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‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm to/for David.’
This Psalm is offered to the person responsible for the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and is of the Davidic collection. ‘To (or ‘for’) David’ may indicate that it was dedicated to David, written for the Davidic house, or even written by David himself.
The Psalm in its final form appears to have been presented by David to the Chief Musician for use in the worship in the Tabernacle. It very much reflects a certain period in his life, when he experienced God’s merciful deliverances only to find himself then plunged into even worse troubles. (See 1 Samuel 19:1 to 1 Samuel 27:12). It divides into a number of sections, the last of which (Psalms 40:13-17) is paralleled in Psalms 70:0. But the letter may well be an extract from the Psalm for use in public worship.
The Psalm commences with a cry of triumph as he is delivered from some predicament, which has resulted in his being inspired to compose and sing a new song (Psalms 40:1-3), and it continues with a period of consolidation in which he can rejoice in God’s works (Psalms 40:4-5) leading up to his dedication of himself to follow God’s will as revealed in His Instruction (Psalms 40:6-8), something which results in his declaring God’s faithfulness to all the assembled people (Psalms 40:9-10).
But then comes a period of trouble in which he is very much aware that his own sins are overwhelming him, a period in which his enemies are seeking to take full advantage of him, and he brings the Psalm to its conclusion in the confidence that God will deliver him out of it, in spite of his undeserving, because He is his Helper and Deliverer.
It is a reminder that there are many ups and downs in life, and of our need in the midst of them to give ourselves wholly to God, whatever the future holds. It is a reminder that while such dedication might lead us into even more troubles, it also certain that through such troubles we will learn that God is our Helper and Deliverer too. The idea that God’s people must rejoice in such tribulation, that is tribulation that brings them closer to God, is prominent in the New Testament (see Romans 5:1-5; Hebrews 12:2-13; James 1:2-12; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
The Psalm follows a regular pattern found in many prayers, especially those of spiritual people facing severe difficulties who do not just want to be seen as launching straight into a begging session. It is a pattern of true prayer. It begins with a consideration of God’s mercies, accompanied by an expression of gratitude for them, followed by a statement of confidence in His faithfulness. It then results in a rededication to His service, and an assertion by the worshipper that he will give faithful testimony to others about what God has done, before launching into a declaration of an awareness of present sin and into a plea for help in the particular difficulties being faced. And it ends with a call for God not to delay in acting in mercy, but to help him in spite of his undeserving. It is thus a well rounded prayer.
We can analyse it as follows:
· David Rejoices In His Past Deliverance Because He Believes That It Will Cause Many To Trust In YHWH (Psalms 40:1-3).
· He Declares That The Man Who Does So Trust In YHWH, And Lives Accordingly, Will Experience God’s Wonderful Working On His Behalf (Psalms 40:4-5).
· He Recognises That In Order For A Man To Express His Gratitude to God Religious Observances Are Not Enough, And That What God Requires Of Him Is Total Obedience to His Will, Something To Which He Gladly Accedes (Psalms 40:6-8).
· He Assures God That He Has Been Faithful In His Testimony Towards His Fellow Believers About God’s Goodness And Faithfulness Towards Them, Which Is Of Course An Essential Part Of His Obedience (Psalms 40:9-10).
· Having Thereby Established His Gratitude And Loyalty And The Faithfulness Of His Testimony With Regard to God, He Now Seeks God’s Aid In Helping Him With Regard To His Own Sinfulness And Prays Also For Assistance Against Those Who Are His Enemies (Psalms 40:11-15).
· He Ends Up By Depicting Who Are The Truly Righteous, To Whom He Knows YHWH Will Provide Help, And While Not Seeing Himself As Comparing With Them, Nevertheless Looks To God For Him Also To Help Him (Psalms 40:16-17).
David Rejoices In His Past Deliverance Because He Believes That It Will Cause Many To Trust In YHWH (Psalms 40:1-3 ).
‘I waited in patient waiting for YHWH,
And he inclined to me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And he set my feet upon a rock,
And established my goings.’
And he has put a new song in my mouth,
Even praise to our God.
Many will see it, and fear,
And will trust in YHWH.’
As David looks back to past trial he describes how he had waited patiently and trustingly for YHWH, and how YHWH had bent down to him and had heard his cry. He had lifted him from the ‘pit of tumult’ and from the miry clay, and had set his feet on a rock and had established his goings.
