Some biblical scholars suggest that Book 1 of Psalms is comprised of four sub-groups, each with a central psalm related to the others either through contrast or comparison. If this is the case (and I think it is), then Psalm 8 is a short hymn of praise in the middle of a group of psalms (3-14) that are prayers for help.
The Psalms collectively are the prayers and praises of the blessed man following the way of the Lord among groups of sinners and scoffers, and in Book 1 David starts off right in the thick of this contentious situation.
In Psalm 3 David writes, “Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God,” while in Psalm 12 he states in no uncertain terms, “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.”
This vileness is not a pretty picture. In the concluding verses of Psalm 7, David gives us this picture: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.”
David’s statement in Psalm 8 “what is man that you are mindful of him?” makes sense to us given the context. What are we indeed.
And yet there is more than man’s wickedness at work in this group of psalms. There is God’s goodness to the humble and the broken who are looking for a refuge in Him.
Psalm 3, which begins with David’s foes rising, ends with David saying, “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O My God . . . Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people.” In Psalm 12, immediately before the verse I quoted above, David writes: “The words of the Lord are pure words . . . You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.”
And in Psalm 7, David has more to say about his picture of the wicked man: “He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.” Seeing the judgment of the wicked, David concludes: “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.”
So while Psalm 8 seems, at first glance, to be a fish out of water, it is actually a fitting centerpiece. It praises the God who established creation in a perfect order, and will re-establish that order, putting down the wicked who attempt to oppress it. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”