PSALM 138 OVERVIEW
Title. A Psalm of David. This Psalm is wisely placed. Whoever edited and arranged these sacred poems, he had an eye to apposition and contrast; for if in Psalms 137:1-9 we see the need of silence before revilers, here we see the excellence of a brave confession. There is a time to be silent, lest we cast pearls before swine; and there is a time to speak openly, lest we be found guilty of cowardly not confessing. The Psalm is evidently of a Davidic character, exhibiting all the fidelity, courage, and decision of that King of Israel and Prince of Psalmists. Of course the critics have tried to rend the authorship from David on account of the mention of the temple, though it so happens that in one of the Psalms which is allowed to be David's the same word occurs. Many modern critics are to the word of God what blowflies are to the food of men: they cannot do any good, and unless relentlessly driven away they do great harm.
Division. In full confidence David is prepared to own his God before the gods of the heathen, or before angels or rulers ( Psalms 138:1-3 ); he declares that he will instruct and convert kings and nations, till on very highway men shall sing the praises of the Lord (Ps 138:4-5). Having thus spoken, he utters his personal confidence in Jehovah, who will help his lowly servant, and preserve him from all the malice of wrathful foes.
Verse 1. I will praise thee with my whole heart. His mind is so taken up with God that he does not mention his name: to him there is no other God, and Jehovah is so perfectly realized and so intimately known, that the Psalmist, in addressing him, no more thinks of mentioning his name than we should do if we were speaking to a father or a friend. He sees God with his mind's eye, and simply addresses him with the pronoun "thee." He is resolved to praise the Lord, and to do it with the whole force of his life, even with his whole heart. He would not submit to act as one under restraint, because of the opinions of others; but in the presence of the opponents of the living God he would be as hearty in worship as if all were friends and would cheerfully unite with him. If others do not praise the Lord, there is all the more reason why we should do so, and should do so with enthusiastic eagerness. We need a broken heart to mourn our own sins, but a whole heart to praise the Lord's perfections. If ever our heart is whole and wholly occupied with one thing, it should be when we are praising the Lord.
Before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. Why should these idols rob Jehovah of his praises? The Psalmist will not for a moment suspend his songs because there are images before him, and their foolish worshippers might not approve of his music. I believe David referred to the false gods of the neighbouring nations, and the deities of the surviving Canaanites. He was not pleased that such gods were set up; but he intended to express at once his contempt of them, and his own absorption in the worship of the living Jehovah by continuing most earnestly to sing wherever he might be. It would be paying these dead idols too much respect to cease singing because they were perched aloft. In these days when new religions are daily excogitated, and new gods are set up, it is well to know how to act. Bitterness is forbidden, and controversy is apt to advertise the heresy; the very best method is to go on personally worshipping the Lord with unvarying zeal, singing with heart and voice his royal praises. Do they deny the Divinity of our Lord? Let us the more fervently adore him. Do they despise the atonement? Let us the more constantly proclaim it. Had half the time spent in councils and controversies been given to praising the Lord, the church would have been far sounder and stronger than she is at this day. The Hallelujah Legion will win the day. Praising and singing are our armour against the idolatries of heresy, our comfort under the depression caused by insolent attacks upon the truth, and our weapons for defending the gospel. Faith when displayed in cheerful courage, has about it a sacred contagion: others learn to believe in the Most High when they see his servant
"Calm `mid the bewildering cry,
Confident of victory."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Psalms 138:1-145:21 . These eight Psalms are composed in the first person, and they follow very happily after the fifteen "Songs of Up goings", and the three Psalms of praise uttered by the chorus of those who have gone up to Sion. Those Psalms were the united utterances of national devotion. These eight Psalms are the devout Israelite's Manual of private prayer and praise. --Christopher Wordsworth.
Whole Psalm. This is the first of a series of eight Psalms ( Psalms 138:1-145:21 ), probably the last composed by David, a kind of commentary on the great Messianic promise in 2Sa 7:1-29. They are found in this part of the psalter, in consequence of having been made the basis, or rather the body, of a system or series ( Psalms 135:1-146:10 ) by a later writer. -- Joseph Addison Alexander.
Whole Psalm. If this Psalm refers to the promise in 2 Samuel 7:1-29 , there can be no doubt of the correctness of the superscription, which ascribes it to David. For he, on whom the promise has been conferred, himself stands forth as the speaker. Proof also of David's authorship is found 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 with the other Psalms of David, especially those which likewise refer to the promise of the everlasting kingdom; and with David's thanksgiving in 2 Samuel 7:1-29 , the conclusion of which remarkably agrees with the conclusion of our Psalm: "And now, Lord God, the word which thou hast spoken upon thy servant and upon his house, that fulfil even to eternity, and do as thou hast spoken." --E.W. Hengstenberg.
