Mention something “majestic” in nature, and many of us would think of mountains.
We might call to mind some great range of mountains, or a towering waterfall, or an expansive body of water with no end in sight. Majestic features are both imposing and attractive, both impressive and beautiful, both intimidating and inviting. They have a strange pull on the human soul, drawing on us to draw near, but with reverence and care.
In our language, as in biblical terms, the word majesty captures not only bigness but also beauty, awesome power combined with pleasant admiration, both great height or size and yet potential safety. Majesty brings together both greatness and goodness, both strength and splendor (Psalm 96:6). It’s not only a fitting descriptor for mountain majesties but also for God, who is, above all, “the Majestic One” (Isaiah 10:34). Psalm 76:4 declares in praise to him, “Glorious are you,” and then adds, “more majestic than the mountains.”
How Majestic His Name
Such divine majesty pulses with an expansive, evangelistic force. God is not only majestic in fact but also in renown. His greatness, his power, his glory are not to be hidden and kept secret, but to spread through sight and word far and wide, attaching his name to such greatness and glory. His majesty is to be known, and he to be known, by name.
In a song of high praise, Psalm 148 bids both kings and commoners, young men and maidens, old and young alike to praise God’s exalted name as an extension of his majesty:
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven. (Psalm 148:13)
“Divine majesty pulses with an expansive, evangelistic force.”
So also Micah’s famous Bethlehem prophecy speaks of a great ruler arising, from the little town, who “shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4).
Of course, nowhere is God’s majesty accented as memorably as in the first line of Psalm 8 and its refrain in the last. This is Scripture’s signature celebration of divine majesty. Yet here, God’s majesty is not like the renown of mere human splendor, whether of ancient Egypt or Babylon or Rome, or like the renown of a Washington or Napoleon, a Lincoln or Churchill. This psalm, perhaps surprisingly, largely assumes God’s natural majesty (as we might call it), equally visible to unbelieving eyes, while accenting his peculiar majesty — the summit of his beauty requiring a miracle of his grace to see and enjoy.
Two Modes of Majesty
Psalm 8 manifestly sings of glory — God’s glory, set above the heavens (verse 1), and man’s glory, appointed by God, as one he has “crowned . . . with glory and honor” (verse 5). And so, that memorable opening line, reprised as the final note, hails the majesty of God’s name:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Here, under the banner of God’s majesty and excellence as his glory, we find two levels, or modes. First is what we might call a natural mode: the heavens (verses 1 and 3), the moon and the stars (verse 3), and we might presume the quintessential natural majesties like mountains and waterfalls and oceans, vast physical expanses that remind us of our smallness and the awe-inspiring bigness and authority and power of the one who made such majesties.
But then, second, is what we might call a special mode of his majesty, which is the particular emphasis of Psalm 8: verse 2 mentions the mouths of babies and infants (that is, the weak) testifying to his strength in the face of foes and the enemy and avenger. Then, at the heart of the psalm, verses 3–8 marvel at his grace toward mankind. In view of such natural majesties as the heavens (“your heavens”!) and moon and stars, and mountains, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”
“Yet,” says verse 5 — this is the “yet” of grace — God has made man “a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor.” In such a majestic creation, God has made man, with humanity’s smallness and limitations, in the divine image, and given him “dominion over the works of [God’s] hands.” The beasts of the field and birds of the heavens and fish of the sea are to be subject to man, thanks to God.
So, we find here both a natural majesty and special majesty. And Psalm 8, while acknowledging the obvious majesty of God in the bigness and beauty of creation, emphasizes “the unexpectedness of God’s ways” (Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72, 66) which further demonstrates his majesty — indeed is his majesty in full flower.
God reveals his greatness and power and glory not only through his heavens and moon and stars and mountains but also by confounding his foes with the praises of the weak. God shows himself majestic through the heavens and surpassingly so through humans — and in particular the ones we’re prone to least expect: the humble, the lowly, those who naturally seem least majestic.
