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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 138

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-8


“This,” says Barnes, “is the first of a series of eight Psalms (Psalms 38-145) 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 composed by David at different periods of his life, 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 amongst the most tender, touching, and beautiful of his compositions. Burn’s ‘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.’

“The occasion on which this Psalm was composed cannot now be determined.”


(Psalms 138:1-5)

We have here—

I. A devout resolution (Psalms 138:1-2). The poet resolves to celebrate the praise of God, and to do so—

1. In the most excellent manner.

(1.) Heartily. “I will praise Thee with my whole heart.” It is remarkable that he does not say whom he will praise until he comes to the fourth verse. This is significant. “It is as though in the Psalmist’s heart there could be but one object of praise, whether named or unnamed.” Whole—heartedness and fervour in worship are acceptable unto God.

(2.) Confidently. “Before the gods will I sing praise unto Thee.” “ ‘The gods,’ ” says Perowne, “are the false gods, the objects of heathen worship, in the very presence of whom, and to the confusion of their worshippers, the Psalmist will utter his praise of the true God.” When our faith in God is strong we shall be neither afraid nor ashamed to praise Him before any person.

(3.) Becomingly. “I will worship toward Thy holy temple.” The Psalmist was not allowed to enter the interior of the tabernacle, which he here designates, “Thy holy temple.” The tabernacle was regarded as the special residence of the Most High. Because He specially manifested Himself there, the pious Israelites turned their faces towards it when they worshipped. Thus Daniel in his exile prayed with “his windows open in his chamber toward Jerusalem.” There are certain forms and arrangements for worship which are reverent and seemly, and these every devout worshipper will endeavour to conform to. “Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God,” &c. We must worship reverently through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

2. For the most excellent reasons. “I will praise Thy Name for Thy loving-kindness and for Thy truth; for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy Name.” The poet resolves to praise the Lord because of the kindness and faithfulness which He had manifested according to His Word. The final clause in the second verse has occasioned considerable difficulty to some expositors. The interpretation of Barnes, Hengstenberg, Henry, Perowne, and others seems to us undoubtedly correct,—that the revelation of Himself which God has given to man in His Word surpasses in clearness and preciousness all the other manifestations which He has made of Himself: Thus Perowne: “Thy word, or ‘promise.’ (Comp. Psalms 56:10; Psalms 60:6; Psalms 62:11.) No particular promise is meant. The same word occurs frequently in Psalms 119:0. Above all Thy Name. The expression seems to mean that to the soul waiting upon God, and trusting in His word, the promise becomes so precious, so strong a ground of hope, that it surpasses all other manifestations of God’s goodness and truth; or in the promise may here also be included the fulfilment of the promise.” In His Word God has given many exceeding great and precious promises, and they are all worthy of acceptation; for God in His fulfilment is better even than in His promises. Here then is an excellent reason for praising God, because He has manifested so much of Himself, and especially of His loving-kindness and faithfulness to us in His Word. Our revelation is much fuller and richer than was that of David. “We see Jesus,”

“And, in His face a glory stands,
The noblest labour of Thy hands;
The radiant lustre of His eyes
Outshines the wonders of the skies.”


Therefore, our praise should be more hearty and confident than was that of David.

II. A grateful recollection. “In the day when I cried Thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.” Perowne: “Thou madest me courageous with strength in my soul.” In time of need the Psalmist had sought the Lord in prayer, and the Lord had heard and graciously answered him. God had answered him—

1. Speedily. “In the day when I cried Thou answeredst me.” “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Comp. Daniel 9:20-24.)

2. Spiritually. “Thou madest me courageous with strength in my soul.” We pray in time of difficulty, and He gives us wisdom and courage to meet and surmount the difficulty; in time of affliction, and He gives us patience and strength to bear the suffering. “My grace,” saith He, “is sufficient for thee.” Recollections such as this one of David’s stimulate the heart to grateful and joyous praise.

III. An encouraging anticipation. The Psalmist confidently anticipates a time when all the kings of the earth shall recognise Jehovah as God, and render to Him devout homage and cheerful obedience.

1. All kings shall be made acquainted with the highest revelation of God and with His glory. They shall “hear the words of His mouth,” and see that “great is the glory of the Lord.” The Gospel shall be preached in all the world, and the glory of the Divine grace shall be exhibited to all peoples. God in Christ shall be made known to all men.

