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This psalm, which purports to have been composed by David, is another of the psalms addressed or dedicated “to the chief Musician;” that is, which he is desired to adjust to the appropriate music; and it is, therefore, probably one that was particularly intended to be employed in the public worship of the Hebrews. On the meaning of this expression, see the notes to the inscription of Psalms 4:1-8.
There is no method of ascertaining with certainty on what occasion the psalm was composed. Doubtless it was in view of some of the trials which occurred in the life of David, since there were many of these to which the sentiments of the psalm may with propriety be applied. As it is impossible now, however, from anything in the psalm itself, to ascertain which of those afflictions were here referred to, or which suggested the psalm, conjecture would be useless; nor, if we could ascertain to what particular time of his life he made reference, would it furnish any material aid in interpreting the psalm. It is to be presumed, however, that there was a reference to some trouble or calamity in his own life; and even if it be supposed that the psalm was designed to refer wholly to the Messiah, and to be descriptive of his sufferings, still it is probable that the language employed was suggested by something in the life of the author of the psalm, and that he was led to contemplate the future sufferings of the Messiah in connection with his own trials.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
(1) A reference to some time of calamity or deep sorrow, represented by being in a horrible pit, from which he had been delivered in answer prayer - a deliverance so remarkable that the effect would be to lead many, on account of it, to praise God, Psalms 40:1-3.
(2) A statement of the blessedness of the man that made the Lord his trust, and put confidence in him rather than in the proud of the earth, or in those who were faithless or deceitful, Psalms 40:4.
(3) A grateful remembrance of the many works of the Lord; evidently as laying the foundation of obligation to serve him in every way possible, and as a “reason” of the purpose of obedience immediately referred to, Psalms 40:5.
(4) A statement of what He had done, or what he proposed to do, as expressive of his sense of obligation, or of the service which God required of him, Psalms 40:6-10. The speaker in the psalm says that God did not require of him sacrifice and offering - that is, the bloody sacrifices prescribed in the Hebrew ritual, Psalms 40:6; that God had disposed him to obey, or had prepared him to render such obedience as was required - (“Mine ears hast thou opened”), Psalms 40:6; that he came to obey, in accordance with some prediction or previous record in regard to him, Psalms 40:7; that he found his supreme pleasure in doing the will of God, Psalms 40:8; and that, in pursuance of this arrangement and of this purpose, he had made known the will of God - had preached righteousness in the great congregation, and had faithfully declared the salvation of God, Psalms 40:9-10.
(5) Prayers and supplications founded on these facts - on his trials; on his dangers; on the attempts of his enemies to destroy him; on his desire for the welfare and safety of the people of God, Psalms 40:11-17. Particularly:
(a) prayer for his own deliverance from the troubles which encompassed him still, Psalms 40:11-13;
(b) prayer that those who were opposed to him might be abased and humbled, Psalms 40:14-15;
(c) prayer that those who sought the Lord might rejoice and be glad, Psalms 40:16; and
(d) a prayer for himself, as poor and needy, on the grounds that God was his help and his deliverer, Psalms 40:17.
A very important and difficult question occurs here. It is the question to whom the psalm originally referred.
On this question there have been the following opinions:
(1) that it refers originally and exclusively to David;
(2) that it had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah;
(3) that it is susceptible of a double application, part of the psalm having reference to David, and the other portion to the Messiah, as having been suggested by his own circumstances; and
(4) that the portion of the psalm applied to the Messiah in Hebrews 10:5-9 is applied by way of accommodation, or as expressing the meaning of the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, but without affirming on the part of the writer of that epistle that the psalm had originally any Messianic reference.
It would be too long to examine these opinions in detail; and all that is needful in this brief introduction to the psalm may be to state some reasons for what seems to me to be the true opinion, that the psalm had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah, or that it is one of the compositions in the Old Testament, like Psalms 2:1-12; Psalms 22:0, and Isaiah 53:1-12, which were designed by the Spirit of inspiration to describe the Messiah, as to some of his characteristics, and as to what he would suffer.
(1) There are such psalms, such portions of the Old Testament. This is admitted by all who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The Messiah was the hope of the Jewish people. He was the subject of their most sublime prophecies. The nation was accustomed to look forward to him as their great Deliverer. In all times of national calamity they looked forward to the period when He would appear for their rescue. He was, so to speak, the hero of their national literature; the bright object in the future to which all the sacred writers looked forward; the glorious Saviour and Deliverer whose coming, and the anticipated benefit of whose coming, animated their lays, and cheered them in the darkest days of trouble and sorrow. Compare the Introduction to Isaiah, Section 7.
(2) The author of the epistle to the Hebrews expressly applies a part of this psalm to the Messiah, Hebrews 10:5-9. There can be no reasonable doubt that he quoted this with the belief that the psalm had original reference to him, and that he did not use the language by way of accommodation, for he was endeavoring to demonstrate a point, or to prove that what he was stating was true. This he does by relenting to the passage in the psalm “as proof on the point then under consideration.” But there would have been no proof, no argument - in the case, if he had merely quoted language by way of accommodation, which had originally a different design. The very point of his quotation is based on the fact that he was adducing a passage which had original reference to the Messiah, and which might be properly quoted as characterizing his work. The proof (as derived from this fact) that the psalm had reference to the Messiah, consists of two things:
(a) That it is so applied by an inspired apostle, which, with all who admit his inspiration would seem to be decisive of the question;
(b) that he so applied it, shows, in the circumstances, that this was an ancient and admitted interpretation.
