Psalm 138:2 for you have exalted your Word above all your name

FAQ: I was once taught that when it says in Psalm 138:2 that God “magnified his Word above all his name,” it means He underscored it to emphasize that He stands behind it. Is that true?

Psalm 138:2 is a very meaningful verse, and the second stanza is one of the sentences in the Hebrew text that can have a number of meanings. First, the Hebrew words in the verse each have several definitions. Second, there is a custom involved. Third, the words themselves can be understood to be in different positions in the sentence. To properly relate to the verse, we must understand that had God wanted us to get a singular meaning from the verse, He could have worded it, or it and its context, in such as way as to get that one meaning. When God uses vocabulary and syntax in such a way as to allow for multiple meanings, which is not uncommon, very often all of them have some significance. The possibility of multiple meanings is a way God pulls the reader into a deeper relationship with Him, inviting us to pray, think, and ponder the depth of the meaning of the words, and thus the fullness of His Word.

The word order in the Hebrew text, and the sense of the verse, gave rise to the translation of the KJV, ASV, etc. A very literal translation of the Hebrew text reads, “For you have exalted above all your name your word.” Placing the noun phrase, “your word” before the noun phrase “your name,” (not uncommon in Hebrew because an adjective, or a phrase acting in an adjectival manner, usually comes after the main noun) yields the sense in the KJV, “for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”

According to Hebrew custom, the “name” of someone referred to his authority and reputation. Thus, the name of God refers to His authority and reputation, just as the name of Jesus refers to his authority and reputation. That is why today we pray in the “name” of Jesus Christ, i.e., we pray according to his authority (John 15:16); we command healing in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6); why demons must come out when we use the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:18); and why baptism was done in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:48). God’s “name” was His authority and reputation, so a cultural understanding of this translation is that God exalted His Word above all other things that are under His authority, even His authority itself.

However, it also occurs in Hebrew that when two noun clauses occur side by side, two things are being referred to rather than one of the nouns serving as an adjective. Thus the phrase, “your word your name,” can legitimately have the sense given in the NIV and ESV: “for you have exalted above all things your name and your word,” even though there is no “and” connecting the two nouns. According to that translation, God’s Word and His authority are exalted above all Creation, and that is certainly true.

We saw above that the “name” of God refers to His authority and reputation. Thus, if a translator believes that relationship is being emphasized in the verse, he arrives at a translation such as the NASB: “For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name.” In other words, God, in all His authority, has exalted His Word. This is not a literal translation, nor does it seem to be the primary meaning, but it can be an undertone in the Hebrew.

One further translation can be reached by realizing that “promise” is part of the semantic range, the range of definitions, of imrah (Strong’s number 565; translated “word” in most versions). If a translator thinks that a specific category of “word,” in this case a “promise,” is being used in the verse, he arrives at a translation that could be similar to the Jerusalem Bible: “your promise is even greater than your fame.” The entire Old Testament is messianic, and looks forward to the coming Messiah and what he will bring. It is not wrong to say that before Christ came, God exalted above everything else His name and the promise of the Messiah. On the other hand, “promise” is definitely more of a derived meaning in this verse. It is there, but as part of the greater “Word.” God exalted His “Word,” which obviously included the promise of the Messiah.

Also in the verse is the Hebrew verb gadal (Strong’s number 1431), which in this context means to “make great.” Young’s Literal Translation actually reads, “made great.” Given the culture of biblical times, the word “magnify” can be somewhat misleading, because we think of a magnifying glass. “Exalt” seems to be a more fitting translation for the time and culture.

With so many different translations of Psalm 138:2, what is the “right” translation? Again, it is important to understand that none of the above translations is “wrong,” in the sense that what they say in English is not being communicated, prominently or as an undertone, in the Hebrew. Furthermore, we need to remember that God wants us to spend time with Him in prayer and pondering, taking time to understand Him, and putting multiple meanings in a verse is a way of assuring that we will do so.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be a primary meaning to Psalm 138:2. Although the NIV and ESV are good translations, they are less likely the primary meaning of the verse. This is due to the fact that in the culture of the Old Testament, people already understood that the “name” of God was exalted above all things, so there would not be much point in saying it. On the other hand, to say that God exalted His Word above His very name, His authority, would be an amazing revelation.

In the biblical culture, it was common for rulers to use their authority to break the rules and go against even what they themselves had promised. But our God is different from earthly, sinful rulers. He exalts His Word above His authority, and lives by His own rules. This is just what we would expect from our Just and Loving God, who lives by His own rules and keeps His promises. That is why we can trust God, but cannot trust man. We could not ask for a better God, or a better example.

