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Tuesday, December 5th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 138

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-8

Psalms 138:0

A Psalm of David

          I will praise thee with my whole heart:
Before the gods will I sing praise unto thee,

2     I will worship toward thy holy temple,

And praise thy name for thy loving-kindness and for thy truth:
For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

3     In the day when I cried thou answeredst me

And strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.

4     All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord,

When they hear the words of thy mouth.

5     Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord:

For great is the glory of the Lord.

6     Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly;

But the proud he knoweth afar off.

7     Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me:

Thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies,
And thy right hand shall save me.

8     The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me:

Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever:

Forsake not the works of thine own hands.


Contents and Composition.—This Psalm consists of three strophes, moved by three closely connected thoughts: First, a vow is made by the Psalmist that he will praise God thankfully in His Church, for a great deed done for him in answer to prayer, by which a distinct promise previously given had been still more glorified (Psalms 138:1-3). Next he predicts that all the kings of the earth, upon hearing of this, would thank the living God of Revelation for it, and would extol the ways of this exalted God and His glory, as made known in the manner in which He regards both the abased and the proud (Psalms 138:4-6). Finally: he utters his assurance of the Divine help in time of need and against the anger of His foes, as the completion of the gracious work begun for him by God (Psalms 138:7-8)

This creates the impression that both the person and the experiences of the Psalmist were deserving of public attention, and had enlisted it. It is further to be inferred that these conditions stand in connection with Divine promise and its fulfilment, exceeding all expectation, by Divine action, and consequently in connection with the history of redemption. It appears, still further, that these relations had a significance extending beyond the person of the Psalmist to the history of his kingdom, and beyond particular interests to those of the world. And it is manifest, lastly, that all that had already taken place was, on God’s part, but the beginning of a plan and course of working carried forwards with the certainty of fulfilment by the performance of deeds of mercy. Consequently the Psalm bears a prophetico-messianic character. How much its several features are appropriate to David, his experiences, and his position in the history of religion, does not, after our previous attempts to unfold them, require any special proof here. We therefore refer this Psalm not to Johannes Hyrcanus, (Hitzig), but to David, who is named in the superscription, and with whose Psalms many expressions are found to have points of coincidence. We are also of the opinion that it was not written by an unknown person who had David’s Psalms in mind, and uttered it as if from David’s personality, being a picture taken from 2 Samuel 7:0 (Delitzsch); but that it had David himself for its author, and that it was composed when he, after a victorious warfare, and elevated with the sense of his great destiny, did yet with humility give God the glory, and formed the purpose of building for Him a Temple instead of the Tabernacle upon Zion (Hengstenberg). It is uncertain whether the addition to the superscription in the Sept. and Vulg.: of Haggai and Zechariah, would refer the present recension of the Text to the prophets named (Köhler, Haggai, p. 33). These and the similar additions in other Psalms show, at all events, that in the opinion of the Seventy, the Psalm collection was not completed later than the time of Nehemiah (Delitzsch).

[Hengstenberg: “The Psalm belongs to that chain of Davidic Psalms which was called forth by the promise in 2 Samuel 7:0, and which rest upon it: Psalms 18:21, 61, 101-103, 110. Comp. Psalms 72, 89, 132. That the promise here celebrated is no other than that, is as clear as day. Here as well as there the subject handled has respect to a blessing of surpassing greatness. Further, here as well as there, we have to do, not with a particular blessing, but with a chain of blessings reaching even to eternity, Psalms 138:8. Finally, the promise has here the same subject as there. If the Psalm refers to the promise in 2 Samuel 7:0, there can be no doubt of the correctness of the superscription which assigns it to David. For he on whom the promise has been conferred, himself stands forth as the speaker. There is a proof also that the author was David, in 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 to the other Psalms of David.”—J. F. M.]

