The Messianic Psalms
(7) Psalm 40
Messiah — The Obedient One
This Psalm was written by David. In it he records past experiences (1-5), and mentions present troubles from which he sought deliverance by God (11-17). Between these two we have a section that seems to refer to the period when David was firmly established on the throne. Then he delighted to do God’s will and to preach God’s righteousness. The expression “To the Chief Musician” indicates that it was written at a time when the praise of Israel was well organized. The innumerable evils of verse 1 would point to Absalom’s rebellion as the occasion.
The Holy Spirit directly applies verses 6-8 to Messiah in Hebrews 10, and causes us to look for a Messianic interpretation of the Psalm. David in referring to events in his own life was under the Holy Spirit, unconsciously writing of a greater than himself. These would be fulfilled in the future in Messiah’s experiences.
The Psalm is divided into three sections: (1) Messiah’s Song — the redemption song following His resurrection out of death (vv. 1-5); (2) Messiah’s Sacrifice — fully acceptable to God (vv. 6-10); (3) Messiah’s Supplication — for His mystical body, the Church (vv. 11-17). There are seven stanzas: two in section one (consisting of 15 lines); two stanzas in section two (13 lines); and three stanzas in section three (22 lines). Let us examine the Psalm in detail.
Messiah’s Resurrection Song (vv.1-5)
Stanza 1: The Psalmist’s Experience of God’s Deliverance (vv. 1-3)
David, passing through affliction (vv. 13-15), recollects a similar time of trial, out of which God had delivered him when he had patiently waited and cried to God. He describes his extremity by two figures, (a) an horrible pit (lit., a pit of tumult or destruction, R.V. marg.), a place where the roar of war surrounded him as in a deep pit whence he could not escape; (b) miry clay — a condition in which it was impossible to stand, suggestive of imminent death (Ps. 69:2). But Jehovah had delivered him. From miry clay he had been set on a rock of stability; from confinement in a deep pit he had again walked abroad confidently. As a result of this deliverance praise had filled his mouth, and caused others to trust in his God.
Here we have a picture of Messiah on Calvary, with its tumultuous assembly and the awful experience of sinking into death. Yet out of that He had been saved by resurrection because of His patient waiting and trust in God (Heb. 5:7, R.V. marg.). Then He sang the new song with His redeemed ones. Note the expression, “our God.” Many have put their trust in Jehovah because they saw His resurrection power. They fear Him with the reverence that such a display of might produces.
Stanza 2: The Psalmist’s Experience of God’s Blessings (vv. 4-5)
Such thoughts as are here expressed form the theme of David’s “new song.” The blessing of Jehovah is conditional on, (1) trusting Him, (2) not taking sides with, nor respecting the proud who defy Him, (3) not turning from the truth to falsehood (Isa. 28:15-18). David then speaks in general terms of all God’s goodness to Israel; His works could never be fully told out. God is incomparably great: “None can compare with Thee” (v. 5 R.S.V.).
Messiah’s song expresses the blessedness of those who through His death and resurrection affirm their trust in God, the true God, the incomparable One (Rom. 11:33-36), the God who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ.
Messiah’s Redemptive Sacrifice
Stanza 3: The Psalmist’s Delight In God’s Will (vv. 6-8)
This stanza consists of three statements with three explanatory parentheses. In it David would teach that following such blessings from God the only true response must be whole-hearted obedience to Him. Mere external sacrifices of themselves were not enough for God. Two descriptions of such sacrifices are given: (a) according to their nature — bloody or unbloody offerings: (b) according to their purpose — burnt or sin offerings. David had in mind the two offerings of the Day of Atonement. All these were insufficient. The law was good, but it must be in the heart.
In verse 6 we get God’s real desire, His requirement. In the middle of the verse is a parenthesis telling us something that had been revealed to David — that his ears should be open to hearken to God (Isa. 50:45). He had appreciated Samuel’s lesson to Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). Verses 7-8 are the Psalmist’s response to God’s requirement. David’s “delight” (v. 8) and God’s “desire” (v. 6) are the translation of the same Hebrew word. Four things arose out of this knowledge of God’s will. (a) As a servant fully determined to do His will he presents himself to God; (b) He is conscious that a path had been laid down for him in God’s law (Deut. 17:14:20). (c) He delights to do the will of God laid down for him. (d) He has God’s law deeply embedded in his inward parts. “Heart” or rather “bowels” is here used for the mental faculties.
The second part of verse 7 is a parenthesis in which David said that in the Book of God “it is prescribed to me” (R.V. marg.) to do the will of God, possibly in such a portion as Deuteronomy 10:12, as the third parenthesis (v. 8b) also sets forth David’s claims that such is the nature of his kingdom (Deut. 17:14-20).
At His incarnation Messiah applied to Himself the words of this stanza, as recorded in Hebrews 10:5-8. The words of the Psalmist in verse 6, “Mine ears hast Thou opened” are changed in Hebrews 10:5 to “A body has Thou prepared Me.” This is in keeping with the Holy Spirit’s right to modify a citation in the New Testament from the Old Testament, seeing He is the author of both. In Psalm 40:6 the part, the ear, is dedicated to God, but in Hebrews 10:5 the Lord’s whole body is dedicated. This is the Lord’s perfect obedience to the Father’s will in that He fully presented His body to God, even unto death. The sacrifice that this entailed was infinitely greater than all the sacrifices of the Old Testament economy in relation to the great work of atonement. Christ’s sacrifice only needed to be offered once, for it perfected for ever them that are sanctified. There was no remembrance made of sins every year, for there was complete remission of sins, which the blood of bulls and goats could never take away. In token of the perfect work that so delighted His Father, Christ is sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High, unlike the Aaronic priests who remained standing, daily offering oftentimes the same sacrifices.
Stanza 4: The Psalmist’s Delight in Preaching God (vv. 9-10)
As a consequence of knowing God’s will and the delight in doing it, David had proclaimed, he had announced, the good news of God’s righteous dealings with him. The great congregation is Israel assembled for worship. David’s past proclamations he intended to continue, and called upon God to recognize his faithful witness. He had not hidden God’s righteousness in the secret recesses of his heart, but had declared God’s faithfulness to His Word; God’s salvation of His servant; God’s lovingkindness; God’s truth, as presented in the law.
So Messiah, having delighted to do God’s will in the matter of offering Himself in sacrifice, kept it not to Himself, but proclaimed God’s righteousness in raising Him out of death, and in justifying believers (Rom. 3:26). This is the good news of our salvation, first spoken by the Lord, and handed down by generations of those who had benefitted from it, and who could not refrain from publishing it to the multitudes ever since (Heb. 2:3). In preaching God’s righteousness, Christ and His mystical body, the Church, declare God’s faithfulness in His salvation, and His lovingkindness as manifested in the truth of the gospel. The Church cannot hide, cannot keep to itself, such a wonderful story, but must needs spread it abroad.
How great the honour, who can tell, of representing Him, Son of God, Son of Man, in baptism—buried, raised from the dead. Now we have title to enter into the heavenly place, to behold the Lamb standing in the midst of the Throne as it had been slain. While you are reading this, or while on your voyage, or on your arrival by faith behold the Lamb of God, and cherish the remembrance of such words as “My sheep hear My voice.” It will be your happiness to hearken to the voice of the Good Shepherd of the sheep, and with circumcised ear to hate the sound of talk that tends to penury.
The two words at beginning of one of the Psalms, “Help, Lord,” coming from the heart are, on reaching the ear of our heavenly Father, a long and acceptable prayer.