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Psalms Lesson 4 - 138:1-8

SSL 4 - Psalm 138:1-8

Prayers & Announcements

LAST WEEK: We studied Psalm 23, not only the best-known Psalm, but most certainly some of the most beloved verses in all of Scripture. Besides a beautiful example of Biblical poetry, this Psalm also revealed two major points of personal application. What were they?

1. In order for us to call God "Our Shepherd," as Spurgeon once said, we need to take on the mindset of a sheep. Sheep, unlike humans, are conformists. They enjoy being in a herd and find comfort in numbers. Humans, on the other hand, are not conformists by nature. They often challenge the system and test the authority placed over them. I think we can all agree that we need that we need Almighty God as our shepherd, but are we prepared to do what it takes to be a not just any sheep, but God's sheep?

2. The Good Shepherd controls, protects, and provides for his sheep. He does everything within his great powers to care for and nurture these sheep-all while allowing them to grow, flourish, and prosper. However, he can't control the "free will" of every sheep. If a rebellious sheep decides to take a detour from the path and leave the herd, the shepherd can no longer provide for or protect the errant sheep. The errant sheep, out of fellowship with the shepherd and other sheep, is now a prime target for a predator.

THIS WEEK: We move forward to Psalm 138, a song of praise in the last seven psalms traditionally attributed to David, although some scholars contend the psalm was written by a post-exilic author (after 537 B.C.) long after David died. But regardless of who actually wrote it, the psalmist is thanking God because He sent "help," and we also learn from it that God will perform wonders that will ultimately make all nations thank Him, not just Israel.

Read Ps. 138:1-3 - Thanking God

1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 
2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

3 On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.

v. 1a: "thanks...with my whole heart" - Here the psalmist hold back nothing in his praise to God; but praises Him with his entire being = "whole heart" = everything you are and have. Spurgeon said we need a broken heart to repent but a whole heart to praise God's perfections.

v. 1b1: "before the gods" - Note small case. This statement has generated much scholarly controversy. There have been three different interpretations forwarded: (1) refers to the inanimate idols and images of pagans; (2) to angelic beings, which is consistent with a few other places in Hebrew Scripture; or (3) to human rulers or judges, such as mentioned in v. 4, below. In any case, it was a declaration of allegiance to Yahweh and Him alone. Also, the use of O LORD (Elohim) is the covenant name for God, specific to the Hebrews.

v. 1b2: "sing your praise" - Signifies expressing gratitude and adoration with vocal communication. Ps. 98:4 states, "Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!"

v. 2a: "bow down toward Your holy temple" - In Hebrew, "temple" simply means the dwelling place of God. In David's time, it was a temporary structure he built to contain the Ark of the Covenant. "Bowing down" represented an act of both submission and devotion.

v. 2b1: "give thanks to your name" - In the OT, God's name is much more than just a label; it represents His essential nature, who He is. Moreover, since His name can only be known because He makes it known, it is a revelation of His authority, purity, power, and other attributes.

v. 2b2: "steadfast love...faithfulness" - There is no exact Hebrew translation for steadfast, but it approximates the meaning of agapé (unconditional) love in the NT. The Hebrew word for faithfulness, ĕmûnāh, occurs 49 times in the OT (22 in Psalms) and literally means "certainty." Thus, God's faithfulness is a characteristic of His nature that enables us to place complete confidence in God's work and His promises, because He never changes-never!

v. 2b3: "have exalted above all things Your name and Your word" - The ESV footnote states that the Hebrew meaning of "word" in this context is unclear and may mean something closer to "promise," as in keeping your word. The sense of the statement, in any event, seems to say that the psalmist is giving thanks that God exalts His name above all things and keeps His promise of care to those who serve Him. One commentator stated it would as if God were saying, "I value my integrity above everything else."

v. 3a: "day I called out, You answered me" - Note that the psalmist begins by recalling his previous prayer requests, from which we can notice a pattern: First, praising God for who He is; second, praising God for His revelation to man; and last, praising God for His help. The writer doesn't explain how God answered, only that He did answer.

v. 3b: "my strength of soul you increased" - Although the circumstances are not explained, this statement clearly shows that God's answer to the prayer gave David (or whoever) the inner strength to deal with the situation he was facing.

