Psalm 40 – The Servant Comes to Do God’s Will
This psalm is simply titled To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
To the Chief Musician: “Well might so exceedingly precious a Psalm be specially committed to the most skilled of the sacred musicians.” (Charles Spurgeon)
A Psalm of David: G. Campbell Morgan speculated, “In this case the reason for the song in all probability was that of the deliverance of David from all the long experience of outlawry and suffering; and the fact that he had been brought to his coronation.”
A. Proclaiming a joyful deliverance.
1. (1-3) The blessed results of patient waiting for the Lord.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.
a. I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me: The idea of David waiting on or for the Lord has been common, especially in the last few psalms (Psalm 25:5, 25:21, 27:14, 37:7, 37:9). In the previous psalm (39:7) David waited upon the Lord without immediate answer. Here, the answer is stated: He inclined to me, and heard my cry.
i. “I waited patiently, Heb. in waiting I waited; which doubling of the word notes that he waited diligently and earnestly, patiently and perseveringly, until God should please to help him.” (Poole)
ii. “The theme of waiting, expounded in Psalm 37, has had its painful application in Psalms 38 and 39, but now its triumphant outcome.” (Kidner)
iii. “Think ye, brethren, might it not read – ‘I waited impatiently for the Lord,’ in the case of most of us?” (Spurgeon)
b. He inclined to me, and heard my cry: The word inclined has the sense of God bending down to David in his affliction, removing any perceived distance between the Lord and His servant. When David knew God heard his cry, he was confident of a favorable answer.
i. “The patient waiting resulted in the singer’s feeling that Jehovah was bending over him and listening to his cry.” (Morgan)
ii. “As when someone’s attention is arrested and riveted.” (Kidner)
c. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit…and set my feet upon a rock: These were further benefits to David as he waited patiently for the Lord. God delivered him from his present crisis (which was like miry clay), and set him in a much better and more secure place (established my steps). David’s prayer for deliverance was answered.
d. He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God: This is another benefit to David in waiting on the Lord. His deliverance brought forth spontaneous praise, a new song that came from God Himself.
i. God will inspire songs and words of praise. This almost sounds selfish or self-serving, but when we understand how good and right it is for the creature to praise the Creator, the redeemed to praise the Redeemer, the delivered to praise the Deliverer, then it makes sense. We are grateful that God gives us the ability to praise Him.
ii. It is possible that this psalm was the new song God put into David’s mouth. “The suffering servant of God always becomes the singing one. For as the secret of song is ever that of waiting for God, doing the will of God, in and through suffering, the result is always deliverance, and the issue a song.” (Morgan)
e. Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord: This is one more benefit from David’s patient waiting for the Lord. The deliverance and the praise that came from it were an effective testimony to others. They were inspired to fear the Lord and to trust in Him.
i. Trust in the Lord: “Trusting in the Lord is the evidence nay the essence of salvation. He who is a true believer is evidently redeemed from the dominion of sin and Satan.” (Spurgeon)
2. (4-5) Trusting the God who thinks about His people.
Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust,
And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.
a. Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust: This is a natural and appropriate thought flowing from what David had just experienced. He knew by experience that trust – as shown by waiting patiently for the Lord – is blessed.
i. “A man may be as poor as Lazarus, as hated as Mordecai, as sick as Hezekiah, as lonely as Elijah, but while his hand of faith can keep its hold on God, none of his outward afflictions can prevent his being numbered among the blessed, but the wealthiest and most prosperous man who has no faith is accursed, be he who he may.” (Spurgeon)
b. And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies: David connected trusting God with moral conduct – in this case, the ability to discern and judge the character of others and act appropriately toward them. Perhaps David’s crisis came from refusing to respect the proud or those who turn aside to lies.
i. Does not respect the proud: “For the proud he uses the term that became the nickname for Egypt, the empty blusterer, Isaiah 30:7.” (Kidner)
c. Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works…and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted: David praised God as the worker of many wonderful works and for His thoughts toward His people. David knew that God thought about him (and His people), and thought about them favorably – otherwise there would be no blessing in those thoughts.
