Studies in the Psalms

Psalm 40 (KJV)
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

I waited patiently for the LORD;
and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay,
and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God:
many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust,
and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done,
and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee:
if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened:
burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
Then said I, Lo, I come:
in the volume of the book it is written of me,
I delight to do thy will, O my God:
yea, thy law is within my heart.
I have preached righteousness in the great congregation:
lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.
I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart;
I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation:
I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD:
let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
For innumerable evils have compassed me about:
mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up;
they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me:
O LORD, make haste to help me.
Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it;
let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.
Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha!
Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee:
let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified.
But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me:
thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.

Psalm 40
by Floyd Brand
The first five verses and the last seven verses of this Psalm could be the prayers of anyone who waits for the Lord in times of distress. However, verses six through ten are the words of Christ alone. In view of this the verses preceding and following the middle section also belong to Christ. These are his words in an absolute sense, surpassing the prayers of the faithful. The Christian does share in the suffering of Christ; but even when he does, he does not suffer nearly what Christ suffered; his suffering does not have atoning value; when he trusts God, he does not have the perfect trust that Christ exercised; and when he is exalted afterward, his exaltation is not as lofty as that of his Lord.

Verses 1–3:
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
The most excruciating and confident waiting for the LORD was that of the Lord Jesus. Forty days and forty nights in the wilderness he fasted and prayed for the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD, in order that he might fulfill his mission of redemption. At the same time he waited for daily bread, until he was at the point of starvation and all his powers were ready to fail, physical, mental, spiritual. In Gethsemane he waited, not asserting his will but seeking the strength to do the will of his Father. On the cross he waited for the LORD, even when the Father did not hear his cry; yet in the great mystery he was hearing. This not hearing and yet hearing is another of the paradoxes of the LORD, whose mind no man has known.
The Savior found himself in the pit, namely, ruin, destruction, devastation. His feet sink in the mire at the bottom of the pit. The “pit” was a cistern used for collecting water during the rainy season and storing it. These cisterns were pear-shaped, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, and once the water had been used up, they were also used as temporary prisons, sometimes with the intent that the imprisoned might conveniently die there. Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit, intending to leave him to die there. Jeremiah was cast into a literal pit, a cistern, where he sank in the mud at the bottom, until rescued by Ebed-melech the Ethiopian eunuch. “The pit” thus became an expression for any extreme danger, when death is at hand and ruin inevitable. So it is here. The Savior found himself in just this situation, faced with the plots of high priest and High Council, the power of the governor, the bitterness of Satan, and the wrath of God.
But the Father drew him out of this in a manner mysterious and unique. The Savior first experienced death and destruction in the extreme and absolute degree. Afterward the LORD delivered him and placed his feet on solid ground, rock no less, the opposite of the miry clay. The LORD made his steps steady, solid, and firm; he was standing on rock, walking on solid ground. In his exaltation, every step the Redeemer takes and every move he makes is marked by success. He will never again be in a situation where he might lose his footing. This is understatement. He now has command and control of all creation.
The LORD also put a new song into the Savior’s mouth. This song is all praise. The Father has placed all things under his feet. He no longer prays on his own behalf, his petitions are now entirely intercession for the saints. He thanks the Father for delivering him from the plots of men, the power of Satan, the grip of death, the pangs of hell, the curse of sin. The word “many” refers to the Holy Christian Church. This people will hear this song, fear the LORD, and trust in the LORD. Now they will know God with a healthy fear, for he is a jealous God, and he is not mocked; now they will trust in him, for he rescues them from sin, death, and hell. They will know that their Savior’s patient waiting has delivered them from the pit, and his exaltation anchors the hope of
their own.
Verses 4–5:
Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not turn aside to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts
toward us; none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
“O the blessings of the man” is the Old Testament form parallel for the expression “blessed are they who,” etc., found in the beatitudes. This is the man whose life is good, as good as can be. Of the blessings of God, none is wanting. In the phrase “The man,” the speaker is not thinking primarily of man as a creature, with the accompanying limitations. Nor is he focusing on man as frail because of sin. The word here means a man strong, competent, and heroic. This kind of man would be tempted to place his trust in himself and in his own powers and capabilities. With all his advantages, humanly speaking, he nonetheless places his trust in the LORD. To place one’s trust in the LORD is a deliberate choice. It is the conscious renouncing of his own strength first of all. Nor does he turn aside to the proud, to flatter them, to follow them, to expect help from them. Nor does he turn to those who turn apostate and pursue a lie, be it false teaching or be it false gods. He is in fellowship with faith, not with unbelief. He is conscious of the whole people of God, all those who are of faith, and of the whole of God’s dealings with his people. The history of Israel and the history of the church record countless wondrous acts that God has executed to defend, deliver, and prosper his church. There is no one like God, whether real persons or imaginary gods. The history of the kingdom of God is majestic and beautiful. The works of God surpass what language can express or what the mind can comprehend.