Verse 1. I will praise thee with my whole heart. It is a part of our thankfulness to engage our heart to praise God in time to come, since we find that all the thanks we can give for the present are short of our duty or desire to praise him: "I will praise thee", saith David. Sometimes the believer will find his heart set at liberty in God's worship, which at another time he will find to be in bands, and then he should take the opportunity of an enlarged heart to run in the way of God's service, as David doth here: "I will praise thee with my whole heart." --David Dickson.
Verse 1. I will praise thee. Up, dear soul! What though thou hast once complained like Israel of thy captivity in Babylon, Psalms 137:1 , yet now sing once more a song of joy to the Lord. Thou hast been pressed like a cluster of grapes, now give forth thy ripe juice. -- Christoph Starke.
Verse 1. I will praise thee. Alas, for that capital crime of the Lord's people -- barrenness in praises! Oh, how fully I am persuaded that a line of praises is worth a leaf of prayer, and an hour of praises is worth a day of fasting and mourning! --John Livingstone, 1603-1672.
Verse 1. With my whole heart. This expression, as in Psalms 9:1 , points to the surpassing greatness of the benefit received, which filled the whole heart with thankfulness, and did not proceed, as it were, from some particular corner of it. It corresponds also to the greatness of the benefaction, in the expression, before the gods, -- demanding of these, whether they would verify their godhead by pointing to any such boon conferred by them on their servants. The benefit which could afford such a demonstration, and give occasion and ground for raillery, must have been a surpassingly great one. --E.W. Hengstenberg.
Verse 1. Before the gods. There is much diversity in the meaning assigned to "gods" in this verse. It may mean literally in an idolatrous country, in the very temples of false gods, as so many Christian martyrs bore testimony to the faith. The LXX., Vulgate, Ethiopic, and Arabic translate angels. The Chaldee has judges, the Syriac kings, and the earlier Greek fathers explain it as a reference to the choirs of Priests and Levites in the Temple. -- Zigabenus, in Neale and Littledale.
Verse 1. Before the gods. Some (LXX., Luther, Calvin, etc.) interpret these words of the angels, and compare Psalms 29:1 ; but it is doubtful if the Hebrew word Elohim, used nakedly and without any explanation, can have this meaning: it is also, as it would seem, in this connection, pointless: others (Rabbins, Flamin., Delitzsch, etc.) interpret "the great ones of the earth", and compare Psalms 138:4 below, and Psalms 82:1 119:46, etc.; but this interpretation, too, seems to give no special force to the passage. Probably (Aq., Symm., Jer., etc.) the meaning is, "Before, or in the 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." For a similar expression, see Psalms 23:5 , see also Psalms 95:8 Psalms 96:5 , for places in which the Hebrew word "gods" is used probably for idols. -- Speaker's Commentary.
Verse 1. Before the gods, etc. The Vulgate hath, in conspectu angelorum, "before the angels"; their presence should awe men and women, and keep them from all dishonesty, evil words, acts, gestures, secret grudging, all discontents and distempers. For as they are rejoiced to discern a good frame of spirit in you, to see you keep that order God hath set in the church and state, to walk as Christians to the honour of God; so they are grieved to see the contrary, and you must answer for your sins against these great officers in the great family of heaven and earth. -- William Greenhill.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1-3. David vexed with rival gods, as we are with rival gospels. How will he act?
- Sing with whole hearted praise.
- It would generously show his contempt of the false.
- It would evince his strong faith in the true.
- It would declare his joyful zeal for God.
- It would shield him from evil from those about him.
- Worship by the despised rule.
- Quietly ignoring all will worship.
- Looking to the person of Christ, which was typified by the temple.
- Trusting in sacrifice.
- Realizing God himself, for it is to God he speaks.
- Praise the questioned attributes.
- Lovingkindness in its universality, in its speciality. Grace in everything.
- Truth. Historic accuracy. Certainty of promises. Correctness of prophecies. Assured of the love of God and the truth of his word, let us cling the closer to these.
- Reverence the honoured word. It is beyond all revelation by creation and providence, for it is --
- More clear.
- More sure.
- More sovereign.
- More complete, unique.
- More lasting.
- More glorifying to God.
- Prove it by experience.
- By offering prayer.
- By narrating the answer.
- By exhibiting the strength in soul which was given in answer to prayer.