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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 138

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 138:0


Thanksgiving for the Lord's FavorMT IntroA Psalm of David.The Lord's Goodness to the FaithfulThanksgiving and Deliverance from TroubleA Prayer of ThanksgivingHymn of Thanksgiving
Psalms 138:1-3Psalms 138:1-3Psalms 138:1-3Psalms 138:1-3Psalms 138:1-2a
Psalms 138:2-3
Psalms 138:4-6Psalms 138:4-6Psalms 138:4-6Psalms 138:4-6Psalms 138:4-6
Psalms 138:7-8Psalms 138:7-8Psalms 138:7-8Psalms 138:7-8Psalms 138:7-8

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 138:1-3 1I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. 2I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. 3On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.

Psalms 138:1-3 This strophe outlines what the psalmist will do (four imperfects used in a cohortative sense), while Psalms 138:4-6 reflects what the nations should do.

1. I will give You thanks - BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. I will sing praises to You - BDB 274, KB 273, Piel imperfect used in a cohortative sense

3. I will bow down towards Your holy temple - BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel imperfect used in a cohortative sense

4. I give thanks to - same as #1

YHWH answered him on the day he prayed and continues to answer him because

1. he is a faithful follower emboldened and strengthened by YHWH, Psalms 138:3b

2. of the character of YHWH

a. His name, Psalms 138:2b,c

b. His lovingkindness, Psalms 138:2; Psalms 138:2b

c. His faithfulness, Psalms 138:2; Psalms 138:2b

d. His word, Psalms 138:2c

Notice the number of times the “k” sound closes words in Psalms 138:1-2.

1. I will give You thanks, Psalms 138:1

2. I will sing Your praise, Psalms 138:1

3. holy, Psalms 138:2

4. Your name, Psalms 138:2

5. Your lovingkindness, Psalms 138:2

6. Your truth/faithfulness, Psalms 138:2

7. Your name, Psalms 138:2

8. Your word, Psalms 138:2

Psalms 138:1 “with all my heart” This is a Hebrew idiom of total dedication (cf. Psalms 86:12; Psalms 111:1). This was a way of showing the difference between the faith/faithfulness of

1. David - a whole heart (before Bathsheba and later after the terrible episode)

2. Solomon - a divided heart (when he was old)

Sin was not the issue, all sin (see note at Psalms 130:3-4), but continuing faith and repentance. Relationship with YHWH is the key, not performance based on human efforts.

“before the gods” This could be viewed in two ways.

1. the throne room of heaven (i.e., temple worship) is where the psalmist makes his faith songs known (i.e., the heavenly council, Psalms 82:1; Psalms 89:7-8; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 96:4; Psalms 97:9)

2. that YHWH is the one true God (see Special Topic: Monotheism), which was Israel's uniqueness in the ANE


Psalms 138:2 “toward Your holy temple” Jews and Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem (later Muslims changed to Mecca). This was the place where the one true God chose to dwell (cf. Deuteronomy 12:11), between the wings of the cherubim on the ark of the covenant (cf. Exodus 25:22) in the Holy of Holies. It was the place where heaven and earth met.

If David's reign is the historical setting, then “temple” should be understood as “ark,” housed in the “tabernacle.” Israelites prayed

1. when away from Jerusalem facing Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 6:10)

2. when in the temple facing the ark (cf. Psalms 28:2)

“Your name” See Special Topic: “The Name” of YHWH (OT).

“lovingkindness” See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

NASB, NKJV“truth” NRSV, TEV, JPSOA, REB“faithfulness” NJB“constancy”

The term's (BDB 54) meaning can be seen in use of the verb (BDB 52). See Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith and Faithfulness in the OT.

“Your word” See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation.

NASB“according to all” NKJV“above all”

This phrase is unclear in Hebrew. It may relate to “before the gods” of Psalms 138:1b. It is also possible that it relates to “the kings of the earth” in Psalms 138:4. Whatever the specific referent, in the mind of the psalmist it magnified the person of Israel's Deity. His characteristics are supreme (NJB). See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT) and Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God (NT).

