Psalm 138 Translation and Comment

A psalm for David

Here are my thanks to you, from a full heart:

Before the Gods I will give you praise;

I will bow down towards your holy building:

I will give thanks to your name

For your lovingkindness and your constancy;

For you have given pride of place to your promise

Above all the heavens.

On the day I asked, you answered me:

You emboldened me and gave energy to my soul.

Let all earthly kings acknowledge you, Yahweh,

When they hear the words you have spoken;

Let them sing of Yahweh’s works

For the glory of Yahweh is great.

Though he is lofty he looks after the lowly,

But the proud he detects from a distance.

When I walk on the road of anguish you revive me;

You stretch out your hand against my enemies’ anger

And your right hand rescues me.

Yahweh will complete my cause.

Your lovingkindness Yahweh is forever;

Do not let your handiwork slip from your hands.

There are a number of textual problems in the Hebrew text of this psalm.

“Above all the heavens” – the Hebrew says “above all your name” which is hard to understand, but a simple change gives the word “heavens. Yahweh has given top place to his promise.

“Yahweh will complete my cause” some scholars change the verb to one meaning avenge. This seems unnecessary to me. Yahweh has as it were. taken on the psalmist’s case, and will bring it to a good conclusion.

“Do not let your handiwork slip”… the verb means to loosen the grip of the hand. The image is of Yahweh the potter.

At first sight this is a conventional psalm of thanksgiving for Yahweh’s help. But there are little signs of an affectionate relationship with Yahweh, which give it sweetness. There is also honesty: Yahweh gives boldness and energy of soul, rather than any miraculous intervention. The traditional image of Yahweh as potter and human being as pot is made vivid by the plea not to let the pot drop and smash. There is an interesting contrast between the personal drama of faith and the recognition of Yahweh by kings. The link is the character of Yahweh which expressed in all his works and ways.

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