PSALMS, PART 6

PSALM 40

The Nature of Worship

Psalm 40 is not without some controversy. Some critics see this one psalm as a combination of shorter songs. The first part of Psalm 40 is a song of praise, and it is connected to the second song, which is a song of lament, with verse 12 serving as a transitional verse. This may or may not be true, but there is a definite, natural division of Psalm 40. Another interesting fact about this psalm is that the second half of it appears later on as Psalm 70! Both psalms are credited to David and dedicated to the Chief Musician.

Verses 6-8 appear in the New Testament as part of the letter to the Hebrews (10:5-9) as referring to Christ, which makes Psalm 40 a Messianic Psalm. This doesn’t mean that the whole psalm refers to Christ, although some scholars see it that way.

But perhaps Psalm 40’s greatest claim to fame is that it is the basis of one of the most beloved hymns of the church: “He Brought Me Out.”

1. Salvation, verses 1-3

The story of salvation is the story of what God has done. And what has He done for the psalmist?

  • He turned;
  • He heard;
  • He lifted;
  • He set.

The experience of the psalmist is the experience of all who have experienced God’s gift of salvation.

It begins with the psalmist “waiting patiently for the Lord.” We should not picture him sitting around, pining away for God to appear or feeling defeated and resigned to being alone for so long. In fact, the opening words of Psalm 40 are made up of a highly intensive expression which, in the Hebrew, reads: “Expecting, I expected.” So the psalmist is waiting in eager expectation for God to appear and do something great on his behalf. It’s really a statement of faith.

Answer to prayer doesn’t always come immediately. We surely wish it did! But it almost always doesn’t, so believers, like the psalmist, should persevere in their faith; they shouldn’t give up and assume God has left them just because an answer to prayer is apparently long in coming. In truth, perseverance in prayer, that is, continuing to pray when it seems those prayers go unanswered, is a way to express your submission to God’s sovereignty.

In the case of the psalmist, he was praying to be delivered out of a deep, slimy pit. Most scholars believe David wrote this psalm when he was physically sick, maybe so sick he was on the verge of death! So the slimy pit is symbolic of death; David’s salvation is healing. Now, Jeremiah, interestingly enough, was one of God’s servants who was delivered out of a literal put, Jeremiah 38.

Some scholars see this entire psalm as referring to Christ, not just the few verses cited in Hebrews. If this is the case, then these opening verses refer not only to David’s experience, but Christ’s also. They see these verses as referring to Christ praying for His resurrection.

David was eventually saved, and his deliverance resulted in two things:

  • God gave him a “new song.” This new song does not necessarily refer to the inspiration of a new psalm, but rather a new reason to praise the Lord.

  • God gave him a powerful testimony. David saw in his deliverance a chance to glorify God, pointing others to Him and giving them a reason to believe and trust.

On the last point, we see a powerful illustration of the benefits of sickness. As noted by a number of commentators, sometimes God makes His children look up to Him by putting them flat on their backs. This is a good observation because human nature is such that when things are going well, most of us tend to forget God; we get lazy in our faith. David saw God’s love and compassion and His power only after he was forced to trust in God. When we are sick in bed, if we have the right attitude, we have the opportunity to pause and realize how weak we are and how strong God is and we are able to see how many are God’s wonderful works toward those who love Him.

2. Blessings, verses 4, 5

The man who trusts God is happy. The psalmist is blessed – happy – because he is trusting in God and not in man. Verse 4 must be read clearly to get the sense of what the psalmist is trying to say. He is happy, not necessarily because God saved his life but because he trusted God. But he goes on to testify to the goodness of God. God has done so many good things they can’t be counted. As we read these verses, we think of that old gospel song: “Count Your Blessings.”

…name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

3. Commitment, verses 6-8

In its Old Testament context, this group of verses is a strong statement that God is far more concerned with obedience and submission to His will than He was with the sacrifices and offerings prescribed in the Law. It’s not that God didn’t want His people to continue their ritual worship, but He objected to empty, hollow sacrifice; a lack of devotion and sincerity on the part of His people.

