Psalm 138

Psalm 138
Ordinary C35


Of David.A

I give you thanks,B O Lord, with my wholeC heart;D

Notes on superscript - verse 1a

A “David” = David. From the same as dod (beloved, love, uncle); the root may mean to boil, which is used figuratively to describe love. So, this implies someone you love such as a friend, a lover, or a close family member like an uncle. David’s name likely means something like “beloved one.”
B “give…thanks” = yadah. From yad (hand). This is to throw one’s hands into the air in a gesture of praise. So, it is to praise, give thanks, or make a confession.
C “whole” = kol. From kalal (to complete). This is all or every.
D “heart” = leb. May be related to labab (to encourage; properly, to be encased as with fat; used in a good sense, this means to transport someone with love; used in a bad sense, it can mean to dull one’s senses). This is the heart, courage, one’s inner self, the mind, or the will. Heart is only used in a figurative sense in the Old and New Testaments.

    beforeE the godsF I sing your praise;G

I bow downH toward your holyI templeJ

Notes on verses 1b-2a

E “before” = neged. From nagad (to declare, make conspicuous, stand in front, manifest, predict, explain). This is in front of, opposite to. It can refer to a counterpart or partner, one corresponding to or in the sight of.
F “gods” = elohim. From eloah (God, a god); from el (God, a god). This is most commonly used as a name for God. Technically, it’s in the plural, i.e. gods. It can also mean great, mighty, judge, or ruler.
G “sing…praise” = zamar. Perhaps from zamar (to trim or prune). This is making music. It is used specially of music to worship God. So, music with singing, singing praise, or singing psalms.
H “bow down” = shachah. This is to bow down, make a humble entreaty, to do homage to royalty or to God.
I “holy” = qodesh. This is set apart and so sacred. God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart. Things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy, etc.
J “temple” = hekal. Perhaps from yakol (to be able, endure, overcome, prevail). This is a large building with public access such as a palace or temple.

    and give thanks to your nameK for your steadfast loveL and your faithfulness;M
    for you have exaltedN your name and your wordO
    above everything.P

Notes on verse 2b

K “name” = shem. May be from sum (to put, place, set). This is name, fame, renown. A name was thought to indicate something essential about a person – something about their individuality. So, this word can also mean honor, authority, or character.
L “steadfast love” = chesed. From chasad (being good, kind, merciful; may mean bowing one’s neck as is done in the presence of an equal for courtesy’s sake; so, if one in a superior position is treating you like an equal, that is what is captured here). This is favor, goodness, kindness, loving kindness, pity, reproach, or a good deed. When done by God to humanity, this is mercy/loving kindness. When done by humanity to God, it is piety.
M “faithfulness” = emet. From aman (to believe, endure, fulfill, confirm, support, be faithful, put one’s trust in, be steadfast. Figuratively, this is to be firm, steadfast, or faithful, trusting, believing, being permanent, morally solid). This is firmness or stability. Figuratively, it is faithfulness, truth, or trustworthiness. This is the same root that “amen” comes from.
N “exalted” = gadal. This is to grow up, become great, become wealthy – to advance. The root meaning may be to twist in the sense of the process of growing.
O “word” = imrah. From emer (speech, thing, utterance, promise, argument, command); from amar (to speak, say, answer, command, promise, report). This is any kind of utterance, a word or commandment.
P “everything” = kol. Same as “whole” in v1. See note C above.

On the dayQ I called,R you answeredS me,
    you increasedT my strengthU of soul.V

Notes on verse 3

Q “day” = yom. Root may mean being hot. This is the day in a literal or figurative sense. It can also mean birth, age, daylight, continually or other references to time.
R “called” = qara. This is to call or call out – to call someone by name. Also used more broadly for calling forth.
S “answered” = anah. This is answer, respond, announce, sing, shout, or testify. It means to pay attention, which implies responding and, by extension, starting to talk. Used in a specific sense for singing, shouting, testifying, etc.
T “increased” = rahab. 4x in OT. This is to act arrogantly, storm, be bold, capture, strengthen.
U “strength” = oz. From azaz (to be strong, become fixed, be bold, prevail, be impudent; it means to be stout literally or figuratively. A Late Hebrew word). This is strength in the sense of force, majesty, praise, material and physical strength, the abstract notion of security. It can also speak of social or political power.
V “soul” = nephesh. Related to naphash (to refresh or be refreshed). This is soul, self, person, emotion. It is a breathing creature. Can also refer to appetites and desires.

4 AllW the kingsX of the earthY shall praiseZ you, O Lord,AA
    for they have heardBB the wordsCC of your mouth.DD

Notes on verse 4

W “all” = kol. Same as “whole” in v1. See note C above.
X “kings” = melek. From malak (to be or become king or queen, to rise to the throne, to be crowned; by implication, to take counsel). This is king or royal.
Y “earth” = erets. Root may mean to be firm. This is earth, ground, field land, or country.
Z “praise” = yadah. Same as “give…thanks” in v1. See note B above.
AA “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
BB “heard” = shama. This is to hear, call, consent, or consider. It implies listening intelligently, giving attention, and, because of these two factors, obedience and action are often implied.
CC “words” = emer. Relate to “word” in v2. See note O above.
DD “mouth” = peh. This is mouth in a literal or figurative sense. So, more literally, it can be beak or jaws. More figuratively, it refers to speech, commands, or promises.

