I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise. — Psalm 138:1
The saying goes, “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.” Everyone is quick to take credit for successful ventures, but no one wants to take responsibility for failed attempts. However, in Psalm 138, King David did just the opposite!
The psalm begins: “I will praise you . . . before the ‘gods’ I will sing your praise.” The Jewish sages ask, “Who are these gods that David yearned to be in front of when he praised God?” The sages explain that the Hebrew word elohim can mean “gods,” but it can also mean “high officials.” They conclude that in this case, David yearned to sing God’s praises in front of other kings. Why would he want to do that?
The reason is because David wanted to teach these monarchs a powerful lesson. Other successful kings tended to attribute their successes to their own ability and intelligence. However, David made a profound statement by praising God in front of the other kings and letting them know that none of his successes were his own.
While it would have been easy to let the world glorify him after his many victories while he was underequipped and outmanned, David desired none of the adoration. Instead, he gave all the credit to God: “When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me” (v.3). It was God Who made David strong and triumphant. David admitted that without God, he would have failed. He owned failure and proclaimed that God is the only Father of all success!
Scripture warns us that there is a danger in taking credit for our achievements in life. In the process of focusing on how great we are, we forget how great God is. In Deuteronomy 8:17–18, we read a caution to remember God when we are satisfied – after we build homes and become successful in business. We should not say, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (verse 17). Rather, we need to acknowledge the Source of our success and blessings: “But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (verse 18). God alone is the force behind our success. Or as the prophet Zechariah wrote: “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit, says the LORD” (Zechariah 4:6).
David longed for the day when everyone in the world would recognize this great truth and all kings would praise God (v.4), and so, he led the way by setting an example. Let us do the same. Praise God in front of your friends, your family, and your community. Most importantly, praise God inside the deepest parts of your own soul.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President