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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 138

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-8


A CLUSTER of Davidical psalms here follows. It is not easy to trace any single line of thought connecting them all, or to explain how they come to be so entirely separated from the great bulk of the Davidical psalms. The first two are, in the main, psalms of praise; the next four, psalms of supplication; in Psalms 146:1-10, praise and supplication are blended; while in Psalms 145:1-21. praise again forms the main, if not the sole, topic of the composition. It is a fanciful exegesis, which sees in all the eight psalms reflections upon the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7:1-29.

Psalms 138:1

I will praise thee with my whole heart (comp. Psalms 9:1; Psalms 111:1). Before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. Some suppose the expression, "before the gods," to mean "before the great ones of the earth," and quote Psalms 119:46 as parallel. Others think that the imaginary vain gods of the heathen are intended.

Psalms 138:2

I will worship toward thy holy temple. The term "temple" here must designate the tabernacle (comp. Psalms 5:8). And praise thy Name for thy loving-kindness and for thy truth. "Mercy" and "truth" are God's two highest attributes (Exodus 34:6). They were especially shown to Israel in God's promises and his fidelity to them. For thou hast magnified thy Word above all thy Name. Some would amend the text, and read אמתךָ, "thy truth," for, אמרתךָ "thy Word." But if we keep the text, and understand אמרתךָ as "thy promises," the sense will not be very different. God has magnified his promise, and his faithfulness to it, above all his other revealed attributes.

Psalms 138:3

In the day when I cried thou answeredst me. Thy answer came to my prayer almost as soon as it was out of my mouth. And strengthenedst me with strength in my soul. The promptness of thy answer gave my soul fresh strength.

Psalms 138:4

All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord. The world shall be converted to thy worship when it is seen how promptly and fully thou answerest prayer (comp. Psalms 68:31, Psalms 68:32; Psalms 102:15). When they hear the words of thy mouth. The promises that thou makest, and thy performance of them.

Psalms 138:5

Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord. They, i.e. the kings, shall sing, no longer in their own misguided heathen ways, but in the ways of the Lord, in the mode prescribed by his Law and practiced in his temple (comp. Isaiah 49:22, Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:3-5, etc.). For great is the glory of the Lord. (cf. Isaiah 60:1-3; Isaiah 66:18.) It is this "glory" which attracts "all nations and tongues."

Psalms 138:6

Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly. Notwithstanding all God's glory and greatness, he condescends to look upon the lowly, to consider their needs, and to supply them (comp. Isaiah 57:15). Hence David feels sure that he will not be overlooked (see Psalms 138:7, Psalms 138:8). But the proud he knoweth afar off. God keeps proud men at a distance, does not draw near to them, much less make his abode with them, but leaves them to themselves until they are ripe for punishment.

Psalms 138:7

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me (comp. Psalms 23:4). David "walked in the midst of trouble" during the greater part of his life. When the persecution of Saul was over, he had trouble from foreign enemies (2 Samuel 5-12.); when these were subdued, his domestic troubles began (2 Samuel 13-19.; 1Ki 5:1-18 :53). God, however, from time to time "gave him a reviving." Thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies (comp. Psalms 3:7; Psalms 9:3-6; Psalms 18:14-17, etc.). What God had so often done for him, David is confident that he will do again. He will break the power of his enemies, and deliver him from their machinations. And thy right hand. The symbol of strength. Shall save me; or, "deliver me" (comp. Psalms 18:35; Psalms 60:5; Psalms 63:8; Psalms 108:6, etc.).

Psalms 138:8

The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me; i.e. will complete what he has begun for me—will not leave his work unfinished (comp. Psalms 57:2; Philippians 1:6). Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth forever. Does not suddenly break off and stop. Forsake not the works of thine own hands. This is probably more than a mere personal request. David sees in God's care for himself a portion of his great providential scheme for the redemption of the world.


Psalms 138:1-8

The goodness of God.

There are very few psalms where so much is crowded into a very small compass as in this. The writer in a very few strokes brings out those features in the character of God which make him to be the One who is worthy of our deepest reverence, of our fullest confidence, of our most grateful praise. We have—

I. HIS LOVING-KINDNESS. (Psalms 138:2.)

II. HIS FAITHFULNESS. (Psalms 138:2.) The psalmist gives thanks for "thy truth," and goes on to say that God has done that for him which more than fulfils his word of promise (see Joshua 23:14). It is not only in the ordering of our outward life, but in his dealing with us in the gospel of his Son, that "God is faithful" (1 Corinthians 1:9). It is "he that is true" who speaks to us from heaven (see Revelation 3:7), and summons us to his service and to his friendship. It is the unvarying testimony of Christian men, as their course closes, that their Divine Lord has been faithful to them, working in them and doing for them all that he had promised to them.

III. THE CONDITIONS OF HIS FELLOWSHIP. (Psalms 138:6.) There is nothing more explicitly revealed, both in Old Testament and New, than this doctrine of humility. Throughout Scripture, pride is presented to us as the insuperable obstacle blocking the way to the favor of God: humbleness of heart is held before us as the very gateway of his kingdom. We can see the reason why it should be so.

1. It is the truth. When we take a high view of ourselves, we see ourselves in a false light; when a lowly view, we see ourselves as we are.

