the Creator’s care in the vast universe.

8:5 angels. This Hebrew word (elohim) can also be translated “God.” Here it may refer to the entire class of those who inhabit the heavenly realm, also called the council of “divine beings,” which would include both God and those creatures commonly called “angels” (see notes on 29:182:191:11103:20; see also the article “Divine Council”). Mesopotamian myth relegated humanity to a servile status beneath the divine beings (see previous note). Ps 8 places human dignity nearly equal to the council of the heavenly realm.

8:6 you put everything under their feet. God created humankind as guardians of creation. The concept of guardianship is illustrated by an inscription of a certain Azatiwata, who in about 700 BC was appointed by a greater king to rule over a district of what is modern Turkey. Azatiwata claims that he brought all things under his guardianship in peaceful and prosperous order: “I placed them under my feet.”

8:7 – 8 The categories of the animal kingdom over which humanity is charged finds a partial parallel in the Egyptian Great Hymn to Aten, who made “All peoples, herds and flocks; / All upon the earth that walk on legs, / All on high that fly on wings.”

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