Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Psalm 8 questions.

Known Authors of the Psalms

It has long been known that while King David of the Israelites wrote 74 of the Psalms (www.ifcj.org/site "Psalms of David"), 47 have no known author and 29 are attributed to other authors (there is some difference between sources in attributing 73 or 74 psalms to David):

  • David, Psalms 3-41, 51-66, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124,131, 138-145 (74)

Others:

  • Asaph / Sons of Asaph, Psalm 50 and 73-83 (12)
  • Sons of Korah, Psalms 42-49, 84-85, 87-88 (12)
  • Solomon, Psalms 72 and 127 (2)
  • Moses, Psalm 90 (1) Heman, Psalm 88 (1) Ethan, Psalm 89 (1)
  • Anonymous: (47)
  • Jewish scholars connected with Kehot Publication also ascribe some of the "anonymous" authorship to Adam, Seth and Abraham.

King David is honored as a Levite, successor of the prophet Samuel and spiritual devotion to the God of the Jewish religion. David not only studied the Scriptures that comprised the Torah but he honored God in psalms daily before daybreak. David's psalms speak of God's attribute, his power, his mercy and his justice, or offer prayers of praise or prayers expressing unlimited trust in God. David is attributed with having collected all the psalms, as some were written before his time by, it is said, Moses, Abraham, Shem and Adam. He added his own compositions to the collection. [See Chabad.org, King David and the Psalms.]

Asaph, or the sons of Asaph [different sources attribute Asaphite psalms in one of these two ways], is usually attributed as the author(s) of the twelve psalms listed above. It is not known, however, whether or not Asaph was only the transcriber of David's additional psalms rather than being the author of the Asaphite psalms. It is most likely that, while Asaph may have transcribed additional Davidic psalms--perhaps some of the anonymous ones--as David's trusted choirmaster, prophet, poet and singer, Asaph composed the 12 psalms in his own right.

Additional confusion over the psalms of Asaph relates to their possible status as part of the collection of Asaphite singers' hymns. Asaphites are identified as a choir of temple singers: they were sons of Asaph who were gifted with song and served as the temple choir. The theory is that any of the sons of Asaph may have composed the 12 psalms. Again, while the 12 psalms may have been in the Asaphite choral hymnal, it is most likely that, given Asaph's status with David, Asaph composed the 12 psalms. 

The singers, the sons of Asaph, were also at their stations according to the command of David, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun the king's seer (2 Chronicles 35:15, ESV)

Asaph was a Levite, the son of Berechiah, from the line of Gershon. As such he was a "seer," or prophet, and the cousin of Heman (Heman, a Korahite, the son of Joel). From the time of King David, Levites provided, along with other duties, the poets, singers and musicians responsible for hymns dedicated to God. Asaph was a skilled poet and singer upon whom David relied and was appointed chief temple musician and choirmaster.

Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel, and from his relatives, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and from the sons of Merari their relatives, Ethan the son of Kushaiah,... (1 Chronicles 15:16-17, www.bible.ca/archeology)

The Sons of Korah, Levites from the line of Kohath, were appointed by David at the same time indicated in the quote just above (1 Chron 15:16-17) as singers and musicians in the temple. As such, they shared the responsibility for composing hymns to God. This is also true of Ethan the Levite and son of Kushaiah. It is mere speculation, but perhaps Merari is one of the authors of the other 47 anonymous hymns in the Psalms.

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God. (Psalm 84:1-2 ESV)

Moses, raised in the Egyptian Pharaoh's palace, was actually a Levite from the line of Kohath and, of course, the leader of exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt. Moses was exerted influence on the hymnal style through his psalm recorded in Psalm 90. Solomon was the son of King David and was the one who actually built the temple David had promised God. Solomon wrote Psalms 72 and 127. It was for Solomon's future temple that David initiated the reorganization of the duties of the Levites so that, among other changes, the temple would have singers and musicians. This reorganization was possible because the Ark of the Covenant would have a permanent home in the Holy of Holies chamber in the heart of the future Temple of Solomon.

What Is the Meaning of Psalm and Hymn?

There seems to be some confusion over the correct definitions of "psalm" and "hymn."

[It] is difficult to decide to what degree, if at all, a distinction ... is made by the ... terms, psalms, hymns ... (newadvent.org)

"Psalm" is usually defined as "a sacred song or hymn of worship or praise" while a "hymn" is usually defined as "a sacred song of praise." The one distinction gleaned from the usual definitions is that a hymn is a category of psalm, and this seems to be a correct though limited distinction.

According to "The Psalms of David" offered by International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a "psalm" is style of poetry. An analysis of the poetic genre of psalm will show that "psalm" is incompletely defined as "a sacred song or hymn of worship or praise."

