Psalm 138
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm may best be understood as an expression of the gratitude and confidence of Israel after the Return from the Captivity. Speaking in the name of the people the Psalmist praises Jehovah before all the world for the fulfilment of His promises (Psalm 138:1-3); anticipates the impression which the manifestation of His glory will make upon heathen nations (Psalm 138:4-6); and looks forward to the completion of His purposes for His people, in spite of further troubles that may await them (Psalm 138:7-8).

To the Hebrew title ‘A Psalm of David’ some MSS of the Septuagint add of Haggai and Zechariah, or of Zachariah, possibly preserving a tradition that the Psalm belonged to the period of the Restoration, or suggesting that it fitly expressed the feelings of that period.

The tone and language of Psalm 138:4-7 resemble Psalm 102:15 ff., and many passages in Isaiah 40-66 where the hope of the conversion of the nations is connected with the Restoration of Israel from exile.

A Psalm of David. I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.
1. I will give thanks unto thee with my whole heart] Cp. Psalm 9:1. There is no need for the Psalmist to mention the name of Him Whom he addresses. The Ancient Versions, however, insert O Lord, after thee, and the P.B.V. follows them.

before the gods] The Psalmist stands face to face with the might of the heathen world, apparently under the patronage and protection of powerful gods, but the sight does not shake his fidelity to Jehovah. It is not to be supposed that he would have admitted that these gods had a real existence; he speaks of them only as they existed in the minds of their worshippers; practically it is before those worshippers that he proclaims his faith. Cp. Psalm 95:3; Psalm 96:4-5. The LXX, probably fearing to seem to attribute a real existence to heathen gods, renders Elôhîm by angels (cp. Psalm 97:7); but beautiful and solemn as is the thought that the angels are spectators of man’s worship, Elôhîm can hardly bear that meaning here. The Targ. renders it judges, the Syr. kings, giving a good sense (cp. Psalm 119:46); but though the title Elôhîm is applied to judges in Psalm 82:1; Psalm 82:6, where they are spoken of as representatives of God, there would be no special fitness in the use of the word here.

will I sing praise] will I make melody: sing psalms of praise, as in Psalm 101:1, and elsewhere. Some texts of the LXX, and the Vulg., add because thou hast heard the words of my mouth after the first line, others at the end of the verse. It is a gloss suggested by Psalm 138:4.

2 a. A reminiscence of Psalm 5:7.

and give thanks unto thy name … for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name] By the accomplishment of His promises Jehovah has surpassed all previous revelations of Himself. The expression, however, is a strange one; possibly thy word is a gloss, and we should read thou hast magnified thy name above all things[85]. The P.B.V., thou hast magnified thy name and thy word above all things (derived from Münster, ‘Magnificasti supra omnia nomen tuum et eloquium tuum’) involves a harsh asyndeton.

[85] The reading of the Massora, כֹּל־ not כָּל־, is a reminiscence of this construction of the sentence. The Maqqçph should be omitted.

1–3. Thanksgiving for Jehovah’s manifestation of His lovingkindness and truth in the fulfilment of His promises.

I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.
3. and strengthenedst me] R.V. thou didst encourage me, giving me a proud consciousness of strength; a bold use of the word, which elsewhere denotes pride in a bad sense.

All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O LORD, when they hear the words of thy mouth.
4. All the kings of the earth shall give thanks unto thee, Jehovah] When the kings of the nations hear of Jehovah’s promises to Israel and His fulfilment of them, they will join in the Psalmist’s thanksgiving. Cp. Psalm 68:29 ff.; Psalm 102:15-16.

4–6. Jehovah’s faithfulness to His promises will evoke the homage of the world.

Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the LORD: for great is the glory of the LORD.
5. they shall sing of the ways of Jehovah] They will celebrate His providential methods of dealing with His people. For ways cp. Psalm 103:7.

the glory of Jehovah] The revelation of His power and majesty in the deliverance of Israel. Cp. Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 60:1.

Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.
6. For though Jehovah is high, yet he seeth the lowly] Exalted as He is, Jehovah never loses sight of the lowly, and in due time raises them up (Exodus 3:7; Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:2; Psalm 113:5 ff.): and the haughty he knoweth from afar; no distance hides them from His eye, and they cannot escape the punishment they deserve. Cp. Psalm 94:7 ff.; Job 22:12 ff.; and for know see note on Psalm 1:6.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.
7. wilt revive me] Or, preserve me alive. Cp. Psalm 71:20; Psalm 119:25 &c.; Psalm 143:11.

thou shalt stretch forth thine hand] A common figure for the exertion of Divine power to help or punish. Cp. Psalm 144:7; Exodus 3:20; Exodus 9:15.

thy right hand &c.] Cp. Psalm 17:7; Psalm 139:10.

7, 8. Though fresh troubles may still await Israel, Jehovah will not fail to carry out His purposes for them.

The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.
8. will perfect that which concerneth me] Will accomplish His promises and purposes for me. Cp. Psalm 57:2; Php 1:6 (ἐπιτελεῖν is the word used in Aquila’s version here).

forsake not the works of thine own hands] The plural works and the parallelism of the first line shew that the meaning is not ‘Do not abandon Israel whom Thou hast made’; but ‘Do not fail to carry forward to completion the mighty works which Thou hast undertaken to do for Israel.’ Cp. Psalm 90:16; Psalm 92:5; Psalm 143:5.

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