The two clauses of 8:2 sit uneasily together. The first is one of the most arresting phrases in scripture—“You established strength from the cries of babies and nursing infants”—after which the poet rushes to a shockingly different context—“for the sake of your enemies to make an end of the enemy and avenger.” How are they related? Early Christian and Jewish commentators labored over this verse, especially its insistence that God established his might (ʿōz) through the weakest and most dependent of creatures, human infants, who yet mature to become its most powerful.
Here I follow the path begun by Augustine and Calvin to interpret this challenging verse. A reasonable translation would read these clauses in reverse order: “For the sake of putting an end to enemy and avenger you established strength in the cries of the defenseless and suckling infants.” Without the parallelism, this translation offers an arresting “take” on the consequences of observing one scene for a particular set of onlookers. The cries of the weak and helpless are so poignant and compelling that they pierce the heart of those who might summarily take advantage of them. Their very existence proclaims the majesty of God, and that is what inhibits those who would harm them.
Enemies of the helpless are, after all, enemies of God. Not only the vastness of heaven and earth but also the weakness of God’s children testify to the majestic power of the Creator, and that testimony, through their cries, converts God’s enemies into precisely the Christians Augustine seeks. Calvin is correct; helpless infants can bring down the enemies of God, that is, transform them until they cease being vengeful against the weak. Psalm 8:2 is thus a piercing elaboration of 8:1, which claims that earth and sky tell the splendor of God.