Read Ps. 38:4-6 - They Will Bow

4 All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth,
5 and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.

v.4a: "All the kings of the earth shall give You thanks" - The NT reveals that the day is coming when every knee will bow at the name of Jesus (Phil. 2:10), and here, the psalmist declares that all the kingdoms of the earth will ultimately recognize God as their sovereign, i.e., supreme ruler, and offer Him praise for who He is.

v. 4b: "they have heard the words of Your mouth" - Whenever God speaks, His words are powerful and persuasive, and when His Word is revealed to others who, through it, come to know Him, they will also praise Him. Ultimately, all human authorities must submit to the establishment of God's coming kingdom (Rev. 11:15). But unlike being conquered by an enemy nation, the imposition of God's kingdom will be cause for joy, even by the rulers removed from power.

v. 5: "they shall sing of the ways of the LORD...great is the glory" - The Hebrew word for "way," derek, means path or highway, and in this context is an allusion to God's Law as the basis of the path. Thus, when the conquered kings realize that, instead of oppression, God's Law is a source of joy, they will praise Him in song, and their happiness will be due to God's glory. "God's glory" is not just some vague emotional idea; it is the tangible expression of God's presence and power (go outside on a clear night, look up, and you will see it-the Universe that God spoke into existence).

v. 6a: "though the LORD is high...regards the lowly" - Here we see the psalmist put the very personal experience of God's help in perspective: while God, in contrast to sinful man, is infinite, perfect, all-powerful, and without peer, He nevertheless sees the lowest and most unnoticeable parts of his creation-the humble and the afflicted. These are people whose self-reliance has been crushed; they are unable to deal with their own weakness-their sin, so God will provide what they need.

v. 6b: "the haughty He knows from afar" - This statement refers to the proud, the arrogant, and the self-righteous people who don't credit God for anything. As Spurgeon said, God will keep them at arm's length in this life, and shut them up in hell in the next. Peter, addressing persecuted Christians in Asia Minor centuries later, said, "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 1 Pet. 5:5.

Read Ps. 138:7-8 - God Fulfills

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

v. 7a: "walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life:" - The statement implies that David is in a hidden location being approached by a larger enemy force, his outcome in question; yet, as he considers God's greatness in relation to the lowly and humble in the previous verse, it gave him confidence that God would preserve him in his present troubles.

v. 7b: "stretch out Your hand enemies...right hand delivers me" - Here, we see David seeking divine intervention. The hand symbolizes something a person uses for a purpose, to accomplish a work of some kind, using the hands. The right hand, typically the strongest and most able for a majority of people, signifies God's power and authority to accomplish His purpose, which was to preserve David, who trusted God rather than his own skill.

v. 8a: "LORD will fulfill His purpose for me" - David concludes his Psalm by stating three related premises: First, David considered that the meaning of his life was determined solely by God and that he was just an instrument whom God used to achieve His purposes.

v. 8b: "Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever" - In his second premise, David declares that his security rested in God's nature, not his human nature. "O LORD" (Yahweh) refers to God's covenant name and "steadfast love" refers to God's continuing devotion to His covenant people, over whom David was God's anointed king.

v. 8c: "Do not forsake the work of Your hands" - In the third premise, David recognizes the intimacy of his relationship with God as the "work of Your hands." While David is asking for God's help in his current troubles, he is also reflecting that he is the man he is in the here and now because God made him and has shaped his life to this moment.


1. The entire theme of Psalm is about praising God. Like the psalmist, we should praise God with our "whole heart" (v.1), which means we praise and thank Him with our entire being, holding nothing back. As Spurgeon said, we need a broken heart to repent but a whole heart to praise God's perfections.

2. Like the psalmist, before we ask God for something, we should first give God praise for who He is and also praise Him for His revelation to us-His Word-so we can know who he is.

3. Like David, we should strive for an intimate relationship with God that permeates every aspect of our being, so we are completely transparent before God. As we awaken to face each new day, we should recognize that we are who we are today because God made us and has shaped our life up to this very moment.