i. “Creation, providence, and redemption, teem with wonders as the sea with life.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The past is full of His miracles (wondrous deeds), the future full of his plans – this is the force of the word thoughts.” (Kidner)
iii. In Psalm 8:4 David wondered, What is man that You are mindful of him? He considered the greatness of the universe and was amazed that God would think about man at all. Here he took that idea much further and is amazed at how much God thinks about His people. By implication he is also amazed that God thinks such loving, gracious thoughts toward His people, and so many that they are more than can be numbered.
iv. God’s thoughts toward us are wonderful because they are God’s thoughts. “When I think, it is a poor, little, weak, empty head that is thinking; but when God thinks, the gigantic mind which framed the universe is thinking upon me.” (Spurgeon)
v. God’s thoughts toward us are wonderful because they are so many; they cannot be recounted. “You cannot count God’s thoughts of you…. One gracious thought is followed by another, swiftly as the beams of light flash from the sun, so that it is impossible for us to number them.” (Spurgeon)
B. The willing servant proclaims God’s praise.
“Here we enter upon one of the most wonderful passages in the whole of the Old Testament, a passage in which the incarnate Son of God is seen not through a glass darkly, but as it were face to face.” (Spurgeon)
1. (6-8) The coming of the Bond Servant.
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.”
a. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened: David understood that in a relative sense, God didn’t want animal sacrifices. God wanted surrendered, willing servants.
i. In Psalm 40:6 four kinds of offering are mentioned:
· Sacrifice (offerings made with blood).
· Offering (offerings made without blood).
· Burnt offering (offerings of total consecration).
· Sin offering (offerings to atone for sin).
ii. What did God desire instead of sacrifice? Obedience. This was true for David’s predecessor Saul. King Saul offered sacrifices just fine; what he didn’t do was obey God (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Ultimately this was fulfilled by the Son of David. Jesus came and was perfectly obedient, and His obedience is credited unto us.
b. My ears You have opened: Instead of animal sacrifices, God wants servants who will listen to Him and surrender to Him as a willing slave surrenders to his master.
i. David likely referred to the custom of marking a bond-servant according to Exodus 21:5-6, where a slave who wanted to remain in his master’s house and in his master’s service would be marked with an opened ear – that is, his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever (Exodus 21:6).
ii. It’s a remarkable thing to think of this ceremony being carried out in ancient Israel. A servant said, “I know I have fulfilled my obligations to my master, and I have served what I have owed. Yet I love my master and am so grateful for what he has given that I will gladly obligate myself for life, not out of debt or shame or defeat, but out of love.” This was David’s heart towards God, and this heart and life were greater than any animal sacrifice.
iii. The ceremony in Exodus 21:5-6 described only one ear being pierced through or opened. The text of Psalm 40 describes two ears You have opened. Some regard this as evidence that the psalmist had something else in mind other than the bond-slave ceremony, such as simply opening the ear to hear and obey. It is better to regard it as David’s expression of total surrender – beyond what the law itself demanded, as if he said “Lord, take both my ears!”
iv. Horne gives an explanation apart from the Exodus 21:5-6 ceremony: “For the expression, ‘Mine ears hast thou opened,’ seems equivalent to, ‘Thou hast made me obedient.’ Thus, Isaiah 50:5, ‘The Lord God hath opened mine ears, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.’” (Horne)
c. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened: David’s surrender to God was wonderful and an impressive example. Yet he only foreshadowed the ultimate submission to God carried out by the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:5-10 quotes the Septuagint (ancient Greek) translation of Psalm 40:6-8. This is a wonderful and remarkable prophecy of the work of Jesus.
· It shows God’s ultimate dissatisfaction in animal sacrifices, looking forward to a Perfect Sacrifice (Sacrifice and offering You did not desire).
· It shows that God the Son came in a prepared body (the Septuagint reads, But a body You have prepared for Me, Hebrews 10:5).
· It shows the public, open coming of the Messiah. It was as if Jesus said, “Behold, here I am – I am the One.” (Behold, I come).
· It shows the Messiah as the great theme of the Hebrew Scriptures (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me).
· It shows the dedication of the Messiah to the will of God (I delight to do Your will).
