Study Guide

Psalms Man, God, & The Natural World

Man, God, & The Natural World

What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet. (NRSV 8:4-6)

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. (KJV 8:4-6)

There's a natural hierarchy here: divine beings, humans, and finally animals. Poor animals. Humans though, are doing things up Spidey-style: they have both great power and great responsibility. God is the creator, but he's put quite a bit of trust in man.

Oh, and don't forget to check out the translation differences. The King James translators weren't so cozy with the idea of comparing mortals and God, so they added angels to the list.

The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (NRSV 18:13-15)

The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.
Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.
Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils. (KJV 18:13-15)

This is fire and brimstone at its best. And while they're at it, the writers compare natural events (lightning) to weapons (arrows). How poetic.

God restores my soul.
He leads me in right path for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me. (NRSV 23:3-4)

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. (KJV 23:3-4)

Look how much more jazzed-up the words are in the King James Version. And whether you like it or not, those are the words most of us remember: "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" resonates way more with English speakers than "I walk through the darkest valley," right?

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. (NRSV 36:6)

Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. (KJV (36:6)

It's not just God's physical powers that are naturalistic—his mind is, too. This is some straight-up simile here.

For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. (NRSV 37:9)

For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. (NRSV 37:9)

Who owns the land? God or humans? And are we waiting for God or working for God? Yeah, Psalms raises quite a few questions.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (NRSV 46:1-3)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. (KJV 46:1-3)

Wait a second—who's making the earth tremble here? We thought that was God's job, but here it sounds like God is the refuge from all that craziness. What gives?

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. (NRSV 65:13)

The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing. (KJV 65:13)

Who's responsible for the abundance of cultivation—God or the Israelites? What would the writers of Psalms say?

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