Glory To God, The Promise-Keeper

a brief study of Psalm 138, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 10 Feb 2012


Psalm 138 is a psalm of praise. We don’t know the actual occasion when David penned it. But we do know from the content of it that David must have been contemplating on the numerous occasions when he was greatly distressed, and he cried unto the LORD, and the LORD heard him and strengthened him in the inner man (v. 3). But as David contemplate on the LORD’s goodness towards him, he is aware that God’s goodness toward him is built upon the promises that He has made concerning him. “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” he says (v. 2). I believe that Henry, Spurgeon, Dickson, Barnes, and others are right that this “word” refers to the word of promise. As Spurgeon puts it: “The word of promise made to David was in his eyes more glorious than all else that he had seen of the Most High.”

We are not told what promise this refers to, but we have good reasons to believe that David would have in mind God’s promise about the Messiah descending from him and the building of His Kingdom through the Messiah (2 Sam 7:12ff). Hengstenberg is very sure. He says: “It would be a ridiculous hyperbole, if we were to think of another promise than that in 2 Samuel 7.”

So this psalm is Christological. Indeed, as Andrew Bonar puts it: “Our Master would feel at home in every verse.” So when our Lord used this psalm during his earthly sojourn, He would, no doubt have applied the words to himself. The Father, and God Triune, will see to it all the promises related to Christ would be fulfilled.

When we sing this psalm, and Christ joins us to sing, we may also apply it directly to ourselves as a people and as individuals united to Christ. For as the LORD keeps the promises related to Christ, He is also keeping the promises related to us, for they are but two facets of the same promise.

With these considerations, we may entitle this psalm: “Glory to the LORD who has Kept, is Keeping and Will Keep His Promise” or simply, “Glory to God, the Promise-Keeper.”

Let’s look at the psalm briefly. We may divide the psalm into three parts. First, from verses 1-3, we have a personal avowal to praise. Secondly, from verses 4-6 we have an acknowledgement that the Lord is worthy of praise and will be praised by the kings of the world. Thirdly, from verses 7-8, we have a word of affirmation that he is worthy to be praise by us as he is a promise-keeping God.

1. Avowal to Praise

1  I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.

The Lord our King, and David and all of us have many reasons to praise our heavenly Father. David vowed to praise Him with his whole heart. And so must we. We must praise Him fearlessly and unashamedly before the gods. Who are the gods? It is possible that David had in mind the false gods in the imagination of man. But the word in the original (µyhil¿aÔ) can also refer to judges and mighty ones. This can include angels, kings and other powerful men.

Our Lord feared not to acknowledge and to praise the Father before the powerful Scribes, Pharisees and Chief Priests. So it must be for us. There are powerful people all around us. There are imaginary gods in the thoughts of unbelievers all around us. But we must yet acknowledge and praise Him unashamedly.

But why? What should be our encouragement to praise and worship the LORD? Verse 2—

2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

We should praise the LORD for His loving kindness and His truth. He is has a covenant loving kindness towards us and He truth is unadulterated and He is faithful to keep His promises.

He has magnified His word above all His name! Now, the word ‘name’ does not simply refer to the nomenclatures to identify Him like Jehovah or Elohim. Rather, it refers to all whereby God makes himself known to men including His creation, His providence, His ordinances, His attributes and His Word.

God has magnified His Word, especially, the word of His promise above all His name. He would especially have us know and experience Him as a promise-keeping God. Even in sending Christ, the Word of God, into the world, God is showing us that He is a promise-keeping God.

David, however, came to firm conviction of this truth that God is magnifying His word above all His name through a time great distress. He says:

3 In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.

What a beautiful verse! David certainly knew the LORD, but never so intimately as when he felt utterly helpless, and crushed within his heart. That was when he cried unto the LORD, and experience the deliverance of the LORD. The LORD did not take him out of the troubles confronting him. Instead, the LORD strengthened him with strength in his soul. The LORD strengthened him in the inner man. David’s faith that God would keep His promise that He has made to Him was strengthened at a moment when he needs it most.

Oh what an encouragement! The Lord Jesus would no doubt have owned their words in his own suffering. The Father did not deliver Him out of the dangers, conflicts and sorrows confronting Him. But the Father strengthen His heart and gave him peace.

So too for us! The LORD sends trials in our lives, no doubt, partly that we may know Him better than we have known Him hitherto. But He will keep His promise. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He may not deliver us from our trials until it has finished its perfect work, but He promise to strengthen us in the inner man. He has done so, and He will do so when we cry unto Him.