· It shows the Messiah’s love for and obedience to the word of God (Your law is within My heart).
i. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire: “It is remarkable, that all the offerings and sacrifices which were considered to be of an atoning or cleansing nature, offered under the law, are here enumerated by the psalmist and the apostle, to show that none of them, nor all of them, could take away sin; and that the grand sacrifice of Christ was that alone which could do it.” (Clarke)
ii. “The Septuagint, from which Paul quoted, has translated this passage, ‘A body hast thou prepared me:’ how this reading arose it is not easy to imagine, but since apostolical authority has sanctioned the variation, we accept it as no mistake, but as an instance of various readings equally inspired.” (Spurgeon)
d. In the scroll of the book it is written of me: In a far lesser sense David could say this of himself, because his ascension to the throne of Israel was prophesied long before it took place. Yet any fulfillment of this in David is a pale shadow to its amazing and perfect fulfillment in David’s greater Son, Jesus the Messiah.
e. I delight to do Your will, O my God: Again, in a far lesser sense this was true of David, the man after God’s heart. Yet any fulfillment of this in David is a pale shadow of its amazing and perfect fulfillment in David’s greater Son, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus said that doing God’s will was to Him as necessary and delightful as food (John 4:34).
i. I delight to do Your will: “Jesus not only did the Father’s will, but found a delight therein; from old eternity he had desired the work set before him; in his human life he was straitened till he reached the baptism of agony in which he magnified the law, and even in Gethsemane itself he chose the Father’s will, and set aside his own.” (Spurgeon)
ii. To do: “It was Jesus who was the doer of the work. The Father willed it; but he did not do it. It was Jesus who did it, who wrought it out; who brought it in; who carried it within the veil, and laid it as an acceptable and meritorious offering at the feet of his well-pleased Father. The work then is done; it is finished. We need not attempt to do it. We cannot do it. We cannot do that which is already done; and we could not do it, though it were yet undone.” (Frame, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Your law is within my heart: Open “up most men’s hearts, and there you shall find written, The god of this present world. But God’s law is in good men’s hearts, to live and die with it.” (Trapp)
2. (9-12) Public proclamation of the good news and God’s praise.
I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness
In the great assembly;
Indeed, I do not restrain my lips,
O Lord, You Yourself know.
I have not hidden 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.
Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord;
Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
For innumerable evils have surrounded me;
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up;
They are more than the hairs of my head;
Therefore my heart fails me.
a. I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness in the great assembly: David said this to assure God (and himself) that he had glorified God among His people. This was part of the new song and praise that came from his deliverance. David would not restrain his lips in offering this praise.
i. Yet, as in the previous verses, this has a far greater and perfect fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David. It was true of Jesus in His earthly ministry. “This is what Jesus can say. He was the Prince of open-air preachers, the Great Itinerant, the President of the College of all preachers of the gospel.” (Spurgeon)
ii. It is also true of Jesus in eternity come. Of Jesus it is true, in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You (Hebrews 2:12 as a fulfillment of Psalm 22:22). It’s a remarkable thing to think of Jesus leading the assembly of God’s people in praise to God the Father!
b. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart: The righteousness of God was evident in both David’s words and actions. It wasn’t set in a secret place that had no connection with how he actually lived his life.
i. I have not hidden: “This intimates, that whoever undertook to preach the gospel of Christ would be in great temptation to hide it, and conceal it, because it must be preached with great contention, and in the face of great opposition.” (Henry, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me: Though David praised God for past and present deliverance, he would not presume upon the future. He kept himself in humble prayer before God, asking for a constant supply of His tender mercies.
i. It is not difficult to see this as a prayer of Jesus, the Son of David. As He lived upon this earth, He did so as a man in constant reliance upon His fellowship and perfect communion with God the Father. We see this as a prayer of Jesus, perhaps especially in His sufferings on the cross: Do not withhold Your tender mercies from Me, O Lord; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve Me.
ii. Truly it was on the cross that Jesus could say, innumerable evils have surrounded Me.
d. My iniquities have overtaken me: David needed this constant supply of the mercy, lovingkindness, and truth of God because he knew his own sins. He asked God to not leave him to his many sins (more than the hairs of my head), but to deliver him in mercy.
