# What does it mean for God to magnify his word above his name ? Psalm 138:2

Singing Psalm 138 this morning, I find I am no further forward in understanding verse 2 than when I read it and heard it in my youth, without it ever being explained to me.

"Thou hast made great thy saying above all thy name" [Young's Literal] "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" [AV and JND] "Thou hast magnified above all thy holy name" [Thomson LXX]

Word is emer (Strong 561); magnify is gadal (Strong 1431); and name is shem (Strong 8034) and that is all I have to give on this.

• Where are you getting dabar? (This is a curious mistake, because it indeed can mean "word", but's it's a different word (!) from that used in Psalm 138:2 (אמרה = ʾimrâ).) – Susan Oct 1 '17 at 16:19
• Yes. Thank you. Mistake, there. Now edited.Young seems to be indicating that emer is closer to 'saying' than 'word' – Nigel J Oct 1 '17 at 16:31
• For lexical questions, always good to consult a lexicon. (Also, though you've got the right root now, the word in Ps 138 is not ʾemer (/*ʾōmer*) but ʾimrâ.) – Susan Oct 1 '17 at 19:08
• Both Young and Strong tell me its emer. I don't know if there is a mistake somewhere. – Nigel J Oct 2 '17 at 9:26
• Weird. They are just masculine and feminine forms that mean essentially the same thing, but even the old lexicons such as BDB linked above separate them, and Ps 138:2 has a ת, which is the feminine ending. – Susan Oct 2 '17 at 10:40

Revelation 19:13 KJV - And he [Christ] was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

Whether emer is closer to 'saying' or 'word' doesn't seem like an important distinction to my mind, because 'word' in the context of scripture almost always means 'message' anyway. God's message or saying (the spoken word) is of course Christ; and after that word was made flesh, God the Father did indeed exalt it, eventually magnifying it above his own illustrious reputation:

Philippians 2:9-11 KJV - Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So I think David is speaking prophetically in Psalm 138 just as in many other Psalms, rather than giving us a commentary on contemporaneous conditions. It was not really until Christ was "made perfect through sufferings" that the Father magnified his Word (in the form of his Son) to his present exalted status. Now, even God's own name is not enough to save a man.

Acts 4:12 KJV - Jesus Christ of Nazareth...is become the head of the corner...Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

• In order to accept that emer in the text corresponds to the One named Logos by John, I would want some evidence that emer is, elsewhere, linked to the the Greek word logos or to the expression Logos as designating a Person. – Nigel J Oct 2 '17 at 19:56
• Logos probably never designated a person, prior to its unique application to Christ. In Koine it suggests nothing mystical or theological, thus in other places (like Acts 4:29 "they may speak thy word [logos]") it's simply used to mean a saying or speech. New Testament doctrine is really all we need to link logos to emer. It shows us that Christ existed as the eternal word (Psalm 33:6 "the breath of [God's] mouth") from the very beginning and through David's day. Psalm 138 seems prophetic only because God at the time of David's writing had not yet magnified that word above all his name. – Eutychus Oct 3 '17 at 10:24
• Upvoted - see my own answer as well. – Nigel J Oct 6 '17 at 8:27
• This is a profound and well-delivered teaching, @Eutychus! Thank you for that, and I appreciate your wisdom. It's a bright Sunday morning and you just served as my pastor on this locked-in Covid day. – pbarney Aug 16 '20 at 14:18

This is from Dr. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (See: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=6029)

The text reads as follows:

I bow toward Your holy temple and I acclaim Your name for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth, for You have made Your word great across all Your heavens."

The commentary reads as follows:

(LXX) : For You have magnified Your word (logion) above all name.

Since both lambda and omicron might, under certain circumstances, resemble an alpha, we also have the following alternate reading :

(LXX) : For You have magnified Your holy one (agion) above all name.

(See also Ephesians 1:21 and Philippians 2:9).

Reverting the above word order, we get :

For You have magnified Your Name above all word (i.e., beyond words, or beyond description).

(Martin Luther's German Bible, 1545 & 1912) :

For You have made Your Name glorious above everything through Your word
.