He was writing to those who had been Jews; to those whom he was desirous of convincing as to the truth of what he was alleging in regard to the notion of Hebrew sacrifices. For this purpose it was necessary to appeal to the Old Testament; but it cannot be supposed that he would adduce, as proof, a passage whose relevancy to the point would not be at once admitted. It may be presumed, therefore, that the passage was commonly applied by the Hebrews themselves to the purpose for which the apostle used it, or that the application, when made, was so plain and obvious that they would not call it in question.
(3) The entire psalm may be applied to the Messiah without anything forced or unnatural in the interpretation. This will be shown, in detail, in the exposition of the psalm; but in the meantime it may not be improper to refer to the principal difficulties in such an application, and to the principal objections derived from this source against the idea that the psalm refers to the Messiah. The principal of these relate to the following points:
(a) In Psalms 40:2 the speaker in the psalm says: “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings;” and on the ground of this, he gives thanks to God. But there is no real difficulty in supposing that this refers to the Messiah, and that it was actually fulfilled in the case of the Lord Jesus. His enemies often plotted against his life; they laid snares for him; they endeavored to destroy him; his dangers may well be represented as “an horrible pit,” and as “miry clay;” and his deliverance from those perils may well be compared with the case of one who is raised up from such a pit, and from the deep mire. Even supposing that this was designed to refer to the personal experience of the psalmist himself, still the language would be figurative, and must be designed to refer to some danger, peril, or trouble that would be well represented by being thrown into such a pit, or sinking in miry clay. It cannot be supposed that the psalmist meant to say this had really and literally occurred in his own life. Without any impropriety, therefore, the language may be applied to the trials and dangers of the Messiah, and to the merciful interposition of God in delivering him.
(b) The second objection or difficulty in referring it to the Messiah is derived from what is said in Psalms 40:12 : “Mine iniquities have taken hold on me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart faileth me.” But, in reference to the propriety of applying this to the Messiah, two remarks may be made: First. It may be true that the Messiah was so identified with men - became so truly a substitute for sinners - experienced in his own soul, in the deep sorrows of the atonement, so intensely the effects of their sin, and so bore the sufferings that were expressive of the divine sense of the evil of sin, that the language might be applied to him as if these sins were his own. He was treated as if they were his - as if he had been a sinner. He so made them his own, that it was proper he should be treated as if they were his, and that he might feel he was suffering as if they were his.
It is true that they could not be literally transferred to him; it is true that in no proper sense of the term was he a sinner; it is true that in the just signification of the word he was not “guilty,” and that God always saw he was personally innocent; but still it is true that, in the work of the atonement, he was treated as if he had been a sinner, and that, in this sense, he might speak of the sins for which he suffered as his own. He had voluntarily assumed them, and he was suffering for them as if they had been his. Thus we have in Isaiah 53:4-6 similar language applied to him: “He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows;” “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him;” “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” If such language might properly be applied to him and his sufferings, then there could be no impropriety or incongruity in his regarding himself as so identified with sinful men, and as so truly bearing what was due to their sins, that he might speak of those sins “as if” they were his own, as one might speak of a debt incurred by a friend, and which he had brought himself under voluntary obligation to pay, as if it were his own, and might say, “it is no longer his, but mine.”
The language of Scripture in regard to the relation of the Redeemer to sin is often so marked and striking as to suggest and to justify this language. See 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13. Second. It is possible, after all, that the word rendered “iniquities” in the psalm, means here merely “calamity, trouble, sorrow.” (See the notes at Hebrews 10:5; and compare Prof. Stuart on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Excursus xx., p. 594.) So the same word which is used here means, in 2 Samuel 16:12, “It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction.” The words “iniquity” and “calamity” - “sin” and “punishment” - are closely connected in the Scriptures; so closely that the one is often put for the other, and when a sacred writer speaks of his “sin,” he often means the suffering or calamity that has come upon him in consequence of his sin. So the Messiah may be understood here to mean that the calamities or woes which had come upon him in consequence of his taking upon him the sins of the world made it proper to say that his “iniquities” - the iniquities which he had assumed or which, in the language of Isaiah, he “bore” - had “taken hold on him, so that he was not able to look up;” or, considering their great number, he might say, “they are more than the hairs of my head, therefore my heart faileth me.”
