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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 40

Verses 1-17

This psalm of David is a consequence of the preseding. It is an ode of thanksgiving for liberation from the profound grief and sorrow under which he had groaned. Here he rises above the cloud, and as he says, “saw light in the light of the Lord.” A glorious vista opened on his mind. He saw the Eternal Word, the Christ of God. He became, for some moments, joined to him in Spirit, and spake in his language. He saw him in all the grandeur of his passion, consummating the work of our redemption; he saw him as rising from the dead, and declaring the promised righteousness in the great congregation. It is therefore in vain that the Arians talk here of David as the father of Christ, and as a type of the Holy and the Just One. David did not fulfil and magnify the law. David’s ears were never bored, nor did he supersede the ceremonial law, and convert the gentile world. Arianism destroys the sense of the prophets, supersedes the Targums of the elder rabbins, and raises the feeble arm of philosophy against the wisdom which is from above.

Psalms 40:2 . He brought me up also out of a horrible pit. From the deep, the wide, and miry cave in which David once lay, he borrows language to utter his heart. There he prayed and cried, as in the preseding psalm, and there he was heard and delivered from death. So the Saviour wrestled in anguish on mount Olivet, and offered up strong cries and tears. Matthew 26:3. Hebrews 5:7.

Psalms 40:3 . He hath put a new song into my mouth, as in the verses which follow, and in twenty of the psalms. See Psalms 118:0. Homer sung the fall of Troy. Virgil flattered the Romans with the landing of Æneas in Italy. Another sings the liberation of Jerusalem, and a fourth celebrates the Indian continent, opened by the Portugese. But here is the song of songs. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. The signal favours of God to David, were as a thousand arguments to persuade the nations to serve a God ever faithful and good. Thus it was when the church rejoiced; a multitude of converts were brought over to the Lord. Acts 2:3. 4.

Psalms 40:6 . Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire: mine ears hast thou opened. David here uses the words זבח ומנחה zebach ve-minchah, holocaust, or burnt-offering, and meat-offering. The first of these words has a lively reference to the oblation of the Saviour’s body on the cross; the second to the joys which followed. This text is obviously to be explained by Isaiah 50:5-6, where the prophet is as David, personating the language of Christ. “The Lord hath opened mine ears, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away my back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” This sense best agrees with the readiness which follows, the coming in the volume of the book, and the delighting to do the will of God. Neither the ear of David, nor the ear of the Messiah was ever bored. Besides, the plural word is here used, and the law allowed but of one ear to be bored. Mestrezat, an eminent French preacher, whom Ostervald places among the models of pulpit eloquence, has a learned sermon on this text. He allows that when St. Paul applies this passage to Christ, he followed not the Hebrew but the Septuagint version; and that in rendering the text, “a body hast thou prepared me,” he uses the word body, not ears, in conformity to the gentiles who called those who were slaves for life σωματα somata; and a farther reason was, because the Father had appropriated to the Messiah a body, as Isaiah says, when personating Christ, “The Lord hath formed me from the womb to be his servant:” chap. Psalms 49:5. So also St. Paul. “He made himself of no reputation, and was found in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7. As to the Lord’s not desiring sacrifices and offerings, we are to understand it first, in unison with all those texts which prefer obedience to oblations. “I spake not unto your fathers concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: but this one thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice.” Jeremiah 7:22-23. So Hosea: “For I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” Secondly, we are to understand the words as predicting the ultimate cessation of the legal sacrifices for a more perfect way of approaching God by the body of Christ offered up once for all. There was to be a more efficacious fountain opened for sin than the law afforded. Zechariah 13:1.

Psalms 40:7 . Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me. In the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin, it is, “in the head of the book.” The English follows the Chaldaic and Montanus in reading, “in the volume,” that is, in the superior part or opening of the covenant. So John puts the Messiah at the head of his gospel, and at the head of his epistle. Thus Moses, “The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” Isaiah also, “I will give thee for a covenant to the people.” Here is the text; the sermon reigns through all the volume; the old testament is full of the sufferings and glory of Christ.

Psalms 40:9 . I have preached righteousness. David, and many good kings, have taken an active part in the worship of God. Eusebius gives us an oration of Constantine the great, which he delivered in the church. Julian the apostate emperor, while young, read sometimes in the church. But these words have ever been understood of Christ, who preached boldly in the temple, and through all the land. John 7:26; John 18:20. This righteousness of God is described in the next verse: I have declared thy faithfulness and thy truth.

Psalms 40:12 . Innumerable evils have compassed me about; mine iniquities, that is, my afflictions, have taken hold upon me. This is a figure of speech which puts one thing for another, and is of frequent occurrence in the running language of Hebrew piety.


Here the inspired prophet launches forth into a sublime strain of grateful devotion. His soul was warmed and elevated by a review of past mercies; and from his own particular deliverances, he sees a much greater deliverance, which the Lord would effectuate by Jesus Christ. Let us amplify his words. I waited patiently for the Lord during the seven years of my exile, and he brought me up out of the horrible cave where I did hide from Saul; and when I cried bitterly there, my feet sticking fast in the mire, the dark and vaulted caverns gave doleful echoes to my voice. But now he has brought me to the throne which is firm as a rock, because it is founded upon his promise. Therefore I will praise him with a new song, and magnify his favours and love. Yea, Israel, seeing my mercies, and God’s faithfulness to his word, shall reform their lives; and pray to him for the same mercies in regard to pardon and grace. But songs of praise are not enough to return to my God: I will glorify him, not by sin-offerings, but by obedience; his law is within me, and I delight to do his will. Yea more; as I often have, so while I have breath I will declare his righteousness in the great congregation; I will not hide it in my heart. And I will do it that my prayers may still be heard for deliverance from all my remaining foes. So shame shall cover those that say, Aha, aha! Those that seek his salvation shall rejoice; and I will ever remain poor and needy at the Lord’s feet; it is safest for my soul. We may farther add, that this psalm is highly applicable to persons recently converted, or delivered from troubles occasioned by their sins. They are brought out of a horrible pit of sin and death, where their feet stuck fast in the mire of shame and sin, for the wicked are like a troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. Their feet are now established on Christ the rock of ages, and their tongues sing praises to their God. They publish his righteousness in the congregation of his saints; for it would be wicked to hide it, that the righteous may rejoice and sinners be converted to the Lord.

But the ultimate application of this psalm is to the Messiah, for the prophets, in all their sorrows and joys, transferred their desires to him. Christ in the garden, in the hands of his crucifiers, and in the grave, was in this horrible pit; and he offered up prayers with strong cries and tears, and was raised up by the glory of God. When the Father would not accept of bulls and goats, he having a body prepared, came willingly forward to die on the cross. He came, in the volume of the book, to fulfil all things which the scriptures had said; for the law of the Father was within him, and he delighted to do his will. By the which will we are sanctified. He has also published the righteousness of God in the great congregation of heaven and earth; and many nations and people, kindreds and tongues, have seen and feared, and turned to the Lord.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 40". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.