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Commentary On Psalms Volume 5 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 138:1-5

1. I will praise thee with my whole heart, before the gods will I sing psalms to thee.2. I will worship thee towards the temple of thy holiness, and sing unto thy name for thy mercy and for thy truth; for thou hast magnified thy name above all things by thy word.3. In the day when I cried to thee then thou answeredst me, and hast abundantly ministered strength to me in my soul.4. Let all kings of the earth praise thee, O Jehovah! because they have heard the words of thy mouth.5. And let theta sing in the walls of Jehovah, for great is the glory of Jehovah.

1. I will praise thee with my whole heart As David had been honored to receive distinguishing marks of the divine favor, he declares his resolution to show more than ordinary gratitude. This is exercise which degenerates and is degraded in the case of hypocrites to a mere sound of empty words, but he states that he would return thanks to God not with the lips only, but with sincerity of heart, for by the whole heart, as we have elsewhere seen, is meant a heart which is sincere and not double. The noun 'lhym, Elohim, sometimes means angels, and sometimes kings, and either meaning will suit with the passage before us. The praise David speaks of is that which is of a public kind. The solemn assembly is, so to speak, a heavenly theater, graced by the presence of attending angels; and one reason why the cherubim overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant was to let God's people know that the angels are present when they come to worship in the sanctuary. We might very properly apply what is said here to kings, on account of their eminence in rank, as in Psalm 107:32, |Praise ye the Lord in the assembly of the elders| -- that is, as we should say, in an assembly of an honored and illustrious kind. But I prefer the former sense, and this because believers in drawing near to God are withdrawn from the world, and rise to heaven in the enjoyment of fellowship with angels, so that we find Paul enforcing his address to the Corinthians upon the necessity of decency and order, by requiring them to show some respect at least in their public religious assemblies to the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:10.) The same thing was represented by God long before, under the figure of the cherubim, thus giving his people a visible pledge of his presence.

2. I will worship towards the temple of thy holiness. He intimates that he would show more than private gratitude, and, in order to set an example before others, come in compliance with the precept of the law into the sanctuary. He worshipped God spiritually, and yet would lift his eyes to those outward symbols which were the means then appointed for drawing the minds of God's people upwards. He singles out the divine mercy and truth as the subject of his praise, for while the power and greatness of God are equally worthy of commendation, nothing has a more sensible influence in stimulating us to thanksgiving than his free mercy; and in communicating to us of his goodness he opens our mouth to sing his praises. As we cannot taste, or at least have any lively apprehensions in our souls of the divine mercy otherwise than through the word, mention is made of his faithfulness or truth. This coupling of mercy with truth is to be particularly taken notice of, as I have frequently observed, for however much the goodness of God may appear to us in its effects, such is our insensibility that it will never penetrate our minds, unless the word have come to us in the first place. Goodness is first mentioned, because the only ground upon which God shows himself to us as true is his having bound himself by his free promise. And it is in this that his unspeakable mercy shows itself -- that he prevents those with it who were at a distance from him, and invites them to draw near to him by condescending to address them in a familiar manner. In the end of the verse some supply the copulative, and read -- Thou hast magnified thy name and thy word above all things This learned interpreters have rejected as a meagre rendering, and yet have themselves had recourse to what I consider a forced interpretation, Thou hast magnified thy name above all thy word I am satisfied David means to declare that God's name is exalted above all things, specifying the particular manner in which he has exalted his name, by faithfully performing his free promises. Nor can any doubt that owing to our blind insensibility to the benefits which God bestows upon us, the best way in which he can awaken us to the right notice of them is by first addressing his word to us and then certifying and sealing his goodness by accomplishing what he has promised.

3. In the day when I cried to thee, etc. Frequently God prevents our prayers, and surprises us, as it were, sleeping: but commonly he stirs us up to prayer by the influence of his Spirit, and this to illustrate his goodness the more by our finding that he crowns our prayers with success. David well infers that his escape front danger could not have been merely fortuitous, as it plainly appeared that God had answered him. This then is one thing noticeable, that our prayers more nearly discover his goodness to us. Some supply a copulative in the second part of the verse -- Thou hast increased me, and in my soul is strength. But this is not called for, since the words read well enough as they stand, whether we render the passage as I have done above, or translate it, Thou hast multiplied, or increased, me with strength in my soul. The sense, is, That from a weak and afflicted state he had received fresh strength to his spirit Or some may, perhaps, prefer resolving it thus: Thou hast multiplied -- that is, blest me, whence strength in my soul.

4. Let all kings of the earth praise thee Here he declares that the goodness he had experienced would be extensively known, and the report of it spread over all the world. In saying that even kings had heard the words of God's mouth, he does not mean to aver that they had been taught in the true religion so as to be prepared for becoming members of the Church, but only that it would be well known everywhere that the reason of his having been preserved in such a wonderful manner was God's having anointed him king by his commandment. Thus although the neighboring kings reaped no advantage by that divine oracle, the goodness of God was illustrated by its being universally known, by his being called to the throne in an extraordinary manner. Having uniformly during the whole period of Saul's severe and bloody persecution declared that he raised his standard in God's name, there could be no doubt that he came to the crown by divine will and commandment. And this was a proof of divine goodness which might draw forth an acknowledgment even from heathen kings.

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