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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 40

Verse 1




This psalm is especially distinguished in that the author of Hebrews quoted Psalms 40:6-8 (Hebrews 10:5ff). The precious words of these verses in the psalm constitute a promise on David's part; but, of course, "None but the Messiah could fulfill them, as the New Testament passage makes abundantly clear. `Lo, I come,' (Psalms 40:7) is the highlight of the Psalm."[1]

There are a number of different ways of interpreting this psalm. Barnes cited these: (1) "The psalm refers originally and exclusively to David; (2) it refers originally and exclusively to the Messiah; (3) it applies partly to David, and partly to Messiah; (4) the author of Hebrews 10:5ff merely `applied' the psalm to Messiah, seeing that the words were capable of such an accommodation."[2]

The big problem here is the diverse nature of the two main sections of the psalm. In Psalms 40:1-11, there is the joyful praise of thanksgiving; and in Psalms 40:12-17 there is the fervent prayer for `help,' and `deliverance' from iniquities. At first glance, it would seem impossible to apply the second section to the Messiah, "who was tempted in all points like as we are tempted, and yet without sin."

However, some of the great scholars of an older generation such as Robert Jamieson, Matthew Henry, and Albert Barnes understood the second section as also a prophecy of Christ. They pointed out that God "laid upon him (Christ) the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6), and that, "God made him (Christ) to be sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In support of this view, it should be noticed that there is no prayer in the second section for `forgiveness of sins,' which would positively forbid the application of it to the Messiah, but a prayer for "deliverance" and for "help." We agree with Jamieson that such an interpretation, "Removes all the difficulties of applying the second section to Christ."[3]

This writer is by no means sure that such a projected acceptance of the psalm in its entirety as a prophecy of the Messiah should be accepted, although the possibility of it is freely admitted. Yates' statement that, "The beginning of a new Psalm in Psalms 40:12 is verified by the use of Psalms 40:13-17 as Psalms 70,"[4] appears to be reasonable enough.

A number of very capable scholars find two psalms here, Psalms 40:12-17 being designated by them as a separate psalm altogether; and the fact that these verses appear almost verbatim as a separate Psalms 70 supports such a thesis. Adam Clarke commented that, "From Psalms 40:11 to the end contains a new subject and appears to have belonged to another Psalm, namely, the 70th, only it lacks the two first verses."[5]

This writer claims no special capability of solving such problems as these. We shall therefore take the first section as an unqualified prophecy of Messiah, and submit for the reader's consideration the conflicting positions on the last section.

We are on sure ground in interpreting the first section as a prophecy of the Son of God, because the author of Hebrews, whom we hold to be inspired, did so in such a manner as to forbid any notion that the words were merely being used accommodatingly. The allegation that these words did not originally apply to Messiah, but were merely used accommodatingly, is untenable.

"Paul's usage of this Psalm was made in his appeal to Jews; and it cannot be supposed that he would have adduced as proof an Old Testament prophecy that the Jews themselves did not refer to Messiah. Therefore, it must be presumed that the passage was commonly applied by the Hebrews themselves to the Messiah."[6]

In our Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. 10 (Hebrews), we devoted pp. 197-199 to the prophecy recorded here in Psalms 40:6-8; and we refer to that in connection with what is written here. Of course, in Hebrews we dealt with Psalms 40:6-8 only.

Regarding authorship: The superscription labels it `A Psalm of David'; "And there are no serious reasons for questioning the Davidic authorship."[7] Leupold also supposed that the occasion for it came somewhat early in David's life.

Rawlinson's divisions of the psalm are: (1) "The introduction (Psalms 40:1-3); (2) praise and promise (Psalms 40:4-10); and (3) prayer to God (Psalms 40:11-17)."[8] However, we shall treat Psalms 40:6-8 as the prophetic words of Messiah himself.

Psalms 40:1-3

"I waited patiently for Jehovah;

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 he 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 Jehovah."

"Horrible pit ... miry clay ... rock ..." (Psalms 40:2). This language is figurative.

(1) If they regard David, then an appropriate occasion was the defeat of King Saul upon Mount Gilboa and the consequent elevation of David to the throne of Israel. "The circumstances that occasioned these words are those related at the end of 1Samuel."[9]

(2) The words may with equal reason be applied to Messiah, in which case, they would refer to the repeated efforts of Satan to maneuver the death of Christ, in his infancy, in his home town, and repeatedly by the Sanhedrin. "Without any impropriety, the language may be applied to the dangers and trials of Messiah, and to the merciful interposition of God in delivering him."[10]

"He hath put a new song in my mouth" (Psalms 40:3). It appears to us that this is a reference to the songs of the New Covenant, praising God for the remission of sins, a remission unknown in the ultimate sense, under the Old Covenant. (See Jeremiah 31:31-35).

If any doubt of this appears here, it is dispelled by the prophecy, immediately afterward, "That many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in Jehovah." This is much more applicable to the singing of the New Covenant than to anything done either by David or by the Old Israel.

