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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Psalms 40

Thanksgiving, an Offering Up of One's Self, and Prayer

Psalms 39:1-13 is followed by Psalms 40, because the language of thanksgiving with which it opens is, as it were, the echo of the language of payer contained in the former. If Psalms 40 was composed by David, and not rather by Jeremiah-a question which can only be decided by including Ps 69 (which see) in the same investigation-it belongs to the number of those Psalms which were composed between Gibea of Saul and Ziklag. The mention of the roll of the book in v. 8 harmonizes with the retrospective references to the Tפra, which abound in the Psalms belonging to the time of Saul. And to this we may add the vow to praise Jahve בּקהל , Psalms 40:10, cf. Psalms 22:26; Psalms 35:18; the expression, “more in number than the hairs of my head,” Psalms 40:13, cf. Psalms 69:5; the wish יצּרוּני , Psalms 40:12, cf. Psalms 25:21; the mocking האח האה , Psalms 40:16, cf. Psalms 35:21, Psalms 35:25; and much besides, on which vid., my Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, S. 457 transl. vol. ii. p. 149. The second half has an independent form in Psalms 70:1-5. It is far better adapted to form an independent Psalm than the first half, which merely looks back into the past, and for this very reason contains no prayer.

The long lines, more in keeping with the style of prayer than of song, which alternate with disproportionately shorter ones, are characteristic of this Psalm. If with these long lines we associate a few others, which are likewise more or less distinctly indicated, then the Psalm can be easily divided into seven six-line strophes.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 10:5-10, Psalms 40:7 of this Psalm are, by following the lxx, taken as the language of the Christ at His coming into the world. There can be no doubt in this particular instance that, as we look to the second part of the Psalm, this rendering is brought about typically. The words of David, the anointed one, but only now on the way to the throne, are so moulded by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, that they sound at the same time like the words of the second David, passing through suffering to glory, whose offering up of Himself is the close of the animal sacrifices, and whose person and work are the very kernel and star of the roll of the Law. We are not thereby compelled to understand the whole Psalm as typically predictive. It again descends from the typically prophetic height to which it has risen even from Psalms 40:10 onwards; and from Psalms 40:13 onwards, the typically prophetic strain which still lingers in Psalms 40:10 and Psalms 40:11 has entirely ceased.

Verses 1-4

David, who, though not without some hesitation, we regard as the author, now finds himself in a situation in which, on the one hand, he has just been rescued from danger, and, on the other, is still exposed to peril. Under such circumstances praise rightly occupies the first place, as in general, according to Psalms 50:23, gratitude is the way to salvation. His hope, although תּוחלת ממשּׁכה (Proverbs 13:12), has not deceived him; he is rescued, and can now again sing a new song of thanksgiving, an example for others, strengthening their trust. קוּה קוּיתי , I waited with constancy and perseverance. יהוה is the accusative as in Psalms 25:5; Psalms 130:5, and not the vocative as in Psalms 39:8. אזנו is to be supplied in thought to ויּט , although after the analogy of Psalms 17:6; Psalms 31:3, one might have looked for the Hiph. wayaT instead of the Kal. בור שׁאון does not mean a pit of roaring (of water), since שׁאון standing alone (see, on the other hand, Psalms 65:8, Isaiah 17:12.) has not this meaning; and, moreover, “rushing, roaring” (Hengstenberg), tumultuous waters of a pit or a cistern does not furnish any idea that is true to nature; neither does it mean a pit of falling in, since שׁאה does not exhibit the signification deorsum labi; but the meaning is: a pit of devastation, of destruction, of ruin (Jeremiah 25:31; Jeremiah 46:17), vid., supra on Psalms 35:8. Another figure is “mire of the marsh” ( יון found only here and in Psalms 69:3), i.e., water, in the miry bottom of which one can find no firm footing - a combination like מטר־גּשׁם , Zechariah 10:1, אדמת־עפר , Daniel 12:2, explained in the Mishna, Mikvaoth ix. 2, by טיט הבורות (mire of the cisterns). Taking them out of this, Jahve placed his feet upon a rock, established his footsteps, i.e., removed him from the danger which surrounded him, and gave him firm ground under his feet. The high rock and the firm footsteps are the opposites of the deep pit and the yielding miry bottom. This deliverance afforded him new matter for thanksgiving (cf. Psalms 33:3), and became in his mouth “praise to our God;” for the deliverance of the chosen king is an act of the God of Israel on behalf of His chosen people. The futures in Psalms 40:4 (with an alliteration similar to Psalms 52:8) indicate, by their being thus cumulative, that they are intended of the present and of that which still continues in the future.