2. It is the one way to the admission of Divine wisdom. The haughty heart will not listen when God speaks; the humble heart is open and receptive.

3. It is the necessary condition of receiving Jesus Christ as our Divine Savior. He came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." It was the complacent Pharisee who stood aloof from him, and who rejected his doctrine; it was the consciously unworthy who "drew nigh unto him for to hear him" (Luke 15:1), and who "went into the kingdom" before the self-righteous and the respectable. Hence we find our Lord beginning his public teaching with the Beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3); hence we have his word, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted "(Matthew 23:12; and see Matthew 18:3).

4. To be lowly minded is to be like our Lord himself (Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:7-9).

IV. HIS SUSTAINING AND REVIVING GRACE. (Psalms 138:3-7.) In the day of our trouble we "cry unto the Lord." It is an instinct of our religious nature (see Psalms 107:1-43.). It is the natural refuge of the devout (Psalms 46:1). It is in accordance with the Divine desire (Psalms 50:15). His promise (and his performance) is to sustain our spirit, to "strengthen us with strength in our soul." We think that we cannot possibly endure the weight of the afflictions that press upon us; but he makes us to know "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe;" he "revives us," he renews our hope, our confidence, our courage; he "girds us with all-sufficient grace" for the task we have to undertake, for the suffering we are called to bear. The "morning of joy" which is promised us may be a long way off; many dark hours may have to pass before that will dawn; but during the night of sorrow he will "give us songs," he will sustain our spirit, he will make us to glory in infirmity," because "Christ's own power rests upon us." There is a more signal proof of his Divine power and goodness than that which, perhaps, in human weakness, we prefer, viz.—

V. HIS DELIVERING GRACE. (Psalms 138:7, latter part.) For God does sometimes, and indeed often, interpose on behalf of his children. His "right hand," the right hand of his power and of his righteousness, is laid, not then and there on our souls to revive, but on the enemy to subdue him, or on the tangled events to undo them, on the reduced circumstances to raise and restore them. One touch of that wise, strong hand—the touch of a link in the chain far out of sight—and the trouble is over. It is right for us to ask this of God, whatever be the trial through which we are passing; but we must ask reverently, and in the spirit of obedience, quite ready to find that he will not take away the cross, but give us strength to bear it.


1. We are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:5). It is he that hath made us what we are "in Christ Jesus." It is his Spirit that has "renewed us in the spirit of our mind." Our repentance, our faith, our peace and rest of heart, our hope of heaven, our interest in the work of God, our readiness or eagerness to serve in the vineyard of Christ,—all this is, we gratefully own, the work of God within us.

2. We may count on its continuance. God will not forsake the work of his own hands. If he "pronounces good" the objects in nature, which are the product of his skill and power, how much more will he be pleased with the cleansed heart, with the renewed will, with the obedient spirit of his own child! He will not leave that to be lost on the waste; he will not abandon that to the mercy of wind and wave. We may and must ask his continued care of us, his guardianship and guidance and replenishment; but, thus asking for it, we may count confidently upon it.

3. We may look with a firm hope to the completion of his work in us; he will "perfect that which concerneth us." His interest in us, his kindness toward us, will not lessen as we live our life in him and before him. As we grow into his image, and as we do his work more faithfully and effectively, his love will not lessen nor his grace slacken. This will "endure forever." It will follow us all the way, until we are "perfected in Christ;" until we are "meet for the Master's use" in a higher and larger sphere. For that post in his heavenly kingdom which he will have ready for us we may feel sure that he is fitting us, not only by abounding privilege and wise discipline, but by gracious influences from his Holy Spirit.

The goodness of God has large issues.

1. Its effect on the enlightened mind is whole-hearted praise (Psalms 138:1, Psalms 138:2). A deep sense of all that God is to us, and of all that we are to him, fills our heart and constrains us to fervent and to public devotion. Whatever is meant particularly by the words, "before the gods," we may be sure that the psalmist intended to speak of public worship. He would not be satisfied with a thankful and loving spirit, good and right as that was; he would proclaim to all his sense of the loving-kindness and the faithfulness of Jehovah. Full and fearless expression is one part of sacred duty.

2. Its effect on those who stand without is correspondingly great. "The Lord hath done great things for them," said the Babylonian witnesses (Psalms 126:2). If we will so submit ourselves to Divine influences that our lives bear the mark and impress of God's hand, there will be excited in the minds of those outside the Church of Christ a wondering admiration of the power of the gospel, and they, too, will join in praising God!


Psalms 138:1-8

Exultation in God.

What a contrast between this psalm and the previous one! There the sad-hearted writer asks, "How can we sing?" Here the psalmist can and will do nothing but sing. The effect of this spirit is seen throughout the psalm.

I. IT WILL OPENLY CONFESS GOD. (Psalms 138:1, Psalms 138:2.) "Before the gods," meaning, we think, those high princes and potentates—god-like in their majesty, power, and in the abject homage and deference that men paid to them—under whose authority and oppression they had so long lived. The den of lions, the burning fiery furnace, had hitherto been the penalty which had to be paid, did any man dare to praise Jehovah in the presence of these mighty kings. But it had been done all the same; and here the psalmist declares he will do it again. And, indeed, the spirit of praise is irrepressible. It must tell out its gladness in God.