Verse 4

"Blessed be the man that maketh Jehovah his trust,

And respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.

Many, O Jehovah my God, are the wonderful works which thou hast done,

And thy thoughts which are to us-ward:

They cannot be set in order unto thee;

If I would declare and speak of them,

They are more than can be numbered."

"Blessed be the man ..." (Psalms 40:4). This is a beatitude much like those that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount.

"Nor such as turn aside to lies" (Psalms 40:4). "This is the same as, `Those that turn aside to false gods.'"[11]

"Many ... are the wonderful works which thou hast made" (Psalms 40:5). The wonderful works of God are: (1) all of those things which are beyond the power of men to accomplish; (2) so complex that they cannot be set in order, meaning that they cannot be classified, or in any sense completely comprehended; and (3) they are innumerable, as stated in the last line of Psalms 40:5. "When we have said the most we can of the wonders of divine love to us, we must conclude with an `etc.,' or an `as such,' and adore the depths of that to which we can never find the bottom!"[12]

Verse 6


"Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in;

Mine ears hast thou opened:

Burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required.

Then said I, Lo, I am come;

In the roll of the book it is written of me:

I delight to do thy will, O my God;

Yea, thy law is within my heart."

"Sacrifice ... offering ... burnt-offering ... sin-offering" (Psalms 40:6). As Yates noted, "These are the four basic sacrifices"[13] of the Law of Moses. Their giving God `no delight' (Psalms 40:6), and being `not required' (Psalms 40:6) make it absolutely certain that we have here a reference to the New Covenant; because under the Old Covenant, the sacrifices mentioned here were absolutely required.

Many of the commentators have softened what is said here by saying that, "Even in the Old Testament more was required than all forms of worship";[14] "This means that, apart from a spirit of obedience,"[15] such sacrifices are not required. No! This is not what our text says, nor is such a thing what is meant. What is said here is that no kind of animal sacrifices whatever will characterize the worship of Messiah.

"Mine ears hast thou opened" (Psalms 40:6). In the New Testament, this clause is rendered, "But a body didst thou prepare for me." Of course this is the well known problem posed by the difference in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the LXX, the latter being evidently followed in the New Testament quotation. As Jamieson pointed out, "Paul laid no stress on that clause, and his argument is complete without it."[16] Griffith, however, stated quite firmly that, "On the principle that the Greek reading is the harder, it may be regarded as the original."[17]

Leupold thought that, "The author of Hebrews apparently felt that the basic import of the passage had not been changed (the whole body for a part); and he was thus content to quote the passage as he found it."[18]

The whole point in the Hebrews quotation of this passage was stated thus by Ash: "Christ has abolished the offerings of the Old Law, to establish the offering of the body of Christ,"[19] as a completely adequate atonement for the sins of the whole world.

"Then said I, Lo, I am come ..." (Psalms 40:7). Lenski commented on this as follows:

"These lines are a part of all that David the type says of the antitype, the Messiah. These lines are the voice of Messiah himself speaking to God ... before the First Advent."[20]

The fact of these words being introduced in Hebrews with the qualifying clause, "When he cometh into the world," ties them closely to Christ. David did not say anything `before' he came into the world. It is also important to note, as Westcott said, that, "These words assume the pre-existence of Christ."[21]

"In the roll of the book it is written of me" (Psalms 40:7). Without any doubt whatever, "We obviously here have a reference to the Law of Moses (The Pentateuch), which was in existence at that time, as numerous passages indicate."[22] It is also significant that the Pentateuch has not a single word in it about David, but it contains many magnificent prophecies of Jesus Christ, such as Genesis 3:15; 49:10 and Deuteronomy 18:15-19, etc. The fact that certain qualities of kingship are mentioned in the Pentateuch cannot be construed as having been "written about David." This verse limits the application to Christ alone.

"Lo, I come to do thy will" (Psalms 40:7). As the writer of Hebrews pointed out, the inferences here are tremendous. (1) This means that God's will had not been done previously. (2) It means that the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant were not effective in removing sin. (3) It means that God would take away the old Law, or the Old Covenant, and (4) that God would establish a New Covenant (Hebrews 10:9).

"Thy law is in my heart" (Psalms 40:8). This is a unique quality, or ear mark, of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33), and the wildest imagination cannot suppose that David manifested such a quality centuries before Christ came. This again binds the passage securely to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before leaving this passage, we should observe the importance of references here to the Torah, or Pentateuch. F. Delitzsch wrote, "All of the Psalms of the times of Saul abound in retrospective references to the Torah."[23] Of course, this is the unanswerable refutation of the critical claim of a late date for the Pentateuch.

Verse 9

"I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great assembly;

Lo I will not refrain my lips,

O Jehovah, thou knewest."

There can be little doubt that this passage, as Matthew Henry said, is a reference, "To the coming of the great salvation,"[24] and that `great salvation' began to be spoken by the Lord (Hebrews 2:3), and not by David. "This is a reference to the Gospel of Christ which is preached to all nations."[25]

"In the great assembly" (Psalms 40:9). This is a much more understandable statement as a reference to the fantastically large crowds of the people who heard the preaching of Jesus Christ than it ever could be as applied to any preaching ever done by David.

Verse 10

"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 assembly.

Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Jehovah;

Let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me."

As Jamieson said, "Christ's prophetic office is taught here."[26] The necessity for the people of God to bear witness to all men, in the fullest extent of their ability, is inherent in the words of these verses.

"I have not hid ... I have declared ... I have not concealed ..." (Psalms 40:10). "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so"! (Psalms 107:2) is the marching order for every saved person on earth. A man who never speaks of his faith in God to others invites the question of whether or not he has any faith; and certainly it is the duty of all Christians, `not to hide, not to conceal,' but to declare openly the salvation in Christ.

Verse 12

"For innumerable evils have compassed me about;

Mine 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 hath failed me.

Be pleased, O Jehovah to deliver me:

Make haste to help me, O Jehovah.

Let them be put to shame and confounded together

That seek after my soul to destroy it:

Let them be turned backward and brought to dishonor

That delighteth in my hurt."

"Mine iniquities have overtaken me" (Psalms 40:12). There are two ways of looking at this. (1) Applied to David, it means that the sorrows from which he pleads for deliverance are the result of his own sins. (2) Applied to Messiah, the meaning is that, "The consequences of `mine iniquities' (meaning the sins of all men that God has laid upon Christ) have begun to catch up with him."[27] All the terrible sufferings of Passion Week, the arrest, the arraignment, the mockery, the six trials, the scourging of Pilate, etc. - it was all of these things, even the crucifixion, which were in the process of coming upon the Saviour.

Jamieson pointed out that `iniquities' here is frequently used in the Psalms as a synonym for `calamities,' in a general sense, adding that, "The difficulty in referring this psalm to Christ, due to the common reading of this verse, is removed."[28] Barnes also agreed with this and stated that, "The Messiah may be understood here to say that the awful calamities and woes coming upon him because of the sins of mankind which he had taken upon himself were so closely connected that it was proper to refer to them as `iniquities.'"[29]

"My heart failed me" (Psalms 40:12). It is a fact that Christ died from a failure of the heart, a disaster that never happened to David; and, although some interpret this as merely a failure of courage, such an interpretation does not fit the text. The crucifixion did not cause Jesus' death, as proved by the fact that when the soldiers came to break his legs, he had already deceased.

"Deliver me ... make haste to help me, O Jehovah" (Psalms 40:13). Notice also that the psalmist here does not pray for the forgiveness of his sins, but only for "help," and "deliverance." This might very well mean either of two things. (1) As applied to David, it could refer to deliverance from the guilt incurred by his sins. (2) As applied to Christ, it might very well mean `help' and `deliverance' from the horrors and sufferings of that last tragic week. Did not Our Lord pray, "Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me?"

"Let them be ashamed and confounded" (Psalms 40:14). This is the basis of another objection, raised by some, to the referral of these verses to the Messiah. It is alleged that Messiah would not have uttered such imprecations. Barnes replied to this as follows:

"Such imprecations are just as proper in the mouth of Messiah as they are in the mouth of David; and are improper in neither. There is no evidence of any malignancy here; and it is proper that He who will pronounce the sentence of condemnation at the Judgment should apprise men ahead of time of what is sure to come upon them then."[30]

Also, as Leupold noted, "In this prayer directed against enemies, his intention is in no sense the destruction of his enemies, but rather that they may meet with such experiences as may bring them to their senses."[31]

Verse 15

"Let them be desolate by reason of their shame

That say unto me, Aha, Aha.

Let all that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee:

Let such as love thy salvation say continually, Jehovah 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."

"Let them be desolate" (Psalms 40:15). As noted above, this is a far cry from a prayer for the death and/or destruction of the opponents. Desolation is a status that has led many to seek and find the Lord.

"I am poor and needy" (Psalms 40:17). There is no way that these words are half as appropriate as descriptive of David as they are as descriptive of the Christ. Our Lord had nowhere to lay his head, and apparently the only thing he ever owned was the clothing that he wore. This does not apply to David. "He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we through his poverty might be made rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

"Yet the Lord thinketh upon me" (Psalms 40:17). What a delightful thought is this! It is impossible to calculate what the advantage may be for them upon whom the Lord `thinketh.' In the story of Jonah, when the storm threatened the destruction of the ship, Jonah's guilty sleep in the hold of the vessel was broken by the demand of the shipmaster, "What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not" (Jonah 1:6).

"Make no tarrying, O my God" (Psalms 40:17). The RSV reads this, "Do not tarry, O my God." In the application to Christ, God did indeed speed up his death on the Cross, which came well ahead of the time when it might logically have been expected.

Note: According to Baigent, "The Book of Common Prayer appoints this Psalm for use on Good Friday."[32] By coincidence, I finished the writing of our commentary on this psalm between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. on March 28, Good Friday, 1991, - J.B.C.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 40". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.