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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 138

Psalms 138

The Psalmist, who from the superscription was David, praises the Lord for the high and glorious promise, which in his lovingkindness he had granted him, giving his own faithfulness in pledge for its fulfilment, Psalms 138:1-3; announces that sometime after its fulfilment, all kings of the earth would praise him on account of that promise, Psalms 138:4-6; and, leaning on the promise, utters forth the joyful assurance that he would go on to the very end of the world victorious over all evil, and bringing his enemies under him, Psalms 138:7-8.

The Psalm falls into three strophes, the two first of three, the last of two verses, but which together have six members. Psalms 138:2, which marks the great object of the song, stands prominently out by its great length.

The Psalm belongs to that chain of Davidic Psalms, which was called forth by the promise in 2 Samuel 7, and which rest upon it, Psalms 18, Psalms 21, Psalms 61, Psalms 101-103, Psalms 110, comp. Psalms 72, Psalms 89, Psalms 132. That the promise here celebrated is no other than that, is clear as day. Here, as well as there, the subject handled has respect to a promise of blessing of surpassing greatness,—the idols, which could exhibit nothing similar, must retreat before it ashamed, Psalms 138:1; the Lord has glorified himself more by it, than by all his earlier wonders, Psalms 138:2; all kings of the earth will one day praise the Lord on account of it. Farther, here as well as there, we have to do, not with a particular blessing, but with a chain of blessings, which reaches even into eternity, Psalms 138:8. Finally, the promise has here the same subject as there. This is described more pointedly here in Psalms 138:6-7: God elevates the oppressed David above all height, revives him in the midst of trouble, brings down all his enemies.

If the Psalm refers to the promise in 2 Samuel 7, there can be no doubt of the correctness of the superscription, which ascribes it to David. For he, on whom the promise has been conferred, himself stands forth as the speaker. It is a proof also of David’s authorship, the union, so characteristic of him, of bold courage (see especially Psalms 138:3), and deep humility (see Psalms 138:6). And in proof of the same comes, finally, the near relationship in which it stands with the other Psalms of David, especially those, which likewise refer to the promise of the everlasting kingdom, and with David’s thanksgiving in 2 Samuel 7, the conclusion of which: “And now, Lord God, the word which thou hast spoken upon thy servant and upon his house, that fulfil even to eternity, and do as thou hast spoken,” remarkably agrees with the conclusion of our Psalm.

In the times when David’s race was greatly depressed, this Psalm must have been very consolatory for Israel. It was a pledge to them, that one day this race, and with it the people, would be quickened from death to life.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. Of David. I will praise thee with my whole heart, before the gods will I sing praise to thee. Ver. 2. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name, on account of thy mercy and thy truth; for thou hast made glorious thy word, above all thy name. Ver. 3. When I called, thou answeredst me, thou gavest me in my soul proud strength.

On Psalms 138:1, comp. Psalms 18:49, Psalms 101:1, where the ascription of praise refers to the same object; also Psalms 7:17, Psalms 54:7, Psalms 57:9. The expression: with the whole heart, as in Psalms 9:1, points to the surpassing greatness of the benefit received, which filled the whole heart with thankfulness, and did not proceed, as it were, from some particular corner of it. Corresponding also, bearing respect likewise to the greatness of the benefaction, is the expression: before the gods—demanding of these, whether they would verify their godhead by pointing to any such boon conferred by them on their servants. The benefit which could afford such a demonstration, and give occasion and ground for raillery, must have been a surpassingly great one. The expositions: before the angels (LXX. Vulgate), which never bear the name of Elohim, and before God, who is directly addressed, and besides throughout the whole Psalm is named Jehovah, are to be rejected. As a proof of the true godhead of the Lord, in contradistinction to idols, the fact in question is also considered by David in his thanksgiving, in 2 Samuel 7 (comp, 2 Samuel 7:22: “The Lord God is great, for no one is like him, and there is no god beside him”), then the frequently used there Jehovah-Elohim, q. d. Jehovah, thou who, from the evidence of this fact, and of everything else which thou hast done for Israel, and to which those can point to nothing like (comp. 2 Samuel 7:23, Deuteronomy 4:7; Deuteronomy 4:34), art alone true God. Against the explanation: before God, is also Psalms 135:5. That the Psalmist addresses the Lord without naming him, shows, that his whole soul was really full of him.