Verses 5-6

He esteems him happy who puts his trust ( מבטחו , with a latent Dagesh, as, according to Kimchi, also in Psalms 71:5; Job 31:24; Jeremiah 17:7) in Jahve, the God who has already made Himself glorious in Israel by innumerable wonderful works. Jeremiah 17:7 is an echo of this אשׁרי . Psalms 52:9 (cf. Psalms 91:9) shows how Davidic is the language. The expression is designedly not האישׁ , but הגּבר , which is better adapted to designate the man as being tempted to put trust in himself. רהבים from רהב (not from רהב ) are the impetuous or violent, who in their arrogance cast down everything. שׂטי כזב , “turners aside of falsehood” ( שׁוּט = שׂטה , cf. Psalms 101:3), is the expression for apostates who yield to falsehood instead of to the truth: to take כּזב as accusative of the aim is forbidden by the status construct.; to take it as the genitive in the sense of the accusative of the object (like תם הלכי , Proverbs 2:7) is impracticable, because שׂוט ( שׂטה ) does not admit of a transitive sense; כזב is, therefore, genit. qualit. like און in Psalms 59:6. This second strophe contains two practical applications of that which the writer himself has experienced. From this point of view, he who trusts in God appears to the poet to be supremely happy, and a distant view of God's gracious rule over His own people opens up before him. נפלאות are the thoughts of God realized, and מחשׁבות those that are being realized, as in Jeremiah 51:29; Isaiah 55:8. רבּות is an accusative of the predicate: in great number, in rich abundance; אלינוּ , “for us,” as e.g., in Jeremiah 15:1 (Ew. §217, c). His doings towards Israel were from of old a fulness of wondrous deeds and plans of deliverance, which was ever realizing and revealing itself. There is not ערך אליך , a possibility of comparison with Thee, οὐκ ἔστι (Ew. §§321, c) ἰσουν τί σοι - ערך as in Psalms 89:7; Isaiah 40:18 - they are too powerful ( עצם of a powerful sum, as in Psalms 69:5; Psalms 139:17, cf. Jeremiah 5:6) for one to enumerate. According to Rosenmüller, Stier, and Hupfeld, אין ערך אליך even affirms the same thing in other words: it is not possible to lay them forth to Thee (before Thee); but that man should “lay forth” (Symmachus ἐκθέστηαι ) before God His marvellous works and His thoughts of salvation, is an unbecoming conception. The cohortative forms, which follow, אגּידה ואדבּרה ,wollof h , admit of being taken as a protasis to what follows, after the analogy of Job 19:18; Job 16:6; Job 30:26; Psalms 139:8: if I wish to declare them and speak them forth, they are too powerful (numerous) to be enumerated (Ges. §128, 1, d). The accentuation, however, renders it as a parenthetical clause: I would (as in Psalms 51:18; Psalms 55:13; Psalms 6:10) declare them and speak them forth. He would do this, but because God, in the fulness of His wondrous works and thoughts of salvation, is absolutely without an equal, he is obliged to leave it undone - they are so powerful (numerous) that the enumeration of them falls far short of their powerful fulness. The words alioqui pronunciarem et eloquerer have the character of a parenthesis, and, as Psalms 40:7 shows, this accords with the style of this Psalm.

Verses 7-9

The connection of the thoughts is clear: great and manifold are the proofs of Thy loving-kindness, how am I to render thanks to Thee for them? To this question he first of all gives a negative answer: God delights not in outward sacrifices. The sacrifices are named in a twofold way: ( a) according to the material of which they consist, viz., זבח , the animal sacrifice, and מנחה , the meal or meat offering (including the נסך , the wine or drink offering, which is the inalienable accessory of the accompanying mincha); ( b) according to their purpose, in accordance with which they bring about either the turning towards one of the good pleasure of God, as more especially in the case of the עולה , or, as more especially in the case of the הטּאת (in this passage חטאה ), the turning away of the divine displeasure. The fact of the זבח and עולה standing first, has, moreover, its special reason in the fact that זבח specially designates the shelamı̂m offerings, and to the province of these latter belongs the thank-offering proper, viz., the tôda - shelamı̂m offering; and that עולה as the sacrifice of adoration ( προσευχή ), which is also always a general thanksgiving ( εὐχαριστία ), is most natural, side by side with the shalemim, to him who gives thanks. When it is said of God, that He does not delight in and desire such non-personal sacrifices, there is as little intention as in Jeremiah 7:22 (cf. Amos 5:21.) of saying that the sacrificial Tôra is not of divine origin, but that the true, essential will of God is not directed to such sacrifices.

