Tuesday, 21 August 2018
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands. Hebrews 2:7
The author continues with his quote of Psalm 8. The words here are from the Greek translation of Psalm 8:5. The quote begins by saying, “You have made him a little lower than the angels.” The word translated as “a little” signifies “short” or “a few.” In this, it is speaking in a sense of quantity or measure. The idea is as Vincent’s Word Studies translates the sentence – “Thou didst for some little time make him lower than the angels.”
The translation could go either way – speaking of time, or speaking of position – however, the author is using the words of the psalmist and applying them to Christ Jesus, and contrasting Him to the angels. Therefore, the reasonable thought is that Christ came into the stream of humanity in the form of a bondservant (see Philippians 2:5-11). During His first advent, He was thus “for some little time” made lower than the angels. He subjected Himself to the economy which was “spoken through angels” (Hebrews 2:2). Thus, Christ subjected Himself to a position inferior to them in a legal sense, being bound by the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets.
As a short note of clarification, the Hebrew of these words in Psalm 8 literally reads, “And lower You have made him than God.” David placed man lower than “God/gods.” The word is elohim. It signifies something like “other(s) who are over there.” It can speak of God, angels, or even human judges. What David was actually referring to isn’t completely sure, but the translators of the Greek Scriptures state “angels,” and the author of Hebrews agrees with this in the New Testament. In this, the assumption is that David was using the term elohim as an ellipsis for “the angels of God.” This is likely because no definite article is placed in front of elohim by David.
Having said this, the context of the psalm must be considered. David wrote about the glory of man (as noted in the previous verse of Hebrews). He wondered that God was even mindful of him and that He tended so carefully to him. When David said, “You have made him a little lower than the angels,” he was referring to the state of man in the order of ranking. God is supreme. From there, the host of angels were considered as a higher order than man, having access to His throne, and wielding great power and authority. Man, as an earthly creature, would be considered as “a little lower than the angels.” But David (and the author of Hebrews) continues with, “You have crowned him with glory and honor.”
It is impossible to tell exactly what David was thinking, and so we can only speculate that he is referring to man in general. However, he may also have been looking in anticipation to the coming Messiah. Either way, the author of Hebrews leaves no doubt as to the true intent of the Spirit-inspired writings. It is the Messiah who is being referred to in the future/prophetic sense. As for David’s immediate context, we can speculate, without causing any damage to the intent of David, that he was speaking of man in general.
Despite being “a little lower than the angels,” man has been crowned with “glory and honor.” He has been given authority over the realm in which he exists, and it is apparent that he is the highest form of life that walks upon the earth. This thought is explained by the continued words of the verse. They say, “And set him over the works of Your hands.”
They are words taken from Psalm 8:6, and it is to be noted that some manuscripts, and thus many modern Bibles, omit the final words of this clause. Whether they were inappropriately dropped out of the citation, or whether they were inappropriately added in at a later date is a subject of debate. However, the overall intent will not be lost, because the next verse in both the Psalm and in Hebrews will complement the words. Under the assumption that the words do, in fact, belong in the verse, David has noted that man has been set over the works of God’s hands, meaning the earth on which we live. This authority was given at the creation of man (Genesis 2:20), and it was restated after the flood of Noah (Genesis 9:1-3). David understood this, and wrote about man in this position, lower than the angels, but with authority over the works of God’s hands.
The author of Hebrews, and quite possibly David as well, looked to these words in an even greater context though. The author is applying them to Christ, having first been subjected to the economy which was administered by angels, and who then was crowned with glory and honor. He prevailed over (and died in fulfillment of) the Law of Moses. From there, and in the fullest intent of the passage, Christ was placed “over the works of” God’s hands. He was granted the full authority, power, and position that rightfully belonged to Him, and which He temporarily set aside. He reclaimed that authority through His completed work. This is the intent of the passage, as the coming verses will continue to reveal.
Whatever David was actually thinking as he wrote out the Psalm, the Holy Spirit who directed him had the intent of it being a prophetic passage which looked forward to Christ Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the words (see John 5:39).
Life application: We cannot get inside the head of David, or other Old Testament writers, and be dogmatic about what they were thinking at times. However, when an Old Testament passage is cited by a New Testament writer, and it is then applied to the Person of Jesus Christ, we can know – with 100% surety – that either the primary or the secondary (or both) intent of the original was to point to the coming Messiah. The truth is revealed in how the New Testament, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, applies these verses. We don’t need to argue dogmatically over what is unknown. All we need to do is stand confidently in what is known.
Lord God, there are difficult passages in the Old Testament which we can debate as to their actual original meaning, but when they are applied to Christ Jesus in the New Testament, all doubt as to the prophetic meaning is cleared up. We have a sure word that the Old pointed to the New, and that Christ is the fulfillment of what was spoken so long ago. Thank You for the absolute assurance we have in the full, final, and finished work of Christ our Lord! Amen.