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Psalm 138

Thanksgiving and Praise

Of David.


I give you thanks, O L ord, with my whole heart;

before the gods I sing your praise;


I bow down toward your holy temple

and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;

for you have exalted your name and your word

above everything.


On the day I called, you answered me,

you increased my strength of soul.



All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O L ord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth.


They shall sing of the ways of the L ord,

for great is the glory of the L ord.


For though the L ord is high, he regards the lowly;

but the haughty he perceives from far away.



Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;

you stretch out your hand,

and your right hand delivers me.


The L ord will fulfill his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O L ord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

1. I will praise thee with my whole heart As David had been honored to receive distinguishing marks of the divine favor, he declares his resolution to show more than ordinary gratitude. This is exercise which degenerates and is degraded in the case of hypocrites to a mere sound of empty words, but he states that he would return thanks to God not with the lips only, but with sincerity of heart, for by the whole heart, as we have elsewhere seen, is meant a heart which is sincere and not double. The noun אלהים, Elohim, sometimes means angels, and sometimes kings, and either meaning will suit with the passage before us. The praise David speaks of is that which is of a public kind. The solemn assembly is, so to speak, a heavenly theater, graced by the presence of attending angels; and one reason why the cherubim overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant was to let God’s people know that the angels are present when they come to worship in the sanctuary. We might very properly apply what is said here to kings, on account of their eminence in rank, as in Psalm 107:32, “Praise ye the Lord in the assembly of the elders” — that is, as we should say, in an assembly of an honored and illustrious kind. But I prefer the former sense, and this because believers in drawing near to God are withdrawn from the world, and rise to heaven in the enjoyment of fellowship with angels, so that we find Paul enforcing his address to the Corinthians upon the necessity of decency and order, by requiring them to show some respect at least in their public religious assemblies to the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:10.) The same thing was represented by God long before, under the figure of the cherubim, thus giving his people a visible pledge of his presence.

2. I will worship towards the temple 192192     This Psalm is entitled “a Psalm of David,” and Calvin considers him to be its author agreeably to the title; lint the mention of “the temple” in the second verse seems to render such an opinion doubtful. If, however, we translate this word by “mansion,” which is the proper rendering of the original — “the mansion of thy sanctity:” this objection to its composition by David falls to the ground. In the Septuagint version the title of this Psalm is, “A Psalm of David; of Haggai and Zechariah, when they were dispersed,” (comp. Ezra 5:1); meaning a Psalm of David, used by Haggai and Zechariah. of thy holiness. He intimates that he would show more than private gratitude, and, in order to set an example before others, come in compliance with the precept of the law into the sanctuary. He worshipped God spiritually, and yet would lift his eyes to those outward symbols which were the means then appointed for drawing the minds of God’s people upwards. He singles out the divine mercy and truth as the subject of his praise, for while the power and greatness of God are equally worthy of commendation, nothing has a more sensible influence in stimulating us to thanksgiving than his free mercy; and in communicating to us of his goodness he opens our mouth to sing his praises. As we cannot taste, or at least have any lively apprehensions in our souls of the divine mercy otherwise than through the word, mention is made of his faithfulness or truth. This coupling of mercy with truth is to be particularly taken notice of, as I have frequently observed, for however much the goodness of God may appear to us in its effects, such is our insensibility that it will never penetrate our minds, unless the word have come to us in the first place. Goodness is first mentioned, because the only ground upon which God shows himself to us as true is his having bound himself by his free promise. And it is in this that his unspeakable mercy shows itself — that he prevents those with it who were at a distance from him, and invites them to draw near to him by condescending to address them in a familiar manner. In the end of the verse some supply the copulative, and read — Thou hast magnified thy name and thy word above all things 193193     According to this mode of rendering the passage כל, cal, the word for all, is independent of שמך, shimcha, the word for thy name. But “it has been properly observed by Aben Ezra, that כל in this case should have a Cholem, and not a Kametz Chateph, with which it is found in all copies. Besides, this translation is not supported by any of the ancient versions.” — Phillips. This learned interpreters have rejected as a meagre rendering, and yet have themselves had recourse to what I consider a forced interpretation, Thou hast magnified thy name above all thy word I am satisfied David means to declare that God’s name is exalted above all things, specifying the particular manner in which he has exalted his name, by faithfully performing his free promises. Nor can any doubt that owing to our blind insensibility to the benefits which God bestows upon us, the best way in which he can awaken us to the right notice of them is by first addressing his word to us and then certifying and sealing his goodness by accomplishing what he has promised.

3. In the day when I cried to thee, etc. Frequently God prevents our prayers, and surprises us, as it were, sleeping: but commonly he stirs us up to prayer by the influence of his Spirit, and this to illustrate his goodness the more by our finding that he crowns our prayers with success. David well infers that his escape front danger could not have been merely fortuitous, as it plainly appeared that God had answered him. This then is one thing noticeable, that our prayers more nearly discover his goodness to us. Some supply a copulative in the second part of the verse — Thou hast increased me, and in my soul is strength. But this is not called for, since the words read well enough as they stand, whether we render the passage as I have done above, or translate it, Thou hast multiplied, or increased, me with strength in my soul. The sense, is, That from a weak and afflicted state he had received fresh strength to his spirit Or some may, perhaps, prefer resolving it thus: Thou hast multiplied — that is, blest me, whence strength in my soul.

