Use of Psalms in Hebrews
Updated: Jul 5
God cares for the mosquito, the ant, and the planet (Gen 1:21). God created man in His own image, yet compared to God, Man is small in God’s created universe. One purpose of this essay is to show the textual differences between the Hebrew and Greek Septuagintal (LXX) versions of Psalm 8:4-8 and 40:6-8 and compare them with Hebrews 2:5-9 and 10:5-9. Additionally, an attempt is made to explain the interpretation of the human situation and the interpretations of the Hebrews author and the Psalmists. The central point, the thesis of this essay, is to exhibit the supremacy of Christ throughout the Scriptures presented.
God is a caring creator. In Psalm 8:4-8, David contrasts the meager human situation to that of God, who is sovereign and magnificent. God works with the distant moon and stars yet has a close relationship with mere human beings. Rhetorically, David launches a “what” inquiry with a further focus on a “why” or “how” contemplation. He asks why sovereign God would place man over the works of His hands and how is it that man is crowned with glory and honor. God makes the small tall (Mark 4:30-32), the tall small (1 Sam 50), and when the small give glory to God, they obtain an imperishable crown (1 Cor 9:25). Goldingay posits that since God bestowed His creation under the care of man, man’s crown is a share of God’s glory and honor. In this respect, man is not an insignificant creature but is distinct in the likeness of God.
In the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), the wording for Psalm 8:5 is, “You diminished him a little in comparison with angels.” Before the Fall, man and woman were godlike (Gen 1:26) and were given dominion over all of creation. The Fall did not change God’s plan for man. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates the author of Hebrews 2:7 as, “You have made him for a little while lower than angels.” Similar wording is found in The Old Testament in the New by Turpie: verse 7 is translated as “and thou hast made him lack a little from angels.” Kidner writes, “Little can sometimes mean ‘for a little while’ in both Hebrew and Greek, which is the sense probably implied in the [Hebrews] Epistle.” According to Guthrie, this passage was initially directed at man before the Fall, not Jesus. However, in Hebrews 2:9 (NASB), Jesus is the subject who is lower than the angels for a little while. Verse 9 appears to be absent from the works of Turpie; yet, in the translation by Gough, Jesus is present and is crowned with glory and honor. Whether Jesus was crowned because of His death or because he was made lower than the angels does not matter, both are true according to Allen.
In Quotations from the Old Testament by Gough, “son of man” is used in Psalm 8:4. The clause is present in the NASB but absent in the New King James Version (NKJV). Perhaps David purposefully chose the clause to accentuate man’s smallness. God incarnate referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” (Matt 8:20) while He walked among man and positioned Himself as a servant. In the congruence of the various interpretations, the human situation as being inferior to God is the common thread. More importantly, Jesus as fully human and fully divine was made a little lower than the angels for a short time which directly restored man’s dignity in creation. God’s supremacy is evident in the writings of the various authors, and everything is under the feet of Jesus (Ps 8:6b). Cockerill writes that Psalm 8:6b is the interpretation of Psalm 110:1where Jesus sits at God’s right hand, and the enemies are a footstool.
The function of the sacrifice in Psalm 40:6-8 is epitomized in 1 Samuel 15:22 where the author emphatically states that obedience of the Lord is better than sacrifice. Sacrifice is all but finalized in Isaiah 1:11-19 with God essentially telling the Israelites “Enough”! Burnt offerings are worthless without righteous obedience. In the works of Turpie and the NASB, the author of Hebrew 10:5-7 uses the word “body” instead of “ear” used in Psalm 40:6 NASB. However, in Gough’s work, he translates Psalm 40:6 as “Mine ears hast thou opened.” The ear is part of the body, and the main point here is that God has the worshiper’s ear to hear God’s will. Sacrifices are still required (Lev 1-7), but they must take the right form, defined by the word, “rāṣôn” according to Goldingay. One wanting a right relationship with God would most likely be willing to offer up their firstborn as is the case in Micah 6:6-8 which concludes with what God requires from the beginning: to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord (Mic 6:8). Animal sacrifices were nonetheless significant reminders of sin.
The author of Hebrews 10:7 interprets and applies Psalm 40:8 in similar manner using different terms. For example, in Hebrews 10:7, the worshipper comes to do the will of God and then references a book. In Psalms 40:8, the worshipper comes because of the book written and then delights doing God’s will. Perhaps the book is a copy of the law on a scroll established by the Levitical priests in Deuteronomy 17:18-19. In Deuteronomy 31, Moses wrote the laws in a scroll and passed them on to the priests and elders. The laws were to teach the generations to revere Yahweh and be obedient, not rebellious. Apparently, the worshiper in Psalm 40:8 comes because sacrifice is required by the law written in the scroll. The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 40 to emphasize the inadequacy of the Old Testament sacrifices. Those sacrifices were offered in accordance with Mosaic law which are later displaced by Jesus fulfilling the will of God by offering Himself as the ultimate and final sacrifice.
The supremacy of Christ is reflected in the Scriptures presented. Obedience of the law to sacrifice is worthless without obedience to what God commands of the heart. The author of Hebrews understood that God took away the former (animal sacrifice) to establish the finality of Christ’s sacrifice. The Psalmist invigorated Samuel’s prophetic announcement that ritual performance without a submissive spirit is worthless. Man remains small unless made tall by glorifying God. Contextual differences in the translations of the Septuagint do not contradict or dismiss the underlying principles of obedience. The implication of not knowing man’s relationship over creation to man’s relationship with the Creator will lead to misplacement of the crown of glory.
 Steven Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary – Psalms (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2004), 67.  John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1 - Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 160.  David McCalman Turpie, The Old Testament in the New (London: Williams and Norgate, 1868), 119.  Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 85.  Donald Guthrie, Hebrews (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 89.  David L. Allen, Hebrews: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of the Holy Scripture (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 174.  Henry Gough, The New Testament Quotations Collated with the Scriptures of the New Testament (London: Walton and Maberly, 1855), 155.  Steven Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary – Psalms (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2004), 70.  Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 118.  John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1 - Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 574.  Gregory W. Lee, Today When You Hear His Voice: Scripture [Hebrews], the Covenants, and the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 99.  Telford Work, Deuteronomy (Ada, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 463.  Thomas R. Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 295.
Allen, David L. Hebrews: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of the the Holy Scripture. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.
Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012.
Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1—Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
Gough, Henry. The New Testament Quotation Collated with the Scriptures of the New Testament. London, UK: Walton and Maberly, 1855.
Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Lawson, Steven. Holman Old Testament Commentary—Psalms. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2004.
Lee, Gregory W. Today When You Hear His Voice: Scripture [Hebrews], the Covenants, and the People of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016.
Schreiner, Thomas R. Commentary on Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
Turpie, David McCalman. The Old Testament in the New. London, UK: Baker Academic, 1868.
Work, Telford. Deuteronomy. Ada, MI, 2009.