God’s loving care is a great and expansive theme throughout the Bible. Many of the Psalms cite incidences of God’s faithful help, provision, deliverance, or other evidence that He remains true to His promises and character. In Psalm 138, David directs our focus to two great pillars of God’s nature—His lovingkindness and His truth.
I will praise You with my whole heart;
Before the gods I will sing praises to You.
I will worship toward Your holy temple,
And praise Your name
For Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
Praise and worship are not often connected together in the same passage as they are in Psalm 138:2. Both concepts are widely found in Scripture but are seldom used to describe the same actions. “Worship” is used to describe an attitude of obeisance and reverence, usually by bowing or prostrating, during a formal act of sacrifice or some other structured observance, as in the idol worship forbidden by the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4-5). “Praise,” especially as used in Psalm 138, emphasizes joyous thanksgiving as a result of receiving or recognizing God’s specific blessing or God’s worthiness in character, power, deed, or authority.
There are only two events recorded in Scripture in which the people of God both worshiped and praised at the same time. The first was at the dedication of the great temple that Solomon built. When Solomon finished his prayer of dedication, the fire of God’s glory descended on the temple and entered the Holy of Holies. The effect of such an awesome sight was that the people “bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the LORD” (2 Chronicles 7:3).
The second event occurred during the time of Ezra, right after the return of a remnant from Babylon. The people heard the Word read to them for the first time in many decades and were trying to celebrate the “festival of booths” properly. During the reading of the Scriptures, the people became so convicted of their disobedience that they began to cry and confess their sin. Ezra told them that the festival was to be one of great joy. The mixed emotions (the festival went on for several days) were such that on one day they stood for about three hours and “confessed [same word as “praise”] and worshiped the LORD their God” (Nehemiah 9:3).
The common factor in both events was their serious and awesome character. Neither of these were ordinary church services. Something supernaturally special occurred. God made Himself very evident—in the one case through a breathtaking display of His power, in the other through an extraordinary moving of His Spirit. In neither case were the people moved to jump up and down, clap, or otherwise demonstrate exuberance; they were so overwhelmed at the presence of God that they fell down on their faces! Yet the reality of God was so personal that they praised (thanked, confessed); they poured out their hearts in intimate thanksgiving to the Lord. This is how we should understand this psalm.
Worship and praise for His lovingkindness. Worship and praise for His truth. Worship and praise in His temple—where His name resides. Worship and praise the name, His being, His attributes.
Worship and praise because God has magnified His Word above all His name.
Such an unusual statement! God has, Himself, placed such a value on His Word that the Word is to be magnified above His name itself. It is imperative that we gain a perspective from which to view this principle. The name of Jesus is so great that…
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that 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. (Philippians 2:9-11)
The Word of God is to be magnified beyond the name of Jesus Christ. It is worthy of note that the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7) demands we treat God’s name with such honor that we not consider it “vain” (useless, destructive, profane). God has placed such a high value on His Word that we must approach its use with reverential precision and holy awe.
Every word of God is pure;…Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. (Psalm 119:89)
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
“The Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35)
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
The point of the worship and praise herein demanded is that we understand that the answers to our prayers, the responses to our needs, even the supernatural deliverance from our disasters are “according to” God’s Word (Psalm 119:9, 25, 28, 41, 58, 65, 76, 85, 91, 107, 116, 149, 156, 159, 169, 170).
In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
And made me bold with strength in my soul.
God’s responses to our prayers are delivered in two ways—practically, in the circumstance or in the direction, and spiritually, in the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). We are often so focused on the physical need or the external circumstance about which we are so insistently praying that when the answer is delivered from the Throne, we fail to receive the full blessing—even if we read the practical answer correctly. Our heavenly Father is committed to providing our needs on Earth (Philippians 4:19; Luke 12:30), but such supply must be understood as of minimal significance in the scope of eternity. The good thoughts (Jeremiah 29:11) and the good gifts of God (Luke 11:13) are toward the expected end—our ultimate conformity “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).
While God will and does respond to our physical circumstances and needs, His heart and purpose are to fill us “with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). He blesses us “with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3) and has chosen us to be “holy and without blame” (Ephesians 1:4). God’s Word is designed to make us participate in the “divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Therefore, God’s desire is…
That you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Colossians 1:9-12)
But this private, internal, and spiritual worship and praise must have an outlet! No one who experiences the blessings of God in their lives to the extent that the psalmist is describing can keep it private. There will be public testimony.
All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O Lord,
When they hear the words of Your mouth.
Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
For great is the glory of the Lord.
Please notice that “the kings” will respond in praise. They will sing of God’s ways. When the wonderful works of God are manifested to us or in us, the resulting testimony brings about a praise response from those hearing of God’s action. These testimonies never produce praise for the one giving the testimony. They make those hearing the testimony praise God! Jesus taught us that if we learn to love each other as He loved us, then the whole world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35). Solomon let us know that if we would follow the instructions of Scripture, even our enemies would be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7). Everybody in Jerusalem was aware of the powerful witness of the early church (Acts 4:33).
When we are so affected by the working of God in our lives that we worship and praise, others will know about it and will talk about it to God’s glory.
Though the LORD is on high,
Yet He regards the lowly;
But the proud He knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me;
You will stretch out Your hand
Against the wrath of my enemies,
And Your right hand will save me.
The LORD will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
David’s closing application and testimony are finally delivered to his readers. He makes three simple points.
First, God loves His Saints, but those with a pride problem are not going to gain His attention. This is somewhat basic to Christian doctrine. Pride is one of the seven things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). The desire of the humble person is what God responds to (Psalm 10:17). The Lord stays near to those who have a broken heart or a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).
Second, God will revive us when we are in trouble. The promise is about the reviving and the saving. That is, we may gain God’s sufficient grace to endure (as in the case of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” 2 Corinthians 12:7) rather than a physical cure. We may receive the ability to be victorious in the face of opposition (as during Paul’s ministry to Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 16:8-9) rather than relief from the circumstances. We may, indeed, be delivered from the pressure of enemies or have God’s miracle performed in our lives, but whatever the circumstantial occasion, God will respond for our good.
Thirdly, God will bring about our “perfection.” That term, both in the Old and the New Testaments, relates to the completion of God’s work or purpose. Here it is specifically related to “that which concerns” the saints of God. God will see to it that His “chosen” will make it. There is no question about this. God’s mercy is always refreshed. There is no limit to His forgiveness. Nothing about who I am will defeat God’s plan for me. Everything has been taken care of. God will not drop the ball.
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” (John 15:16)
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
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. (Philippians 1:6)
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
Oh, Lord God. We cannot know the end of a thing. We do not have certainty about the plans of our days. Forgive us when we try without consulting You. Forgive our blundering efforts to make something happen. We do love You, and we want to please You, but our lives are so caught up in the things of this world. Help us, Lord. Help us to know how much we need You. Help us to see the real value of eternal things. Give us a greater awareness of Your Holy Spirit. Give us a holy awe of Your Word. Drive us to our knees more often, Lord. Keep us close.
Oh, our Father. Purge us from ungodliness. Separate us from the sins that hinder and blind. Meet us in the halls of our heart and sanctify us there.
And then, Lord Jesus, embolden us for the work ahead. Provide our daily bread. Cleanse our sins and enrich our fellowship with the saints. Clothe us in the armor of God and place us where we must stand. Enable us to resist the Enemy in the faith, see his strongholds crumble and his minions flee. Grant a fruitful harvest and an effective ministry, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.