A psalm is a poetic genre having a distinct meter that is limited by words per line: there are only two to four words per line in a Hebrew psalm, and each word is accented. This limits the other features of meter--rhythm and feet--within strict bounds. The most common meter is trimeter--3 accents--for two couplet lines, 3 accents + 3 accents in two lines. Variations on the two-line couplet trimeter employ 3 accents and/or 2 accents for 3 + 2 and 2 + 2. A three-line trimeter triplet also exists: 3 accents + 3 accents + 3 accents in three lines.

Parallelism of repeated or contrasted thoughts is a further component of the structure of a psalm. Kinds of parallelism are:

  • antithetic for contrasted thoughts
  • synthetic for complemented, supplemented or completed thoughts
  • climactic or stair-like for repetition joined with addition (moves the thought ahead in steps) ("The Psalms of David")

A "hymn" is identified by BibleHub.com as any of a number of types of psalm (i.e., the style of poem). BibleHub identifies six types of hymn written as psalms. This illustrates that "hymn" is inadequately defined as "a sacred song of praise":

  • Hymns of praise
  • National hymns
  • Temple hymns, which are hymns for public worship
  • Hymns of trial or calamity
  • Messianic hymns
  • General religious hymns

SmithCreekMusic.com elaborates on the meaning of "hymn" by defining it pragmatically as a reverent, devotional song that expresses "God's purposes" in life or a worshiper's "attitude toward God":

[A hymn is] reverently and devotionally conceived, which is designed to be sung and which expresses the worshipper's attitude toward God, or God's purposes in human life. (smithcreekmusic.com)

Contemplation of the Significance of God

While it is clear that David's Psalm 8 contemplates God's glory, it is not equally clear that the psalm leads to a complementary contemplation of man's insignificance.

1b You have set your glory above the heavens. ...
4 what is man that you are mindful of him

Through interlacing ironies, the poet illuminates the majesty of God, not the insignificance of man.

9 O Lord, our Lord,
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!

David begins with the power of God in his majesty, above the heavens and against his foes. Immediately we confront an irony: the weakest beings there are establish God's strength.

2  Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
   you have established strength

The power theme continues as David witnesses the power of creation in the heavens then contrasts to the powerlessness of man. Remember, David was woefully well aware of man's powerlessness because of his own powerlessness against King Saul. David's personal powerlessness is an irony in itself since he began his career of public service by slaying the most powerful being on earth: Goliath the Philistine giant. David's contemplations ironically juxtaposing the power of God's physical creation with the powerlessness of God's human creations sends us in free-fall, like a meteor, into the next irony: the greatest of the creations is the least.

4 what is man that you are mindful of him

David confirms that this is an ironical statement with the word "Yet" that opens verse 5: "Yet you have made him ...." David has been contemplating God's perfection and contrasting it to the implied imperfection of humanity: "what is man ...?"

After pointing out the irony of God in His perfection caring about imperfection, David points out that humanity is almost as great as the angels (who themselves are imperfect considering the former rebellion in Heaven):  "a little lower than the angels" (NIV). Rather than contemplating humanity's insignificance, David is contemplating humanity's significance: [paraphrase] Nonetheless, you have made imperfect man only a little less important than the holy angels, who are the ministers of the Lord. This is indeed an irony: unimportance elevated to importance.

5   Yet you have made him a little lower than the angels
   and crowned him with glory and honor.

A potentially controversial psalmic couplet follows. It is potentially controversial (or maybe outright controversial) because factions use it to defend a laissez-faire attitude to environmental changes and problems while other factions use it to defend heightened stewardship over the environment to try to reverse, stall or limit these changes and problems.

Remembering that, in English, the Subject leads the Verb and Object SVO, except for rhetorical or poetical effects, if we look at a loose transliteration of the lines from Hebrew to English, we see that, in English syntax, the Object of the sentence precedes the Verb and Subject and is repeated in varied words on the other side of the Subject: [transliteration] his feet under You have put all of Your hands [things] over Your works made him to have dominion (BibleHub.com).

The sense this gives is that the Subject in the transliteration, "all of Your hands [things]" ("the works of your hands"), is what is most important. Reading the loose transliteration, the sense that comes across might be expressed like this: [paraphrase] Under his feet You have put all the things of Your hands, over Your works You have given him dominion or power. This actually creates a parallel rhetorical structure (a chiasmus).

The sense that emerges is that David's wonderment at the string of ironies continues and not only continues but grows. The irony is that God, the majestic, has given power over the fruit of His work to the weakest and most powerless: the most exalted task has gone to the least exalted.

It is understandable that after these meditations, after realizations of all these ironies, after an epiphany of the power of God that grants greatness to the most lowly, David would again proclaim the majesty of God:

9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

[To hear Psalm 8 sung by a Cantor: http://www.smithcreekmusic.com/Hymnology/Sound.Files/Psalm8.mp3 ]