The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:1-8 (Psalms 138:1-8)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:2 (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.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:1-8 (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.

VI. THE CONTINUOUSNESS AND COMPLETENESS OF HIS WORK WITHIN US . ( Psalms 138:8 .)

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!

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:1-8 (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.

II. AND WILL DECLARE THE REASON WHY .

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.

V. WILL GO FORWARD WITHOUT FEAR . ( Psalms 138:7 .)

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.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:1-3 (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 ATTRIBUTES HIS 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.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:2 (Psalms 138:2)

The Word and the Name.

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

I. INQUIRE THE MEANING OF THE WORD AND THE NAME .

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.

II. GOD 'S NAME AND WORD HAVE MUCH IN COMMON . For:

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.

IV. STILL , HE HAS PUT THE GREATER HONOR ON HIS WORD .

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.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:2 (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.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 138:2 (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.

- The Pulpit Commentary