1. Because of the Lord's "loving-kindness." (Psalms 138:2.) We do not know what special instance of this called forth the praise here expressed; but he whose eyes are opened of the Lord to mark his loving-kindness will never lack loving-kindness to mark.

2. His "truth." The Lord's fidelity to his Word. What he promised he performed. How unbelieving we too often are! Yet those who have trusted the Lord have never had cause to regret their doing so.

3. And this in so emphatic and extraordinary a manner. "Thou hast magnified thy Word," etc. The Lord's name and renown for fidelity were great already, and had led to high expectation; but what the Lord had done had surpassed all expectation—it had been "above all thy Name."

4. And this had been a matter of the psalmist's own personal experience. (Psalms 138:3.) Whether or no the particular burden, for relief from which he had cried unto the Lord, had been taken away, we do not know; but if, as is so often the case, it had not, there had been given strength to bear it—"Thou strengthenedst me," etc. One way or the other, the cry of the believer is heard, and either the trouble itself is removed, or grace sufficient, not only to bear it, but to enable us to glory in it, is given instead; and this, surely, is the better of the two. And all this the psalmist had himself experienced (2 Corinthians 12:9).

III. WILL CONFIDENTLY EXPECT GREAT BLESSING AS THE RESULT OF HIS TESTIMONY. (Psalms 138:4, Psalms 138:5.) Kings, not merely common people, but kings—a very unlikely class—shall be moved by it. They shall come away from the paths of sin into the ways of the Lord; they shall be really converted. And, what is more, they shall "sing in" those ways; they shall rejoice and be glad. And such confident expectation will ever result from this spirit.

IV. WILL DISCLAIM ALL WORTH AND GOODNESS OF ITS OWN, (Psalms 138:6.) He confesses that he is one of the lowly ones, and that it is all of the Lord's condescension that he has been noticed at all.


1. Of trouble; even though he walk in the midst of it; for God will revive him.

2. Of his enemies; for God will save him.

3. Of personal failure; for (Psalms 138:8) "the Lord will perfect," etc. He might, and probably would, fail; but God will not allow of that.

VI. BUT WILL NOT, THEREFORE, PRESUME. Instead of this, the psalm ends with the humble prayer, "Forsake not the works," etc. Such are some of the blessed fruits of the spirit of exultation in God. Let us cherish it more by confession, by trust, by personal experience.—S.C.

Psalms 138:1-3

Valiant for the Lord.

The Septuagint ascribes this psalm to Haggai or Zechariah. It can hardly be by David. But it was by some greatly tried but triumphant saint.

I. SEE HOW HE STANDS UP FOR GOD. Note his boldness. Not only would he praise God with his whole heart, but he would do this in the very face, in the teeth as it were, of the heathen gods; so would he defy and scorn them whilst honoring the Lord in whom he trusted. So would he strengthen his faith and love, as by such valiant confession they ever are strengthened. Compare Daniel worshipping towards the temple.

II. AND VINDICATES GOD'S INSULTED ATTRIBUTESHIS LOVING-KINDNESS AND HIS TRUTH. These were insulted when Israel was in exile; the heathen would laugh at the idea of these Jews being the objects of God's loving-kindness, as they affirmed they were; and where was the truth of God, seeing that they were so very far from realizing the promises of God? But this saint of God declares that he will praise the Lord for these very things; be declares that God had helped and strengthened him, and shown to him his loving-kindness, etc. And this beyond all that even the great Name of God had led him to expect. For next he—

III. ASSERTS THE HONOR OF HIS WORD. Many aver that God is glorious in nature, in the visible works of his hands; but that his Word often seems to have failed. But the psalmist says, No; so far from failing or falling short, God has "magnified his Word above," etc. True, there is glory in nature (Psalms 19:1-14.). But there is more in God's Word. For it speaks with clearer voice, with no need of interpreter, as nature needs; its revelation is far more complete and effectual.

IV. AND GRATEFULLY DECLARES WHEREFORE HE DOES ALL THIS. For he has put his faith in God to practical test. He cried unto the Lord, and then and there, that very day, "the Lord answered him, and strengthened," etc. This was matter of actual experience. He knew this, did not dream it, or tell of it as a mere theory. Oh the power of personal testimony! We cannot be valiant for the Lord unless we have it. But why should we not? We may.—S.C.

Psalms 138:2

The Word and the Name.

In order to understand the declaration of our text, let us—


1. The Name. What is the import of this? The expression is one that perpetually occurs in Scripture, and generally it has much the same meaning. In Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20 it is spoken of as "that which may be known of God;" and he refers to "the things that are made" as a source of such knowledge. Thus St. Paul declares that ever since the Creation the unseen God has revealed himself by means of the works of his hands. The Name of God, therefore, means all the manifestations of God, howsoever made; but in the Old Testament it means more commonly the manifestation of God through his works, whether in creation or in providence. Then:

2. The Word. This has a threefold signification.

(1) The written Scripture—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—and now, since Christ came, the Scriptures of the New Testament. These contain the Word of God, and hence commonly receive the title of the Word of God. But

(2) the Word means also that spiritual communication from God to the heart of his servants. Hence we often read, "The Word of the Lord came," etc. God speaks to the soul by different means; but it is what God says that is his Word.