Verses 6–8:
Sacrifice and offering you have not desired,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I desire to do your will, O my God,
your law is within my heart.”
In the Pentateuch God laid out countless specific directions for various sacrifices, chapter upon chapter, and woe to him who tampered with the details. Yet here Christ acknowledges and proclaims that sacrifice is not what God wanted, not really. The word “sacrifice“ is the animal offered; “offering” is the meal offering, grain, flour, bread (KJV “meat offering”), together with wine, the required drink offering. Different purposes of sacrifice are expressed by “burnt offering” and “sin offering,” the former to win God’s favor and the latter to avert his displeasure. In spite of all the specific regulations, these sacrifices are not what God required after all.
A simple observation makes the paradox clear. The Old Testament sacrifices were not really sacrifices. They were symbolic. They represented the Sacrifice to come, when the Lamb of God would lay down his life for the sin of the world, when “Christ, our Passover Lamb” would be “sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7). The actual expiation of sin would take place in the future. The Old Testament sacrifices were only promise and pre-enactment of the real sacrifice. They embodied a great promise of a great work resulting in a great gift. It was the greatest of all divine promises, announcing the greatest of all divine works resulting in the greatest of all divine gifts, eternal life. A promise has value only when it is kept. To make the promise vivid and real to the people of Israel was the purpose of sacrifice and of the entire Old Testament liturgy. In their own right the sacrifices pointed to what God desired and required; but that is all.
Israel by and large did not see this. They looked upon their gift to God as the heart and center of worship, setting aside his great grace and his gift of a redeemer in days to come. At the lowest level they even thought God needed their gifts and was nourished by them, a base heathen conception. In response to this attitude, God answered, “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds” (Ps. 50:9, and the rest of the Palm as well). Sacrifice was seen as license to sin and substitute for sanctification. The classic instance was Saul sparing the king and the wealth of the people of Amalek; the classic statement was uttered by Samuel on that occasion: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry” (I Sam. 15:22-23). The same thought is brought forward in the above-mentioned Psalm 50:16-21, and with intense fervor and great eloquence in the first chapter of Isaiah: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats….Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (v. 11, 14; cf. the entire section, verses 1-20). This is not surprising. Sacrifice rightly understood was the power of God for living a godly life. It was the Gospel in a form suited to the times; and sanctification was then the response of those whose hearts were warmed by the promise that God would himself provide a lamb for a burnt offering (Gen. 22:8).
This weighty reason for the Lord’s displeasure over sacrifice is connected with the purpose of God in ordaining sacrifice, and the failure of his people to recognize his purpose to provide redemption. It remains a secondary reason nonetheless. Even proper sacrificing accomplished nothing in its own right. There was one who understood this, the person speaking throughout the psalm. The Lord had given him an open ear. This has two dimensions: the Son eternally begotten of the Father receives from the Father all the attributes of deity, including the great thoughts of God and the understanding of all things. But then, during the days of his flesh he studied the Scriptures and learned from them the will of God. St. John records how Jesus insisted again and again that his preachment did not originate with himself. For example he states, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (John 7:16), and “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). Thus he knew well the place and the purpose and the inadequacy of Old Testament sacrifice. Both from his eternal omniscience and from the words of the prophets, he knew what it would take to remove sin and redeem sinners. He knew what it meant for himself. He knew in advance and he knew full well what he was taking upon himself. Yet, knowing all this, he came.
He called to the Father, “Behold!” Look at me! “I have come.” Here the Lamb of God stands apart from all the lambs and other animals offered in sacrifice. Animals were led to the altar, where they were slain. They had no choice; obviously they did not present themselves before the worshiper or before the priest or before God in order to expiate sin. They did not know what was about to happen to them, and so they did not resist. But for just that reason, they could not be genuine effective sacrifices. If one person must suffer against his will the penalty for another person’s sin, this is injustice, not justice. In sacrifice, it is essential that the victim be willing, that he choose of his own free will to place himself under the guilt and to suffer the punishment for the sins of another. Jesus was led to the slaughter like a lamb, without resisting, without hesitation, showing no fear of what was about to come upon him. But in this all-important respect his sacrifice was the opposite of the dumb animals. For he knew full well what was coming down upon him, including the wrath of God, and yet he came forward to be slain in sacrifice. With his word, “I am he,“ he struck down to the ground the posse that had come to arrest him in Gethsemane. This act made it clear to all that they could have no power over him at all unless he first placed himself at their mercy.
But then, would it not be wrong to make an innocent animal suffer and die as substitute for the human who had sinned? This belongs to the larger question of the whole creation being made subject to vanity, not by its own will or choice or decision, but on account of the sin of Adam; and in this connection also being set free from its bondage to corruption through the redemption of Christ. This kind of question is not for mortals to figure out. More to the point, the animal sacrificed suffered only bodily death. Since it was never intended to be in God’s image and did not have a conscience capable of receiving law and gospel, the animal did not experience the full penalty, God’s wrath, the eternal suffering.