Psalms 138:1. In presence of Elohim.—[E. V.: before the gods]. These words are certainly intended to set forth the publicity and solemnity of the praise rendered to Jehovah, and probably also the exultation proceeding from the joy of victory. For in the first place the expression is not: before the face of, but נֶגֶד, which, with the idea of presence, combines that of the person opposite. In the second place Elohim does not refer to the angels (Sept., Luth., Calv., J. H. Michaelis, Rosenmüller) which is a very rare sense (see on Psalms 29:1). Nor does it designate God throned upon the ark as parallel to the sacred places of worship mentioned immediately thereafter (Drusius, De Wette, Ewald, Olshausen); but either the rulers as earth-gods [powerful ones of earth], Psalms 82:1, comp. Psalms 45:7; Psalms 89:28; Psalms 119:46; 2 Samuel 7:9 (Rabbins, Flaminius, Geier, Bucer, Clericus, Delitzsch), or the gods of the nations (Aquila, Symmachus, Jerome, Köster, Hengst., Hupf., Hitzig), which are then regarded as being able to do nothing like those things which God does for His own, and as only evincing their impotence to the shame of their worshippers. [The last named view is supported by Perowne and Alexander, and most Engl. expositors, and has, it may be presumed, the common consent of uncritical readers. Wordsworth and Noyes are undecided as to the application.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 138:2. Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.—This mode of expression, which does not occur elsewhere, has in some cases called forth very forced explanations. It gave such offence to Clericus that this learned critic preferred, in place of שְׁמֶךָ, to read שָׁמֶיךָ, as in Psalms 8:4 : thy heavens (comp. Psalms 108:5; Psalms 113:4; Psalms 119:89). But the sentence is not so distorted (Hupfeld) that a transposition of עַל־כָּל must be resorted to (Kimchi), giving the sense: Thy name above all Thy word, i.e., Thou hast glorified it above all promises. It is certainly inadmissible to translate: Thou hast glorified thy name above all through Thy word (Luth., Calvin), or: according to Thy word (Venema) or: and Thy word (Flaminius, Döderlein), even if the pointing עַל כֹּל be chosen. But if we do not disallow so sweepingly as Hupfeld has done the historical allusions, it becomes no arbitrary limitation, but an interpretation consistent with those events, to understand this passage not to relate to the totality of all the possible names of God, or to His revelation of His nature, but to everything by which He had hitherto made for Himself a name and established a memorial, and that not to the word of God generally, but to a special promise. There remain then only two points undecided: first, whether this promise is to be regarded as the one celebrated in 2 Samuel 7:0, or as another also historically and religiously significant; secondly, whether the exalting, glorifying, and magnifying relates to this promise as such (Hengstenberg, Delitzsch) or to its fulfilment (Geier, J. H. Michaelis, Köster, Olshausen, Ewald, Hitzig). Since the giving of such a promise is also a great deed on the part of God, no decision can be arrived at from the word itself, which, besides, occurs in different applications in the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:0. Nor is there more light thrown on the question by the following sentences viewed separately. But if we view the whole Psalm as a unit, and in the light of 2 Samuel 7:0, then the reference to the promise sought for is readily perceived. This promise of the eternal dominion of David’s family is then in Psalms 138:3 declared by him to be the Divine answer to his prayer (Hengstenberg) Psalms 21:3; Psalms 21:5; Psalms 61:6; and has filled his soul with lofty courage and strength in reliance upon God’s word (Psalms 18:30), of whose efficiency he had already during his life experienced so very many proofs. [Translate Psalms 138:3 b: Thou hast made me courageous in my soul with strength.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 138:4-6. The words of the mouth of Jehovah (Psalms 138:4) are thus not God’s word in general (Hupfeld) nor, specially, the Gospel after the intervening fulfilment (many of the older expositors) but this promise itself, both before and after its fulfilment, which is here viewed as one that is in course of actual realization through God’s guiding and disposing power. For the ways of God (Psalms 138:5) are not the commands according to which, or the ways in which, the converted kings of the Gentile world walk, (Hengstenberg after the older expositors), but the dealings of God which will form the subject of even their praise (Chald., Syr., and most). [Translate Psalms 138:5 : They shall sing of the ways, etc. Psalms 138:6. Perowne:He knoweth afar off. This is the only proper rendering of the clause; but the expression is somewhat remarkable. (1). It has been explained by reference to Psalms 139:2, which would mean, God knows (observes) the proud, distant as they may think themselves to be from His control. (2). But it seems rather to mean, God knows (regards) them only at a distance, does not admit them into His fellowship; He does not ‘see’ them as He seeth the humble. (3). Or it would be possible to explain: He knows them so as to keep them at a distance.”—J. F. M.]