2. When all kings are acquainted with “the words” and “the glory of the Lord” they will heartily praise and cheerfully serve Him. “Shall praise Thee, O Lord,” &c. “Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord.” “The ways of the Lord” are those of obedience and worship; the ways of reverence towards God and righteousness towards men. They shall tread them with cheerfulness. Obligation will be regarded as a privilege. Duty will be transformed into delight. Statutes will be translated into songs, and set to joyous music. A true acquaintance with the highest revelation of God is calculated to lead to such a result. The revelation of God in Christ is fitted to inspire our trust, to captivate our affections, and to secure our enthusiastic obedience. Let the world heartily accept Christ—the Christ not of the creeds and the churches, but of the Evangelists—as the supreme Revelation of God, and it will speedily bow to His authority, resound with His praise, and delight in His service.


(Psalms 138:2)

“Thou has magnified Thy word above all Thy Name.”

I. As the medium of His self-manifestation.

II. As the exposition of His government.

III. As the record of His will.

IV. As the instrument of His power.

V. As the revelation of His love.

W. W. Wythe.


(Psalms 138:3)


I. The earnestness of his prayer. “I cried unto Thee.” Beautiful description of prayer—crying unto God. “Prayer,” says Mrs. More, “is the cry of want, to Him that can relieve it; of guilt, to Him who is able to pardon it; of sorrow, to Him who is able to relieve it.” (So Psalms 119:145.)

1. It supposes the pressure of distress, under the frowns of the world; under the temptations of Satan; under the difficulties of the way; under the exigencies of the Christian conflict. The day of trial, a long day—a dark day—a stormy day—a day that brings God and the soul together. The time of affliction is the time of supplication. God afflicts us that He may hear from us.

2. It supposes the ready recourse of the Christian to God in prayer. No sooner does the storm of danger come down than the cry of faith and fervour goes up. It is this spirit of heartfelt continued instancy in prayer that keeps the Christian in the hour of temptation, or in the floods of adversity, and maintains the spiritual life within. But often is the Christian constrained to acknowledge that his heart has little to do with the cry of his lips. Yet in danger still he cries—sometimes with a cry which no words could fully express, that vents itself only in “groanings which cannot be uttered”—a cry that “enters into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”

3. It supposes previous habits of acquaintance with God; for we do not run to a stranger in distress, much less to an enemy, but to a known and tried friend.

4. It supposes the union of prayer and thankfulness. Praise should always follow where prayer is answered. A gracious man is a praising and a grateful man. As answers come down, praises should go up.

II. The effectual relief he gained.

God is a prayer-hearing and a sin-pardoning God.

1. He obtained an immediate answer. “In the day when I cried Thou answeredst,” &c. Moses cried at the Red Sea, and had instant help. No needless delay: no indifference to the state and condition of the Church on the part of God. (ComparePsalms 32:3-5; Psalms 32:3-5.) … While the voice of penitent confession was suppressed, his cries and lamentations were disregarded; but upon the first utterance of prayer from his lips, or rather on the first purpose of contrition formed in his heart, the pardon, the full and free pardon, is granted. “I said, I will confess, … and Thou forgavest.” How prompt was the answer to Jacob’s prayer at Jabbok (Genesis 32:24-30); to Gideon’s (Judges 6:36-40; to Daniel’s (Daniel 9:20-23).

2. He was replenished with inward grace. “Thou strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.” Strength to bear troubles; strength to overcome temptations; strength to war with the powers of evil. Especially was he strengthened in the actings of faith—led to renewed exercises of dependence upon the power and grace of Christ. Weak indeed are our purposes without grace to strengthen them, and worthless our good resolutions without grace to carry them out; but when the grace is enjoyed, difficulties give way, enemies are overcome, and inward peace is attained amidst outward trials. This is God’s way of putting life into the soul, when by an inexpressible sweetness and power He allures the soul to Himself. Every step, indeed, to the very end will be a conflict with besetting sin or with remaining enmity and unbelief. But in answer to prayer there will be a continual drawing of the Spirit of God towards high and holy things. The same Hand that gave a new bias to the soul in a heavenward motion, will confirm and strengthen it to the end.

3. The principle of hope was itself reinvigorated, that he was not only strengthened for the present, but enabled to anticipate the future. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble. Thou wilt revive me.”