(All Romanian Orthodox Bibles — 1688, 1795, 1914, 1982 — save for the 1939 edition) :

For You have magnified Your Holy Name everywhere
.

This is based on the reading of the Codex Alexandrinus, with the minor caveat that, in Romanian, above all is synonymous with everywhere, thus only serving to add more to the already extant confusion (of tongues). Bartolomeu Anania's translation (2001), however, corrects this mistake.

(Romanian Orthodox Bible, 1939) :

For You have made Your Name and Your Law magnificent above everything
.

(Dumitru Cornilescu's Romanian Protestant Bible, 1924) :

For Your fame has (been) increased through the keeping of Your promises
.

(Dumitru Cornilescu's Romanian Protestant Bible, 1931, offering a more literal translation) :

For You have exalted Your Word a along with Your whole Name. b

a Or “that which You have said”, “Your promise”.

b Or “above all Your Name”.

Your reputation -- whether good or bad -- is known or determined by your word, so it would stand to reason that God's Word would be above His name. After all, what would his name mean to you, if He was a god who didn't keep His Word? (His Word Above His Name)

Also, it is His Word that makes His name GREAT.

What thou freely promisedst, thou hast faithfully performed; what thou hast spoken with thy mouth thou hast fulfilled with thy hand; for which thy name is wonderfully to be magnified.
-- Treasury of David: James Nalton (1664)

• appreciate the idea of reputation, but it is God, himself, who is magnifying his own word above his own name. If your answer were correct, and that it is a matter of reputation, I would expect the text to read that others had done the magnifying. – Nigel J Oct 4 '17 at 20:56

God's name is bigger than his word. Throughout Bible history God has changed his word. When people repented from being unholy, to being holy, he changed his word from "destruction" to "blessing".

His name is, however, always the same, he can't change that. That name is "Holy". People has to line up their lives according to that name. Holiness is the end. Crucifixion of the flesh is a means to that end. Jesus: "No one can come to the father but by me."

• I'm looking for what the text of the Psalm actually means, so I need comment as to the actual words of scripture, in the text itself. – Nigel J Oct 2 '17 at 10:07

The meaning of Psalm 138 verse 2 line 3, reading with the MT, is

Your answer [to me now] is more glorious than than all of Your [previous] renown.

Here is how the Psalm works.

Verse 1:

לְדָוִ֨ד ׀ אוֹדְךָ֥ בְכָל־לִבִּ֑י נֶ֖גֶד אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲזַמְּרֶֽךָּ

[A Psalm] of David, I will thank you [O God] with all my heart; I will sing your praises in the face of (in front of) the gods

Verse 2:

אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֨ה אֶל־הֵיכַ֪ל קָדְשְׁךָ֡ וְא֘וֹדֶ֤ה אֶת־שְׁמֶ֗ךָ עַל־חַסְדְּךָ֥ וְעַל־אֲמִתֶּ֑ךָ כִּֽי־הִגְדַּ֥לְתָּ עַל־כָּל־שִׁ֝מְךָ֗ אִמְרָתֶֽךָ

I will bow down to (in the direction of) your holy temple, and will thank your name for your grace and for your fidelity; for You have made your answer (אִמְרָתֶֽךָ) [to me now] more glorious than all of Your [previous] renown (כָּל־שִׁ֝מְךָ֗)

Verse 3:

בְּי֣וֹם קָ֭רָֽאתִי וַֽתַּעֲנֵ֑נִי תַּרְהִבֵ֖נִי בְנַפְשִׁ֣י עֹֽז

When I called, You answered (וַֽתַּעֲנֵ֑נִי, inverted future tense) and emboldened my soul

Verse 4:

יוֹד֣וּךָ יְ֭הוָה כָּל־מַלְכֵי־אָ֑רֶץ כִּ֥י שָׁ֝מְע֗וּ אִמְרֵי־פִֽיךָ

All the kings of the earth will thank Thee YHWH because they have heard your answer (the "sayings of your mouth", אִמְרֵי־פִֽיךָ) [to me].