(c) A third objection to the application of the psalm to the Messiah is, that it cannot be supposed he would utter such imprecations on his enemies as are found in Psalms 40:14-15 : “Let them be ashamed and confounded; let them be driven backward; let them be desolate.” To this it may be replied, that such imprecations are as proper in the mouth of the Messiah as in the mouth of David; and that they are improper in neither. Both David and the Messiah did utter denunciations against the enemies of piety and of God. There is no evidence that there was any malignant feeling in either case; nor is it inconsistent with the highest benevolence to utter denunciation of guilt. God constantly does it in his word; and he as often does it in the dealings of his Providence. The wicked cannot walk through this world without meeting denunciations of their guilt on every hand, and there was no impiety in the fact that he who will pronounce a sentence in the great day of judgment on all guilty men, should apprize them beforehand of what would be sure to come upon them. The objections, then, are not of such a nature that it is improper to regard the psalm as wholly applicable to the Messiah.
(4) The psalm cannot be applied with propriety to David, nor do we know of anyone to whom it can be applied but the Messiah. It was not true of David that he “had come to do the will” of God, in view of the fact that God did not require sacrifice and offerings, Psalms 40:6-7; it was not true that it was written of him “in the volume of the book,” that he delighted to do the will of God, and that he had come into the world in view of the fact that it “had been” so written Psalms 40:7-8; it was not true that it had been his characteristic work to “preach righteousness in the great congregation” Psalms 40:9; but all this was true of the Messiah. These expressions are such as can be applied only to him; and, taking all these circumstances together, the conclusion seems to be a proper one that the whole psalm had original reference to the Redeemer, and is to be interpreted as applying to him alone.
There is a remarkable resemblance between the close of this psalm Psalms 40:13-17 and Psalms 70:1-5. Indeed, that entire psalm is the same as the closing part of this one. Why that portion of the psalm before us is thus repeated, and why it is separated from this and made a psalm by itself, is wholly unknown. It cannot be supposed to be an error in transcribing, for the error would be too material, and would most certainly be detected. Perhaps it can best be accounted for by supposing the author of Psalms 70:1-5 to have been in the state of mind, and in the circumstances there described, and by supposing that instead of writing a new psalm which would express his feelings, he found that this part of Psalms 40:0, already composed, would describe so exactly what he wished to express, and that he regarded it as so adapted to be a prayer by itself, that he therefore copied it. The fact, that it was thus copied, and that the sentiments were repeated, does not in any manner detract from the supposition that it is inspired.
I waited patiently for the Lord - Margin, as in Hebrew, “In waiting I waited.” That is, “I continued to wait.” It was not a single, momentary act of expectation or hope; it was continuous; or, was persevered in. The idea is, that his prayer was not answered at once, but that it was answered after he had made repeated prayers, or when it seemed as if his prayers would not be answered. It is earnest, persevering prayer that is referred to; it is continued supplication and hope when there seemed to be no answer to prayer, and no prospect that it would be answered.
And he inclined unto me - That is, ultimately he heard and answered me; or he turned himself favorably toward me, as the result of “persevering” prayer. The word “inclined” here means properly “bowed;” that is, he “bent forward” to hearken, or to place his ear near my mouth and to hear me. At first, he seemed as one that would not hear; as one that throws his head backward or turns his head away. Ultimately, however, he bent forward to receive my prayer.
And heard my cry - The cry or supplication which I made for help; the cry which I directed to him in the depth of my sorrows and my danger, Psalms 40:2. As applied to the Redeemer, this would refer to the fact that in his sorrows, in the deep sorrows connected with the work of redemption, he persevered in calling on God, and that God heard him, and raised him up to glory and joy. See Matthew 26:36-46. Compare the notes at Hebrews 5:7. The time supposed to be referred to, is after his sufferings were closed; after his work was done; “after” he rose from the dead. It is the language of grateful remembrance which we may suppose he uttered in the review of the amazing sorrows through which he had passed in making the atonement, and in the recollection that God had kept him in those sorrows, and had brought him up from such a depth of woe to such a height of glory.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit - Margin: “A pit of noise.” The word used here means a pit; a cistern; a prison; a dungeon; a grave. This last signification of the word is found in Psalms 28:1; Psalms 30:4; Psalms 88:4; Isaiah 38:18; Isaiah 14:19. It may refer to any calamity - or to trouble, like being in a pit - or it may refer to the grave. The word rendered “horrible” - שׁאון shâ'ôn - means properly “noise, uproar, tumult,” as of waters; of a crowd of men; of war. Then it seems to be used in the sense of “desolation” or “destruction,” as applicable to the grave. DeWette understands it here of a pit, a cavern, or an abyss that roars or is tumultuous; that is, that is impassable. Perhaps this is the idea - a cavern, deep and dark, where the waters roar, and which seems to be filled with horrors. So Rosenmuller understands it. The Septuagint renders it: ἐκ λάκκου ταλαιπωρίας ek lakkou talaipōrias, “a lake of misery.” It is a deep and horrid cavern, where there is no hope of being rescued, or where it would seem that there would be certain destruction.
Out of the miry clay - At the bottom of the pit. Where there was no solid ground - no rock on which to stand. See Jeremiah 38:6; Psalms 69:2, Psalms 69:14.
And set my feet upon a rock - Where there was firm standing.