III. The force and inspiration of his example upon other minds.

“All the kings of the earth shall praise Thee, O Lord, when they hear the words of Thy mouth,” &c. We not only must be religious ourselves, but help others to be so.—Samuel Thodey.


(Psalms 138:6-8.)

I. God’s treatment of the humble. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly.”

1. The character. “The lowly.” Not the lowly in outward condition merely, but in inward disposition—the humble. Humility is not a thing of circumstances, but of soul.

2. The treatment. “The Lord hath respect unto the lowly.” He “looks upon” them. He not only sees them, but regards them graciously. He views them with approving interest, and affords them kindly aid.

3. The reason. “Because the Lord is high He hath respect unto the lowly.” The A. V. in giving the impression that the Lord looks upon the humble notwithstanding His greatness does not represent the poet’s meaning. God graciously regards the poor in spirit because He is so great. A more correct rendering is, “For the Lord is lifted up, and looks upon the lowly.”—Hengstenberg. Or: “For lofty is Jehovah, and the humble He sees.”—Barnes. God is a great Being, and therefore He is condescending. Hengstenberg: “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.” “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

II. God’s treatment of the proud. “The proud He knoweth afar off.”

1. The character. “The proud.” Not the exalted in station, but the haughty, the arrogant. Pride is unbecoming, foolish, sinful. “Pride,” says Sidney Smith, “is not the heritage of man; humility should dwell with frailty, and atone for ignorance, error, and imperfection.”

2. The treatment. Jehovah knoweth the proud afar off. He regards them only at a distance. Pride is an insuperable barrier between God and man. A haughty man is not regarded by God with favour, nor can he have any communion with Him. “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.”

III. God’s treatment of His afflicted people. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble,” &c. We have here—

1. A depressing possibility in the life of good men. The life of a good man may be—

(1.) Surrounded by trouble—a journey “in the midst of trouble.” Piety does not secure a man from the afflictions of life. The godly man is exposed to infirmities and diseases of the body, to losses and difficulties in temporal affairs, to family and social trials and bereavements, to spiritual conflicts and distresses. Like Job, the godly man is sometimes almost overwhelmed with trouble. The life of a good man may be—

(2.) Imperilled by angry enemies. The Psalmist seems to have been exposed to the wrath of his adversaries when he wrote this Psalm. The godly soul is exposed to the assaults of spiritual foes. The lusts of the flesh, the cares and anxieties, pomps and vanities, shams and dissipations of the world, and the subtlety and power of the devil are arrayed against him. The good man is acquainted with both trouble and peril; he has trials and enemies.

2. An encouraging confidence in the life of good men. David was confident of—

(1.) Revival in trouble. “Thou wilt revive me.” He had an unfailing hope that the Lord would quicken and strengthen him to bear his trials. He sustains and comforts His afflicted people. David was confident of—

(2.) Deliverance from enemies. “Thou shalt stretch forth Thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and Thy right hand shall save me.” God exerts His almighty power for the protection and salvation of His people. The good are shielded by Omnipotence.

IV. God’s treatment of His trustful people. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me,” &c. Notice:—

1. The inspiring assurance. The poet was confident that the Lord would accomplish the work which He had begun concerning him. God does not abandon His work in an incomplete state. We are “confident that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “Grace will complete what grace begins.”

2. The firm basis of this assurance. The confidence of the Psalmist was grounded on the unchangeableness of God’s everlasting mercy. “Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever.” He who bases his trust of complete and glorious salvation on this foundation will never be put to shame.

3. The humble dependence of this assurance. “Forsake not the works of Thine own hands.” The poet here translates into a prayer what he had just before expressed as a conviction of his soul. Prayer is one of the means whereby the completion of the Divine work in us and for us is secured. The good man is sensible of his own weakness and waywardness, and depends upon God to perfect His own work in his salvation. In the material universe there are no unfinished worlds or systems; no half-made and forsaken works of His hands. And His work in the soul that trusts Him He will continue until it attains full and glorious perfection.

Here, then, is encouragement to His people to trust in Him at all times.


(Psalms 138:6)

“Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly.”

I. The majesty of God.

1. Consider His eternity.
2. Consider His immutability.
3. Consider His power.
4. Consider His goodness.

II. The condescension of God.

1. Consider the persons to whom His preference is shown.
2. Consider the special blessings with which He honours them.—Geo. Brooks.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 138". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/psalms-138.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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