The first key to understanding the second verse is to understand that the "saying" or "words" (the אמרה, אִמְרָתֶֽךָ) that the supplicant mentions in the verse 2 is the same thing as both the "answer" (the מענה, וַֽתַּעֲנֵ֑נִי) in verse 3 and the "saying of your mouth" (אִמְרֵי־פִֽיךָ) in verse 4. God makes his current deliverance more significant than the deliverance for which He was previously known.

The second key to understanding is to remember that in OT theology, God acts in the world through His saying, his word, as illustrated in the ten uses of "and God said" (ויאמר) in the story of creation, so the "word" or "saying" in this Psalm is indicative of a physical, historical deliverance.

The mention of the "saying" (or "word"), the אמרה, to the supplicant, in verse 2 before the "answer", the מענה in verse 3 provides dramatic effect.

The "gods" of verse 1 in front of whom the supplicant will sing are the gods of the pagan kings in verse 4, who now praise YHWH after hearing the answer that God gave the supplicant. This provides a symmetry and explains why the supplicant starts the Psalm with his declaration of intent to sing God's praises before the gods, as actually appears to happen.

The steadfastness of the supplicant in declaring intent to sing God's praises in the face of the pagan gods and subsequently fulfilling this intent is symmetric with God's steadfastness or fidelity mentioned in the last verse of the Psalm.

The circumstances of the supplicant's call to God are not stated in this Psalm. From the mention of the pagan kings, it appears that the circumstances are an event of national deliverance or relief and that the supplicant's first person voice is either a "royal I" where the "I" is David, or else is a first person voice that is representative of the Israelite nation as a whole, with which each individual who sings this Psalm identifies.

It seems to me that the answer to this question is a matter of theology. Having posed the question, I take responsibility for it and I answer it myself, prompted by the answer that I have up-voted as I believe that this interpretation is (most probably) the correct one.

I accept any down-voting myself (on the basis of straying into what is termed ‘theology’) because I did not want to leave the question unanswered on the page. It deserves a full answer, I think.

When God spoke at the first, he said [amar, to say, Strong H559], ‘Let there be light,’ [KJV]

Thereafter, all that he spoke to Israel was in preparation of the Everlasting Testament, Ezekiel 37:26 and Hebrews 13:20. All that was depicted in the wilderness, by artefact and by commandment and by ritual, only prefigured the Testament that would follow and the Testator, Hebrews 9:16,17, who should be born, should suffer, should die and should arise again.

All that God said, amar, all his word, emer, was with this in view. His name was revealed, at the time, to be YHWH. It was all that could be revealed, for the time then present.

It was yet to be revealed that The Word had been, in existence, from the very beginning, John 1:1.

All that could ever be expressed; all that was logical; all that was reasonable; all that ever could be communicated sensibly, cogently, intelligently - about anything ! - was already there, in the beginning.

God, himself, was The Word, John 1:2.

But he could not yet be revealed, as such. First, there had to be Creation. Then there had to be humanity. Inevitably, there must be Law, as an integral part of inhabited creation. The consequence was unavoidable; banishment from Eden followed. Then Israel, in order to fully express Law and fully demonstrate its consequences.

But, as the prophets prophesied, there would yet come Another. Born, he is caught up to God and to his throne, Revelation 12:5, and, in humanity, he sits on the throne of the Father, Revelation 3:21.

Magnified above all that came before - even above the prior revelation of YHWH to Israel - is the true utterance of God; the real expression of all that God would say, amar, and reveal in communicated word, emer.

For it is the Son, in Person, who reveals the Father. He is Wisdom from everlasting. He is The Word from the beginning.

And now he is exalted above all - above every name that is named; even the name YHWH ! which was all that could ever be communicated previously under the old covenant.

He glorifies the Father in a way that no covenant-name could ever do so.

There may be yet more in the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 138. But this, at least, is there, I believe.