And established my goings - Or, fixed my steps. That is, he enabled me to walk as on solid ground; he conducted me along safely, where there was no danger of descending to the pit again or of sinking in the mire. If we understand this of the Redeemer, it refers to that time when, his sorrows ended, and his work of atonement done, it became certain that he would never be exposed again to such dangers, or sink into such a depth of woes, but that his course ever onward would be one of safety and of glory.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth - See the notes at Psalms 33:3. The idea is, that he had given a new or fresh “occasion” for praise. The deliverance was so marked, and was such an addition to former mercies, that a new expression of thanks was proper. It was an act of such surprising intervention on the part of God that the language used on former occasions, and which was adapted to express the mercies then received, would not be sufficient to convey the sense of gratitude felt for the present deliverance. As applied to the Messiah, and referring (as it was supposed in the notes at Psalms 40:2) to his being raised up to glory after the depth of his sorrows, it would mean that no language hitherto employed to express gratitude to God would be adequate to the occasion, but that the language of a new song of praise would be demanded to celebrate so great an event.
Even praise unto our God - “To our God;” identifying himself, as the Messiah does, with his people, and expressing the idea that the new song of praise was appropriate to them as well as to “himself,” since they would be benefited by his work, and since God was their God as well as his. Compare John 20:17.
Many shall see it - Great numbers of the human race shall be made acquainted with the occasion which there was for such a song.
And fear - Learn to reverence, to worship, to honor God, as the result of what had been done.
And shall trust in the Lord - Shall confide in God; shall put their trust in him; shall become his true worshippers and friends:
(a) as the effect of this merciful interposition in behalf of him who had been thus in trouble or distress, and who was enabled to triumph;
(b) as the result of the work accomplished by him.
The effect of the Redeemer’s sorrows, and of God’s merciful help, would be that great numbers would learn to put their trust in God, or would become his true friends. No man, in fact, can compute the “numbers” of those who, in consequence of the work of the Messiah, will turn to God and become his true worshippers and friends.
Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust - See the notes at Psalms 34:8. Compare Psalms 27:1. Literally, here, “The blessings of the man who places Yahweh for his confidence;” that is, who makes Him his seeurity, or who feels that his security for happiness and salvation is in Him.
And respecteth not the proud - The haughty, or those who are confident in themselves. Literally, “who looks not to the proud;” that is, who does not depend on them for help and for salvation.
Nor such as turn aside to lies - Who depart from the straight path, and incline to that which is false and deceitful. The reference is to those who are easily made to swerve from that which is true and honest to that which is delusive and false. Their integrity cannot be confided in. There is no security that they will be disposed to do right. The idea is, that the man who trusts in God is blessed or happy, as compared with one who trusts in man; man confident in himself; man liable to fall into error; man who is easily led astray; man who is deceitful, and who cannot, therefore, be relied on. God is mighty, but not haughty; God never is drawn aside from the truth; he never deceives.
Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done - literally, “Many (things), O Lord my God, hast thou done; thy wonderful things and thy thoughts toward us, it is not (possible) to state unto thee.” The recollection of the particular kindness shown to the speaker, as referred to in the previous verses, suggests the recollection of the great number of wonders that God had done for his people - the acts of his kindness which it would be hopeless to attempt to recount before him. And who “could” enumerate and record all the acts of God’s benevolence toward men in the works of creation, providence, and redemption; all that he has done in the history of the Church, and for the individual members of the Church in past times; all that he has done to save his people in the days of persecution; all that has been accomplished in our own individual lives? Obviously these things are beyond all power of enumeration by man. They can be admired now only in the gross; eternity alone will be sufficient for us to look at them and to recount them in detail. The phrase “wonderful works” means here remarkable interventions; things fitted to excite astonishment; things that surpass what man could have anticipated; things that could have been done only by God.
And thy thoughts which are to us-ward - Toward us; or which pertain to us. The word “thoughts” here refers to the plans, purposes, arrangements of God designed for our welfare; the things that are the result of his thinking of our wants - of what we need - of what would do us good. See Psalms 40:17.
They cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee - Margin, “None can order them unto thee.” Literally, “There is no putting them in order before thee;” that is, there is no such arranging of them, or disposing of them in order, that they can all be brought into their proper place, so as to be perceived or numbered. The Hebrew word - ערך ‛ârak - means properly, to place in a row; to put in order; to arrange; as, to put an army in battle array, or to draw it up for battle, Judges 20:20, Judges 20:22; to put words in order for an argument, or to arrange thoughts so as to present an argument, Job 32:14; to set a cause in order before a judge, or to lay it before him, Job 13:18. The word also means to place together with anything, or by the side of anything - that is, to make a comparison. Gesenius (Lexicon) supposes that this is the idea here, and that the proper interpretation is, “Nothing can be compared unto thee.” But the other interpretation seems best to accord with the connection, as referring to the wonderful works of God, and to his thoughts of mercy and goodness as being beyond the power of computation, or as too numerous to be brought into order and arrangement before the mind.
If I would declare and speak of them - If I should attempt to speak of them; or to recount them.
They are more than can be numbered - More than man can enumerate. They go beyond the power of language to express them. This is literally true. No language of man can describe what God has done and has purposed in fitting up this world as an abode for people, and in his mercy toward them.