Therefore, let us praise Him wholeheartedly. And let us acknowledge how worthy he is to be praise as we look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is LORD.

2. Acknowledgment by Praise

4 All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O LORD, when they hear the words of thy mouth. 5 Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the LORD: for great is the glory of the LORD.

This is both a word of hope and a word of prayer. The kings of the earth are mostly proud men who will not bow to any. But wait till they see the glory of the LORD and hear the words of His mouth!

They will surely praise Him. They will sing in the ways of the LORD for great is His glory. What are the ways of the LORD?

Matthew Henry suggests that they will sing praises to the LORD joyfully. He says:

Those that walk in the ways of the Lord have reason to sing in those ways, to go on in them with a great deal of cheerfulness, for they are ways of pleasantness, and it becomes us to be pleasant in them.

Albert Barnes gives us helpfully another dimension to this joyful singing. He suggests that David is thinking of how the kings when they are converted will sing not according to their own appointment and wishes, but according to the “ways which God has appointed.” He adds:

They shall join with all that love him - with the humblest of the people - in acknowledging God. Kings and people shall thus bow before God in common acts of praise, and as being on the same level before him. As people, as sinners, as redeemed, as traveling to the grave, they are all alike before God.

When will this happen? Well, those who are Postmillenial may suggest that this will happen when all the world is converted to Christ before the Second Coming.

But I believe that the words are intended to be taken as a heartfelt desires rather than as prophecy.

As the children of God, we have seen with spiritual eyes the glory of the LORD. We have heard His word. We have experienced the fulfilment of His word. We cannot imagine that there could be anyone who hear the words of the LORD (v. 4) or see His glory (v. 5) who would not join in to sing His praise with all His people.

Indeed, we know theologically that those who truly hear and truly see the glory of the LORD will indeed praise Him. The only reason why the kings or anyone in the world do not join in to sing praises to the LORD is their eyes are blinded and their ears are heavy. Oh that the LORD will open their eyes and unstop their ears, then shall all the kings of the earth praise the LORD and sing His Words at the hearing of His Word.

Oh may the kings of the earth humble themselves to attend to the word of God that they might know his salvation and his ways! For, verse 6—

6 Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.

All who come unto the LORD in humility and contrition will know the salvation of the LORD. Though the LORD is transcendent and almighty, He receives not the high and mighty, but the lowly and humble.

But consider now the last section of this psalm, where we have an…

3. Affirmation of Praise

Unlike the self-sufficient kings of the earth, David,—the type of Christ,—was a meek and lowly king. In trouble he boast not, nor pretend to have no need of help. Rather, he cried out unto the LORD in his affliction. Verse 7—

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.

David knew that his help comes from the LORD. It is no shame to admit helplessness. It is no shame to admit that we have no more energy and ready to give up.

David knew that the LORD has respect unto the lowly. He knew that the LORD will hear his cries and will revive Him. He will stretch forth His hand against the enemies and save his servant out of all his troubles.

What was true for David is true for all of us who are united to Christ. The LORD will revive. The LORD will save. He may not deliver us out of trouble by taking us out of the situation immediately. But He will surely deliver us in a way that will accomplish his purpose for us. For consider the final verse of this psalm—

8 The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.

David understood that God would fulfill his purpose for Him. He will complete what he has begun to do. He will not promise him to that the Messiah will descend from Him and then abandon him to his own devices.

No, no, the LORD will not allow him to be overwhelmed and destroyed, for He will keep His promise concerning him. The LORD would preserve him in His mercy which endures forever. But of course, that does not mean he need not pray. And so he prays with confidence on the basis of God’s promise: “forsake not the works of thine own hands.

The Lord Jesus would no doubt have own the same words. The Father would not abandon Him, but would support Him to finish what He came to do for the redemption of His people.

And so too, beloved brethren and children, the Lord will not abandon you. He will complete what he has begun to do. He who has begun a good work in us will perform it unto the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will chastise us out of love. But he will never cast us off.

He will not convert a soul, and then leave it to perish. He will not raise a branch of Christ only to destroy it unless we refuse to love Him and believe Him. Grace will complete what grace begins.


This is Psalm 138. Oh may we be encouraged by it as we sing it together in union with Christ unto the glory of the LORD who has kept, is keeping and will keep His promise. Amen. W