(3) And chiefly, there is God's revelation of himself in Christ. He is "the Word," which was in the beginning, which became flesh, and dwelt amongst us, so that we could behold him, and, in seeing him, see the Father also. The Word of God, then, means God's revelation of himself through the Scriptures, the Spirit, and through his Son Christ our Lord. Either and all are God's Word.


1. Both reveal God. His existence, greatness, power, wisdom, unity, unchangeableness. We do not add his love, because there are those who deny that the love of God is to be seen in the natural world. They speak of "Nature, red in tooth and claw;" they see only her ruthlessness and frequent ferocity; stern law, but little love.

2. Neither ever wears out the patience or the love of those who study them. The more they search into God's works or Word, the more they find in them. Both seem to be inexhaustible mines, whose riches never fail.

3. And both have a perpetual freshness. No human works or words can be compared to them for this.

III. AND GOD HAS MAGNIFIED BOTH. He has revealed himself to men by both, and drawn them nearer to himself. It is foolish and wrong, therefore, for any to disparage one at the expense of the other. Some there are who boast of the study of nature only; others have no patience with such study, but insist that the Word alone is to have our regard. But both are wrong, for God hath magnified his Word and his Name.


1. The revelation of nature is dependent on that of his Word for its comprehension. The Word is the key of his works: without it, men cannot interpret his works.

2. His Word declares higher truths than his works ever can. The love of God; the whole plan of salvation; life eternal; holiness; the truth of the Trinity, etc.

3. His Word accomplishes far more for man's highest interests than his works do. See this in man's knowledge of God, and whence it came; in the instruction which we derive from his works; we could not have had this but for his Word (see Psalms 19:1-14.). In the understanding of God's providence; in showing us God's will concerning us; in revealing his grace; in the subduing of our will to himself;—whatever the teachings of God's work may have done for us in these respects, his Word, we must all own, has done far more.

V. THE SPREADING OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WORD IS, THEREFORE, OUR HIGHEST INTEREST AND DUTY. Men are saying today—Educate, teach art, science, philosophy; provide for men better homes, surroundings, and opportunities; and much more to like effect; and only a fool will despise what they say. But the real need of man is for some power which will touch his heart and change his nature; and this only the Word of God can do. Therefore let us prize that Word for ourselves, make it known to others, and ever maintain the truth that it and it alone can meet man's universal, greatest, and constant need.—S.C.

Psalms 138:8

The Lord will perfect.

I. LET US LOOK AT THE SPEAKER. He is a man like ourselves; but as we look on him, we note how bright his eye, how radiant his countenance, how calm yet how joyous his tone, how happy in his conviction he seems to be, as he keeps saying to himself, "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me." Then he pauses a moment, as if some doubt or question had entered his mind, and he adds, "Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever;" and then, with an upward look of intense devotion, addressing his words to the Lord, he prays, "Forsake not the works of thine own hands." Now, as we thus in thought gaze upon the man, and. feel that assuredly he has got hold of a secret that too many of us do not possess, some less-favored one than the speaker comes up to him with wonder, wistfulness, perplexity, and desire written plainly on his countenance, and begins to—


1. "What do you mean when you say, 'The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me'? You seem quite sure and very happy about it; but what do you mean?" The man replies, "I mean that whatever really concerns me the Lord will see after, and bring it to a perfect issue, whether it be what has to do with my outward circumstances, or with what is of far more importance—my standing in his sight, the condition of my soul. There are many things which concern me; but what they are I leave to the Lord to determine; for I often find, as many others have told me is true of them likewise, that I much concern myself about things which, after all, do not really concern me, and about which, therefore, I need not trouble. But whatever does really concern me, and especially my soul's full salvation, I am sure the Lord will perfect."

2. "But how do you know all this?" so his questioner asks again; and the psalmist is at no loss for reply. "Well," he says, "I know the Lord has begun his work in me. I am as certain of this as I am that I am alive; he has given me new tastes, dispositions, and desires; the sins I once loved I now hate, and the holiness which heretofore I had no care for I now long after; hence I am sure the Lord has begun his work in me. And it is not his way to leave off what he once begins. Why should he? Is he lacking in power or love? Further, what strong guarantees I have thus to believe I The honor of the Divine Name is pledged to keep those who trust in him; the atonement of the Lord Jesus—for will be not ' with him also freely give us all things'?—the power of the Holy Spirit, which worketh in me now; the promises, so many, so great, and precious, contained in the Holy Scriptures; and my own experience thus far, and that of many others;—all encourage :and establish my faith that ' the Lord will perfect that,' etc."

3. "But are you not afraid?" it is further asked; "for while all must admit the force of the arguments you have urged, yet there are facts which it seems to us may reasonably lead you to feel less confident than you now seem to be. Are we not perpetually warned against departing from the living God, grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit? How many are the Scriptures which bid us, by direct precept or by actual example, to fear lest we should come short of eternal life! And have not many actually made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience? Think of all those who, on the night of the Passover, came out of Egypt, but yet never entered into Canaan; their carcasses fell in the wilderness, because of their unbelief. And have not you a corrupt nature, an evil bias, a heart prone to evil, and loving it all too well? And are not temptations everywhere, and so many of them subtle and strong, and before which many souls have fallen? And do you not know that you, as do even the best of men, often sin, often transgress God's commandment by thought, word, or deed?" Then we notice that he looks sad for a while, as if he cannot deny what has been urged; but presently he looks up, and his eyes are turned not to us, but lifted heavenward; and we hear him say, "Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever;" and he adds the prayer, "Forsake not the work," etc. So we cannot but—

III. NOTE THE ROCK ON WHICH HE RESTS. It is the ever-enduring mercy of the Lord on which he stays himself by means of continued faith and prayer. It is not his own strength or good resolves, but that ever-enduring mercy which fortifies him against all the risks and perils which he knows beset him; and he will abide in that mercy through continual prayer and trust.

