What does it mean to be human?
Psalm 8 as a chiasm:
A. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
-B. You have set your glory above the heavens.
–C. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.
—D. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,
–C’. and the son of man that you care for him?
-B’. Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the
A’. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The chiasm is a neat one: the psalm is bookended by praise of God, and the mouths of babes falls into the priestly section of the chiasm. I’ve put the son of man in the prophet slot because “son of man” is a prophetic term used in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Mark to designate a prophet. God’s glory is set above the heavens, above the expanse of the firmament boundary. The reference to the sun, moon, and stars easily fits into the fourth day slot.
The B slots are theologically rich. God’s glory dwells above the heavens, but the corresponding B’ section refers to God’s glory as revealed on earth: in Man. The Psalm, in itself, seems to be making an abstract theological statement rather than a theological one. I would argue that it is a prophetic text based on the failed work of Adam, looking toward a time where mankind is made fully mature and grows into dominion over the world. We fail to exegete the Psalm properly if we don’t look at it through a prophetic lens. I think a lot of Christians understand this, but this post will walk us through the logic in determining how this speaks to the New Adam, Christ.
Adam was designed to, after he lived in faithful obedience to God, be exalted in such a way that he would rule over every category of animal and reign over creation. At first, though, Adam was designed to live a life of simple obedience to God’s single command. At this stage, he would be lowly and only gradually gain dominion over the world. In his blamelessness, he would have ascended to God had he remained faithful. (This is why priests are linked with simple obedience: they must take great care to be presented blameless before God so that they can make atonement for the rest of the community.)
Adam was set underneath the Serpent, as the Serpent was designed to be a teacher of Man. Adam would be exalted after successfully learning from the advances of Lucifer, the original teacher of mankind. Rather than teaching truth, the Serpent twisted God’s word and fell from his place in the council. Though Adam had learned from the animals that God had caused to come to him, Adam was tempted by the serpent. He let Eve taste the fruit rather than stepping in as an attempt to test the claims of the Serpent. When Eve did not die, Adam falsely judged God as a liar and partook of the fruit as well. A king would have refuted the words and killed those who transgressed the teaching, and used this experience to prophetically teach the rest of the world. Had Adam been faithful, we would have seen the glory of the Lord cover the earth as like a sea from the beginning of created time. Instead, in his failure, Adam had to relegate the dominion of creation to the angels.
The Psalmist imagines a different world: one where Adam was placed below the Serpent, but successfully defeated him, and, in the process, was exalted to the highest place in mankind. This is why Psalm 8 uses all of the categories of animals in creation laid out in Genesis 1: in this world, the Adam has obeyed and now rules over all of creation. This is an imagined scenario for the Psalmist, and in that sense, becomes a prophetic psalm.
This is how Paul argues in Hebrews 1-2, at least. When Adam was disobedient in the Garden, the world was placed under the protection of angels. Rather than having Adam and Eve serve at God’s side, Michael and Gabriel took over. Angels became the mediators of the Law. An Angel of the Lord led Joshua’s Army into the Land. Angels were God’s messengers. Angels rejected worship, but acted as exegeter’s of God’s words. When Christ came in the flesh, was perfected in suffering through obedience, he reached perfection. This perfection is not moral purity as some imagine it, but fully maturity. In Christ, mankind became fully mature and mankind was able to be exalted past the point of angels. Fully mature mankind is worthy to take the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, being able to discern good teaching from falsehood. This is a characteristic of reigning: because Jesus was able to discern (cf. Isaiah 7) between good and evil, dominion was put back into the hands of Man. In that sense, command of creation was shifted to Christ. It’s not that angels were unworthy, but it was never the case that they would have full control of creation forever.
So what is man, that God would be mindful of him? Man is the one whom God appointed to reign over the world under Adam. God remembers Man because God has crowned man with glory and honor because of his obedience and maturity.