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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 138

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



The suggestion contained in the last addition made to the Hebrew inscription by the LXX. “Of Haggai and Zechariah,” brings this psalm within the post-exile period, the most likely time of its composition. The tone and tenor are what we should look for if Zerubbabel or Nehemiah were its author. Some great success had evidently just been gained (Psalms 138:1-5); but trouble still pressed on the community for whom the poet speaks—some work of pressing need was impeded, and Jehovah’s strong hand could alone bring it to completion. This would suit the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.

On the other hand, the achievement already performed may have been of a military kind, and the psalm may breathe the hopes of the Maccabæan period. The poetical form is nearly regular and the rhythm stately, as suits the subject.

Verse 1

(1) Before the gods.—Undoubtedly, as in Psalms 82:1 : “before the great” or “mighty.” (Comp. Psalms 119:46, “before kings.”)

Sing praise.—Rather, play.

Verse 2

(2) Notice that “loving-kindness” and “truth” are joined as inseparable attributes of Jehovah in His relation to the chosen race.

For thou hast magnified—i.e., the promise made for help and deliverance has been fulfilled, and more than fulfilled. The psalmist often speaks of Jehovah’s name, or reputation, or honour being at stake. Here the poet can say that the praise won is even beyond what might have been expected. It is true this would have been expressed more in accordance with our expectation by “Thou hast magnified Thy Name above Thy promise;” but comp. Psalms 48:10 for a similar thought, and for the language comp. Tennyson’s:

“I am “become a name.”

The LXX. and Vulg. felt the difficulty too great, and render “Thy holy one,” instead of “Thy word.”

Verse 3

(3) Strengthenedst me with strength.—Or, encouragest me strongly. (See Note to Song of Solomon 6:5, where the same Hebrew form occurs.)

In my soul.—Or, at my desire.

Verses 4-5

(4, 5) The general sense of these verses is plain, though there are slightly different ways of understanding the expressions. The psalmist imagines that the word or promise, which has been so abundantly fulfilled, will, by its performance, convince all the kings of the earth, and bring them in confession and praise to Jehovah. For a Hebrew the expression “hear the words of Thy mouth,” referring in this instance immediately back to Psalms 138:2, was synonymous with “see Thy wonders,” since for them “God spoke and it was done.”

Verse 5

(5) In the ways.—Rather, of the ways, this preposition being so used frequently after verbs of speaking praising (comp. Psalms 20:7; Psalms 44:8; Psalms 87:3; Psalms 105:2), though there is no parallel instance of such a use with this particular verb sing.

For ways used of God’s mighty works in creation see Job 26:14; Job 40:19; of His action in history, Psalms 18:30; Deuteronomy 32:4. It seems against the parallelism to understand literally that the heathen kings would come to walk in God’s ways—i.e., in righteousness, and so praise Him, as in Micah 4:2. The meaning is that heathen monarchs will be compelled to acknowledge the glory of Jehovah.

Verse 6

(6) Knoweth afar off.—Or, recognises from afar. From His exaltation Jehovah looks down alike on the lowly and on the proud, but it is to show a gracious interest in the former, while the latter are merely marked as persons to be kept at a distance. “Lowliness and humility are the court dress of God; he who wears them will please Him well.”

Verse 7

(7) This verse echoes Psalms 23:4; Psalms 30:3; Psalms 71:20.

Against the wrath.—Or perhaps, upon the wrath.

Verse 8

(8) Perfect that which concerneth me.—Or, as in the analogous phrase (Psalms 57:2), will complete for mei.e., either all my undertakings,” or, as in Philippians 1:6, “what he has begun in and for me.”

Forsake not.—Better, the works of Thine hands; do not leave them unfinished. (See for the same verb Nehemiah 6:3; Proverbs 4:13 : “let her not go.”)

The special intention of the prayer depends on the origin of the psalm. If it arose out of the troubles of rebuilding Jerusalem and reconstituting the state, it is intelligible and expressive. Or the reference may be to all Jehovah’s gracious intentions for Israel.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 138". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/psalms-138.html. 1905.
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