IV. TRY TO LEARN HIS SECRET. Why should not we have like confidence? Of course, ere ever this be possible, the Lord's work must have begun in us; we must have yielded ourselves up to him in real repentance and faith; but if we have done that, why, instead of our too common misgiving and fear, have we not this glad persuasion that is expressed in our text?

1. How it would honor God! For it would be all through simple and utter trust in him—through nothing whatever of ourselves, but all of him.

2. And how it would bless us! What sunshine of the soul we should enjoy! Our lives would be radiant with joy, and our lips filled with praise; the joy of the Lord would be our strength.

3. And how, through us, others would be blessed! The writer of Psalms 51:1-19. says if but the Lord will restore to him the joy of his salvation, and uphold him with his free spirit, "then will I teach transgressors," etc. (Psalms 51:13). And, without doubt, it is only as we are confident in the Lord that we render effective service and become channels of blessing to others: which God grant we may!—S.C.


Psalms 138:1

Unity, entireness, and sincerity in worship.

"With my whole heart." The tenor and tone of the psalm suggest the authorship of Zerubbabel or of Nehemiah. Some important success had evidently been just gained; but there was still grave cause for anxiety. Some work of pressing need was seriously impeded. We can easily fit this into the times and experiences of Nehemiah. There was, consequently, the temptation to mingle fears with trust, and offer to God thanksgivings and praises that were imperfect, incomplete, the expression of the "divided heart." And oftentimes in life the godly man is placed in such a position as is represented in this psalm. He has received some sign of the Divine favor which calls for praise and encourages trust; and yet he cannot shut his eyes to the fact that this intervention of God has only lifted the fringe of his difficulties. They hang heavy about him still; and he can hardly keep hack the repining that God does not deal with the big things that trouble him. So his praise is in danger of being half-hearted. The psalmist indicates what the good man should do at such times. He should fully learn what God would teach by the single blessing, and, letting trust blend with thanksgiving, praise God with his whole heart.

I. PRAISE WITH THE WHOLE HEART IS PRAISE WITHOUT RESERVE. How reserve may spoil prayer we are often pointing out. It is illustrated in St. Augustine's prayer, "Lord, convert me, but not yet!" It is not so often seen that reserve may spoil praise. We may praise for something; but feel we cannot praise for everything. We may praise formally, and reserve heart-feeling. We may praise as duty, and yet keep doubts and questionings as to God's perfect wisdom and goodness in our hearts. Our praises are usually left to take their chance. We do not assure ourselves that we have praise-feelings, and worthy ones, before we offer praise or unite in offering it. And yet praise needs culture quite as truly as prayer.

II. PRAISE WITH THE WHOLE HEART IS PRAISE WITHOUT GUILE. Conscious guile absolutely spoils praise; makes it unworthy and even offensive to God. The consciously insincere man is rejected. "Thy heart is not right with God;" and there can he no acceptance of thy worship. But what the godly man has to fear is "unconscious, unrecognized" insincerity; a guile that he does not suspect, and so lets go, lets it do its evil work in spoiling his praise.—R.T.

Psalms 138:1

The term gods as a synonym for great ones.

The allusion may be to the rulers of Israel (Psalms 119:46). The 'Speaker's Commentary,' however, thinks the meaning can only be this, "Before, or in presence of, the gods of the heathen, i.e. in scorn of, in sight of, the idols, who can do nothing, I will praise Jehovah, who does miracles for me and his people." Jennings and Lowe prefer the rendering, "before the national Elohim," or great men; meaning that, even before persons high in office, in whose presence he would be naturally abashed, he will declare the praise of his Deliverer, Jehovah. It is not easy to fit these words into the experience of an Israelite among his own people. Such a man was not in the least likely to speak of the elders, princes, and statesmen of his own nation as gods. That term does not suit the Hebrew mind or association. But if we could fix the psalm as Nehemiah's, and connect it with his success in securing the permission of the king to go to Jerusalem—and this he regarded as a remarkable answer to his prayer—then the term "gods" may well enough be applied to the princes, councilors, courtiers, and great men of Babylon, to whom Nehemiah's commission would be known, and before whom he would testify that God had heard his prayer, and made the way plain for him. Nehemiah would call the princes of Judah his brethren; he might well call the princes of Babylon, with a tinge of satire, "gods."

I. WHEREVER A MAN IS, THERE HE IS TO WITNESS FOR GOD BY PRAISING HIM. It is an absolute and ever-working law that there can no more be religious life without outward expression than there can be life in the seed without a blade thrusting through the soil. And the natural, necessary, and ever-influential expression of the religious life is praise—the praise of God. That

(1) tells the sincerity of the religious life; and

(2) tells the character of the religious life; and

(3) tells the worthiness and winsomeness of him who is both the Love and the Life of the godly man.