“The one coming” was a title for the Messiah. His “coming” was a technical term for the Incarnation of the Son of God. As prophet of the Lord, Jacob pronounced the divine benediction upon his sons. This was of course a far cry from the everyday paternal farewell. At one point (between the prophecy upon Dan and that upon Asher), Jacob interrupted his oracle with this summary of his life, “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Gen. 49:18). This lay at the center of his convictions. He had already spoken of this in his blessing upon Judah, in the words “Until Shiloh comes” (v. 10). Zechariah proclaimed, “Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he” (9:9). The kings of the past were not the fulfillment of the promise. Even David, the benchmark for his royal descendants, was not yet the hope of Israel. His blessed reign was only provisional. The true king had not yet come, but he most certainly would. The kings of the past had been God’s instruments for temporary earthly rescue; the king to come would bring the complete eternal rescue. The Lord promises through Ezekiel, “This also shall not be, until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs, and I will give it to him” (21:27). Psalm 118 exults, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” John the Baptist asked Christ whether he was “the coming one” (Matt. 11:3). The title of “the coming one” in the mouth of the Baptist is synonymous with the title of “the Christ” in the talk of the people at large.
It would diminish both the doctrine of the New Testament church and also the faith and hope of the Old Testament faithful, to take this part of the psalm as a prayer of David and nothing more, or even as a prayer of David originally and then only indirectly as the words of Christ, albeit on a more exalted scale. What was written in “the scroll of the book” was written of the Christ. The entire Old Testament was the message of the Messiah. Thus Jesus interpreted to the Emmaus disciples “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” and to the eleven, “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:27, 44). The Scriptures are the voice bearing witness to Jesus (John 5:39). Again, to take this section of the psalm as the words of Christ, with the first five verses and the last seven as belonging to David alone, reflecting more or less the prayers and the predicament of Christ, would fracture the psalm into three parts. The transition from verse 10 to the following verses makes better sense if the psalm is read as a unit.
Christ came to carry out what was written, which was the will of God his Father. He never yielded to the will of man or the will of his people. He did not even yield to his own will. He prayed rather that the will of the Father be done. “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). The law of God was in his heart; this is his nature, his character. According to his human nature, he did study and learn the will of God; according to his divine nature, he already knew the will of God and was himself the author of the Scriptures. As his career was about to attain its highest point, Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth, I finished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
Verses 9–10:
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great
congregation; behold, I have not restrained
my lips, as you know, O LORD.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your
faithfulness from the great congregation.
The verb in the first line of verse 9 is the Old Testament counterpart to the New Testament “proclaim the good news.” The Gospel of the coming of the Son of God is the one and only good news to sinners under the power of death and the devil. It is the absolute good news; any other “good news” is relative. The “great congregation” is not limited to the faithful of a single place or time; it is the multitude of all generations the world over. The Hebrew perfect tenses here do not require limiting this to the Old Testament or to the time when Jesus walked the earth. The Son of God spoke to the fathers through the prophets. He spoke to his earthly generation in person. He speaks to the ages ever after through the evangelists and apostles. The word “righteousness” is translated “deliverance” in the ESV. This is consistent with the prophet Isaiah, who uses the word “righteousness” when in speaking of salvation. Since God has committed himself to rescuing his people from all evil, it is absolutely righteous on his part to do so. The Messiah has made known the work of God, his deliverance and salvation, and the character of God, his faithfulness and steadfast love. “I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known” (John 17:26).
Verses 11–12:
As for you, O LORD,
you will not restrain your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness
will ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me beyond number:
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see; they are more
than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.
The Savior did not hold back in proclaiming the Gospel; he is confident that the Father will not hold back in showing him mercy. The ultimate expression of faith even for the Savior was his cry from the cross: though the Father had forsaken him, Jesus still addresses him as “my God.”
“For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:2). Beyond the time of his suffering, he would live on, for the mercy and truth of the Father would preserve him. There is no way to quantify what Christ had to endure. The passion history recorded by the evangelists provides only a window into the expiation. Mortals can relate to the bodily suffering, though even this remains unimaginable except to fellow victims of crucifixion. But the Savior had taken on himself not only the penalty for sin, but the sin itself, and its guilt. He made it his own sin completely. Thus he felt the truth of it when the Accuser and the blasphemers said, “He deserves to die,” though the opponents had not a clue as to the real meaning of these words. The Holy One, the only mortal ever in possession of a clean conscience, now owned a guilty conscience. He felt the overwhelming psychological impact of guilt. And his was now guilt unlimited, the guilt of all the world. “I cannot see!” “My heart fails me!” He could not sense any faithfulness in himself, any faithfulness and mercy from the Father toward himself. If he could recall words from Scripture that would guide and strengthen him, there was the question whether these words applied to him. The cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is a window into the hidden eternal suffering which Christ endured. This cry is absolutely central to the expiation of sin; therefore it is spoken verbatim already in the Old Testament (Ps. 22:1). The countless evils were the countless sins first of all, and then the countless points of pain in consequence.