Psalms 138:8. The works of God’s hands, from which God will not cease, and in whose performance He will not remit His working, are the historical acts and provisions of His gracious working and disposing. To those belong also even the elevation of David to the kingdom from a low position, his deliverance from the persecutions of Saul and the like proud enemies, and the gift of a blessed posterity. The word אַל in the last line, expressing denial, indicates the inward emotion, the subjective interest felt by the speaker.


With us men everything is piece-work, but God lets nothing be half done. He fulfils His purposes completely.—Alas how hard it is to find pleasure in God’s ways, in those which His law enjoins upon us, and in those in which His hand leads us!—The conversion of the world as the gracious work of God and the believing hope of His servants.

Luther: Christ’s ruling is to sit on high and to help the abased.

Starke: The less we pray, the more unskilful we become in prayer, the more are our hearts filled with vain, worldly thoughts, and the less inclination do we discover in ourselves to pray and praise.—Up, dear soul, what though thou hast once complained like Israel? Psalms 137:1, sing now once more a song of joy to the Lord; thou hast been pressed also like a grape, give forth thy sweet juice.—He who undismayed confesses Jesus before the mighty of the earth, and has thus fixed his hope in God, has then sung a hymn of praise before the gods.—Goodness and faithfulness are the foundations of our faith; goodness has won salvation and blessedness for us poor sinners, and faithfulness preserves us in the enjoyment of them.—None know how much the prayer for spiritual strength can give, but those who have experienced it.—Lowliness and humility are the court-dress of God; He who wears them will please Him well.—The more highly man exalts himself the further he departs from God. How many of the proud have found that out to their cost!—God changes not in goodness and faithfulness, how great soever distress and afflictions may be.—The life of believers is like an unsafe road, which is infested everywhere with robbers and murderers.—But let not your courage fail, God needs only to stretch out His hand and they are beaten back, while we are saved.—He who knows no sorrow will not receive God’s strength. It is not until we suffer that we know how God revives and saves.—As a good artificer does not leave his work until he has finished and completed it, so will God carry on His work begun in thee, until the day of Jesus Christ. Entrust that to Him.

Frisch: God gives Himself fully to us men; it is therefore just that we, in return, should yield up our whole heart to His service and glory. God bestows upon us not only domestic but public good; then again, it is right and just that we should praise Him not only in the silence of our hearts, but in public, and before all the world.—Guenther: From faith, love; in love the true thanksgiving.—He who does not experience in himself what a daily answer to prayer brings with it, does not believe it; and he who will not make trial of it with Christ, does not experience it.—Taube: The Lord will complete for me! That is the most beautiful and profound expression of faith, the joyous exhibition of the title-deed of the great inheritance.

[Matt. Henry: Christ is our Temple, and towards Him we must look with an eye of faith, as the Mediator between God and man, in all our praises of Him.—The Psalmist had been in affliction and remembers with thankfulness: (1) the sweet communion he then had with God; (2) sweet communication he then had from God.—If God give us strength in our souls to bear the burdens, resist the temptations, and do the duties of an afflicted state; if He strengthen us to keep hold of Himself by faith, to maintain the peace of our own minds, and to wait patiently for the issue, we must own that He hath answered us, and are bound to be thankful.—Those that walk in the ways of God, have reason to sing in those ways.—Scott: In performing His promises God more magnifies His perfections than in all His other works; of which He has given us an illustrious specimen and earnest in sending the promised Saviour.—Barnes: 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.—J. F. M.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 138". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-138.html. 1857-84.
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