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.
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)
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?”