Psalms 138:3 YHWH's answer (imperative) to the psalmist's prayer was (two imperfect verbs)

1. make him bold (lit. “arrogant,” BDB 923) but in this context the unique use of the Hiphil imperfect, “bold” is the intended meaning

The UBS Text Project (p. 421) gives the MT (BDB 923, רהב) a “B” rating (some doubt) and mentions the emendation of the RSV, NRSV, which suggests “multiply” or “increase” (BDB 915, רבה).

2. “with strength” - the noun, BDB 738, denotes strength or courage

What a difference repentant, faithful prayer makes. Prayer affects us and God (see SPECIAL TOPIC: INTERCESSORY PRAYER).

“soul” See full note on nephesh (BDB 659) at Genesis 35:18 online at www.freebiblecommentary.org.

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 138:4-6 4All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O Lord, When they have heard the words of Your mouth. 5And they will sing of the ways of the Lord, For great is the glory of the Lord. 6For though the Lord is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar.

Psalms 138:4-6 As Psalms 138:1-3 described the psalmist's prayers and YHWH's responses, now this strophe addresses the nations (i.e., “all the kings of the earth”).

1. they will give thanks - BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. they will sing of YHWH's ways - BDB 1010, KB 1479, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

The reason for the idiom is

1. YHWH's revelation (i.e., words)

2. YHWH's ways (i.e., exalts the lowly, judges the haughty), Psalms 138:6

3. YHWH's great glory (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (DOXA))

Psalms 138:4 “All the kings of the earth” The OT discusses the nations under several categories.

1. YHWH and His Messiah's possession - Psalms 2:8; Psalms 82:8; Revelation 11:15

2. their fear/judgment - Psalms 72:11; Psalms 102:15; Isaiah 49:23

3. their worship - Psalms 22:27; Psalms 66:4; Psalms 86:9; Psalms 138:4; Isaiah 66:23; Revelation 15:4; see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan

Psalms 138:6 “He knows” This verb is often used in the sense of intimate personal relationship. See Special Topic: Know.

Verses 7-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 138:7-8 7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. 8The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.

Psalms 138:7-8 The psalmist alludes to his current situation.

1. I walk in the midst of trouble, Psalms 138:7 (this is hinted at in Psalms 138:3)

2. he has wrathful enemies, Psalms 138:7b; it is never certain who these enemies are

a. fellow Israelites

b. pagan neighbors

AB (pp. 275-276) asserts that this Psalm is best interpreted as a royal Psalm in David's reign because of the lexical and grammatical links to Ugaritic poetry.

3. “what concerns me,” Psalms 138:8a. This, too, is unspecified but the context implies a spiritual or religious motive

4. the use of the word “revive” (lit. “keep me alive”) implies the enemies

a. were attempting to kill him

b. he became ill

Psalms 138:7 “Your right hand” See Special Topic: Hand.

“save me” See Special Topic: Salvation (OT).

Psalms 138:8a What a promise to all faithful followers.

1. we all have a divine purpose (cf. Psalms 57:2; Philippians 1:6)

2. the object of our faith will accomplish/fulfill His purpose in us

Psalms 138:8b “Lovingkindness” See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

“everlasting” See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

Psalms 138:8c “Do not forsake the works of Your hands” The verb (BDB 951, KB 1276, Hiphil jussive) denotes YHWH's faithfulness to His purposes.

The phrase “work of Your hands” is a Hebrew idiom for YHWH's creation of mankind in His image/likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 2:1-7).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk n the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. To whom do “the gods” of Psalms 138:1b refer?

2. Define the Hebrew meaning of “lovingkindness” and “truth.” Psalms 138:2

3. Why is the last line of Psalms 138:2 so difficult to translate?

4. Why is Psalms 138:3 so difficult to translate?

5. Does “all the kings of the earth” refer to a judgment scene or a worship scene?

6. Is it possible to define the “trouble” or “my enemies” of Psalms 138:7?

7. What great truth does Psalms 138:8 express?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 138". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-138.html. 2021.
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