On the words: I will worship toward thy holy temple, Psalms 138:2, comp. the literally coinciding parallel passage, Psalms 5:7. The latter shows that we are not here to think of heaven. Parallel there is the expression: “I will come into thy house,” Loving kindness and truth are here united as in Psalms 25:10; the loving-kindness, which the promise guarantees, the truth which will be verified in its fulfilment, and which was already pledged by anticipation; comp. 2 Samuel 7:28: “Thou art God, and thy words are truth.”

Above all thy name, above all through which thou ha t hitherto manifested thyself. The word of the Lord is his word of promise, comp. Psalms 18:30. To make the word glorious, not simply “to exhibit it as faithful by the fulfilment,” but according to Psalms 18:50, as much as to confer a glorious promise; comp, the expression, “all this greatness,” maximum hoc et summum beneficium, Michaelis, 2 Samuel 7:21. It is substantially said thereby, that the bestowal of the promise rises above all he earlier deeds of the Lord among his people, with which the goodness promised to David is also, in 2 Samuel 7:22 ss., compared. It would be a ridiculous hyperbole, if we were to think of another promise than that in 2 Samuel 7. In the prayer of David, in 2 Samuel 7, the singularity of what God had done to him is the principal idea. Luther’s translation: for thou hast made thy name glorious above all through thy word, breaks up arbitrarily the connection of כל with שמך , and just as arbitrarily supplies a through.

The first number of Psalms 138:3 is to be explained according to the parallel passages, Psalms 21:3, Psalms 21:5, Psalms 61:5, according to which the promise in 2 Samuel 7 was the answer of a prayer to David: he prayed to God, that he might live in his posterity, and this desire was richly fulfilled by God. As the first member marks the fact of the answer, so the second marks more exactly the how: God has filled David’s soul with strength and vigour, by the promise of the everlasting supremacy of his seed, and of the protection they should experience against all the assaults of the world. רהב in Hiph., to make proud, עז accus. with power. The high spirit of David is not of such a kind as goes before a fall; for it rests upon God, upon his word and power, comp. Psalms 18:29, “By thee I run through troops, and by my God I leap over walls.” Luther, who renders: “When I call upon thee, do thou hear me, and give great strength to my soul,” has quite mistaken the sense.

Verses 4-6

Ver. 4. All kings of the earth will praise thee, when they hear the words of thy mouth. Ver. 5. And sing upon the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord. Ver. 6. For the Lord is lifted up, and looks upon the lowly, and knows the proud from afar.