4. Let all kings of the earth praise thee Here he declares that the goodness he had experienced would be extensively known, and the report of it spread over all the world. In saying that even kings had heard the words of God’s mouth, he does not mean to aver that they had been taught in the true religion so as to be prepared for becoming members of the Church, but only that it would be well known everywhere that the reason of his having been preserved in such a wonderful manner was God’s having anointed him king by his commandment. 194194     “Sed hoc ubique fore notum, non alia de causa mirabiliter servatum fuisse a Deo, nisi quod ejus mandate unctus fuerat in Regem.” — Lat. Thus although the neighboring kings reaped no advantage by that divine oracle, the goodness of God was illustrated by its being universally known, by his being called to the throne in an extraordinary manner. Having uniformly during the whole period of Saul’s severe and bloody persecution declared that he raised his standard in God’s name, there could be no doubt that he came to the crown by divine will and commandment. And this was a proof of divine goodness which might draw forth an acknowledgment even from heathen kings.

6. Because Jehovah the exalted, etc. In this verse he passes commendation upon God’s general government of the world. The thing of all others most necessary to be known is, that he is not indifferent to our safety; for though in words we are all ready to grant this, our disbelief of it is shown by the feat’ we betray upon the slightest appearance of danger, and we would not give way to such alarm if we had a solid persuasion of our being under his fatherly protection. Some read, Jehovah on high, that is, he sits on his heavenly throne governing the world; but I prefer considering, that there is an opposition intended — that the greatness of God does not prevent his having’ respect to the poor and humble ones of the earth. This is confirmed by what is stated in the second clause, That being highly exalted he recognises afar off, or from a distance. Some read גבה, gabah, in the accusative case, and this gives a meaning to the words which answers well to the context, That God does not honor the high and haughty by looking near to them — that he despises them — while, with regard to the poor and humble, who might seem to be at a great distance from him, he takes care of them, as if they were near to him. By some the verb ידע, yada, is rendered, to crush, and they take the meaning to be, that God, while he favors the lowly, treads down the mighty who glory in their prosperity. There is reason to doubt, however, whether any such refinement of meaning is to be attached to David’s words, and it is enough to conclude, that he here repeats the same sentiment formerly expressed, that God though highly exalted, takes notice of what might be thought to escape his observation. Thus we have seen, (Psalm 113:6,)

“The Lord dwelleth on high, yet he humbleth himself to behold both the things that are in heaven and on earth.”

The meaning is, that though God’s glory is far above all heavens, the distance at which he is placed does not prevent his governing the world by his providence. God is highly exalted, but he sees after off, so that he needs not change place when he would condescend to take care of us. We on our part are poor and lowly, but our wretched condition is; no reason why God will not concern himself about us. While we view with admiration the immensity of his glory as raised above all heavens, we must not disbelieve his willingness to foster us under his fatherly care. The two things are, with great propriety, conjoined here by David, that, on the one hand, when we think of God’s majesty we should not be terrified into a forgetfulness of his goodness and benignity, nor, on the other, lose our reverence for his majesty in contemplating the condescension of his mercy. 197197     “Ne nons oste le goust de sa bonte, et benignite: d’autre part aussi afin que sa bonte par laquelle il daigne bien s’abbaisser jusques a nons, ne diminue rien de la reverence que nous devons a sa gloire.” — Fr.

7. Should I walk in the midst of trouble, etc. Here David declares the sense in which he looked flint God would act the part of his preserver — by giving him life from the dead, were that necessary. The passage is well deserving our attention for by nature we are so delicately averse to suffering as to wish that we might all live safely beyond shot of its arrows, and shrink from close contact with the fear of death, as something altogether intolerable. On the slightest approach of danger we are immoderately afraid, as if our emergencies precluded the hope of Divine deliverance. This is faith’s true office, to see life in the midst of death, and to trust the mercy of God — not as that which will procure us universal exemption from evil, but as that which will quicken us in the midst of death every moment of our lives; for God humbles his children under various trials, that his defense of them may be the more remarkable, and that he may show himself to be their deliverer, as well as their preserver. In the world believers are constantly exposed to enemies, and David asserts, that he will be safe under God’s protection from all their machinations. He declares his hope of life to lie in this, that the hand of God was stretched out for his help, that hand which he knew to be invincible, and victorious over every foe. And from all this we are taught, that it is God’s method to exercise his children with a continual conflict, that, having one foot as it were in the grave, they may flee with alarm to hide themselves under his wings, where they malt abide in peace. Some translate the particle אף, aph, also, instead of anger, reading — thou wilt also extend over mine; enemies, etc. But I have followed the more commonly received sense, as both fuller and more natural.

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