Over time I have noticed a trend in my understanding of Scripture. I can’t figure out what a passage means. It seems odd, or an odd way of saying something. Then one day, I see God do the thing that the passage is talking about, and suddenly it couldn’t be any clearer — it’s exactly the right way of describing what happened.
So Psalm 138 has baffled me for years. What could it possibly mean to say to God, “You have magnified Your word above all Your name”?
Let’s look at the whole first movement of the psalm:
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.
In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
And made me bold with strength in my soul.
The speaker is in a foreign land. He sings the praises of Yahweh in front of the demonic powers of that place. Think Daniel, praying toward Jerusalem in Babylon.
So what does it mean in this foreign sojourn that God has magnified His word above His name? I didn’t know until I saw it happen: pagans following the word of God, not out of obedience to Him but because it’s good advice and their lives are better off when they do it. They may have encountered the principle — Sabbath rest, tithing, generosity, what have you — as a word of advice from a friend, or as a principle from inner witness, or whatever. They don’t attribute it to God because they don’t know it came from Him.
Because He has magnified His word above His name. He is willing for people to know what to do without Him getting immediate credit for it. More people know how to live than know that He is the source of direction — that is what it means to have the law written on your heart.
The second half of Psalm 138 says
All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O Yahweh,
When they hear the words of Your mouth.
Yes, they shall sing of the ways of Yahweh,
For Yahweh’s glory is great.
Though Yahweh is on high,
He still regards the lowly;
But He knows the proud from afar.
God will not allow His word to forever remain anonymous. Because He is humble and He loves us, He is willing for people to say, “Wow! That’s a great idea!” and not know, at first, where it came from.
But as it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, so it is the glory of kings to search it out. Kings want to know where the good ideas come from, because where there’s one, often there’s more. As they investigate, they will find Yahweh, because whoever seeks Yahweh (knowingly or not) will find Him. And when they do, they will praise Him.