Sacrifice and offering - The first of the words used here - זבח zebach - means properly a bloody-offering; the other - מנחה minchāh - an offering without blood, as a thank-offering. See the notes at Isaiah 1:11. The four words employed in this verse - sacrifice, offering, burnt-offering, sin-offering - embrace all the species of sacrifice and offerings known among the Hebrews; and the idea here is, that such offering as they were accustomed to offer was required of him who is here referred to. A higher service was needed.
Thou didst not desire - The word here rendered desire means to incline to, to be favorably disposed, as in reference to doing anything; that is, to will, to desire, to please. The meaning here is, that he did not will this or wish it; he would not be pleased with it in comparison with obedience, or as a substitute for obedience. He preferred obedience to any external rites and forms; to all the rites and forms of religion prescribed by the law. They were of no value without obedience; they could not be substituted in the place of obedience. This sentiment often occurs in the Old Testament, showing that the design of all the rites then prescribed was to bring men to obedience, and that they were of no value without obedience. See the notes at Isaiah 1:10-20; compare 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 51:16-17; Hosea 6:6; see also the notes at Hebrews 10:5.
Mine ears hast thou opened - Margin: “digged.” The Hebrew word - כרה kârâh - means “to dig;” as, to dig a well, Genesis 26:25; to dig a sepulchre, Genesis 50:5. As used here this would properly mean, “mine ears hast thou digged out;” that is, thou hast so opened them that there is a communication with the seat of hearing; or, in other words, thou hast caused me to hear this truth, or hast revealed it to me. Compare Isaiah 50:5, “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious.” The meaning here would be, that the ear had been opened, so that it was quick to hear. An indisposition to obey the will of God is often expressed by the fact that the ears are “stopped:” Zechariah 7:11; Psalms 58:4-5; Proverbs 21:13. There is manifestly no allusion here, though that has been supposed by many to be the reference, to the custom of boring through the ear of a servant with an awl, as a sign that he was willing to remain with his master: Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17. In that case the outer circle, or rim of the ear was “bored through” with an awl; here the idea is that of “hollowinq out,” digging, excavating, that is, of making a passage “through,” so that one could hear; not the mere piercing of the outer ear. The essential idea is, that this truth had been communicated to him - that God preferred obedience to sacrifice; and that he had been made attentive to that truth, “as if” he had been before deaf, and his ears had been opened. The principal difficulty in the passage relates to its application in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 10:5. That difficulty arises from the fact that the Septuagint translates the phrase here by the words “a body hast thou prepared me;” and that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews founds an argument on that translation, with reference to the work of the Messiah. On this point, see the notes at Hebrews 10:5. It is perhaps not now possible to explain this difficulty in a way that will be entirely satisfactory.
burnt-offering - See the notes at Isaiah 1:11. The uniqueness of this offering was that it was consumed by fire.
And sin-offering - sin-offering was an offering or sacrifice made specifically for sin, with a view to expiate either sin in general, or some specific act of sin. In the Mosaic law there are two kinds of these offerings prescribed; “trespass-offerings,” or offerings for guilt or fault, denoted by the word אשׁם 'âshâm; and sin-offering, denoted by the word used here. They are offerings which were consumed by fire, Leviticus 5:1-19; Leviticus 6:1-7; Leviticus 14:10. But the essential “idea” was that they were for “sin,” or for some act of guilt. In a general sense, this was true of all bloody offerings or sacrifices; but in these cases the attention of the worshipper was turned particularly to the fact of sin or transgression.
Thou hast not required - That is, thou hast not required them as compared with obedience; in other words, thou hast preferred the latter. These offerings would not meet the case. More was necessary to be done than was implied in these sacrifices. They would not expiate sin; they would not remove guilt; they would not give the conscience peace. A higher work, a work implied in an act of “obedience” of the most exalted kind, was demanded in order to accomplish the work to be done. Compare Psalms 51:16.
Then said I - In Hebrews 10:7, the apostle applies this to the Messiah. See the notes at that verse. This is the most simple and satisfactory interpretation of the passage. The word “then” in this verse means, “since this is the case;” or, “things being thus.” It does not refer to time, but to the condition of things. “Since it was certain that the work needful to be done could not be accomplished by bloody offerings - the sacrifice of animals - under these circumstances I said;” that is, I resolved or purposed to come.
Lo, I come - It is difficult to see how this could be applied to David; it is easy to see how it could be applied to the Messiah. When all bloody offerings under the law - all the sacrifices which men could make - did not avail to put away sin, it was true of the Messiah that he came into the world to perform a higher work that would meet the case - a lofty work of obedience, extending even unto death, Philippians 2:8. This is precisely the use which the apostle makes of the passage in Hebrews 10:7, and this is clearly the most obvious meaning. It is in no sense applicable to David; it is fully applicable to the Messiah.
