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Thursday, June 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 138

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This is the first of a series of eight psalms Ps. 138–145, placed together in this part of the book, and ascribed to David. They appear to be of the nature of a supplement to the Book of Psalms, composed of psalms unknown to the original collector and arranger of the book, and subsequently discovered and ascertained to be the works of David. It is not to be regarded as strange that there should be psalms of this nature David at different periods which might have been preserved in different branches of his family, and which might not have been generally known to exist. It is rare that the works of an author, especially a poet, are collected and published, and that things of this kind - fugitive and occasional pieces - are not subsequently found; nor is it very unusual that such pieces may, after all, be among the most tender, touching, and beautiful of his compositions. Burns’ Highland Mary,” so much admired, and his “When wild War’s deadly blast was blown,” a poem which no one can read without tears - with not a few others of his, are of this description. They are said, in his Biography, to have been “extracted from the correspondence of Burns.” (Works of Robert Burns, Philad., 1834, pp. 76, 85, 89.)

The occasion on which this psalm was composed cannot now be determined. It was evidently written in view of trouble Psalms 138:3, Psalms 138:7, and it expresses confidence that God would interpose in the future in behalf of the author, as he had done in the past; and it is, therefore, adapted to inspire confidence and hope in all who are called to pass through scenes of trial. The psalm does not admit of any particular analysis.

Verse 1

I will praise thee with my whole heart - Reserving nothing m my heart to give to idols or to other gods. All that constitutes praise to God as God, he would address to him alone. He would use no language, and cherish no feeling, which implied a belief that there was any other God; he would indulge in no attachment which would be inconsistent with supreme attachment to God, or which would tend to draw away his affections from him. See the notes at Psalms 9:1.

Before the gods will I sing praise unto thee - The idols; all idols; in preference to them all. This does not mean that he would do this in the presence of other gods; but that Yahweh should be acknowledged to be God in preference to any or all of them.

Verse 2

I will worship - I will bow down and adore.

Toward thy holy temple - See the notes at Psalms 5:7. The word temple here undoubtedly refers to the tabernacle.

And praise thy name for thy loving-kindness - Praise thee for thy benignity; thy mercy; thy benevolence.

And for thy truth - Thy truthfulness; thy faithfulness to thy promises.

For thou hast magnified thy word - Thou hast made it great. Compare Isaiah 42:21. The reference here is to the promises of God, and especially to the promise which God had made to David that the Messiah would descend from him. Compare 2 Samuel 7:0.

Above all thy name - Above all else that thou hast done; above all the other manifestations of thyself to me or to the world. The word name here would refer properly to all that God had done to make himself known - since it is by the name that we designate or distinguish anyone; and, thus understood, the meaning would be, that the word of God - the revelation which he has made of himself and of his gracious purposes to mankind - is superior in clearness, and in importance, to all the other manifestations which he has made of himself; all that can be known of him in his works. Beyond all question there are higher and clearer manifestations of himself, of his being, of his perfection, of his purposes, in the volume of revelation, than any which his works have disclosed or can disclose. Compare Psalms 19:1-14. There are very many points in relation to God, of the highest interest to mankind, on which the disclosures of science shed no light; there are many things which it is desirable for man to know, which calmer be learned in the schools of philosophy; there are consolations which man needs in a world of trouble which cannot be found in nature; there is especially a knowledge of the method by which sin may be pardoned, and the soul saved, which can never be disclosed by the blow-pipe, the telescope, or the microscope. These things, if learned at all must be learned from revelation, and these are of more importance to man as a traveler to another world than all the learning which can be acquired in the schools of philosophy - valuable as that learning is.

Verse 3

In the day when I cried - Referring to some former period of his life when he was in trouble.

Thou answeredst me - In the very day when I called, thou gavest me the answer: that is, immediately.