Psalm 138:2b
“for you have exalted your Word above all your name.”

Was this article a blessing to you? Comment below to let us know what you liked about it and what topics you'd be interested to see going forward! Also, please consider donating – even $1 helps! – to support the creation of more content like this in the future!

45 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! I have struggled with the meaning of this verse, and you have laid it out so simply and well. We have such a great and wonderful God!

  2. Thank you so much for the wonderful interpretations of the Verse
    You will not know how excited I am, thank you once more.

  3. wonderful insight i believe led by the Spirit of GOD

  4. Psalm 138:2 for you have exalted your Word above all your name
    This means that if you think God is , or God has said something outside of the bible, than you are guilty of Idolatry, the 2cd commandment. Too many people create God that is not of the bible . This is why I think God says that His Word is more important than simply His name. God has given us everything we need in HIS WORD so that we can be Holy and acceptable to him. 2 Peter 1:3

    1. Thanks Holland, I believe we agree on the importance of God’s Word, and there is caution against extra-biblical sources, but God speaks often to people words via the manifestations of revelation, specifically a Message of Knowledge or Wisdom. When He does the words never contradict the Bible. The Bible contains the words of God, but it is not ALL the words of God. He speaks things to His angels, and to His Divine council, and to us, words that are not recorded in the Bible. The words in the Bible are His words, and they are all we need to know for instruction in righteousness and godliness.

      1. Amen. Great response to what Holland. Also if all the deeds that Jesus did were written the world could not contain the books.

  5. This is a great revelation! That because God has exalted his word above his name he becomes subject to it. His authority as God does not supercede his word. He lives by his word.

    1. Wonderfully and beautifully said,you simplified it even further.Thanks

      1. This is indeed a great rich revelation because he has respected and honoured his words which are instructions to human mankind as a way of exaltation and everlasting honour that his name doesn’t supercede his words. Thanks so very much much indeed even for a deeper explanation and understanding.

    2. Aaaaaaaaaamen and Aaaaaaaamen!!!!!!!!!!!! BEAUTIFULLY SAID!!!!!!!!!

  6. Yeah, no.

  7. Hallelujah ..now comes question ..what is the difference btn spoken word of God and written word of God

    1. God speaks. He also has given His words for men to write down. they are both God’s Word.

    2. God bless you, a spoken word is called a,”Rhema”, and it is when God takes a word from the written word to speak specifically to your situation at a specific time. For example, you are going through financial problems and cannot provide for your family and you decide to pray about the situation, and boom-(Philippians 4:19), now that becomes a spoken word and it is the word you will use to get your breakthrough. It is called the sword of the Spirit

  8. It just makes sense. God’s word is above all else. We know nothing about God apart from His word.

    1. Actually that is not true Jim. God’;s Word even says in Romans that all men are without excuse concerning knowing God because the entire creation testify, gives witness to him as the Creator. We can also know many things about God from the physical world around us.

  9. Thank you, Dan, for taking time to exposit on this Scripture verse. I just felt there was need for just one caution though.

    Shouldn’t we, in translating the Bible, or producing versions of it, choose more to record as literal a translation than an undertone? I understand that the undertone will have a strong influence on the actual translation but shouldn’t it be secondary to the literal meaning in context?

    What if there are more than one undertone, as you’ve shown can be, giving rise to other possible meanings, and we choose to record one undertone than the literal meaning, what room do we then leave for the Holy Ghost ministering to the reader the undetone we omitted?

    1. The problem with “literal” translation, as you suggest, is that it often can completely miss the meaning of what the author in the original language is communicating. For instance, If I say, “I was so made my head almost exploded,” those who speak English and are familiar with the idiot know I meant I was very mad. But if we make a literal translation, then the reader in another language that is unfamiliar with the idiom will not know what I was communicating. Thus accurate translation should be concerned about the literal meaning of the words, the customs of the people, their style of communicating, idioms commonly used, etc. if you want to get a correct translation.

      As one example; In general Hebrew can be a very poetic language where an ideal is expressed, but it is not understood by the Hebrew listener as necessarily factual, only a poetic expression of what is ideally desired. But many times we, the English reader, when not understanding that will take clearly understood words, properly translated, and completely mis the meaning because they have no idea about the poetic nature. And not understanding that creates a plethora of contradictions etc.

      My point is that there is much more to translational work then the merely making literal translations. For those who really want to know more on this I recommend a book By D.A. Carson called Exegetical Fallacies.

