Psalm 138 – God’s Promise to Honor His Word and to Complete His Work
This Psalm is titled, A Psalm of David. Several commentators mention that it was fittingly placed next to Psalm 137, which described the inability of the Psalmist to sing before the heathen. Psalm 138 is a declaration that even the kings of the nations will praise Yahweh.
“This Psalm is wisely placed. Whoever edited and arranged these sacred poems, he had an eye to apposition and contrast; for if in Psalm 137 we see the need of silence before revilers, here we see the excellence of a brave confession. There is a time to be silent, lest we cast pearls before swine; and there is a time to speak openly, lest we be found guilty of cowardly non-confession.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“There is a fine blend of boldness and humility from the outset: boldness to confess the Lord before the gods, humility to bow down before him.” (Derek Kidner)
A. Declaration of praise for the past.
1. (1-2a) The declaration of praise.
I will praise You with my whole heart;
Before the gods I will sing praises to You.
I will worship toward Your holy temple,
And praise Your name
a. I will praise You with my whole heart: David began this song with a bold declaration – that he would hold nothing back in his praise to God. It would be done with all his being, with his whole heart.
i. My whole heart: “We need a broken heart to mourn our own sins, but a whole heart to praise the Lord’s perfections.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “‘With the whole heart’ leaves no room for mixed motives of divided devotion.” (Morgan)
b. Before the gods I will sing praises to You: We can’t imagine that David meant he would praise Yahweh in the actual presence of idols and images of other gods. There are three ideas as to what David meant by his singing praise before the gods (elohim).
· Perhaps it was a declaration of allegiance to Yahweh and He alone, and the gods represent the idols of the heathen.
· Perhaps gods (elohim) in this context refers to angelic beings, as in a few other places in the Hebrew Scriptures.
· Perhaps gods refers to human rulers or judges, such as are spoken of later in Psalm 138:4.
i. “A witness against the impotence of idols… Praise belongs to the Lord alone and not to the gods of the nations, whose kings will have to submit to the Lord.” (VanGemeren)
c. I will worship toward Your holy temple: Even if David were not at the temple, he recognized it as God’s appointed place for worship and sacrifice. He would worship according to God’s direction.
i. “Wheresoever I am the face of my soul shall turn, like the needle of a dial, by sacred instinct, towards thee, in the ark of thy presence, in the Son of thy love.” (Trapp)
2. (2b-3) Reasons for praise.
For Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
And made me bold with strength in my soul.
a. For Your lovingkindness and Your truth: David’s praise was not empty adoration. It had reasons behind it and a basis for it. He thought of the great lovingkindness (hesed) of God toward him, and God’s firmly established truth. Meditation on those gifts from God gave basis for David’s spirit of praise.
b. For You have magnified Your word above all Your name: Having mentioned God’s truth in the previous line, now David considered the main way God’s truth is communicated to us—through His word. God has such a high estimation of His word that He has magnified it above His very name, His character.
i. This is a stunning and remarkable statement, showing the incredible regard God has for His own word. He holds His word in greater esteem than His very character or name.
ii. “It would be as if God is saying, ‘I value my integrity above everything else. Above everything else I want to be believed.’ The verse does not have to mean that God’s other qualities are moved to second place.” (Boice)
iii. “We believe in plenary verbal inspiration, with all its difficulties, for there are not half as many difficulties in that doctrine as there are in any other kind of inspiration that men may imagine. If this Book be not the real solid foundation of our religion, what have we to build upon? If God. has spoken a lie, where are we, brethren?” (Spurgeon)
c. In the day when I cried out, You answered me: David also had very practical reasons to praise and thank God. The LORD had answered and rescued him many times. When David’s strength failed, God made him bold with strength in his soul.
i. In the reasons David gave for his praise, we notice an important pattern. It is important to praise God for who He is even more than for what He has done for us.
· First he gave God praise for who He is – a God of lovingkindness and truth.
· Then he gave God praise for His revelation – the word magnified above His very name.
· Then he have God praise for what He had done – God’s response to David in a time of crisis.
ii. Made me bold: “The psalmist uses a remarkable expression, in saying that Jehovah had made him bold, or, as the word is literally, proud.” (Maclaren)
iii. “If the burden was not removed, yet strength was given wherewith to bear it, and this is an equally effective method of help.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “There is an attacking spirit in the second line of this verse, which RSV fails to catch (but see RSV mg.). It comes out in NEB: ‘thou didst answer me and make me bold and valiant-hearted’.” (Kidner)
B. Declaration of confidence for the future.
1. (4-6) Praise from the kings of the earth.
