Psalm 138:2 states (in the KJV): “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.”
What does it mean for God to magnify his word above his name? God’s
word and God’s name are both good, right? So why would God choose to
magnify one above the other?
Here are some explanations that I came across in my study:
1. Leslie Allen states that the verse means that “by fulfilling his
promise Yahweh has surpassed all earlier revelation of himself.”
According to this interpretation, God’s name is God’s reputation, which
is based in part on how God has revealed himself in the past. God
magnifies God’s word by fulfilling it, and God in the process surpasses
the earlier revelations of himself. On a similar note, Charles Spurgeon
quotes someone who said that the verse means that God has surpassed
what people have said about him. This interpretation is slightly
different from that of Allen, for what people say about God may not be
accurate, whereas God’s previous revelations of himself are accurate.
Remember Job’s contrast between hearing about God and actually seeing
God, and Job’s implication that he did not understand God when his
knowledge of God was based merely on what he had heard (Job 42:3-5)?
Perhaps the reputation that the God of Israel had was as someone who was
inadequate in terms of power (since Israel had been defeated by her
enemies), or as one who had forsaken Israel or the Davidic dynasty to
which God had pledged everlasting faithfulness. By fulfilling God’s
word, God corrects the ways that people have misrepresented God.
2. The United Church of God’s commentary
states: “The meaning seems to be that God does not put who He is above
what He has said. Consider that the Almighty Sovereign God could go
back on every promise He has made and no one could do a thing about it.
Yet God of His own will has set His word above all the prerogatives
associated with His divine supremacy, that is, He had obligated Himself
to abide by everything He has declared.” According to this
interpretation, God’s name is who God is, in terms of status and power,
and God exalts God’s word of promise above God’s status by being
faithful to the word of promise. Although God is supreme, God limits
himself by obligating himself to his promises. Rashi and John Gill have
similar interpretations. Rashi affirms (in whatever translation
Chabad.org is using): “Your name is mighty, jealous, and vengeful, but
You magnified Your word, so that You skip over Your standards, over all
Your names, and You forgive us.” Gill states that God demonstrates
God’s faithfulness by fulfilling God’s word, exalting faithfulness over
God’s other attributes. These interpretations treat God’s name as God’s
attributes, and, like the UCG’s commentary, they maintain that Psalm
138:2 means that God is committed to the recipients of God’s promises,
notwithstanding what some of God’s attributes may be.
3. Marc Brettler and Adele Berlin state in the Jewish Study Bible:
“In Deuteronomic theology, the name of the LORD resides in the Temple
(Deut. 12.11). The Temple is the place where humans come into ritual
contact with God, but God is not contained within the Temple.” The idea
here seems to be that God’s name is associated with the sanctuary, and
that God by fulfilling God’s word demonstrates that God is not limited
to that sanctuary. God’s presence and power are active in the world
outside of the Temple. God exalts God’s word above God’s name when God
4. What is the word that God exalts above God’s name? Some say that
it is God’s promise that the Davidic dynasty would be everlasting.
Perhaps it could relate to God’s commitment not to forsake Israel. Some
Christians even interpret God’s word in Psalm 138:2 as Jesus Christ.
5. Admittedly, the idea of God exalting God’s word above God’s name
appears odd, and so it’s not surprising to me that some have understood
the verse to mean something different. The Septuagint for the verse
says that God exalted God’s word above every name. The Midrash on the
Psalms somehow interprets the verse to mean that God has exalted God’s
name and God’s word above what God promised to the prophets. As
interesting as these interpretations are, however, I’m much more
fascinated when interpreters try to make due with verses’ difficulties.