Thanks Be to God For His Unspeakable Gift

Tom Nettles
| Psalm 138 | June 19, 2017

“He restores my soul;” so the sweet singer of Israel said in another Psalm. He restores our soul to see him clearly that we might praise him rightly. In this Psalm, we find a surge in the praise of gratitude because of an increasingly clear vision of the wisdom of divine purpose, the beauty of divine faithfulness, and the benevolent condescension of steadfast love. God’s goodness strengthens David’s soul (3), not only to face the trouble of the world (7) but to see the unblemished beauty of God (5b). Even the “kings of the earth” give thanks and sing when they perceive the wisdom and greatness of The Lord (4, 5).

I. Verse 1 – Expressing gratitude to the one true God

A. Gratitude always is befitting the creature in acknowledgement of the Creator.

  1. Romans 1:21 indicates that the initial step to an increasingly perverse downward spiral of sin is the resistance to gratitude to God. To be unthankful is to dishonor God as Creator and Sustainer and establishes the creature as autonomous. It is as if we say, “He has not made us; we made ourselves. He has not made food fit for the palate; we have contrived it ourselves. He has not established the rhythm of day and night; we established it ourselves. He has not made sounds transporting to the mind through the ears; we developed the
  2. A major element of a heart reconciled to God and restored to a path of holiness is the spirit of gratitude: Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Compare Philippians 4:6; Colossians 1:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13; 1 Timothy 4:4

B. Thanks is to be given with the whole heart, not half-heartedly or insincerely.

  1. As David contemplated the construction of the Temple and the gifts that had been given for it, he spoke, “Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name” (1 Chronicles 29:13). This giving of thanks was for the blessing of being able to give for such a cause as building a Temple that recognized God’s particular grace to that nation.
  2. The transparency and fullness of his gratitude he expressed in saying, “I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart, I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee” (1 Chronicles 29:17).
  3. Wholehearted gratitude comes to the degree that we recognize the pure greatness of God, his worthiness of all praise, and the wisdom of his purpose toward us in all things. We find the same exultation in Psalm 111:1: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” We must search through some unexplored recesses of soul to thrust out hesitations in praise, and pray for increased grace to abandon all reservation of affection toward the Lord and his greatness and goodness and lovingkindness.

C. This praise should be expressed, not only in the congregation of the faithful, but even before the unfaithful. David gives praise in the face of those who still maintain idolatrous commitments. “Before the gods” – David means, not the angels, nor rulers of the earth, but in the presence of idols and idolaters. “The Lord is a great king above all gods” (Psalm 95:3), “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5).

 

II. Verses 2, 3 – God’s covenant of redemption is the premier cause of gratitude. David’s heart was bowed toward the place where his mercy was to be shown in the provision of a propitiatory sacrifice, the place where the Ark of the Covenant would be housed. He wrote in similar terms in other Psalms. Psalm 5:7, “But I through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.” Psalm 28:2, Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.”

A. Although the Temple had not been built during David’s time, he had a keen, vivid, perception of the holiness of the dwelling place of God and manifest an insatiable excitement in preparation for the construction of the Temple. In 1 Chronicles 28, David described the Lord’s dealing with him about the Temple and his consequent preparation for its building by Solomon.

  1. David made the pattern for the porch, the houses, the treasuries, the upper chambers, the inner parlors, and of the place for the mercy seat. (1 Chronicles 28:11)
  2. This pattern David had received “by the spirit” (Verse 12.) David testified that “the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” Though the Temple was not present physically during David’s life, it was present in all of its glory and meaning in his mind and heart.
  3. David had established the pattern for the service of all the priests and Levites in the Temple (13) and even measured out the weight of all the precious metals for the candlesticks, the lamps, for every table, and every basin, and every altar (verses 14-18).
  4. David did not view the construction of this great house for man, “but for the Lord God” (1 Chronicles 29:1).
  5. He said, “Now I have prepared with all my might for the house of my God” in gathering all that was necessary for its construction (1 Chronicles 29:2).
  6. Beyond all his might, David noted, “Moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God, I have of my own proper good, of gold and silver . . . given to the house of my God” (1 Chronicles 29:3).

