Read the Passage: Psalm 138
David’s Heart (138:1–3)
Although David is rightly identified as the author of Psalm 138, like most of the psalms, Psalm 138 contains no superscript. Therefore, we cannot be certain when David wrote this psalm; however, the majority of scholars believe this psalm was written in response to God inaugurating the so-called Davidic Covenant at 2 Sam. 7:1–17. If so, David’s reflection about ungodly nations’ eventual praise of God in this psalm may be viewed in light of his wars against Israel’s pagan neighbors, which occurred just prior to and following his covenant with God (cf. 2 Sam. 5:6–25; 8:1–14; 10:1–19). David begins this psalm declaring that he will whole-heartedly praise God “before the gods” (Ps. 138:1). Since no other god exist (cf. Isa. 44:6), this is likely a reference to the rulers of the pagan nations whom David defeated as king of Israel. Note, too, that the term “gods” in this psalm may also refer to angels.
In Psalm 138:2–3 David worships and praises the Lord because of God’s loving-kindness, truth, the magnification of His Word, and answered prayer. Note that David’s earlier recorded prayer in response to his receiving of the Davidic Covenant resonates with these same themes (cf. 2 Sam. 7:18–29). David’s reference in this psalm to God’s “holy temple” (Ps. 138:2) is better translated “holy sanctuary,” for the temple was not yet built. In referring to the sanctuary David likely had in mind the Tabernacle which was set up at Shiloh (cf. 1 Sam. 1:9). David’s praise of God, magnifying His “Word above all Your name” (Ps. 138:2), is likely referring to God’s specific expansion of His promises and revelation to David, via the Davidic Covenant. Of course, all of particulars about the the future fulfillment of God’s covenant were not revealed to David in fine detail, but they were revealed in essence.
Kings’ Praise (138:4–5)
Back in Psalm 2:1–3 David had written about the prideful scorn that the kings of the earth often direct toward the Lord and His people. In contrast to such derision, in light of the scope of the Davidic Covenant, speaking eschatologically, at Psalm 138:4–5 David writes of earthly kings’ praise of God that will occur when Christ returns. At Phil. 2:10–11 Paul touches upon this same theme as he wrote that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Indeed, Jesus is “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5) and is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16; cf. Isa. 2:1–4). A good example of such praise of God from a pagan king is that of King Nebuchadnezzar, after God had humbled him (cf. Dan. 4:34–37).
God’s Provision (138:6–8)
In concluding this psalm David reflects upon God’s provision and care for him. At Psalm 138:6 David states the important truth that God “regards the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar.” James would later cite this oft-repeated biblical principle, quoting Prov. 3:34, as he wrote, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). At its root pride is self-idolatry and a violation of the first commandment (cf. Exod. 20:3). Humility, however, entails a realization and an acceptance of one’s true condition and contingent nature. The Lord ministers to those who admit their need of Him, while He opposes those who make themselves gods and thereby rob His glory. Scripture clearly records that God did not tolerate Cain’s empty sacrifice, Pharaoh’s self-confidence, Nebuchadnezzar’s selfish boasts, or the Pharisees’ arrogant prayers.
At Psalm 138:7–8 David expresses his confidence in God’s sustenance, even in the midst of trials. Observe that David does not say that God will keep him from trials, rather he writes, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me” (Ps. 138:7). At Ps. 138:8 David expresses his confidence that “the Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” The term “perfect” means to complete. Paul expresses a similar idea as he wrote, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. . . . for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 1:6; 2:13). The idea here is that the sovereign God has no wasted effort. He is in control of all that we are, experience, and accomplish. Our lives, strengths, hopes, fears, failures, and successes are used by God for His purposes. Furthermore, believers can conclude that God always has our best interests in mind.
- When you pray, do you oftentimes praise God or do you just make requests of Him? For what things in your life can you offer praise to God?
- Is there any benefit when Christians praise and worship God before unbelievers (cf. Matt. 5:16; 2 Cor. 2:14–17; 1 Pet. 2:11–12; 3:16)?
- Like David at Psalm 138:3, can you praise God for answered prayer? In light of past answered prayers, why do we often doubt that God hears our present prayers?
- Does the moral decay, flourishing of evil, and seeming prosperity of wickedness in the world ever cause you to doubt God’s sovereign control over all things?
- Have you ever found yourself guilty of pridefully relying upon things other than upon God for your own well-being? How can we avoid pride and cultivate humility?