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The first verse of Psalm 138 is clearly stating David as author of the Psalm. In verse 2 it says:

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame. 

But the temple was not built in the time of David. What is going on here? Is the temple refering to the tabernacle? Or is the Psalm written by some other David? Or someone that is using the kings name?

It's worth noting that there are also others Psalms attributed to David which mentions a temple, such as; Ps 5:8, Ps 24:3.

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    Psalm is in future tense. Could be David's prayer to build the temple. The word for temple here is "heichal" or hall, usually a permanent structure, not the Tabernacle. Aug 19, 2012 at 19:52
  • Oh! That was really interesting :) Aug 19, 2012 at 20:10

3 Answers 3

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hekal(הֵיכָל) means 'palace' or 'temple'. It is used to refer to the Solomon's Temple but also (for example) the house at Shiloh in David's time, here in 1 Samuel 1:9

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. ESV

Among other usages, it can also refer to the heavenly temple, which is probably what David means by his use of the word in 2 Samuel 22:7

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears. ESV

In general, context will determine which usage of the word is intended by the author in each case. My reading of Psalm 138 is that David is referring to the heavenly seat of God's majesty rather than a physical structure on Earth.

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another way to look at it is...
"of David" is a super scription that scribes would write in making comments over the years of copying... this might not be a Psalm by David but like one that David would have written. The text of the Psalms remained the same but the superscriptions were given liberty to comment on who it might relate to. the superscription is open.

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  • Welcome to the forum! Your answer could be improved by referring to a commentary or other source about the superscriptions to the psalms.
    – Pilgrim
    Nov 15, 2017 at 3:50
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Many scholars believe this and other psalms labelled "of David," were not actually written by him. (See @Jack Douglas' answer for an opposing view.) For example, the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible says of Psalm 138:

Both this psalm and the following seven psalms bear the title "Of David." This is not intended, however, as an indication of authorship.

"Of David" is obviously not part of the original song but is a superscription added by a scribe. It could be that the editor believed the song to have been written by David, or that he understood it to be expressing the pious tradition that David represented.

The psalm's affirmation of Yahweh as the universal God (as opposed to Israel's particular deity) leads some commentators to conclude that it was written after the Exile, when Jews began to affirm that Yahweh was the God of all the nations. This interpretation is derived from verses such as "I will sing praises to You before the gods" and "All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O Lord." In David's time, neighboring kings were not expected to bow down to Israel's LORD. Israel must bow to other gods, but the idea of universal monotheism evolved later.

Conclusion: It is indeed is possible to affirm Davidic authorship of this psalm, either by saying he spoke prophetically or that he did not refer the Temple of Jerusalem when he said "temple." However it is also possible to interpret "of David" as a superscription of a later scribe which readers do not need to take literally.

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