However, for Christians, these verses have a strong Messianic meaning. As applied to Christ, we see how committed the Son was to the Father’s plan. The “open ears” suggests that one is ready to hear what God is saying. The psalmist has heard the Law of God and is ready to fulfill it. David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, fulfilled the Law perfectly and lived out God’s will to the letter.

These three verses speak powerfully of the extent of Christ’s obedience and of David’s commitment to God. But it also shows Christians the kind of commitment God expects. As David was obedient, so should we be. As Christ lived perfectly in God’s will, so we should strive to be Christlike.

Christlikeness looks like this:

  • “Open ears.” We should be listening for God to speak to us. We should expect Him to do so. Hearing from God should be the norm, not the exception. God speaks to us through His Word, through other believers, and even providentially through circumstances and the world around us.

  • “Here I am, I have come.” We should be personally prepared to do the will of God any time, at all times. This is the essence of what submission is all about. At a moment’s notice, God’s servant should be ready to “go.”

  • “I desire to do your will…” Finally, followers of Christ should be wholeheartedly committed to fulfilling God’s will as revealed in His Word (“the scroll”). Naturally, this presupposes you actually KNOW what’s written in it!

4. Submission, verses 9-11

In this group of verses, the writer delights in the will of God. In response to his great deliverance, David shouts the awesome news of God’s many perfections. Nothing will stop him for declaring the good news of God to the people.

In a clever writing style, we read about what David did not do versus what he did do. These are some powerful statements which modern believers would do well to take note of. To not give the Lord the praise and adulation He deserves is a sin. We don’t often think of that, but it’s the implicit teaching of this paragraph. We should never be afraid to give God glory. We should be always careful to not be unthankful. Worship isn’t just something we do in church that ends Sunday afternoon. It should be a way of life! We should not only appreciate what God has done for us, we need to talk about it!

5. Protection, versus 13-17

Verse 12 is seen as a transitional verse, joining two songs together. The king, in spite of his high estimation of God, is aware of his own dire circumstances. He may have been “jumping and leaping and praising God,” but he was definitely grounded in reality! He was in trouble and he needed help. NOW! Thus begins his prayer for help.

As David prays for God to come to his aid, he wants God to come quickly, without any hesitation, because he believes that it is God’s will to do just that, This is implied by the phrase, “Be pleased.” The king just knew that God would come and help if He was asked.

Linked to this prayer for help is a prayer for vindication, which is also a major theme in many Old Testament prayers. The psalmist wants not only to be saved from his enemies, but he wants his enemies to fall and to end up ashamed and in disarray because of their unfaithfulness to God and because of the way they treated him. Just who these particular enemies are is unknown to us. Sometimes we know who they are, but most of the time, in most psalms, the enemies go unnamed. That’s because most of the time, it’s not personal with David; he is praying against Israel’s enemies, who were really his enemies but were ultimately enemies of the Kingdom of God. Part of praying for the coming of the God’s kingdom to earth is for the subjugation of all His enemies.

When the Lord moves and does great things, God’s people rejoice. When God acts, it results in salvation. The beautiful thing about verse 16 is that here we see the love of the king for his people. David was more than a king; he was the people’s shepherd-king and he was as concerned with their welfare as he was with his own. Notice his prayer for his people; he wants them to seek the Lord and rejoice as they seek Him.

Finally, we read verse 17 and we almost do a double-take! Was he talking about himself? Probably what David is doing here is identifying himself with his people. He may not have been personally poor, but many of his people were. Perhaps he has in mind a kind of spiritual poverty, in which case he is speaking honestly of himself and his people. Regardless of exactly what the psalmist had in his mind, his meaning is clear. In humility, we must acknowledge we are not where we should be in our relationship with God. No matter how well we think we “have it all together,” we must get to the point David got to: total dependence on God. Here was David, the greatest king of his time, with wealth unparalleled, humbly trusting in God. He does not assume that God will do anything for him because of who he is, but rather David wants God to “think of him.” In other words, regardless of who he is or what he has, David wants God to see what he needs and to supply those needs.

This is a beautiful psalm, regardless of how much of it applies of Christ. We should seek to emulate the psalmist’s attitude as he prayed. Maybe if we did that, we would notice God moving more in our lives and in the lives of people we know.

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