5 They shall singEE of the waysFF of the Lord,
    for greatGG is the gloryHH of the Lord.

Notes on verse 5

EE “sing” = shir. From shir (song, singer). This is to sing. It could also refer to one who is singing or leading others in song.
FF “ways” = derek. From darak (to tread, march, to walk. Can also mean affixing a string to a box since one needs to step on it to bend it in the process; so also an archer). This is a road as a thing that is walked on. Can be used figuratively for the path that one’s life takes or how one chooses to live one’s life.
GG “great” = gadol. Related to “exalted” in v2. From gadal (see note N above). This is great, high, bigger, noble, old, marvelous. It can also refer to someone who is powerful or distinguished.
HH “glory” = kabod. From kabad (to be heavy, weighty, burdensome). This is weighty. Figuratively, glorious, abundant, riches, honor, splendor – a reference to one’s reputation or character. This word is often used to describe God and God’s presence.

For though the Lord is high,II he regardsJJ the lowly;KK
    but the haughtyLL he perceivesMM from far away.

Notes on verse 6

II “is high” = rum. This is to rise or raise, to be high literally or figuratively. So it can also mean to exalt or extol.
JJ “regards” = raah. This is to see in a literal or figurative sense so stare, advise, think, view.
KK “lowly” = shaphal. 19x in OT. From shaphel (to be low, sink, be cast down, put down, humble, or humiliate). This is low, humble, lowly, depressed. It can be used in a literal or figurative sense.
LL “haughty” = gaboah. From gabah (to be tall, high, exalted, proud, haughty). This is high, tall, long, proud, or arrogant. It could also be a high ranking official, someone exalted, or something lofty.
MM “perceives” = yada. This is to know, acknowledge, advise, answer, be aware, be acquainted with. Properly, this is to figure something out by seeing. It includes ideas of observation, recognition, and care about something. It can be used causatively for instruction, designation, and punishment.

Though I walkNN in the midstOO of trouble,PP
    you preserveQQ me against the wrathRR of my enemies;SS

Notes on verse 7a

NN “walk” = halak. This is go, come, walk. It is walk literally and figuratively and includes people and animals. It can be used figuratively for one’s moral life – how we walk according to God’s way or against it. It can also refer to the walk of life as in the course one’s life takes, the choices we make, etc.
OO “midst” = qereb. Perhaps from qarab (to come near or approach). This is among, in the midst, before, the center It is the inward part, whether literal or figurative. It can also be used for the heart, the site of thoughts and feelings. This word is also used as a technical term for the entrails of the animals who are sacrificed.
PP “trouble” = tsarah. From tsar (properly, a narrow or constricted place; figuratively, trouble, a pebble, an enemy, anguish, or distress); from tsarar (to bind, restrict, narrow, be cramped, an adversary). This is tightness, distress, affliction, trouble, or adversary.
QQ “preserve” = chayah. This is to live or keep alive in a literal or figurative sense. So, it an be revive, nourish, or save.
RR “wrath” = aph. From anaph (to be angry; properly, breathing hard as a signifier of being enraged). This properly refers to the nose or nostril and by extension the face. It can specifically refer to anger or wrath as one breathes hard and nostrils flare in times of great anger.
SS “enemies” = oyeb. From ayab (to hate or be hostile to). This is a foe or enemy as one that you are hostile to.

you stretch outTT your hand,UU
    and your right handVV deliversWW me.

8 The Lord will fulfillXX his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.YY
    Do not forsakeZZ the workAAA of your hands.

Notes on verses 7b-8

TT “stretch out” = shalach. This is to send out, away, send for, forsake. It can also mean to divorce or set a slave free.
UU “hand” = yad. This is hand, ability, power. Hand in a literal sense, but also what one can do or the means by which one does it.
VV “right hand” = yamin. May be from yamam (to go or choose the right, use the right hand; to be physically fit or firm). This can mean right hand, right side, or south. Since most people are right-handed, the metaphorical usage of this word presumes that the right hand is stronger and more agile. Thus, it is the instrument of power and action.
WW “delivers” = yasha. To deliver, defend, help, preserve, rescue, be safe. Properly, to be open, wide or free, which implies being safe. Used causatively, it means to free.
XX “fulfill” = gamar. 5x in OT. This is to end, perfect, or accomplish. It could be end as to complete or end as a failure.
YY “forever” = olam. This is a long scope of time whether in the past (antiquity, ancient time) or in the future (eternal, everlasting).
ZZ “forsake” = raphah. This is to slacken in a literal or figurative sense. So, it could be to hang, be feeble, fail, drop, be helpless, relax, slink, subside, or wait.
AAA “work” = maaseh. From asah (to do, make, accomplish, become). This is a word – any action whether positive or negative. It can also be a transaction, construction, activity, property, or something that is produced.

Image credit: “Sunburst” by Bryce Bradford, 2013.

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