• You might want to consider logos and rhema mean "word." Rhema means a specific word for the situation. The LXX translates Isaiah 55:11 using rhema. The word goes out accomplishes its purpose and returns. Upon completion, the word is back with the LORD having done His work which people see. Praising the work is to praise the LORD; praising the LORD is praise His work - they are one in the same. – Revelation Lad Oct 6 '17 at 14:41
• @RevelationLad Many thanks, I shall follow that up. – Nigel J Oct 6 '17 at 19:33

The correct translation of this verse depends on the translation of the Hebrew ‘preposition’ על. Generally, in this verse it is translated by ‘over’, ‘above’, or similar terms. But, one of the meanings of this ‘preposition’ is ‘according’, ‘on account of’, et similia (see, please, for some examples Exo 6:26, 28:21; Psa 110:4; Eze 48:31). Along this lines John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, mentioned Gejerus, who traslated the stich in the following manner: “Secundum omne nomen tuum”.

So, if we translate the verse using this meaning we will find the following translation (or a similar one):
“*I will worship towards your holy temple, and I will praise your name according your kindness and according your loyalty, since you have magnified your sayings according the full significance of your name*.”


Perhaps it a translation problem so here are the alternatives to look at first:-

Psalm 138:2

New Living Translation I bow before your holy Temple as I worship. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.

Berean Study Bible I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your loving devotion and Your faithfulness; You have exalted Your name and Your word above all else.

Christian Standard Bible I will bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your constant love and truth. You have exalted your name and your promise above everything else.

Contemporary English Version I worship at your holy temple and praise you for your love and your faithfulness. You were true to your word and made yourself more famous than ever before.

Good News Translation I face your holy Temple, bow down, and praise your name because of your constant love and faithfulness, because you have shown that your name and your commands are supreme.

Holman Christian Standard Bible I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your constant love and truth. You have exalted Your name and Your promise above everything else.

International Standard Version I will bow down in worship toward your holy Temple and give thanks to your name for your gracious love and truth, for you have done great things to carry out your word consistent with your name.

New Heart English Bible I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your Name for your loving kindness and for your truth; for you have exalted your Name and your word above all.

GOD'S WORD® Translation I will bow toward your holy temple. I will give thanks to your name because of your mercy and truth. You have made your name and your promise greater than everything.

New American Standard 1977 I will bow down toward Thy holy temple, And give thanks to Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth; For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name.

Jubilee Bible 2000 I will worship the temple of thy holiness and praise thy name above thy mercy and thy truth; for thou hast made thy name to be magnificent and raised up thy spoken word above all things.

Brenton Septuagint Translation I will worship toward thy holy temple, and give thanks to thy name, on account of thy mercy and thy truth; for thou hast magnified thy holy name above every thing.

Douay-Rheims Bible I will worship towards thy holy temple, and I will give glory to thy name. For thy mercy, and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy holy name above all.

World English Bible I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your Name for your loving kindness and for your truth; for you have exalted your Name and your Word above all.

New World Tranlation I will bow down toward your holy temple, And I will praise your name Because of your loyal love and your faithfulness. For you have magnified your saying and your name above everything else.

I think (Psalms 138:2) simply speaks of God's authority, to say ALL your NAME doesn't make any sense, for if he says ALL then after we are waiting to see the following in plural form (names). But this I believe (ALL his NAME) speaks of all of God's authority, that means his authority is subject to his word. He cannot use his authority to say something in opposition of his word, even if mankind fall to sin but he cannot change his promises because his word has taken a higher office than all of his authority (name). In other words the word (Christ) of God has become the final authority of God. I also think that we need the Holy Spirit in understanding his word, his word cannot be understood by simply using our physical instruments, grammar, translations, our minds etc. More grace

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the problem is that you're trying to dissect the scripture in order to seem wise with all of the Hebrew stuff... thats the stuff that causes preaching to be of no effect..

the scripture is simple... it means that not even Jesus can change the word of God. If God said dont do it, then not even Jesus can come behind him and say its ok to do it.

• This is not an answer to the question. If what you say is true the text would read otherwise. I have edited my question to remove all mention of other persons and to leave only my own personal non-understanding of the text in the edited version – Nigel J Jan 16 '20 at 20:58