Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 8: Yahweh Establishes Legitimacy.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:1-9 NRSV)

The above text is thick with imagery and motifs that hearken back to the times of old. In Psalms 8 not only do we find the writer praising Yahweh, but also praising the rank that Yahweh afforded to man. To fully analyze this psalm we need to move slowly through the text because there are many things here that need to be taken note of. The first topic of interest is of Yahweh establishing his kingdom after his enemies are suppressed. Many will view this in New Testament themes, but for the time being we must put all such thoughts on hold in order to view the text from a different angle and viewpoint. The next topic is the making of man a little lower than the “gods”. Some texts render this as angels; however, some examples will be given on why it should be rendered as “gods” as we progress. Below we will take a look at who Yahweh’s enemies were and what type of adversaries he had to overcome in order to claim legitimacy in the heavens and over the earth.

So who were the adversaries of Yahweh? We look in a few descriptive texts and find the seemingly mythical enemies. In Psalms 89:9-11

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.

and again in Psalms 74:13-14:

You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

The enemies of Yahweh also can be found in two verses of Isaiah 5:9-10:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?

From the above texts we can see that there is a pattern and the mythological aspect to the enemies of Yahweh. They are (רַ֖הַב) Rahab, תּנּה))Tannin, (ים)Yamm, and (תּהם)Tehom. All three of these gods were the associated with the sea. Rahab, can here be compared to Tiamat, Tannin was dragon or sea monster that can also be compared to Tiamat, Yamm was the sea god who Baal defeated, and lastly Tehom was often referenced to Tiamat, but it is also thought that it was the great waters that Elohiym divided. So the Epic of Enuma Elish is a strong comparison here. After Yahweh slays the sea and divides the waters he is free to build his heavenly kingdom, creation, and take his rightful kingship.

The same problem also happened to Baal. Baal had to defeat the god Yamm in order to gain legitimacy in the heavenly council so that he would not be mocked by his enemies. It was not until he smashed Yamm in the skull with the two clubs made by the craft god Korthar that he was able to have a temple built.

“The mighty will fall to the ground,
the powerful into the Slime.”
These words had just come from her mouth,
this speech from her lips, she had just spoken,
when he groaned from under Prince Sea’s throne.
And Kothar-wa-Hasis replied:
“Let me tell you, Prince Baal,
let me repeat , Rider on the Clouds:
behold, your enemy, Baal,
behold, you will kill your enemy,
behold, you will annihilate your foes.
You will take your eternal kingship,
your dominion forever and ever.” (Coogan p.88)

Now we come to the point that seemed so long getting to. It is worthy to note here the big debate Yahweh had with David concerning the building of the temple. Because David’s enemies were not vanquished and being labeled a “man of war” the building of the temple of Yahweh was passed on to his son Solomon. In I Kings 5:3-6 we read:

“You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Therefore command that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me. My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.”

After the building of the temple there came credibility to both Yahweh and Solomon; for all their adversaries were put down. The temple structure became one of the highlights of the reign of Solomon. It is now that the implications from the New Testament can be heaped on.

It is commonly believed the true kingdom of God cannot be here on earth until all of the enemies of Christ are vanquished. It would also imply that the account of the Satan being thrown from heaven may have possibly been done so in order to build the New Testament version of the Kingdom; with mansions and streets of gold. Many times the Satan is referred to in the New Testament as the Serpent, with strong imagery of the past being used in the present. So as the varied accounts of the end times go; Christ returns, overthrows the antichrist, suppresses evil for a disputed amount of time, and then at the final battle puts the sinful to the sword and claims heavenly and earthly kingship.

It is most interesting how the themes of old shed light on the importance of how belief systems and their accounts are constructed. Even cults and religions who are out of the main stream have use such imagery and motifs for the credibility it affords.

Yet you have made them a little lower than God – Moving on to the topic of man being created a little lesser then the gods. In the Hebrew the text is clearly rendered, אלהים Elohiym”. The definition from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reads:

“lh is the assumed root of ‘el, ‘eloah, and ‘elohim, which mean “god” or “God.” The Ugaritic term for “god” or the “chief god” is ‘il, plural ‘ilm, occasionally plural ‘ilhm (cf. UT 19: no. 163). The Phoenician term is ‘l “El”; the plural is ‘lm which seems to be construed sometimes as a singular (cf. Z. Harris, Grammar of the Phoenician Language, Jewish Publication Society, 1936, p. 77). The Aramaic is ‘elah, plural ‘elahin. The Akkadian form is ilu”

With this in mind, the term that the writer of this essay suggests for Psalms 8:7 should read: “Yet you have made them a little lower than gods.” This makes scene for two reasons. One reason is that men who are holy are allowed to stand and witness the judgment of the lord. The idea of the holy council was been discussed in pervious essays and seems to fit this context. Another reason, in light of Psalms 82, it seems proper that Yahweh tells the unjust gods of the council to reform or be face with the punishment of mortality. So the next step down would be mortal man.

We close with a text concerning the creation man to glorify the gods and to be in their service. Below we read the account of Marduk coming to the same conclusion almost as Yahweh. The text here is proper when discussing Psalms chapters 8, 82, and man being a little lesser then the gods. From The Seven Tablets of Creation, we read:

When Marduk heard the word of the gods,
His heart prompted him and he devised [a cunning plan].
He opened his mouth and unto Ea [he spake],
[That which] he had conceived in his heart he imparted [unto him]:
“My blood will I take and bone will I [fashion],
“I will make man, that man may … […].
“I will create man who shall inhabit [the earth],”
“That the service of the gods may be established, and that [their] shrines[may be built].
“But I will alter the ways of the gods,
and I will change [their paths]; (King 88-89)

Archer. Gleason L. Jr. , Bruse K. Waltke. & R. Laird Harris, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Electronic Edition, Moody Press. Chicago, Illinois 1980.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

King, Leonard William. The Seven Tablets of Creation. Luzac and Co. London 1902.

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