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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Psalms 138

 

 

Verse 1

PSALM 138

THANKSGIVING FOR THE LORD'S LOVINGKINDNESS

This is the first of a group of eight psalms that are ascribed to David in the superscriptions, and this writer demands something more reliable than the speculations and guesses of critics as a reason for denying their accuracy.

We agree with Leupold that, "Up to this point, we have found the inscriptions in the Hebrew text to be at least defensible."[1] There are some writers who take the word "temple" (Psalms 138:2) as a reference to that of Solomon. However, as Barnes declared, "In this passage it undoubtedly refers to the tabernacle."[2]

Dahood has removed all doubt of the psalm being Davidic. He first recounted the critical judgment of the psalm as being post-exilic, that it could not have been written by a king, and that it reflects the message of the (so-called) Second Isaiah. Then he wrote, "Results just the contrary emerge when we take cognizance of epigraphic discoveries of the past forty years. These reveal that the psalm is a royal song; and the words of it find their closest counterparts in the Ugaritic tablets of the tenth century B.C.. So, a date in the Davidic period seems reasonable."[3]

Psalms 138:1-3

"I will give thee thanks with my whole heart:

Before the gods will I sing praises unto thee.

I will worship toward thy holy temple,

And give thanks unto thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth:

For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

In the day that I called thou answeredst me,

Thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul."

"Before the gods will I sing praises unto thee" (Psalms 138:1). The "gods" here are such persons as rulers, magistrates and other earthly authorities, many of whom deport themselves "as if they were gods." It is simply inconceivable that the psalmist was here speaking of idols. For a further discussion of this secondary use of the term "gods," see the chapter introduction to Psalms 82 (above).

"I will worship toward thy holy temple" (Psalms 138:2). This is a reference to the tabernacle, not to Solomon's temple, nor to the rebuilt temple following the captivity.

"In the day that I called, thou answeredst me" (Psalms 138:3). This psalm was apparently written following God's favorable answer of some very significant prayer on the part of the psalmist. Other than that, it is impossible to determine exactly the occasion of it.


Verse 4

"All the kings of the earth shall give thee thanks, O Jehovah,

For they have heard the words of thy mouth.

Yea, they shall sing of the ways of Jehovah;

For great is the glory of Jehovah.

For though Jehovah is high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly;

But the haughty he knoweth from afar."

"All the kings of the earth shall give thee thanks" (Psalms 138:4). The implication here is undeniable that the thanksgiving of all the kings of the earth is here predicated upon their hearing of how God had answered the psalmist's prayer. McCaw commented on this that, "It is hardly likely that a private individual could think of some purely personal experience as exercising a convincing influence over the kings of the earth. But if the individual were a king himself, such a hope is possible."[4] It is considerations such as this that strongly favor the superscription's ascription of this psalm to David.

"Everything here centers about the prospect of having the kings of the earth offer their praises to the Lord for what he had done to David."[5]

Barnes understood Psalms 138:4 here as prophetic. "This refers to a time, of which frequent prophetic mention is made in the Scriptures."[6] However, this does not diminish the propriety of understanding these as the words of David. Even the thanksgiving of kings and world rulers who became Christians in the age of the gospel was due solely to what God did for David in bringing into our world the greater Son of David as the Saviour of all men.

"Great is the glory of Jehovah" (Psalms 138:5). There is a dramatic shift of persons here. There is a double reference to Jehovah in Psalms 138:4, in which the psalmist addresses Jehovah in the second person; and here adjacent to Psalms 138:4 we have the third person. Of course, critics go wild about things like this, although they should be familiar with the fact that shifts of this kind are common in the Bible. By "emending" (that means changing) the text Briggs "corrected" this usage of persons.[7] However, as Dahood pointed out, the Dead Sea Scrolls, namely, those from "Cave 11" support the Hebrew text of the Old Testament in this passage.[8] In our opinion, scholars have been at times very careless with their emendation.

"Jehovah is high ... he hath respect unto the lowly ... the haughty he knoweth from afar" (Psalms 138:6). "Notwithstanding all God's greatness and glory, he condescends to look upon the lowly and supply them. Hence, David feels sure that God will not overlook him. But God keeps proud men at a distance, does not draw near them, much less make his abode with them, but leaves them to themselves until they are ripe for punishment."[9]


Verse 7

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me;

Thou wilt stretch forth thy hands against the wrath of mine enemies,

And thy right hand will save me.

Jehovah will perfect that which concerneth me:

Thy lovingkindness, O Jehovah, endureth forever;

Forsake not the works of thine own hands."

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble" (Psalms 138:7). Dahood rendered "I walk" here as "I march," indicating that the context is military. "Having thanked God for a military victory, the psalmist ends the hymn with a prayer for protection on future military expeditions."[10]

"Jehovah will perfect that which concerneth me" (Psalms 138:8). David here exhibits a profound trust in God and full confidence that the marvelous promises conveyed unto him by the mouth of the prophet Nathan will indeed be fulfilled.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 138:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-138.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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