Verses 13–15:
Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me!
O LORD, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life; let those
be turned back and brought to dishonor
who desire my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, aha!”
The Messiah is not pressuring the Father to act against his will. He wants the Father to rescue him because it is his will to do so.
The reader might think, “This does not sound at all like Jesus. I cannot imagine hearing such words from his lips, in Gethsemane, on Golgotha, or at any other time. On the contrary, he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” Even in his meekness, however, Jesus was not weak; and even as the Sacrifice for sin, he knows that he is the one ordained to be the judge of the living and the dead. Under oath, with his back to the wall, he did not answer the high priest with the simple “yes” or “no” which the court demanded. “‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt. 26:63-64). Jesus gave the direct answer, then elaborated on what that answer meant to Caiaphas, to the like-minded, and to all the world. His answer is also joy and strength to those whose convictions are, counter to Caiaphas, that Jesus is the Son of the Blessed.
Those seeking to snatch away the life of Jesus would not be content only to have him removed from the earth; if they thought about it at all (or if they did not), they would only be satisfied with his eternal damnation. For if their theology was indeed the way to heaven, then his would have to be the way to hell. Jesus is asking the Father for vindication, for his own sake to be sure; but the salvation of the world also depends on this vindication from the Father. Let it be known to the opponents of Jesus (and to everyone else) that their plans have shattered and their cause has failed. Let this be their shame, and let it come upon them. This ignominy could include the shame of repentance not to be repented of; but in view of the next verse, this reference to shame probably means that it is the type of ignominy that must culminate in the eternal ruin of those who do not come to feel ashamed of their opposition to the grace of God while there is time. All this is the opposite of carnal vengeance. (The most holy of thoughts, and the most unholy thoughts, are sometimes expressed in the same words.) The carnal is voiced in “Aha! Aha!” The Messiah’s words are absolute, but there is in them no “Aha! Aha!”
Verses 16–17:
But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!
The Messiah’s praying is unselfish. His petition is that men seek the Lord and find him, rejoice in his salvation and give honor to his name. As for himself, he is in the depths, but he is not in despair. The Lord has him on his mind and in his heart, and this is sufficient. Still, the Christ is close to collapse, and the endeavor to expiate sin at the edge of failing. Thus he asks his God to hurry.

(Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.
All rights reserved.)

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