Psalm 138

Both in the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, this psalm is ascribed to David.

With his whole heart or with his deep inner self fully involved, the psalmist wanted to render thanks or give praise. “Before the gods” or the “angels” (LXX), he would sing praise. The Septuagint includes the reason for the expressions of thanksgiving or praise, “for you have heard the words of my mouth.”

In David’s time, God’s temple would have been the tent where the ark of the covenant had been placed. (2 Samuel 7:1, 2) As the representative dwelling place of the Most High, this “temple” was holy and toward it the psalmist would bow down as an act of worship.

To give thanks or to render praise to God’s name denotes to direct thanksgiving or praise to him, the one who bears the name. He is deserving of such for his steadfast love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX) and his “truth,” faithfulness, or dependability in fulfilling his promises. Verse 2 concludes with the words, “for you have magnified your word over all your name.” This could mean that the Most High did more than his word of promise might lead one to expect, thereby magnifying his word above his name or his reputation. “You were true to your word and made yourself more famous than ever before.” (CEV)

In Codex Alexandrinus, the Greek text (“for you have magnified your holy name over everything”) departs from the wording of the Masoretic Text. The reading of Rahlfs’ printed text of the Septuagint, however, is closer to the Hebrew (“for you have magnified your word over every name”). Modern translations commonly do not follow the Masoretic Text (“for you have exalted your name and your word above everything” [NRSV], “for you have exalted over all your name and your promise” [NAB], and “for you have exalted above all things your name and your word” [NIV]).

On the “day” or at the time the psalmist called upon him, God responded. “In my soul,” continued David, “you made me proud with strength.” This could mean that he was infused with courage and thus empowered to act with renewed strength. The Septuagint presents the psalmist’s words as an appeal. “In whatever day I shall call upon you, answer me quickly. You shall greatly care for me with power in my soul.”

Upon hearing the words of God’s mouth (probably with specific reference to their fulfillment), “all the kings of the earth” or of the lands beyond the borders of Israel would praise YHWH, acknowledging that he is the only God who could unerringly fulfill his promises. Because the glory or splendor of YHWH is great (as his deeds reveal), the kings would sing of his “ways,” expressing themselves about his dealings. In the Tanakh, the words of the psalmist are represented as the acknowledgment of the kings. “They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, ‘Great is the majesty of the LORD!’”

Even though YHWH is “high” or exalted above everyone and everything, he regards the lowly, taking note of their situation and lovingly responding to their needs. Arrogant ones, however, he “knows” only from afar. He does not grant them his favorably attention. As persons, they are far away from him, not even passing acquaintances.

If “walking” or finding himself in the midst of distressing circumstances, the psalmist looked to YHWH to preserve his life. The hand or power of the Most High would be directed against the wrath of David’s enemies. With his “right hand” or his great might, God would rescue him.

David was confident that YHWH would “complete” for him, possibly meaning that the Almighty would finish what he started, effecting a total rescue. Translators have interpretively rendered the psalmist’s words in various ways. “The LORD will settle accounts for me.” (Tanakh) “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me.” (NIV, NRSV) “The LORD is with me to the end.” (NAB) “You, LORD, will always treat me with kindness.” (CEV) The Septuagint rendering suggests that the Lord would repay the psalmist’s enemies for their evil deeds.

God’s steadfast love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX) is sure for all time to come. Therefore, godly persons can depend on his loving concern and attention. They are the “works” of his hands, and the psalmist’s concluding appeal is, “Do not forsake the works of your hands.” As God’s precious works, the upright are assured of his loving care.


In the first verse, a Dead Sea Scroll indicates that the thanksgiving is directed to YHWH (Lord, in the extant Septuagint text) and, instead “before the gods,” reads “before YHWH God.” This manuscript does, however, contain a corrector’s change that corresponds to the reading of the Masoretic Text (“before the gods”).

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.