So praise is testimony, and the most persuasive of testimonies.

II. WHEREVER A MAN IS, THERE CAN BE NO CONDITIONS ALLOWED TO RESTRAIN PRAISE. He may be among great men and fear. But then he must praise, only he must be wise in his praise. He may be among scoffers. Still he must praise, only he must he judicious in his praise. There is in relation to praise a being "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."—R.T.

Psalms 138:2

God acting beyond expectation.

The term "word," in the last clause of this verse, means "promise." So great are God's promises, and so faithful and complete is his performance of them, as even to surpass the expectations which the greatness of his Name has excited. The psalmist often speaks of Jehovah's Name, or reputation, or honor, being at stake. Here the poet can say that the praise won is beyond anything that could have been anticipated. Generally, the Name of God stands for the whole manifestation of himself. Or we may render thus, "For thou hast magnified thy characteristic of fidelity to promises above all the other characteristics implied in thy Name Jehovah."

I. GOD'S NAME IS THE BASIS OF OUR EXPECTATIONS. A name gathers up the characteristics of the person to whom it is applied, whenever it is a true name, and not a mere fanciful appellation, as names given to children now are. A true name embodies our apprehension of a person, fixes our relation to him, expresses the grounds of our confidence in him, and becomes a basis on which we rest our expectations of him. And so we give our own special names, pet-names, to those whom we more especially love and trust. And in the same way God's Name gathers up into a term his attributes; not, however, as intellectually conceived only, but also as personally experienced and apprehended in the experiences and relationships of the individual, and of the race. On that Name we' build our expectations. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide even unto the end." But this has to be taken into careful account—man never raises expectations that compass the possibilities of the Name.

II. GOD HIMSELF GOES BEYOND THE EXPECTATIONS BASED UPON HIS NAME. "Thou hast magnified thy Word above all thy Name." God does not go beyond himself; but he does go beyond our expectation. He does for us more than we can ask or think. In special emergencies of life this is precisely what the godly man feels. He was sure God would help him; but when the help has come, he has found that God surprised him with the fullness and the grace of his arrangements. This we can associate with Nehemiah. We can realize his almost overwhelming delight and surprise when God overcame his difficulties for him in such a quick and gracious way.—R.T.

Psalms 138:3

Recognized answer to prayer.

"In the day that I called thou answeredst me; thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul." Here prayer had evidently been offered for some special thing; what it was we are not told, nor does it greatly matter. Our attention is fixed on the fact that the answer came at once, and was recognized as the answer. We have ways in which we expect answers to come; and because they do not come in the expected ways, we fail to recognize them as answers at all. But it cannot be becoming for us to fix conditions to the prayers we offer. There can be no "making terms" with God.

I. THE ANSWER IN THIS CASE WAS IMMEDIATE. "In the day when I called." We need not press the word "day." It is but equivalent to "at the very time." Compare the experience of Daniel (Daniel 9:21), and that of our Divine Lord (John 12:27, John 12:28). It is true that there is sometimes delay in the answer to our prayer; but, in that case, delay is the answer. The fact is that the answer is always immediate; and of this we can be sure, because the attention is always immediate. Illustrate by the orderliness of the business man, who sees to everything at once. Serious injury is done to Christian life by suggesting that God is very likely to delay, He is much more likely to answer at once.

II. THE ANSWER IN THIS CASE WAS NOT A SHAPING OF CIRCUMSTANCES. It often was in the Old Testament days; and this is strikingly illustrated in the prayer of Abraham's servant (Genesis 24:1-67.). The higher truth comes into view in the New Testament. St. Paul prays for a change of circumstances—the removal of the "thorn in the flesh." The answer did not change his conditions.

III. THE ANSWER IN THIS CASE WAS A DIVINE INWARD STRENGTHENING. "Thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul." To St. Paul the answer was, "My grace is sufficient for thee." The cry of genuine and heartfelt prayer is the expression of conscious weakness. It is, therefore, really a cry for strength. And the best answer is strength. But that is not what we seem to ask for, or think we ask for, and so we mistake the answer.

IV. THE ANSWER, IN THIS CASE, INVOLVED MASTERY OF CIRCUMSTANCES BY THE STRENGTHENED SOUL. Strength received in Gethsemane prayer-time enabled our Lord to endure Calvary; and so the triumph of the cross was the answer to his prayer, though it came as inward strengthening. What we should watch for is the immediate answer to our prayer for soul-strengthening, Answers in cur circumstances may be left to follow.—R.T.

Psalms 138:3

The provision of inward strength.