Between these synonymous utterances in Psalms 40:7 and Psalms 40:7 stands the clause אזנים כּרית לּי . In connection with this position it is natural, with Rosenmüller, Gesenius, De Wette, and Stier, to explain it “ears hast Thou pierced for me” = this hast Thou engraven upon my mind as a revelation, this disclosure hast Thou imparted to me. But, although כּרה , to dig, is even admissible in the sense of digging through, piercing (vid., on Psalms 22:17), there are two considerations against this interpretation, viz.: (1) that then one would rather look for אזן instead of אזנים after the analogy of the phrases גּלה אזן , חעיר אזן , and פּתח אזן , since the inner sense, in which the external organs of sense, with their functions, have their basis of unity, is commonly denoted by the use of the singular; (2) that according to the syntax, חפצתּ , כּרית , and שׁאלתּ are all placed on the same level. Thus, therefore, it is with this very אזנים כרית לי that the answer is intended, in its positive form, to begin; and the primary passage, 1 Samuel 15:22, favours this view: “Hath Jahve delight in whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in one's obeying the voice of Jahve? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to attend better than the fat of rams!” The assertion of David is the echo of this assertion of Samuel, by which the sentence of death was pronounced upon the kingship of Saul, and consequently the way of that which is well-pleasing to God was traced out for the future kingship of David. God - says David - desires not outward sacrifices, but obedience; ears hath He digged for me, i.e., formed the sense of hearing, bestowed the faculty of hearing, and given therewith the instruction to obey.

(Note: There is a similar expression in the Tamul Kural, Graul's translation, S. 63, No. 418: “An ear, that was not hollowed out by hearing, has, even if hearing, the manner of not hearing.” The “hollowing out” meaning in this passage an opening of the inward sense of hearing by instruction.)

The idea is not that God has given him ears in order to hear that disclosure concerning the true will of God (Hupfeld), but, in general, to hear the word of God, and to obey that which is heard. God desires not sacrifices but hearing ears, and consequently the submission of the person himself in willing obedience. To interpret it “Thou hast appropriated me to Thyself לעבד עולם ,” after Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17, would not be out of harmony with the context; but it is at once shut out by the fact that the word is not אזן , but אזנים . Concerning the generalizing rendering of the lxx, σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μου , following which Apollinaris renders it αὐτὰρ ἐμοί Βροτέης τεκτήναο σάρκα γενέθλης , and the Italic (which is also retained in the Psalterium Romanum ), corpus autem perfecisti mihi; vide on Hebrews 10:5, Commentary, S. 460f. transl. vol. ii. p. 153.

