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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at


In this Psalm David, in remembrance of the singular help which had always been vouchsafed him by God — the experience he had enjoyed of his faithfulness and goodness, takes occasion to stir himself up to gratitude; and from what he had known of the divine faithfulness, he anticipates a continuance of the same mercy. If dangers must be met, he confidently looks for a happy issue.

A Psalm of David.

Psalm 138:1-5

1. I will praise thee  189 with my whole heart, before the gods  190 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  191 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 אלהים, 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 Ps 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 But I prefer the former sense, and this because believers in drawing near to God are withdrawn from the world, and rise to heaven in the enjoyment of fellowship with angels, so that we find Paul enforcing his address to the Corinthians upon the necessity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. (1Co 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  192 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  193 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.  194 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.

Psalm 138:6-8

6. Because Jehovah the exalted will yet have respect to the lowly, and being high will know afar off, [or, will know afar off him that is high.] 7. Should I will  195 in the midst of trouble thou wilt revive me: thou wilt put forth thy hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me. 8. Jehovah will recompense upon me.  196 thy mercy, O Jehovah! is for ever; thou wilt not forsake the works of thine own hand.


6. Because Jehovah the exalted, etc. In this verse he passes commendation upon God’s general government of the world. The thing of all others most necessary to be known is, that he is not indifferent to our safety; for though in words we are all ready to grant this, our disbelief of it is shown by the feat’ we betray upon the slightest appearance of danger, and we would not give way to such alarm if we had a solid persuasion of our being under his fatherly protection. Some read, Jehovah on high, that is, he sits on his heavenly throne governing the world; but I prefer considering, that there is an opposition intended — that the greatness of God does not prevent his having’ respect to the poor and humble ones of the earth. This is confirmed by what is stated in the second clause, That being highly exalted he recognises afar off, or from a distance. Some read גבה, gabah, in the accusative case, and this gives a meaning to the words which answers well to the context, That God does not honor the high and haughty by looking near to them — that he despises them — while, with regard to the poor and humble, who might seem to be at a great distance from him, he takes care of them, as if they were near to him. By some the verb ידע, yada, is rendered, to crush, and they take the meaning to be, that God, while he favors the lowly, treads down the mighty who glory in their prosperity. There is reason to doubt, however, whether any such refinement of meaning is to be attached to David’s words, and it is enough to conclude, that he here repeats the same sentiment formerly expressed, that God though highly exalted, takes notice of what might be thought to escape his observation. Thus we have seen, (Ps 113:6,)

“The Lord dwelleth on high, yet he humbleth himself to behold both the things that are in heaven and on earth.”

The meaning is, that though God’s glory is far above all heavens, the distance at which he is placed does not prevent his governing the world by his providence. God is highly exalted, but he sees after off, so that he needs not change place when he would condescend to take care of us. We on our part are poor and lowly, but our wretched condition is; no reason why God will not concern himself about us. While we view with admiration the immensity of his glory as raised above all heavens, we must not disbelieve his willingness to foster us under his fatherly care. The two things are, with great propriety, conjoined here by David, that, on the one hand, when we think of God’s majesty we should not be terrified into a forgetfulness of his goodness and benignity, nor, on the other, lose our reverence for his majesty in contemplating the condescension of his mercy.  197

7. Should I walk in the midst of trouble, etc. Here David declares the sense in which he looked flint God would act the part of his preserver — by giving him life from the dead, were that necessary. The passage is well deserving our attention for by nature we are so delicately averse to suffering as to wish that we might all live safely beyond shot of its arrows, and shrink from close contact with the fear of death, as something altogether intolerable. On the slightest approach of danger we are immoderately afraid, as if our emergencies precluded the hope of Divine deliverance. This is faith’s true office, to see life in the midst of death, and to trust the mercy of God — not as that which will procure us universal exemption from evil, but as that which will quicken us in the midst of death every moment of our lives; for God humbles his children under various trials, that his defense of them may be the more remarkable, and that he may show himself to be their deliverer, as well as their preserver. In the world believers are constantly exposed to enemies, and David asserts, that he will be safe under God’s protection from all their machinations. He declares his hope of life to lie in this, that the hand of God was stretched out for his help, that hand which he knew to be invincible, and victorious over every foe. And from all this we are taught, that it is God’s method to exercise his children with a continual conflict, that, having one foot as it were in the grave, they may flee with alarm to hide themselves under his wings, where they malt abide in peace. Some translate the particle אף, aph, also, instead of anger, reading — thou wilt also extend over mine; enemies, etc. But I have followed the more commonly received sense, as both fuller and more natural.

