God’s Greatness and Man’s Smallness
“O LORD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (vv. 3–4).- Psalm 144:1–8
What must we do to get an accurate measure of a person? Some have said that you see people for who they are in how they treat those who are inferior to them in terms of position or social status. Others have said that you measure men and women according to how they respond to times of adversity. Both of these suggestions, as well as others, reflect a measure of truth. However, they are incomplete. Divine revelation tells us that the Lord Himself is the ultimate standard for measuring the character of a person.
Today’s passage teaches us this lesson. Psalm 144 opens with a description of God, noting several of His attributes, including His steadfast love; His being our fortress, stronghold, and shield; His willingness and ability to deliver His people; and His identity as the only rock upon whom we can stand securely (vv. 1–2). These attributes paint a picture of the magnificent greatness of our Creator. But we should not simply read these verses, think “God is great,” and then move on. As David shows us in this text, pondering the greatness of our Lord forces us to consider who we are in comparison to Him. When measured against the eternal, self-sufficient Maker of heaven and earth, we are but a breath that comes and goes in an instant (vv. 3–4). We have no inherent significance; only God is by nature a being worthy of consideration. True, we bear His image, and for that reason we surpass all other creatures in dignity and value (Gen. 1:26–27). Yet any worth and significance we possess is a derived and imparted worth and significance. In ourselves, we would be nothing had the Lord not stamped His image on us. John Calvin comments, “The riches of the divine goodness are extended to objects altogether unworthy in themselves. We are warned, when apt at any time to forget ourselves, and think we are something when we are nothing, that the simple fact of the shortness of our life should put down all arrogance and pride.”
Because of who we are, we have no hope of deliverance if we trust in ourselves. Thus, we must call upon God and God alone to save us. David does this in Psalm 144:5–8, beseeching the Lord to come in His glory to aid him just as He revealed His might and power at Mount Sinai when He came in the fullness of His holiness to meet with His people. We are small but our holy God is far greater than we can imagine, so He alone can save us.
John Calvin writes, “We cannot properly estimate the divine goodness, unless we take into consideration what we are as to our condition, as we can only ascribe to God what is due unto him, by acknowledging that his goodness is bestowed upon undeserving creatures.” Any self-reliance that remains after we have come to know the Lord hinders our prayers and our trust in Him. But if we remember how great He is and how small we are, this self-reliance will be put to death.
Passages for Further Study