"And strengthenedst me with strength in my soul." Whether this precisely renders the thought of the psalmist may be doubtful. It certainly presents a suggestive thought to us. The statement is certainly true of God's ways with us. His best blessings come to the inward, spiritual self—to the true individuality, the real us. The various rendering is, "Thou madest me proud;" the Revised Version gives, "Thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul;" the Prayer-book Version has, "and enduedst me with much strength." God does, as he may see fitting, make provision for the needs of our life, by altering and mastering our circumstances. But if he does not work for us in this way, we may be quite sure that he will "strengthen us with strength in our soul;" answering us as he did St. Paul, saying, "My grace is sufficient for thee." Inward strength to bear is a far higher provision than any mere mastery of the ills and troubles of life. In recalling sorrows, for the bearing of which we had inward peace, because our mind was stayed on God, we are conscious of recalling the noblest times of our past experience, and the times when we were most truly master of our circumstances. The Patriarch Job mastered Sabaeans, and Chaldeans, and lightnings, and the four winds, and a tempting wife, and Satan himself, by being soul-strong, and able to say, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" We are accustomed to say that a man is not utterly lost until he has lost heart. But if God supplies inward strength, we never shall lose heart, and so never shall be lost. God is prepared ever to make a man's soul triumphant over his circumstances. He may be very poor; God can make his soul very rich. He may be very full of troubles; God can make his soul quiet and calm with Divine peace; God can comfort him with the support of "the everlasting arms." Outwardly a man may be tossed about, worn, wearied, wounded, almost broken; yet inwardly he may be kept in perfect peace; he may be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."—R.T.

Psalms 138:6

The Divine regard for the lowly.

"Lowliness and humility are the court-dress of God; he who wears them will please him well." "Respect unto." Bends down to look on them; draws them near to communion with him; gives them office and place beside him; entrusts them with honorable commissions for him. There is sharp contrast with God's treatment of the proud. Them, too, he knoweth; but them he knoweth afar off; he keeps them at a distance; he has no intimacy with them, and could have no pleasure in their company. The proud man is the self-sufficient man, who is his own center. He does not want God, and would not know what to do with him if he had him. And there is no reason why God should want him, or trouble to find a place for one who does not want any place found for him.

I. GOD HAS REGARD FOR THE LOWLY BECAUSE THEY WANT HIM. All good persons are fully responsive to frail, weak things, that are entirely dependent on them. See the mother with a sickly child; or the teacher with a backward but loving child. Lowliness is a noble quality. It must not be confused with timidity, or self-conscious humiliation. It is that kind of estimate a man has of himself, when he has set before himself a worthy standard. But what is here more especially in view is that lowliness is the consciousness of want; and, in its best form, the consciousness of want which only God can supply. The lowly man is "not sufficient of himself;" "his sufficiency is of God" It is of the very nature of God to be the "Friend of the friendless and the faint."

II. GOD HAS REGARD FOR THE LOWLY BECAUSE HE WANTS THEM. God ever alone, in solitary and isolated grandeur, is a totally inconceivable idea. God is Love; and love wants somebody to love. And the lowly ones are precisely those whom God can love, whose love he can enjoy, and on whom his love can be wisely expended. Bonar has a striking hymn, beginning, "Thou needest me, even me."

III. GOD HAS REGARD FOR THE LOWLY BECAUSE THEY ARE LIKE HIM. It may be difficult to recognize lowliness as an essential of the Divine character, but it is of the essence of goodness; and it is plain enough in God manifest in the flesh. Kinness in this brings man and Christ, man and God, into loving fellowship.—R.T.

Psalms 138:7

Walking in trouble.

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble." This suggests a particular phase of human experience. Sometimes troubles come upon us, crash after crash, until we are, like Job, utterly crushed; and can but clothe our selves with sackcloth, and sit in ashes. But the text indicates a more frequent, if less readily recognized, experience. The tone is gentler; there is no crashing of sudden calamity, no bursting of wild and desolating storms. The man is moving to and fro in the ordinary scenes of life, meeting his obligations and doing his duties. But everywhere things seem to go wrong; on all sides trouble, anxiety, worry, seem to attend him. He cannot get free night or day. These dog his steps continually. He walks in the midst of trouble. How true to universal experience all this is!

I. WALKING IN TROUBLE IS A MOST DEPRESSING EXPERIENCE. The constant wearing produces a fixed weariness; the constant worry produces a fixed fretfulness; the constant fear of some new anxiety produces a fixed hopelessness. Because nothing goes right, we are too ready to say nothing ever will go right. And then the heart is taken out of us; we become unfitted for battling with difficulty, and so largely increase our troubles; we make them for ourselves, as well as have them made for us. And those we make for ourselves are always the worst to deal with. There is one striking illustration of this depressed mood in the life of David. He walked in the midst of various and well-nigh overwhelming troubles, and in a hopelessness that was both pitiful and sinful, he exclaimed, "I shall now one day perish by the hand of Saul!" It may further be shown that such depressed moods, responsive to surrounding worry, very much depend on natural disposition, especially on that nervous irritability which can always see, or expect, evil.

II. WALKING IN TROUBLE MAKES US CRY FOR DIVINE REVIVING. "Thou wilt revive me." The state of mind induced by the circumstances is much more important in the sight of God than the circumstances. And this the good man recognizes. His hope is in God's soul-cheering, God's inward reviving, God's keeping from despair, and freshening trust and hope. And God does lead the walker out "into a large place," in his own good time.—R.T.

Psalms 138:8

God completes what he undertakes.

(See Philippians 1:6.) "The Lord will carry to an end all things that concern my welfare." Man lives and moves through life surrounded with unfinished things. He has constantly to say, "My purposes are broken off!" He is always attempting what he cannot accomplish, beginning what he cannot carry through. God must be thought of as always having a distinct purpose in whatever he undertakes, and as active until that purpose is realized. Illustrate by reference to 2 Samuel 7:25-29.