8. Jehovah will recompense upon me, etc. The doubtfulness which attaches to the meaning of the verb גמר, gamar, throws an uncertainty over the whole sentence. Sometimes it signifies to repay, and, in general, to bestow, for it is often applied to free favors.  198 Yet the context would seem to require.another sense, since, when it is added as a reason, that Jehovah’s mercy is everlasting, and that he will not forsake the works of his hands, the better sense would seem to be — Jehovah will perform for me, that is, will continue to show that he cares for my safety, and will fully perfect what he has begun. Having once been delivered by an act of Divine mercy, he concludes that what had been done would be perfected, as God’s nature is unchangeable, and he cannot divest himself of that goodness which belongs to him. There can be no doubt that the way to maintain good hope in danger is to fix our eyes upon the Divine goodness, on which our deliverance rests. God is under no obligation on his part, but when, of his mere good pleasure, he promises to interest himself in our behalf. David concludes with the best reason, from the eternity of the Divine goodness, that the salvation granted him would be of no limited and merely evanescent character. This he confirms still farther by what he adds, that it is impossible God should leave his work, as men may do, in an imperfect or unfinished state through lassitude or disgust. This David is to be understood as asserting in the same sense in which Paul declares, that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Ro 11:29.) Men may leave off a work for very slight reasons which they foolishly undertook from the first, and from which they may have been diverted through their inconstancy, or they may be forced to give up through inability what they enterprised above their strength; but nothing of this kind can happen with God, and, therefore, we have no occasion to apprehend that our hopes will be disappointed in their course towards fulfillment. Nothing but sin and ingratitude on our part interrupts the continued and unvarying tenor of the Divine goodness. What we firmly apprehend by our faith God will never take from us, or allow to pass out of our hands. When he declares that God perfects the salvation of his people, David would not encourage sloth, but strengthen his faith and quicken himself to the exercise of prayer. What is the cause of that anxiety and fear which are felt by the godly, but the consciousness of their own weakness and entire dependence upon God? At the same time they rely with full certainty upon the grace of God, “being confident,” as Paul writes to the Philippians,

“that he who has begun the good work will perform it till the day of Christ Jesus.” (Php 1:6.)

The use to be made of the doctrine is, to remember, when we fall or are disposed to waver in our minds, that since God has wrought the beginning of our salvation in us, he will carry it forward to its termination. Accordingly, we should betake ourselves to prayer, that we may not, through our own indolence, bar our access to that continuous stream of the divine goodness which flows from a fountain that is inexhaustible.



Here “O Jehovah” is to be understood. Though it is not in the received Hebrew text, it was found in six copies examined by Dr. Kennicott, and in eight examined by De Rossi. The Septuagint, Arabic, Vulgate, and AEthiopic versions add” Jehovah” after the verb for “praise.” “The omission of the Divine name,” says Jebb, in his Translation of the Psalms, “in a passage like this, at the beginning of the Psalm, is altogether unexampled.”


By the Hebrew word אלהים, Elohim, translated gods, Calvin understands “angels” or “kings,” but particularly the former. It is however proper to observe that אלהים, Elohim, is one of the names applied to the Supreme Being in the sacred volume, and therefore some critics translate “before God,” which they explain as meaning “before the ark,” where were the sacred symbols of his presence. If after the Hebrew word for “before,” we should suppose “thee” to be understood, the reading would be “before thee, or in thy presence, O God! will I sing praise unto thee.”


Phillips observes that the force of ב, beth, seems to be that of concerning: — “‘The kings of the earth shall sing concerning the ways of the Lord,’ how that they are good and merciful.”


This Psalm is entitled “a Psalm of David,” and Calvin considers him to be its author agreeably to the title; lint the mention of “the temple” in the second verse seems to render such an opinion doubtful. If, however, we translate this word by “mansion,” which is the proper rendering of the original — “the mansion of thy sanctity:” this objection to its composition by David falls to the ground. In the Septuagint version the title of this Psalm is, “A Psalm of David; of Haggai and Zechariah, when they were dispersed,” (comp. Ezr 5:1); meaning a Psalm of David, used by Haggai and Zechariah.


According to this mode of rendering the passage כל, cal, the word for all, is independent of שמך, shimcha, the word for thy name. But “it has been properly observed by Aben Ezra, that כל in this case should have a Cholem, and not a Kametz Chateph, with which it is found in all copies. Besides, this translation is not supported by any of the ancient versions.” — Phillips.


Sed hoc ubique fore notum, non alia de causa mirabiliter servatum fuisse a Deo, nisi quod ejus mandate unctus fuerat in Regem.” — Lat.


Though I walk an Hebraism for though I am.” — Cresswell.


Parfera en moy son oeuvre.” — Fr. “Will perform in me his work.


Ne nons oste le goust de sa bonte, et benignite: d’autre part aussi afin que sa bonte par laquelle il daigne bien s’abbaisser jusques a nons, ne diminue rien de la reverence que nous devons a sa gloire.” — Fr.


Il signifie aucunefois Rendre, recompenser, et mesme generalement ottroyer,” etc — Fr.

Next: Psalm 139