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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 40

Verses 1-17

The Messianic Watchword

Psalms 40:8

These words are quoted by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews as a Messianic prophecy; and are used at the same time to indicate the supreme element of value in the sacrifice which redeems mankind. The words were indited in some sweet thrilling springtime of the singer's history, possibly at his anointing for the kingship, or when the Lord had given him rest from his enemies; but he fell short, and generations afterwards the ideal was fulfilled by another. A superficial glance at this Psalm may perhaps suggest to us that the writer, whether David or some other inspired man, was thinking of himself from beginning to end, and not consciously speaking in the name of a descendant. But we must not unduly narrow our views. Two or three considerations may serve to show how, without doing violence to the thought of the man who first used the words, they may pass into a watchword of the Messianic work and mission. I. A vague Messianic hope was widely diffused among men from the beginnings of history; and this hope tended to centre itself in the kings of primitive peoples, perhaps because of the priestly functions they exercised. In the days of the first Kings of Israel, men were looking for the fulfilment of the Divine promises in the person of a providential ruler. Notwithstanding the separation of a special family to the work of the priesthood, the king still represented his people before God, and often performed the act of sacrifices. The promise made to Abraham and renewed from time to time to his descendants was put in trust with the house of David, and the believing expectation concentrated itself in his line. Such hopes contained the germinating forces of genuine Messianic prophecy. The joyful unspotted career of righteousness and piety after which David longed when he came to the throne and by which he hoped to establish the kingdom of God upon earth was, alas! imperfectly realized. The Messianic dream failed once more, and failed through the moral incompetence of the dreamer. The failure of David was redeemed in his matchless descendant. The fulfilment came in One who adopted the watchword, and after a life in which there was no need to confess a shortcoming, died upon the Cross with the shout 'It is finished'. The new programme of sacrifice the sacrifice of ungrudging, spontaneous, all-comprehending obedience which was dawning in the mind of the Psalmist became the prophecy of a new dispensation.

II. There is a sense in which the outlook towards lofty and unselfish progress has in it a diffused and unfocused light of prophecy. Whenever we see perfection from afar, and set our hearts upon it, we join hands with Moses, David, Isaiah, and all the righteous men who waited for redemption in Israel. This ideal of joyful obedience to the redeeming counsels of the Most High corresponds with a new view of the Divine character which was dawning on the horizon of the Jewish thought. We speak of a God, who whilst still zealous for the righteousness which has been the staple of past revelations, wishes to be known by a love which accepts only the service of congenial minds. In his prevision of a joyful and perfect obedience, rendered to an inscrutable law of spiritual sacrifice, the Psalmist anticipates in faint outline that revelation of the Divine character which the work of Jesus Christ put into intense light. He who sent His Son into the world to be man's atoning Mediator and example, must needs be served in tasks of supreme difficulty and pain, with cheerful and uncomplaining loyalty. Jesus, Who knew all the depths of the Divine heart, fulfilled the will of the Father in its most mysterious and distressing demands, with complete consecration of spirit, and an invincible sense of blessedness in His high vocation. The spirit of our Lord's surrender to the Divine will foreshadowed the free obedience He hoped to create in His redeemed people. The setting up of the Cross was a call to the future ages for a moral and spiritual service, free and winsome as the genius of life itself. It was the beginning of a new heaven and earth, the abodes of inward righteousness.

T. G. Selby, The Strenuous Gospel, p. 78.

References. XL. 8. W. G. Blaikie, Glimpses of the Inner Life of our Lord, p. 29. XL. 8, 9. J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 100. XL. 9, 10. E. B. Pusey, Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, p. 437. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 977. XL. 10. Canon Beeching, Inns of Court Sermons, p. 22. H. Bushnell, The New Life, p. 361. Alexander Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 258.

Psalms 40:17

Deus meus, ne tardaveris , 'Make no tarrying, O my God,' words which were repeatedly in the mouth of Robert Rollock, the first Principal of the University of Edinburgh, during his last illness. Under long and painful suffering he had interviews with friends, colleagues, ministers, and magistrates of the city, exhorting them to faithfulness in their duty. His biographer says that, as he came near his end, he kept silence during the night till the Sabbath dawn, when he broke out with the words, 'Come, Lord, make no delay; come, Lord Jesus, tarry not. I am wearied with my loathing of day and night. Come, Lord Jesus, that I may come to Thee.' It was early spring, 1599, when he died; and at his funeral a tempest of rain and wind was sweeping the streets of Edinburgh; but multitudes of every class followed him to his grave, and made great lamentation over him.

References. XL. 17. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 191. XLI. 1. F. W. Farrar, Contemporary Pulpit, Extra No. 2, 1887. J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 394. XLI. International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 360. XLII. 1. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 822. G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 151. XLII. 1, 2. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 109. XLII. 1-3. Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, p. 254. Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i. p. 117.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 40". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.