In the volume of the book - literally, “in the roll of the book.” See the notes at Luke 4:17. The phrase would most naturally denote the “scroll of the law;” but it might include any volume or roll where a record or prophecy was made. In a large sense it would embrace all that had been written at the command of God at the time when this was supposed to be spoken. That is, as spoken by the Messiah, it would include all the books of the Old Testament. See the notes at Hebrews 10:7.
It is written of me - It is recorded; or, there is a record made of me; to wit, in this respect, that his great delight would be to do the will of God. The proper interpretation of this expression must he, that there must be some record to be found in the “book” or” volume” referred to, which was designed to describe him in this respect, or which had an original reference to him. The meaning is not that there was a general record on the point of obedience which might be applied to him as well as to others, but that the record was intended to be applied to him, and to describe his character. This is one of the passages in the Psalms which cannot with any propriety be applied to David himself. There was no such antecedent record in regard to him; no statement in any “book” or “volume” that this would be his character. There is no promise - no intimation - in any of the books of Scripture written before the time of David that he would come to do the will of God with a view to effect that which could not be done by the sacrifices and offerings under the law.
The reference of the language, therefore, must be to the Messiah - to some place where it is represented or affirmed that he would come to accomplish by his obedience what could not be done by the sacrifices and oblations made under the law. Thus understood, and regarded as the language of the Messiah himself, the reference might be to all the books of the Old Testament (for all were completed before he came), and not merely to those which had been written in the time of David. But still, it is true that no such declaration, in so many words, can now be found in any of those books; and the meaning must be that this was the language which was everywhere implied respecting the Messiah; that this was the substance of the description given of him; that this characterized his work as predicted there; to wit, that when all sacrifices and offerings under the law failed; when they had all shown that they were not efficacious to put away sin, One would come to perform some higher work that would be effectual in putting away transgression, and that this work might, in the highest sense, be described as “obedience,” or as “doing the will of God.” This was true. The language and the institutions of the Old Testament contemplated him as the One who only could put away sin. The entire spirit of the Mosaic economy supposed that a Saviour would come to do the will of God by making an atonement for the sin of the world. The meaning then is, “I come to do thy will in making an atonement, for no other offering would expiate sin; that I would do this, is the language of the Scriptures in predicting my coming, and of the whole spirit and design of the ancient dispensation.”
I delight to do thy will, O my God - To wit, in obeying the law; in submitting to all the trials appointed to me; in making an atonement for the sins of men. See the notes at Hebrews 10:7. Compare Philippians 2:8; Matthew 26:39.
Yea, thy law is within my heart - Margin, “In the midst of my bowels.” So the Hebrew. The idea is, that the law of God was within him. His obedience was not external, but proceeded from the heart. How true this was of the Redeemer it is not necessary here to say.
I have preached righteousness in the great congregation - I have main tained and defended the principles of righteousness and truth among assembled multitudes. it would be difficult to see how this could be applied to David himself, or on what occasion of his life this could be said of him; but no one can doubt that this is applicable to the Messiah:
(a) He was a preacher.
(b) He addressed vast multitudes.
(c) Before them all, and at all times, he maintained and illustrated the great principles of “righteousness” as demanded by the law of God, and unfolded the way in which all those multitudes might become righteous before God.
Lo, I have not refrained my lips - I have not closed my lips. I have not kept back the truth.
O Lord, thou knowest - He could make this solemn appeal to God as the Searcher of hearts, in proof that he had faithfully uttered all that had been required of him in making known the will of God. Compare John 17:4, John 17:6,John 17:8, John 17:14, John 17:26.
I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart - The word “righteousness” here may denote the divine views on the subject of righteousness, or the divine method of making man righteous; that is, the method of justification, as the word is used in the New Testament. See the notes at Romans 1:17. The word, as it might have been employed by David, would have been used in the former sense, as meaning that, knowing what God requires of men, he had not concealed that in his heart, or had not kept it to himself; as used by the Messiah, as I suppose it to be here, it would be employed in the latter sense, or perhaps embrace both. The idea would be, that he had not concealed in his own mind, or had not kept to himself, the knowledge which he had of the requirements of the law of God, or of the way in which man can be justified or regarded and treated as righteous in his sight. He had fully communicated this knowledge to others. It is not necessary to say that this was literally fulfilled in the work of the Redeemer. He spent his life in making known the great truths about the righteousness of God; he died that he might disclose to man a way by which God could consistently regard and treat men as righteous. See the notes at Romans 3:24-26.
I have declared thy faithfulness - Thy truthfulness; I have showed that God is worthy of confidence. And thy salvation. Thy method of salvation, or of saving men.
I have not concealed thy loving kindness - Thy mercy or thy merciful disposition toward men. He had shown to the human race that God was a merciful Being; a Being who would pardon sin.
And thy truth - The truth which thou hast revealed; the truth on all subjects which it was important for men to understand.
From the great congregation - That is, as in Psalms 40:9, the assembled multitudes - the throngs that gathered to hear the words of the Great Teacher. Compare Matthew 5:1; Matthew 13:2; Luke 8:4.
Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord - Do not restrain or hold back thy compassions. Let thy mercies - the expressions of thy love - flow out freely toward me in connection with what I have done. As applicable to the Redeemer, this is a prayer that God would bestow upon him in connection with his work, and as a reward of his work, appropriate proofs of his goodness. And especially is this to be understood here as a prayer for support and deliverance in the sorrows that came upon him in the accomplishment of his work. The prayer is intermediate between the expression of his purpose to do the will of God when all other means of salvation had failed Psalms 40:6-8, and the sorrows or sufferings that would come upon him in the accomplishment of his work Psalms 40:12-13. He saw himself at this point of his life, as represented in the psalm, as about to sink into the depth of woes. He had kept the law of God, and had by his obedience thus far done His will. He had made known the truth of God, and had declared His great message to the assembled multitude that had crowded his path, and thronged to hear him. He saw himself now about to enter the vale of sorrow; to plunge into that depth of the unutterable woes connected with the making of an atonement. He prayed, therefore, that, in these approaching sorrows, God would not withhold the expression of his tender mercy. The point of time, therefore, in the Redeemer’s life which the verse before us occupies, is that awful and sorrowful hour when, his public work of teaching and of miracles finished, he was about to endure the agonies of Gethsemane and of the cross.
Let thy loving-kindness - Thy mercy. “And thy truth.” Thy promises; thy plighted support and strength; thy fidelity. That is, he prayed that God would show himself true and faithful in bearing him through the great work of the atonement.
Continually - Through the whole of these sorrows. Do not for a moment leave or forsake me.
Preserve me - Keep me from sinking under these woes; from speaking any improper word; from shrinking back; from being overcome by the tempter; from failing in the great work now to be accomplished. As the Redeemer had a human as well as a divine nature; as he was man, with all human susceptibilities to suffering, it was not inappropriate that he should utter this prayer, and lift up his heart with the utmost earnestness to God, that he might not be forsaken in the consummation of the great work of his life, and that this work might not fail.
For innumerable evils have compassed me about - Have surrounded me, or have beset me on every side. The evils here referred to, understood as being those which came upon the Messiah, were sorrows that came upon him in consequence of his undertaking to do what could not be done by sacrifices and offerings Psalms 40:6; that is, his undertaking to save men by his own “obedience unto death.” The time referred to here, I apprehend, is that when the full effects of his having assumed the sins of the world to make expiation for them came upon him; when he was about to endure the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary.
Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me - On this passage, as constituting one of the main objections, and the strongest objection, to the application of the psalm to the Messiah, and on the way in which such objection may be met, see introduction to this psalm (3b).
So that I am not able to look up - This is not the exact idea of the Hebrew word. That is simply, I am not able to see; and it refers to the dimness or failure of sight caused by distress, weakness, or old age. 1 Samuel 3:2; 1 Samuel 4:15; 1 Kings 14:4; compare Psalms 6:7. The idea here is, not that he was unable to look up, but that the calamities which came upon him were so heavy and severe as to make his sight dim, or to deprive him of vision. Either by weeping, or by the mere pressure of suffering, he was so affected as almost to be deprived of the power of seeing.
They are more than the hairs of mine head - That is, the sorrows that come upon me in connection with sin. The idea is that they were innumerable - the hairs of the head, or the sands on the seashore; being employed in the Scriptures to denote what cannot be numbered. See Psalms 69:4. Compare Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12; Joshua 11:4; 2 Samuel 17:11.
Therefore my heart faileth me - Margin, as in Hebrew: “forsaketh.” The idea is that he sank under these sufferings; he could not sustain them.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me - That is, in these troubles and sorrows. See Matthew 26:39. The prayer is that, if possible, the cup of sorrow might be taken away.
O Lord, make haste to help me - This is the same form of prayer, and referring, I suppose, to the same occasion as that which occurs in Psalms 22:19. See the notes at that verse.
Let them be ashamed and confounded together - See at Psalms 35:4, note; Psalms 35:26, note. This may be understood here rather as a confident expectation than a wish or desire. It implies the certainty that they would thus be ashamed and confounded; that is, that they would not be successful, or would be foiled in their purposes. But understood as a wish or prayer, it could not be improper. There is no sin in the wish that the wicked may not be successful in their plans, and may not be suffered to injure us. As the language of the Messiah it was in every way an appropriate prayer that the purposes of those who would defeat his design in coming into the world might be foiled - for on the execution of that design depended the salvation of a lost race.
That seek after my soul to destroy it - That seek after my life; that would destroy me. That is, they seek to kill me; they would take my life before the full time is come. As understood of the Messiah, this would refer to the times when his life was in danger, as it often was, before the full period had arrived for him to die: John 7:6; Matthew 26:18. The purpose of his enemies was to take his life; to prevent the spread of his doctrines; to cheek him in his work. The taking of his life at any time before the full period had arrived, or in any other way than that in which he had purposed to lay it down, would have been a defeat of his work, since in the plan of salvation it was contemplated that he should die at a certain time, and in a certain manner - that he should die at the time which had been predicted by the prophets, and in such a mode as to make an atonement for sin. All this would have been defeated if, before that time came, he had been put to death by stoning, or in any of the numerous ways in which his life was threatened.