The אז אמרתּי , which follows, now introduces the expression of the obedience, with which he placed himself at the service of God, when he became conscious of what God's special will concerning him was. With reference to the fact that obedience and not sacrifice has become known to him as the will and requirement of God, he has said: “Lo, I come,” etc. By the words “Lo, I come,” the servant places himself at the call of his master, Numbers 22:38; 2 Samuel 19:21. It is not likely that the words בּמגלּת ספר כּתוּב עלי then form a parenthesis, since Psalms 40:9 is not a continuation of that “Lo, I come,” but a new sentence. We take the Beth, as in Psalms 66:13, as the Beth of the accompaniment; the roll of the book is the Tôra, and more especially Deuteronomy, written upon skins and rolled up together, which according to the law touching the king (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) was to be the vade-mecum of the king of Israel. And עלי cannot, as synonymous with the following בּמעי , signify as much as “written upon my heart,” as De Wette and Thenius render it-a meaning which, as Maurer has already correctly replied, עלי obtains elsewhere by means of a conception that is altogether inadmissible in this instance. On the contrary, this preposition here, as in 2 Kings 22:13, denotes the object of the contents; for כּתב על signifies to write anything concerning any one, so that he is the subject one has specially in view (e.g., of the judicial decision recorded in writing, Job 13:26). Because Jahve before all else requires obedience to His will, David comes with the document of this will, the Tôra, which prescribes to him, as a man, and more especially as the king, the right course of conduct. Thus presenting himself to the God of revelation, he can say in Psalms 40:9, that willing obedience to God's Law is his delight, as he then knows that the written Law is written even in his heart, or, as the still stronger expression used here is, in his bowels. The principal form of מעי , does not occur in the Old Testament; it was מעים (from מע , מעה , or even מעי ), according to current Jewish pronunciation מעים (which Kimchi explains dual); and the word properly means (vid., on Isaiah 48:19) the soft parts of the body, which even elsewhere, like רחמים , which is synonymous according to its original meaning, appear pre-eminently as the seat of sympathy, but also of fear and of pain. This is the only passage in which it occurs as the locality of a mental acquisition, but also with the associated notion of loving acceptance and cherishing protection (cf. the Syriac phrase סם בגו מעיא , som begau meajo , to shut up in the heart = to love). That the Tôra is to be written upon the tables of the heart is even indicated by the Deuteronomion, Deuteronomy 6:6, cf. Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3. This reception of the Tôra into the inward parts among the people hitherto estranged from God is, according to Jeremiah 31:33, the characteristic of the new covenant. But even in the Old Testament there is among the masses of Israel “a people with My law in their heart” (Isaiah 51:7), and even in the Old Testament, “he who hath the law of his God in his heart” is called righteous (Psalms 37:31). As such an one who has the Tôra within him, not merely beside him, David presents himself on the way to the throne of God.

Verses 10-11

The self-presentation before Jahve, introduced by אז אמרתּי , extends from הנה to מעי ; consequently בּשּׂרתּי yltn joins on to אמרתי , and the אכלא which stands in the midst of perfects describes the synchronous past. The whole is a retrospect. בּשּׂר , Arab. bššr (root בש ), starting from its sensible primary signification to scrape off, scratch off, rub smooth, means: to smooth any one ( glätten), Engl. to gladden one, i.e., vultum ejus diducere , to make him joyful and glad, more especially to cheer one by good news (e.g., basharahu or bashsharuhu bi̇maulûdin , bashsharuhu bi - maulûdin , he has cheered him by the intelligence of the birth of a son), in Hebrew directly equivalent to εὐαγγελίζειν ( εὐαγγελίζεσθαι ). He has proclaimed to all Israel the evangel of Jahve's justifying and gracious rule, which only changes into retribution towards those who despise His love; and he can appeal to the Omniscient One (Jeremiah 15:15), that neither through fear of men, nor through shame and indolence, has he restrained his lips from confessing Him. God's conduct, in accordance with the prescribed order of redemption, is as a matter of fact called צדק , and as an attribute of His holy love, צדקה ; just as אמוּנה is His faithfulness which fulfils the promises made and which does not suffer hope to be put to shame, and תּשׁוּעה is His salvation as it is manifested in facts. This rich matter for the preaching of the evangel, which may be comprehended in the two words חסד ועמת , the Alpha and Omega of God's self-attestation in the course of the redemptive history, he has not allowed to slumber as a dead, unfruitful knowledge hidden deep down in his heart. The new song which Jahve put into his mouth, he has also really sung. Thus far we have the first part of the song, which renders thanks for past mercies.

Verses 12-13

Now, in accordance with the true art of prayer, petition developes itself out of thanksgiving. The two כּלא , Psalms 40:10 and here, stand in a reciprocal relation to one another: he refrained not his lips; therefore, on His part, let not Jahve withhold His tender mercies so that they should not be exercised towards him ( ממּנּי ). There is just the same correlation of mercy and truth in Psalms 40:11 and here: he wishes continually to stand under the protection of these two saving powers, which he has gratefully proclaimed before all Israel. With כּי , Psalms 40:13, he bases these desires upon his own urgent need. רעות are the evils, which come even upon the righteous (Psalms 34:20) as trials or as chastenings. אפפוּ עלי is a more circumstantial form of expression instead of אפפוּני , Psalms 18:5. His misdeeds have taken hold upon him, i.e., overtaken him in their consequences ( השּׂיג , as in Deuteronomy 28:15, Deuteronomy 28:45; cf. לכד , Proverbs 5:22), inasmuch as they have changed into decrees of suffering. He cannot see, because he is closely encompassed on all sides, and a free and open view is thereby altogether taken from him (the expression is used elsewhere of loss of sight, 1 Samuel 3:2; 1 Samuel 4:15; 1 Kings 14:4). The interpretation adopted by Hupfeld and Hitzig: I am not able to survey, viz., their number, puts into the expression more than it really expresses in the common usage of the language. His heart, i.e., the power of vital consistence, has forsaken him he is disconcerted, dejected, as it were driven to despair (Psalms 38:11). This feeling of the misery of sin is not opposed to the date of the Psalm being assigned to the time of Saul, vid., on Psalms 31:11.