The picture is a vivid one of a man struggling in a quagmire and being rescued from it by being drawn out onto a rock. But the quagmire is a quagmire of worldly problems, being faced up to in a tumultuous world that would seek to drag us down. It can however be seen as any troubles with which we might be beset as we struggle to face up to the quagmire of life. And the promise is that, as He did with David, God will lift us out from them to a place of safety and security. He will set our feet on a rock, where the ground is firm beneath our feet, so that we might continue on securely.
The result was that David, ‘the sweet Psalmist of Israel’, found himself with a new song on his mouth, a song of praise to ‘our God’. The use of ‘our’ indicates that he wants all to join with him in praise. For his purpose in the song is that men may see what has happened and be filled with reverent awe and love, and may thus learn to trust in God.
He Declares That The Man Who Does So Trust In YHWH, And Lives Accordingly, Will Experience God’s Wonderful Working On His Behalf (Psalms 40:4-5 ).
‘Blessed is the man who makes YHWH his trust,
And respects not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
Many, O YHWH my God, are the wonderful works which you have done,
And your thoughts which are to us-ward,
They cannot be set in order to you,
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.’
David now outlines the blessedness of those who do so trust in God, and thus turn from all sinful ways. They do not listen to those proud men who in their pride ignore God and would lead them astray, nor do they listen to those who would lead them into dishonesty and deceit, for God has made their thoughts pure.
For such people God performs many wonderful things, and His thoughts and purposes are continually loving towards them. Indeed what He will do for them is so vast and so manifold that it cannot be tabulated or numbered. It is more than can possibly be sorted out into some sort of sequences in order that it can be described. For one thing multiplies and tumbles over on another, and then another, so that His actions towards them are beyond listing or counting.
He Recognises That In Order For A Man To Express His Gratitude to God Religious Observances Are Not Enough, And That What God Requires Of Him Is Total Obedience to His Will, Something To Which He Gladly Accedes (Psalms 40:6-8 ).
‘Sacrifice and offering you have no delight in,
My ears have you provided (literally ‘dug for me’),
Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required.
Then said I, Lo, I am come, in the roll of the book it is written of me,
I delight to do your will, O my God,
Yes, your law is within my heart.’
He affirms that he has used his God-provided ears (the ears that God has dug for him) in order to listen to what God has to say, and has recognised that God requires not simply religious observance, but an obedient heart. He had no doubt heard of the words of Samuel to Saul, which would have echoed throughout the land. ‘Has YHWH as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of YHWH. Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams’ (1 Samuel 15:22). And he wants YHWH to know that he will use the ears that He has given him in order to listen.
The whole range of offerings and sacrifices are in mind. Both the blood sacrifices and the meal offerings, and including those most important of offerings, the wholly offered burnt offerings and the sin offerings. All are required by YHWH for the purposes of atonement, but they are not sufficient in themselves. What is more important than all is an obedient heart (compare Isaiah 1:11-18).
And he wants YHWH to know that his obedience is such that the guarantee of it is in writing, for it is written in a book, ‘Lo I am come, I delight to do your will O my God, yes, your Instruction is in my heart’.
The reference may be to his own private record of his own dedication of himself, including some of his psalms, or to the Book of Deuteronomy, or indeed to the whole of the Instruction of Moses (the Pentateuch). But the fact that it is recorded in writing is seen as giving it more force. (For ‘roll of a book’ compare Jeremiah 36:2; Jeremiah 36:4; Ezekiel 2:9. In both cases what was written was of immense import).
What is written, however is more important than where it is written. And what is written is that he will come to God, and will with great delight obey Him fully from the heart. This is what is required of all men, to do the will of God (compare Psalms 19:7-14), and have His Instruction written in their heart (compare Jeremiah 31:33). And when the words are applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, great David’s greater son, the book is the Scriptures, and the obedience is according to the eternal will of God, but carried out through suffering by our Lord Himself in order that He might be a perfect and complete sacrifice (Hebrews 10:5-14).
He Declares to God That He Has Been Faithful In His Testimony Towards His Fellow Believers About God’s Goodness And Faithfulness, Which Is Of Course An Essential Part Of His Obedience (Psalms 40:9-10 ).
‘I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great assembly,
Lo, I will not refrain my lips, O YHWH, you know.
I have not hid your righteousness within my heart,
I have declared your faithfulness and your salvation,
I have not concealed your lovingkindness,
And your truth from the great assembly.’