i. There is a sense in which Jesus could never say, “My iniquities have overtaken Me.” He was and is the spotless Lamb of God, without any sin or defect. Yet in another sense those words are perfect in their description of Jesus, because in His life and especially His sufferings He consciously and perfectly identified with His people, taking on their sins as His own. For Jesus, they were My iniquities – but not because he committed the sins, but because out of love He chose to bear them and all the wrath they deserved.
ii. “If this be taken of Christ, he is Maximus peccatorum, the greatest of sinners by imputation, 2 Corinthians 5:21.” (Trapp)
C. Proclaiming a heartfelt plea for help.
1. (13-15) The plea for deliverance.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion
Who seek to destroy my life;
Let them be driven backward and brought to dishonor
Who wish me evil.
Let them be confounded because of their shame,
Who say to me, “Aha, aha!”
a. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: Despite his many iniquities, David could and did rely upon the Lord for deliverance. He skillfully phrased the request, not only asking God to deliver him, but asking God to take pleasure in his deliverance. He could ask boldly because he believed it to be consistent with God’s pleasure.
i. We might take this principle and apply it to many of our requests.
· Be pleased, O Lord, to forgive me.
· Be pleased, O Lord, to correct me.
· Be pleased, O Lord, to provide for me.
· Be pleased, O Lord, to heal me.
· Be pleased, O Lord, to guide me.
· Be pleased, O Lord, to bless me.
ii. It should not surprise us that the psalm begins with triumphant praise and then desperately asks for help. “Are there any deliverances in this perilous and incomplete life so entire and permanent that they leave no room for future perils? Must not prevision of coming dangers accompany thankfulness for past escapes?” (Maclaren)
b. O Lord, make haste to help me: Though David made his request with skill, it was also made with urgency. David understood that help too long delayed was the same as help denied.
c. Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion who seek to destroy my life: This was the help that David sought. God had graciously delivered him (Psalm 40:1-3), but the threat remained. David prayed that God would dishonor his enemies and cause them to be confounded.
i. As in many of his psalms, David is in trouble. Yet one would not know this from the first part of the psalm. Yes, David needed God’s protection and help and would ask for it – but he could not forget or neglect the wonderful deliverance God had given up to that point, and make an appropriately surrendered response.
ii. “The psalmist prays for his enemies’ fall and shame in accordance with the principles of justice and with the promise of God to curse those who cursed his own.” (VanGemeren)
iii. Who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”: “O ungodly reader, if such a person glance over this page, beware of persecuting Christ and his people, for God will surely avenge his own elect. Your ‘ahas’ will cost you dear. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Clarke)
2. (16-17) Praise with another plea.
Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;
Let such as love Your salvation say continually,
“The Lord be magnified!”
But I am poor and needy;
Yet the Lord thinks upon me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God.
a. Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You: David called the people of God – at least those who seek Him – to be happy in Him, and to say continually, “The Lord be magnified!”
i. David thought praising God was to magnify Him – that is, to make Him larger in one’s perception. Magnification does not actually make an object bigger, and we can’t make God bigger. But to magnify something or someone is to perceive it as bigger, and we must do that regarding the Lord God.
ii. Let such as love Your salvation say continually: “One would think that self-love alone should make us love salvation. Ay, but they love it because it is his, ‘that love thy salvation.’ It is the character of a holy saint to love salvation itself; not as his own only, but as God’s, as God’s that saves him.” (Goodwin, cited in Spurgeon)
b. But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me: David could combine his sense of great joy in God with a realistic appraisal of his present need. Secure in the truth that God cared for and thought about him, David again appealed to God to be his help and deliverer, and he needed God to do this without delay.
i. “He cries, ‘I am poor and needy.’ His joy is found in Another. He looks away from self, to the consolations which the eternal purpose has prepared for him.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Poor and needy: “With such a Father and such a Friend, poverty becometh rich, and weakness itself is strong.” (Horne)
iii. Yet the Lord thinks upon me: “He thought upon thee, and he thinks upon thee still. When the Father thinks of his children, he thinks of thee. When the great Judge of all thinks of the justified ones, he thinks of thee. O Christian, can you grasp the thought? The Eternal Father thinks of you!” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com