Great God, Graced Man
The point of Psalm 8, then, is this: God’s grace toward man redounds to the glory of divine majesty, to the fame of God’s name, to the extension of his renown through his world. The sum of the psalm is not how great is man, but how graced is man — and how great is our God. And for the faithful, he is our God: “O Lord, our Lord.” He is majestic in his greatness, power, and glory — and exceedingly majestic in grace toward his people, so much so that he is our Lord.
Psalm 8 includes this striking dignifying of humanity, yet without leaving any doubt as to where the accent falls, thanks to the refrain. The first word, and the last word, lest we forget, is how majestic is God’s name. The primary emphasis, driven home in verse 9, is “God and his grace” (Kidner, 68).
High and Exalted, Exalting the Lowly
Behind Psalm 8, the second “song of majesty” is Psalm 145, where we also find “two modes” of divine majesty. The fourth stanza praises God’s regal highness in the more typical terms: glory and power, mighty deeds, situated in “his kingdom,” under his kingly dominion. This is the stuff of natural majesty. Then the fifth stanza unfolds this peculiar majesty for the enlightened eyes of his covenant people — the people to which God, amazingly, is kind, or literally loyal (verses 13b and 17) by his gracious covenant.
Psalm 138 also contains a parallel, at least in showing the surprising majesty of God, and the global advance of his renown, his name:
All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar. (Psalm 138:4–6)
“We thrill at God’s mercy for the lowly, and marvel at his justice for the wicked.”
Mark his royal highness. His greatness shines out all the more in how far he bends down to help the lowly. His majesty is on display not just in his capacity to resist and decimate strong foes, but in his merciful, gentle stooping to rescue his weak people. His majesty is unsurpassed both in its highness (above the highest heavens) and in its regard for the lowly, how far he can bend, and will bend, to rescue the needy, comfort the afflicted, provide for the poor, and exalt the humbled.
His majesty is unrivaled. His greatness, his power, his glory are unmatched. And yet, to this incomparable natural majesty he adds the very summit of his greatness: his peculiar majesty that stoops to show mercy, raise up the lowly, and rescue the humbled. He is surpassingly majestic in his person and capacities, and then, even more, in his grace and mercy. His people delight in his gentleness toward them, and in his fierceness with their foes. We thrill at his mercy for the lowly, and marvel at his justice for the wicked.
And now we know, as the psalmists could only anticipate, the personal manifestation of this surpassing and peculiar majesty. Which brings us to Isaiah’s enigmatic suffering servant.
No Majesty, Now Majestic
The great prophet foresaw one who would have “no form or majesty that we should look at him” (Isaiah 53:2). From beginning to end, the earthly life of Jesus magnified the majesty of his Father. Jesus so spoke, and so acted, that as Luke 9:43 reports, “all were astonished at the majesty of God.”
Yet, even then, in the earthly ministry of Christ, a greater and more stunning majesty remained. Luke continues, “But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men’” (Luke 9:43–44). That is, he would accent the display of this emerging majesty with an unexpected and special majesty.
To natural eyes, Jesus had no form or majesty that we should look at him. Now he became to the eyes of faith the supremely majestic one. After the resurrection, eyes now fully opened to grace, Peter testifies of being an eyewitness to his majesty (2 Peter 1:16–17). Now the one without natural majesty, who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, has been super-exalted and seated at the right hand of Majesty.
Which might remind us of what Hebrews 2:8 comments about man in Psalm 8: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” But then he adds in verse 9, “But we see him,” that is, the God-man.
We see Jesus, who — by virtue of his becoming man, suffering, dying for us, rising in triumph, and ascending to sit at the right hand of Majesty — has become the first to fulfill the vision of Psalm 8, with all things under his feet. Not only is divine majesty on display through this man, but he is divine Majesty himself, shining in the peculiar glory that outstrips and surpasses our best notions of natural glory.
When we turn to the highest majesty that can be conceived, we look and listen to Jesus.