Beside the present praise of a particular king, there is placed here the future praise of all the kings of the earth. What is to be understood by the words of the Lord, in Psalms 138:4, is to be determined from Psalms 138:2. Accordingly we are not to think of the doctrine of Jehovah, but of his promise granted to David. That we must not substitute for the words, without anything farther, the fulfilment, is self-evident. Still it is only through the fulfilment that the promise makes such an impression upon the kings, only when they were able to compare the history with the prophecy, and had the wonderful faithfulness of the word of God before their eyes. The kings are to be thought of as those who are converted to the service of the true God. This appears from the nature of the subject (from others no such ascription of praise was to be expected); it is expressly declared in Psalms 138:5; and according to other passages also David gives a dear announcement of the future conversion of all the kings of the earth to the Lord—compare Psalms 68:29, “Because of thy temple at Jerusalem will kings bring presents unto thee; Psalms 68:31, “Princes will come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God,” Psalms 102:15, “And the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory,’’ according to which Psalm, it was precisely the fulfilment of the promise given to David, the glorious work of the elevation of the humbled David, which the Lord would employ as the chief means for drawing the hearts of sinners to himself. Accordingly, in the expression in Psalms 138:5: upon the ways of the Lord, entering upon them, the thought is to be thus made out: upon which they will be led by the consideration of this glorious work. The way of the Lord is such a walk as is conformable to his law, and well, pleasing to him. The exposition: And sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord, is to be rejected, because verbs of singing never, and verbs also of saying very rarely, are united with ב of the object. It would certainly not have been thought of if the announcement of a future conversion of all kings to the Lord had not been inconvenient. In Psalms 138:6 the lofty elevation of the Lord forms the ground, on account of which he lifts up the lowly, brings down the proud; not: and yet; but: and therefore. By the lowly is to be understood such a person, as at the same time feels his lowliness; as also under the proud, he who is such in his own eyes, are to be thought of; comp. Psalms 101:5. In regard to the thing meant, the lowly is David and his stem, the high is the power of the world lifting itself up against him; comp. Psalms 138:7. For, as the elevation of the lowly David above all his enemies shows, the Lord in his glorious majesty beholds the lowly, whom the world generally regards as forgotten by him, and lifts him up; and eyes the proud from afar, from the distant heights of heaven, into which their pride has driven him, and casts them down; so that the lowly can triumph over them, as the prototype David in respect to Saul. The verse is of a genuine Davidic character; comp. Psalms 18:27, “for thou helpest the poor people, and thou bringest down the lofty eyes;” 2 Samuel 6:22, where David says, “And I will be still less than thus, and will be lowly, שפל , in my own eyes, and with the maidens of whom thou speakest, will I come to honour,” Psalms 131:1.

Verses 7-8

Ver. 7. When I walk in the midst of trouble, thou revivest me; against the wrath of mine enemies thou stretchest forth thy hand, and deliverest me with thy right hand. Ver. 8. The Lord will complete for me, Lord thy mercy endures for ever; the works of thy hands thou wilt not forsake. On the expression: when I walk, in Psalms 138:7, comp. Psalms 23:4. (Calvin already beautifully remarks: “here David declares, how he would trust that God would prove a saviour to him; namely, by restoring life to him when dead, if that should be necessary. It is a passage worthy of being well noted. For, as the flesh is tender, every one would fain preserve his own secure against the darts of evil; hence, nothing more painful, than to fight hand to hand with the enemy in constant danger of death. Nay, as soon as sonic trouble has risen up in our way, we presently become appalled, as if our difficulties would render all deliverance from God impossible. But this is the true property of faith, in the very darkness of death to behold the light of life, nor only to lean upon the grace of God, as able to rescue us from all that annoys, but as able every moment to quicken us anew in the midst of death. Whence it follows that God exercises his people by a perpetual conflict, so that having one foot in the grave, they may fly for refuge under his wings, and there enjoy tranquility.”) On the expression: thou revivest me, compare Psalms 30:3, Psalms 71:20. תושיעני is the second person, as in 2 Samuel 22:3, and ימינך accus., comp. Psalms 17:13, Psalms 60:5. On the first member of Psalms 138:8, compare Psalms 57:2, Php_1:6 . The beginning is all that the Lord had hitherto done for David, including the promise imparted to him. The completing has its topstone in Christ, in whom David was raised to the supremacy of the world. On the expression: thy mercy or favour endures for ever, comp. 2 Samuel 7:13, 2 Samuel 7:26, Psalms 103:17. The works (not the deeds) of the hands of the Lord, indicate all that he had till now accomplished for David, from his deliverance from the hand of Saul till the bestowal of the promise. God lets none of his works lie unfinished, least of all one so gloriously begun. As true as he is God he must bring it to a glorious consummation.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 138". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-138.html.