And strengthenedst me with strength in my soul - literally, “Thou didst embolden - or, didst make me courageous with strength.” Thou didst enable me to meet danger, and to overcome fear. It would seem probable that this was on some occasion when he was in danger from his enemies.

Verse 4

All the kings of the earth shall praise thee ... - That is, kings, princes, and rulers shall learn the words of promise; shall be made acquainted with the words which thou hast graciously spoken, and with their fulfillment, and shall be led to praise thee. This refers to a time, of which frequent prophetic mention is made in the Scriptures, when kings and rulers shall be converted to the true religion, and when they shall act an important part, by their example and influence, in maintaining and diffusing it. Compare Psalms 68:31-32; Isaiah 49:23.

Verse 5

Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord - In the ways which God has appointed. They shall join with all that love him - with the humblest of the people - in acknowledging God. Kings and people shall thus bow before God in common acts of praise, and as being on the same level before him. As people, as sinners, as redeemed, as traveling to the grave, they are all alike before God.

For great is the glory of the Lord - Great is his character; great his dignity; great his honor; and all this will be seen to be so when those of most exalted rank thus worship and adore him. The most lofty on earth shall acknowledge that there is one who is more exalted than they are, and their own dignity and splendor shall thus contribute to deepen the impression of the honor and glory of God.

Verse 6

Though the Lord be high - This might be rendered “For lofty is Yahweh - and the humble he sees - and the proud he knows from afar.” The idea is, that God - so high and exalted - sees and knows all of every rank among people. The mind of the psalmist had been impressed with a sense of the greatness and majesty of God, but (as if it might be said that one so great could not regard man, so humble and insignificant) he adds, that the fact of God’s exaltation does not prevent his noticing the affairs of people: that the lowly in life need not fear lest they should be overlooked; the proud need not hope that they will escape the notice of his eye.

Yet hath he respect unto the lowly - Those in humble life; the obscure; the unknown. It does not mean here that he has any special favor toward them, but merely that he sees them. Their low and obscure condition does not prevent his observing them, and they need have no fear that he will overlook them, or that they will be forgotten. Compare the notes at James 4:6; notes at 1 Peter 5:5.

But the proud - Those of lofty rank, and of lofty feelings; the haughty.

He knoweth afar off - From afar. Though he is exalted - though he is in heaven - yet he is not so far removed but that he sees them, and knows them altogether. Distance from him is no protection for them; nor can the wicked hope to escape notice from the fact that God reigns over distant worlds.

Verse 7

Though I walk in the midst of trouble - Though I am in the low vale of sorrow, I shall not be overlooked or forgotten. This implies that the writer was then in trouble, and it expresses the conviction that whenever he should be in trouble God would remember him, and give him life and strength.

Thou wilt revive me - Thou wilt cause me to live; thou wilt give me life. Psalms 30:3. Compare the notes at Psalms 71:20. The meaning is, Thou wilt give me life - vigor - strength - to bear the trouble.

Thou shalt stretch forth thine hand - As one does when he is about to inflict a blow.

Against the wrath of mine enemies ... - In reference to all their attempts to destroy me. Thou wilt meet their wrath by thy power, and I shall be safe.

Verse 8

The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me - He will complete what he has begun. He will not begin to interpose in my behalf, and then abandon me. He will not promise to save me, and then fail to fulfill his promise. He will not encourage me, and then cast me off. So of us. He will complete what he begins. He will not convert a soul, and then leave it to perish. “Grace will complete what grace begins.” See the notes at Philippians 1:6.

Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever - See the notes at Psalms 136:1.

Forsake not the works of thine own hands - What thou hast made; what thou hast begun to do. Do not leave me to perish. Prayer is one of the means - and an essential means - by which the saints are to be kept unto salvation. The doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.” is not inconsistent with prayer, but rather prompts to it; and he who professes to rely on that doctrine, and feels so safe that he does not need to pray, and does not pray, gives certain evidence that he has never been converted, and has no true religion.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 138". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/psalms-138.html. 1870.
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