I. GOD ALWAYS HAS A PURPOSE. Thoughtless action, unpremeditated action, can never be associated with God. Men drift into things without knowing where they are going to. God never does. Men may talk about "waiting for something to turn up." God never does. He is the Infinite Mind; and mind is put into everything he does. He knows the end from the beginning. We have always this consolation—there are no accidents to God. He is never surprised, never taken at unawares. He has a meaning in everything he does, a purpose in every design he forms. "Throughout the ages one unceasing purpose runs."

II. GOD'S PURPOSE IS NEVER FORGOTTEN. Man so often crowds his life with interests that he forgets what he intended to do. He is carried away with new attractions, and quite forgets what he meant to do. So man's path is beset with the "young lions" of unfinished schemes—things dropped and forgotten in order to take up some new thing. God never forgets. To us he may seem to; and this may be our explanation of his delay. His purpose is kept ever in view.

III. GOD'S PURPOSE IS NEVER FRUSTRATED. Man's often is. He proposes to himself too much, and life beats him. Or what he proposes crosses what somebody else proposes, and the opposition beats him. God never proposes to himself what is beyond himself; for he can do what he will. God permits no rivalry of human purposes to cross or frustrate his perfect plan.—R.T.


Psalms 138:2

The greatness of the Word of God.

"For thou hast magnified thy Word above all thy Name."

I. GOD'S WORD IS GREATER THAN HIS MATERIAL WORK. His word of command was the cause of creation. "Let there be light;" "He commanded, and it stood fast:

II. GOD'S WORD EXPRESSES MORE THAN HIS WORK. God's Word is his uttered thought, and expresses more than the utmost science of nature can utter. Goes beyond all the teachings of chemistry, electricity, etc.

III. GOD'S WORD CAN REGENERATE HIS WORK. In man and in all intelligent beings, when it has been injured and partly destroyed. Christ, the Word of God's regenerating power.

IV. GOD'S WORD ABIDES UNCHANGEABLY, WHILE SOME OF HIS WORK ALTERS AND PASSES MANY. "Wax old, as doth a garment; but thou remainest," etc.

V. GOD'S WORD OF PROMISE IS GREATER THAN ANYTHING HE HAS DONE. That Word furnishes not only the pillars on which the present order of things rests, but is the ground of all the new and future. Of whatever is to come, in the outward and inward universe of man.—S.

Psalms 138:8

God's perfecting.

"The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth forever: forsake not the works of thine own hands."

I. THE PSALMIST'S CONVICTION. Words such as these are said only in the strongest grandest moments of a good man's life. David, St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, could say them; but the majority of believers in Christ cannot say them at all times; only at certain privileged moments of their lives. And the reason is—they see their own imperfections more strongly than God's unchangeable love towards them; that salvation has a multitude of convictions as well as a multitude of promises. Look at some of the words of Christ and the apostles, and ask what they mean (John 10:27-29); Paul (Romans 8:1-39.; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 5:10). I think it may be said that the meaning of these uniform utterances is that the strength of God's faithful love to us, and not the strength of our love to him, is the pledge of our salvation—the guarantee that we shall not be left to perish in our sins and weakness. We may unfold this in two particulars.

1. That God will do for us towards this end what we are unable to do for ourselves. Some think little of their sins. Forgiveness, renewed day by day, extending to the new sins I commit. I have not the right nor the disposition (often) to pardon myself. He will give grace—that is, help and strength—according to our needs. "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ." He will permit no temptation to assail us for which he does not furnish the means of resistance. He can do no more. In dying, we shall be utterly helpless in ourselves; but he will be with us to save and preserve—to lead us through the dark labyrinth. He will raise us up at the last day.

2. God will do for us what we are not willing to do for ourselves. A great part of our danger arises more from want of will than want of strength. He will institute purifying processes. "Every branch in me that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." We are averse to this—to trials and afflictions and discipline. The clay does not know into what beautiful shapes it may be wrought by the hand of the potter. Gold when it is in the ore does not know its need of the furnace, to be separated and refined from the dross. We are disinclined, naturally, to love him supremely, and to employ the means that will lead to it. He conquers our aversion by successive revelations of his love. "He worketh in us the willing and the doing" by his own sovereign will.


1. God's enduring, unchanging mercy. His disposition to pardon—his delight in saving. Can it be a question, even for a moment, whether God would rather save you or allow you to perish? "His mercy endureth forever;" "He delighteth in mercy;" "Who is a God like unto thee?' Then he will endure you and save you, though you have many sins in your heart—if you do not love the sins so that you cannot be separated from them. He will endure many backslidings, till he has healed you of them. Will endure your cold earthliness of mind, till he has made you heavenly minded, etc.

2. God will not forsake the work of his own hands. Has not forsaken the earth, or the sun, or any work in the material universe, much less the most precious work he ever began. "The mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed." The sculptor may leave his statue unfinished, the artist his picture, and the poet his epic; but God the Ever-Living will not forsake the work of his hands.


1. Take courage.

2. Be diligent to make calling and election sure.—S.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 138". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/psalms-138.html. 1897.
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