Let them be driven backward, and put to shame, that wish me evil - Turned backward, as they are who are unsuccessful, or are defeated. Compare John 18:6.
Let them be desolate - The word here employed means to be astonished or amazed; then, to be laid waste, or made desolate. As used here, it refers to their purposes, and the wish or prayer is that they might be wholly unsuccessful, or that in respect to success they might be like a waste and desolate field where nothing grows.
For a reward - The word used here - עקב ‛êqeb - means the end, the last of anything; then, the recompence, reward, wages, as being the end, the result, or issue of a certain course of conduct. That is, in this case, the desolation prayed for would be a proper recompence for their purpose, or for what they said. “Of their shame.” Of their shameful act or purpose; their act as deserving of ignominy.
That say unto me, Aha, aha - That use language of reproach and contempt. This is a term of exultation over another; a word of rejoicing at the calamities that come on another; an act of joy over a fallen enemy: Ezekiel 25:3; see Psalms 35:21, note; Psalms 35:25, note. As understood of the Messiah, this would refer to the taunts and reproaches of his enemies; the exultation which they manifested when they had him in their power - when they felt secure that their vexations in regard to him were at an end, or that they would be troubled with him no more. By putting him to death they supposed that they might feel safe from further molestation on his account. For this act, this note of exultation and joy, on the part of the Jewish rulers, and of the people as stimulated by those rulers, the desolation which came upon them (the utter ruin of their temple, their city, and their nation) was an appropriate reward. That desolation did not go beyond their desert, for their treatment of the Messiah - as the ruin of the sinner in the future world will not go beyond his desert for having rejected the same Messiah as his Saviour.
Let all those that seek thee - All those who desire to know thee; to understand thy ways; to be thy friends. The phrase is used to denote the truly pious, because it is a characteristic of all such that they truly desire to be acquainted with God, and to find the way which leads to his favor.
Rejoice and be glad in thee -
(1) By finding thee, or securing the object which they sought;
(2) in thee, as the source of all true comfort and joy.
The prayer is that all such may be successful in their efforts, while those who have no such aim may be disappointed, Psalms 40:14.
Let such as love thy salvation -
(a) Thy method of salvation, or the appointed way by which men may be saved; and
(b) the salvation itself - deliverance from the guilt and dominion of sin, and complete and eternal restoration to the favor of God.
Say continually, The Lord be magnified - See the notes at Psalms 35:27, where the same expression occurs.
But I am poor and needy - More literally, “I am afflicted and poor.” The language would describe the condition of one who was afflicted and was at the same time poor; of one who had no resource but in God, and who was passing through scenes of poverty and sorrow. There were undoubtedly times in the life of David to which this language would be applicable; but it would be far more applicable to the circumstances in which the Redeemer was placed; and, in accordance with the interpretation which has been given of the other parts of the psalm, I suppose that this is designed to represent his afflicted and humble condition as a man of poverty and sorrow.
Yet the Lord thinketh upon me - The Lord cares for me; he has not forgotten me. Man forsakes me, but he will not. Man leaves me to poverty and sorrow, but, he will not. How true this was of the Redeemer, that the Lord, the Father of mercies; thought on him, it is not needful now to say; nor can it be doubted that in the heavy sorrows of his life this was a source of habitual consolation. To others also - to all his friends - this is a source of unspeakable comfort. To be an object of the thoughts of God; to be had in his mind; to be constantly in his remembrance; to be certain that he will not forsake us in our trouble; to be assured in our own minds that one so great as God is - the infinite and eternal One - will never cease to think on us, may well sustain us in all the trials of life. It matters little who does forsake us, if he does not; it would be of little advantage to us who should think on us, if he did not.
Thou art my help and my deliverer - Implying the highest confidence. See the notes at Psalms 18:2.
Make no tarrying, O my God - Do not linger or delay in coming to my assistance. The psalm closes with this prayer. Applied to the Redeemer, it indicates strong confidence in God in the midst of his afflictions and sorrows, with earnest pleading, coming from the depth of those sorrows, that God would interpose for him. The vision of the psalmist extended here no farther. His eye rested on a suffering Messiah - afflicted, crushed, broken, forsaken - with all the woes connected with the work of human redemption, and all the sorrows expressive of the evil of sin clustering upon him, yet confident in God, and finding his last consolation in the feeling that God “thought” on him, and in the assurance that He would not ultimately forsake him. There is something delightful, though pensive, in the close of the psalm. The last prayer of the sufferer - the confident, earnest pleading - lingers on the ear, and we almost seem to behold the Sufferer in the depth of his sorrows, and in the earnestness of his supplication, calmly looking up to God as One that “thought” on him when all others had forgotten him; as a last, safe refuge when every other refuge had failed. So, in our sorrows, we may lie before the throne, calmly looking up to God with a feeling that we are not forgotten; that there is One who “thinks” on us; and that it is our privilege to pray to him that he would hasten to deliver us. All sorrow can be borne when we feel that God has not forgotten us; we may be calm when all the world forsakes us, if we can feel assured that the great and blessed God thinks on us, and will never cease to remember us.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 40". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34