He declares that in the assembly and worship of the people of God he has proclaimed glad tidings of ‘righteousness’. In mind here are probably God’s righteous acts in delivering His people from Philistine oppression through him (e.g. 1 Samuel 6:6-9, 6:30). We must remember here that the ideas of ‘righteousness’ and ‘salvation’ are regularly seen in parallel. And he assures God that he will not refrain from doing so, so that all the glory might go to YHWH, something that he is assured God already knows.
Thus he can quite honestly declare that he has not hidden the truth about God’s righteous activity in his heart, but has faithfully declared his faithfulness and deliverance to all. Nor has he concealed God’s covenant love or His truth from them in the great assembly. In other words he assures God that he has made quite clear to the people how much they owe to God in His faithfulness and love, for their deliverance.
Having Established His Gratitude And Loyalty And The Faithfulness Of His Testimony With Regard to God, He Now Seeks God’s Aid In Helping Him With Regard To His Own Sinfulness And Prays Also For Assistance Against Those Who Are His Enemies (Psalms 40:11-15 ).
‘Do not withhold your tender mercies from me, O YHWH,
Let your lovingkindness and your truth continually preserve me.
For innumerable evils have compassed me about,
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up,
They are more than the hairs of my head,
And my heart has failed me.’
It is one of David’s outstanding characteristics that when he faces trouble he recognises how many of his problems are due to his own sinfulness. Thus he does not just blame Saul or the world for his problems, or even God, but acknowledges that much of his trouble stems from his own behaviour.
So as he prays for the help of a gracious and merciful God, and in doing so acknowledges His compassion and truth in all that He does, he recognises that much of his trouble results from his own iniquities. If only he had been more humble, and not so willing to encourage the plaudits of the crowds (1 Samuel 18:6-8), if only he had not made such great demands in the face of what God had accomplished through him, by wanting to marry the king’s daughter (1 Samuel 18:27-28), if only he had been more thoughtful in his behaviour, if only he had not been so proud, and so vain, and so greedy, perhaps he might not have been in this position in which he found himself. Thus he recognises how much his own sins have multiplied and rebounded on himself. And his heart fails within him.
‘Be pleased, O YHWH, to deliver me,
Make haste to help me, O YHWH.
Let them be put to shame and confounded together,
Who seek after my soul to destroy it.
Let them be turned backward and brought to dishonour,
That delight in my hurt.
Let them be desolate by reason of their shame,
Who say to me, Aha, aha.’
Nevertheless the greater sin is with his opponents. And so he calls on YHWH to deliver him and hurry to his aid. Let those who seek after him to destroy him find themselves confounded. Let those who delight in his hurt be driven back and brought to dishonour. Let those who mock him and seek to shame him, themselves be desolate because of their own shame. For YHWH will be aware how much of it is their own fault, and indeed is what they deserve. His confidence lies in the fact of his own trust in God, and in his own faithfulness and obedience to God previously revealed (Psalms 40:1-10). He is sure that YHWH will be on his side because he is faithful to His covenant requirements and always grateful to Him for His help.
He Ends Up By Depicting Who Are The Truly Righteous, To Whom He Knows YHWH Will Provide Help, And While Not Seeing Himself As Comparing With Them, Nevertheless Looks To God For Him Also To Help Him (Psalms 40:16-17 ).
He closes the Psalm by turning men’s attention away from him to YHWH. He wants them to look at God and honour Him, and recognise that their safety, security and blessings came from His hands. And he hopes that there will be a little left for himself.
One of the tests of a truly righteous man is that he does not see himself as righteous. He is deeply aware of his own failings. And so it was with David. He was one of the most moral and righteous men of his times (in spite of the black spots) and yet he saw himself as simply ‘poor and needy’, and indeed could not fully understand why the Lord bothered about him. But he knew that He did and he rejoiced in it.
‘Let all those who seek you rejoice,
And be glad in you.
Let such as love your salvation say continually,
“YHWH be magnified”.
But I am poor and needy,
Yet the Lord thinks upon me,
You are my help and my deliverer,
Make no tarrying, O my God.’
He closes by calling on God to ensure that the righteous receive what they ‘deserve’, God’s security, protection and provision. Let those who see Him, be glad in Him (because He has faithfully provided for them), let those who love his salvation constantly be able to say, ‘YHWH be magnified’ (because they know and are aware that YHWH has truly saved them).
And then his humility comes out in that he, the chosen of YHWH, is so surprised that his Sovereign Lord (Adonai) thinks on someone so poor and needy as he is. But in his heart he knows that He does, and so he calls on Him as his God not to delay, but to come to him, bringing him help and deliverance, and he does so with full confidence in his heart (‘yet the Lord thinks on me’).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 40". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29