Verses 14-16

In the midst of such sufferings, which, the longer they last, discover him all the more to himself as a sinner, he prays for speedy help. The cry for help in Psalms 40:14 turns with רצה towards the will of God; for this is the root of all things. As to the rest, it resembles Psalms 22:20 (38:23). The persecuted one wishes that the purpose of his deadly foes may as it were rebound against the protection of God and miserably miscarry. לספּותהּ , ad abripiendam eam (with Dagesh in the פ according to Ges. §45, 2, Ew. §245, a, and not as Gesenius, Thesaurus, p. 1235, states, aspirated),

(Note: After ל the aspirate usually disappears, as here and in Psalms 118:13; but there are exceptions, as לנתושׁ ולנתוץ , Jeremiah 1:10, and frequently, לשׁדוד , ib. Psalms 57:4. After ב and כ it usually remains, as in Psalms 87:6, Job 4:13; Job 33:15; 2 Samuel 3:34; 1 Kings 1:21; Ecclesiastes 5:10; but again there are exceptions, as בּשׁכּן , Genesis 35:22, בּזכּר , Jeremiah 17:2. In Genesis 23:2 it is pointed לבכּתהּ according to the rule, and in my Comment. S. 423 it is to be read “with a Dagesh.”)

is added to מבקשׁי נפשׁי by way of explanation and definiteness. ישׁמּוּ , from שׁמם , to become torpid, here used of outward and inward paralysis, which is the result of overpowering and as it were bewitching surprise or fright, and is called by the Arabs ro‛b or ra‛b (paralysis through terror) cf. Job, note at Psalms 18:12. An על following upon ישׁמּוּ looks at first sight as though it introduced the object and reason of this fright; it is therefore not: as a reward, in consequence of their infamy, which would not be על־עקב , but merely the accusative עקב (Isaiah 5:23, Arabic ‛qîba ), it is rather: on account of the reward (Psalms 19:12) of their disgrace (cf. as belonging to the same period, Psalms 109:29; Psalms 35:26), i.e., of the reward which consists in their being put to shame (Hitzig). לי as in Psalms 3:3; Psalms 41:6: with reference to me. האח האח (Aquila, ἀὰ ἀὰ, αὐτῇ συγχρησάμενος , as Eusebius says, οὕτως ἐχούσῃ τῇ Ἑβραΐκῆ φωνῇ ) is an exclamation of sarcastic delight, which finds its satisfaction in another's misfortune (Psalms 35:25).

Verse 17

On Psalms 40:17 compare Psalms 35:27. David wishes, as he does in that passage, that the pious may most heartily rejoice in God, the goal of their longing; and that on account of the salvation that has become manifest, which they love (2 Timothy 4:8), they may continually say: Let Jahve become great, i.e., be magnified or celebrated with praises! In Psalms 40:17 with ואני he comes back to his own present helpless state, but only in order to contrast with it the confession of confident hope. True he is עני ואביון (as in Psalms 109:22; Psalms 136:1, cf. Psalms 25:16), but He who ruleth over all will care for him: Dominus solicitus erit pro me (Jerome). חשׁב in the same sense in which in Psalms 40:6 the מחשׁבות , i.e., God's thoughts of salvation, is conceived of (cf. the corresponding North-Palestinian expression in Jonah 1:6). A sigh for speedy help ( אל־תּאחר , as in Daniel 9:19 with a transition of the merely tone-long Tsere into a pausal Pathach, and here in connection with a preceding closed syllable, Olshausen, §91, d, under the accompanying influence of two final letters which incline towards the a sound) closes this second part of the Psalm. The first part is nothing but thanksgiving, the second is exclusively prayer.

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Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 40". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.