      1. Dan Gallagher .
        I thank God for your life, the way God gives you insight.
        I strongly agree with you regarding Ps 138:2.
        You nailed it by using the poetic expression.
        You cannot know a poet’ mind except he interprets it, why bcos is coded.
        That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to unravel the mystery of God’s Word to us.

        God bless you mightily .

  10. This has indeed being of a great blessing to me. The Lord richly bless you.

  11. Could you please explain what is meant by God will honor the words of a prophet. Can a minister or prophet prophesy something and God have to honor it by making it happen?

  12. THIS EXPLANATION IS SIMPLE BUT INSIGHTFUL

  13. Thank you, Dan. Your conclusion is absolutely brilliant! If God never breaks his own rules it is clear that we shouldn’t either. In a world that prides itself on rebellion, it gets down to no, you are under authority, you cannot break the speed limit (civil authority) and be in God’s good graces. No you cannot sneak your dog into your no-dogs-allowed apartment. Wherever there is rightful authority, believers need to believe they are subject to it.

  14. This importation was priceless and so on time. Truly Greatful.

  15. It is also fascinating to consider the verse in light of Jn. 1:1:

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

    Then in light of Phil. 2:9:

    “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:”

  16. A very insightful commentary. It helps me, and. I am sure others, have a sounder focus on current American politics, as well as the so-called “evangelical” philosophy.

  17. Am blessed by this your explanation.My difficulty to understand this verse before now is solved is by you.Thank you sir

  18. Thank you for this insight. I have been struggling with the meaning of this verse. Your explanation helps a lot.
    Susie Pemberton

  19. Thank you for the insight into this passage.
    Like many other Old Testament passages, Psalm 138:2 causes me to think of Jesus the Messiah.
    Especially the words of John (John 1:1-5, 14) that the Word was in the beginning and that the Word was with God and was God. That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
    And because of Christ’s obedience, God the Father has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, (Philippians 2:5-11)
    It’s hard not to hear the heart of the Father in Psalm 138:2 exalting His Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.
    What is your thought on this?

    1. The Word is Jesus Christ. The Father is simply saying He cannot go against His Word, His Word is His. Genesis 1: 1-3

    2. @John Ubben, am with you, The Word is Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:5-11 is an explanation by itself. The Father is simply saying He cannot go against His Word, His Word is His (Gen 1:1-3).

  20. I have always admired this particular scripture and it has always cause me to respect the word of God. However, this inside has really made me appreciate men of God who actually put a lot of effort into interpreting the scriptures so that they can help anyone who ask questions and get answers and Clarity of thought. Thank you man of God for your God-given insight, you have truly rightly divided the word of Truth. And has blessed the body of Christ immensely would this Clarity of thought. My prayers go with you. I do not know much about your ministry, however, I will be in contact because I have a few questions of my own that my denomination cannot answer. I am starving for more understanding of the word of God. I know that I cannot just read the word of God on my own and interpreted it in my own way without having someone who has God given teaching abilities to help me with some of the things that I may not understand or see correctly.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Rufus. I’m glad this article brought you some clarity on this verse!

  21. Thanks much for a clarifying explanation of what Ps. 138:2 means. Very helpful.

  22. This is great, really this verse it has got the promise of Messiah according to the book of John 1:1.

    1. Thank you so much for the insight.
      You interpreted Psalm 138:2 just as clearly has the HolySpirit brought to my understanding. Having prayed in the Spirit & the word came clearly to my spirit & directed me to that particular bible passage; I got the fire of clarity about God honouring EVERY word He says whether now or in the future- present, past & future.
      The HolySpirit is true always & God is true, same and one amongst all tribes, culture of this world.
      Thank you all for your lovely contributions & comments, they were all insightful even though years has passed.

      Thanks again
      Love you all!

  23. Awesome is our God mighty and always feeding his people with what they need so that we can grow up in him to full mature spiritual growth. Thank you and may the Lord bless you continually.

  24. Thank God for this insight. More grace to you.

  25. I have a whole new understanding of this scripture and I can only be grateful. Thank you for sharing this interpretation

  26. Thanks. I’m blessed and God bless you.

  27. Thank you. Easy to understand and make sense.

  28. Thank you for sharing this. I m blessed by HIS grace. God bless

  29. Thank you for this. It’s obvious you took time to thoroughly research this before explaining. I really appreciate you concluding with a definitive resolve.

  30. Thanks for the spiritual insight into this verse. It opened up something in me.

Leave a Reply to Dave Merenda Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.