All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O LORD,
When they hear the words of Your mouth.
Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the LORD,
For great is the glory of the LORD.
Though the LORD is on high,
Yet He regards the lowly;
But the proud He knows from afar.
a. All the kings of the earth shall praise You: David was king of Israel and gave praise to the LORD, but he also knew the day would come when all the kings of the earth would praise Him. They would praise Him in response to hearing the words of His mouth from those who proclaim.
i. Morgan saw a connection between the answered prayer of Psalm 138:2-3 and the praise of kings described here: “The reason of praise is next declared to be that of lovingkindness and truth as already proved. The effect of praise is to be that of the revelation of God to others, who if they come to know Him, will also praise Him.”
ii. When they hear the words of Your mouth: “It probably means when those who know God declare his words to them. In other words, the psalm is acknowledging the need for the people of God to be missionaries.” (Boice)
b. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD: The kings of the earth would not only praise Yahweh with words, but also in song. This was in response to their understanding that great is the glory of the LORD.
c. Yet He regards the lowly: David understood that God is great in glory and on high, yet He holds the lowly, the humble, in high regard. Nevertheless, God keeps His distance from the proud.
i. “Infinitely great as God is, he regards even the lowest and most inconsiderable part of his creation; but the humble and afflicted man attracts his notice particularly.” (Clarke)
ii. “Unto the lowly; unto such as are mean and obscure in the world; to me, a poor contemptible shepherd, whom he hath preferred before great princes, and to such as are little in their own eyes.” (Poole)
iii. David statement that God regards the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar is another way of saying a truth repeated three times: God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
iv. “Low things he looketh close upon, that he may raise them higher; lofty things he knoweth afar off, that he may crush them down lower. The proud Pharisee pressed as near God as he could; the poor publican, not daring to do so, stood aloof off; yet was God far from the Pharisee, near to the publican.” (Trapp)
v. “Proud men boast loudly of their culture and ‘the freedom of thought,’ and even dare to criticize their Maker: but he knows them from afar, and will keep them at arm’s length in this life, and shut them up in hell in the next.” (Spurgeon)
2. (7-8) David’s firm confidence for the future.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me;
You will stretch out Your hand
Against the wrath of my enemies,
And Your right hand will save me.
The LORD will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
a. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me: As David considered the greatness of God and His kindness to the humble (Psalm 138:4-6), it gave him confidence that God would revive him in his present trouble. Understanding God’s greatness and kindness builds our faith.
b. Your right hand will save me: When God’s help came, it would come with all His skill and strength (Your right hand). God would defend David against the wrath of his enemies.
i. “Thou shall strike them with thy left hand, and save me with thy right; so Tremellius senseth it.” (Trapp)
ii. “Adversaries may be many, and malicious, and mighty; but our glorious Defender has only to stretch out his arm and their armies vanish.” (Spurgeon)
c. The LORD will perfect that which concerns me: This was David’s confident declaration. He knew that God had a plan concerning him, and this God of greatness and goodness would absolutely perfect that plan.
i. “This is the language of utmost confidence… The hope is based, not upon the determination of the singer, but upon Jehovah.” (Morgan)
ii. This is another way of stating the great promise of Philippians 1:6: being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
iii. David could think of the particular promise that God had made concerning him—that his descendants would rule forever, especially fulfilled in the Messiah (2 Samuel 7). The principle is true for every believer regarding the promise and course of life God has appointed for them.
iv. Maclaren noted the connection between the phrases the LORD will perfect and Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever: “Because Jehovah’s lovingkindness endures forever, every man on whom His shaping Spirit has begun to work, or His grace in any form to bestow its gifts, may be sure that no exhaustion or change of these is possible.”
d. Do not forsake the works of Your hands: With confidence in the never-ending mercy (hesed) of Yahweh, David knew that God would never forsake him, who belonged to God by creation and redemption.
i. “Look upon the wounds of thy hands, and forsake not the works of thy hands, prayed Queen Elizabeth. And Luther’s usual prayer was, Confirm, O God, in us that thou hast wrought, and perfect the work that thou hast begun in us, to thy glory; so be it.” (Trapp)
ii. His creating hands formed our souls at the beginning; his nail-pierced hands redeemed them on Calvary; his glorified hands will hold our souls fast and not let them go for ever.” (Burgon, cited in Spurgeon)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission