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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 40


The phenomenon presented in this psalm of a burst of praise (Psalms 40:1-10), followed by plaintive prayer (Psalms 40:11 onwards), is so peculiar, and so contrary to the usual method of psalm composition, as to lead of itself to the conjecture of a composite poem. The fact that Psalms 40:13-17 appear again in Psalms 70:0, adds some force to this conjecture which is also supported by a marked difference in rhythm, which is finer and better sustained in the second part. We must in any case notice the prophetic power of the singer. In the true spirit of the Hebrew prophets, he exalts spiritual above merely formal religion.

The Davidic authorship is rejected, even by such critics as Delitzsch; and if we must fix on an author, the Deuteronomist suggests himself, or Jeremiah. That the psalm was written after the discovery of the Book of the Law, in Josiah’s reign, there can be little doubt.

Title.—See Psalms 3:0 (title).

Verse 1

(1) I waited patiently.—As the margin shows, this is expressed by the common Hebrew idiom the infinitive absolute with the preterite. We may nearly express it by repetition: I waited and waited.

Inclined . . .—Either intransitive (comp. Judges 16:30), or with ellipse of the word “ear,” which usually is found with the verb in this conjugation. (See Psalms 17:6; Psalms 31:2.)

Verse 2

(2) Horrible pit.—The rendering of the margin, “pit of noise,” takes shaôn in its primary sense, as in Isaiah 17:12, Psalms 65:7, and the idea of a noise of rushing water suits this passage. Most commentators, however, take it here in the sense the cognate bears in Psalms 35:8, destruction.” The LXX. and Vulg. have “misery.”

Miry clay.—The word translated “clay” (comp. Psalms 69:2) is from a root meaning to boil up, or ferment. (One of its derivatives means “wine.”) Hence “froth,” or “slime.” LXX., ilus; Vulg., fœx. A verse of R. Browning’s perhaps expresses the poet’s image:—

“It frothed by,
A black eddy, bespate with flakes and fumes.”

Rock.—The common image of security (Psalms 18:2; Psalms 27:5), the occurrence of which makes it probable that the “pit” and “clay” are also not realities, but emblems of confusion and danger.

Verse 3

(3) New song.—See Psalms 33:3. It seems natural to suppose that this new song is incorporated here; that we have at least the substance of it, if not the words. Possibly the very words are taken up in Psalms 40:4. And we are to find the “newness” in the magnificent vindication of spiritual above formal worship.

Shall see it and fear.—Comp. Psalms 52:6, where there is plainly a reminiscence of this passage.

Verse 4

(4) Respecteth not.—Better, turneth not towards proud men and false apostates. The words are, however, somewhat obscure. The LXX. and Vulg. have “vanities and false madnesses.” The words we have rendered false apostates are by some translated “turners after idols.” Idolatry is doubtless implied, but not expressed.

Verse 5

(5) Many, O Lord.—Better,

“In numbers hast Thou made, Thou Jehovah my God,
Wonderful deeds and purposes for us.
There is nothing comparable to Thee. . . .

Would I declare, would I speak,
They are too many to number.”

For the third clause, “There is nothing comparable with Thee,” which is the rendering of the LXX., Vulg. and Syriac, comp. Isaiah 40:17.

Verse 6

(6) Mine ears hast thou opened.—Literally, Ears hast thou dug for me, which can hardly mean anything but “Thou hast given me the sense of hearing.” The words are an echo of 1 Samuel 15:22. The attentive ear and obedient heart, not formal rites, constitute true worship. Comp. the words so frequent on the lips of Christ, “He that hath ears to hear let him hear.” The fact that the plural ears is used instead of the singular, sets aside the idea of a revelation, which is expressed in Isaiah 48:8 by “open the ear” and 1 Samuel 9:15 “uncover the ear.” Not that the idea is altogether excluded, since the outward ears maybe typical of the inward. The same fact excludes allusion to the symbolic act by which a slave was devoted to perpetual servitude (Exodus 21:6), because then also only one ear was bored. For the well-known variation in the LXX. see New Testament Commentary, Hebrews 10:5. The latest commentator, Grätz, is of opinion that the text is corrupt, and emends (comp. Psalms 51:16) to, “Shouldest thou desire sacrifice and offering I would select the fattest,” a most desirable result if his arguments, which are too minute for insertion, were accepted.

Verse 7

(7) Then said I.—This rendering, which follows the LXX. and Vulg., and is adopted in the Epistle to the Hebrews, must be abandoned. The Hebrew means, Lo! I come, bringing the book written for me, which no doubt refers to the Law, which in the person of the poet, Israel here produces as warrant for its conduct. Some see a particular allusion to the discovery of the Book of Deuteronomy in Josiah’s reign. But if the conjecture of Grätz be accepted (see preceding Note), the reference will be rather to the Levitical regulation of sacrifice. “Shouldest thou require burnt-offering and sin-offering, then I say, Lo! I bring the book in which all is prescribed me,” i.e., I have duly performed all the rites ordained in the book.

The rendering “written on me,” i.e., “on my heart and mind,” might suit the contents of the book, but not the roll itself.

Verse 9

(9) I have preached.—Literally, I have made countenances glad.

Notice the rapid succession of clauses, like successive wave-beats of praise, better than any elaborate description to represent the feelings of one whose life was a thanksgiving.

Verse 13

(13) Be pleased.—From this verse onwards, with some trifling variations which will be noticed under that psalm, this passage occurs as Psalms 70:0, where see Notes.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 40". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.