Advent in the Psalms (138)
Words by Mallory Manning
As we enter this season of Advent, we will walk through different genres of the Psalms to encounter the hope of Emmanuel—God with us. The Psalms are Hebrew poems and songs that articulate a wide range of human emotion and serve different purposes in Scripture: praising God in his faithfulness, expressing deep fear and desperation, and remembering and reciting the Lord’s salvation and his provision throughout Israel’s history. Just as Jewish people meditated on and learned from the Psalms, the collection of songs is instructive for us, as modern readers.
We chose to jumpstart the series this week, before Advent even begins, to meditate on a psalm of thanksgiving. Throughout the series, we seek to study faithfully, pray expectantly, and love God deeply through his Word.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)
Psalm 138 is the first in a series of eight songs attributed to David—a king of Israel, ancestor of Jesus, and man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). In this psalm, David gives thanks to God for his “steadfast love and faithfulness” that he will demonstrate to the whole earth (vs. 2, 4). The psalm sets up an authority structure: God is all-powerful, and David bows down. But it also reveals a beautiful relationship: despite the Lord’s authority and distinct “otherness,” God moves toward David in David’s time of desperate need. As we study Psalm 138, we get a glimpse of Jesus. And, like David, we are moved to give thanks.
"I will give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased." (v. 1–3)
David opens this song of thanksgiving professing full devotion, acknowledging God’s sole authority within a culture that consistently sought after pagan gods and man-made idols. He bows down in an act of submission, which Derek Kidner calls “a fine blend of boldness and humility from the outset: boldness to confess the Lord before the gods, humility to bow down before him.”
“All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.” (vs. 4–6)
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (vs. 7–8)
David was no stranger to walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). Sin and shame, relational discord, and death threats perpetually followed him. Surrounded by hardship, David writes: “you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me” (vs. 7).
God, the exalted. David, the lowly. Outstretched hands defeating enemies and bringing deliverance.
Does this sound familiar?
Psalm 138 ushers us to the cross. The Lord is mighty above all things and worthy of our praise. But just as God heard David, intervened, and preserved his life, we testify that Jesus Christ did the same for us. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
It is God’s steadfast love that prompted him to leave heaven and take on our likeness (Phil. 2:7). It is God’s steadfast love that permitted himself to be “pierced for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5). It is God’s steadfast love that makes us “bold in the soul with strength” when trouble threatens to overcome. It is God’s steadfast love that moves us to give thanks and declare our salvation sufficient in this season where we can write our blessings on construction paper turkeys while the culture surrounding us insists we do not have enough.
The all-powerful God came for us, and he cares for us. Let’s respond to these incredible truths with gratitude. Let’s meditate on his steadfast love and faithfulness, his Word, and the things he has done as we set our tables and tune our radios to 24-hour Christmas music. Let’s give him thanks for our salvation in Christ, for his love that endures forever.