B. He bowed toward the Temple, and explains the rationale for his gratitude even in the face of false gods.

  1. The Temple was to be the place of God’s majestic, just, and yet merciful dwelling. By God’s name his elect people are preserved.
  • The sacrifices God had provided by revelation showed that God was merciful through an unchanging love, given to his people before the foundation of the world. The Temple would be the place of that continuing witness until the one would come who would put an end to these prophetical and typical indicators of the final provision God would make (Hebrews 10:11-18).
  • They showed that God did this without compromise of his character but maintained faithfulness to his own character (Romans 3:26; 2 Timothy 2:10-13).
  • Some translations have, “You have exalted your name above your word.” The ESV says, “You have exalted above all things your name and your word.” I believe this is the meaning. There is no distinction between his name and his word as far as glory, importance, or value is concerned. On the basis of his name, he gave his word. His word is trustworthy because of his name. His name is glorified in the execution of the word of the covenant.
    • We see his name and his covenant as parallel realities in Psalm 111:9: “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!”
    • God’s “name” refers to the immutability of his character, all those things that God is in and of Himself. It is the way of identifying his self-existence.
    • His word is the inerrant deposition of verbal propositions present within all the literary genre and narratives of the Bible. More conceptually considered, his word is the covenantal arrangement for redemption unfolded in promises, prophecies, and types finally culminating in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ (Hebrews 13:20, 21).
  1. David found the covenant to be a matter of personal spiritual enrichment (3). As one of God’s chosen, a recipient of eternal covenant blessings, David found God to answer his calls for mercy and intervention. This had a sanctifying influence on him, strengthened his soul, so that he could serve and praise God with even greater clarity, confidence, courage, and gratitude.

 

III. Verses 4-6 – The Praise of this covenant God will be universal, as “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.” An immediate manifestation of this word in verse 4 is found in 2 Chronicles 9:23, “And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom that God had put in his heart.” They did this gladly, marveled at his wisdom, brought him gifts. David seems to have more in mind.

A. David saw the day when every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10, 11). Beyond that, he also saw that God’s salvation would transcend the borders of Israel and redeem people of every tongue, tribe, and people and make them a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” “All the kings of the earth” could refer to the kingly status given to all the redeemed through the work of Christ.

B. Psalm 2 warned, “O kings, be wise, be warned O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). Revelation pictures the “kings of the earth” arrayed against Christ who will slay them by the sword that comes from his mouth (Revelation 19:19, 21). Perhaps this is the fulfillment of Psalm 2 when, according to his word, the exalted Jesus pours his wrath on all who remain opposed to his rule. Though by pure justice, the wrath of Jehovah is quickly kindled, still many find refuge in him, not wrath from him. Though he will by no means clear the guilty, yet he is filled with lovingkindness and forgives iniquity and shows mercy to thousands (Exodus 34:6, 7). Only the wisdom of Jehovah can establish the means by which these things remain simultaneously true (Romans 3:21-26).

C. Revelation 20:4 pictures “thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed.” Then 21:22-27 pictures the New Jerusalem in which there is no temple for the temple is God himself, and “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” Psalm 2:12 indicates that of these kings and rulers, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” After the destruction of those who align with satanic opposition, all those who take refuge in him will bring their “glory” into the New Jerusalem.

D. Verse 5 indicates that gratitude of the kings (4) is related to their receiving the redemptive blessings of the covenant. “They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,” that have been the manifestation of his glory. Though many of the “kings of the earth” perish in the last days of rebellion, others hear and believe the message in a great outpouring of gospel blessings.

E. Though they are the great and exalted in the earth, yet before him they are lowly, for “he regards the lowly.” They come in true repentance, poor in spirit, mourning for sin, hungry for righteousness, and meek under the authority of Jesus. Coming to him as lowly ones, they find his saving regard to be theirs, while the haughty will not know his covenant favors but only the display of his just wrath.

 

IV. Verses 7, 8 – The opposition of a world in rebellion cannot thwart the purpose of God.

A. Because of the steadfast love of God, his faithfulness to his covenant people, David does not look at the opposition that swirls around him, both from within and from without the nation, but looks to God for deliverance. Though trouble often plagued David, sometimes of his own making, he cherished the covenant promises of God and knew of the electing purpose of God in his life, both as king of the nation and as a recipient of saving grace (1 Chronicles 28:4; Psalm 32:1-7). The promise of God was sure on both accounts. If we are to be “anxious for nothing,” that can only be if we are persuaded that he is the one who will “preserve my life” and whose “right hand delivers me.”

B. When one can say, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me,” how much more specific can one’s confidence be, and how much more security could one wish?

  1. We should absorb the meaning of Jesus’ instructions in prayer when we say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” He does not fulfill our purpose but his purpose. Our purpose must be sanctified, chastened, and molded according to his will, so that his purpose becomes our purpose. We can then confess with Paul, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).
  2. We move forward in this confidence on the basis of the steadfast love of the Lord. We are the recipients of his covenant love in Christ. Paul reasons from the fact that since Christ has died, every blessing contained in the covenant of redemption must necessarily flow to us. All the way from being foreknown to being glorified, God will prove his steadfast love to those that are given to the Son (Romans 8:28-32; John 17:2). We ourselves are the work of his hands, and he will not forsake it. Even master craftsmen may tire of a project that they have undertaken, but the Lord God will never leave us nor forsake us (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5); he will never stop short of finishing his purpose. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).