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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 40

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.

The author, as the title imports, is undoubtedly David. He is not now a fugitive from Saul; for the indications of age and public headship of the nation, Psalms 40:9-10, point to a later date. The fact that Psalms 70:0 is, with some variations, identical with Psalms 40:13-17, does not invalidate the greater age of this. Its strong resemblance to Psalms 69:0, is very noticeable, but internal evidence would assign them distinct dates. The psalm, though belonging to one occasion, is of very variable style and tone, which may account for its irregular strophes and unequal lines. It consists of two parts: in the first, (Psalms 40:1-10,) the spirit of joyful praise, with a self-sustaining consciousness of justification, prevail. In the second, (Psalms 40:11-17,) a dirge-like complaint of evils, with confession of sin, and prayer, predominate. The first division may be subdivided into four strophes; Psalms 40:1-3, a reminiscence of the great mercy of God in his signal spiritual and physical deliverances; Psalms 40:4-5, praise to God for his manifold works; Psalms 40:6-8, historically define the principle on which David found mercy and forgiveness, namely, not through sacrifice, but by an inward contrition (Psalms 51:16-17) and a hearty embrace of the will of God; Psalms 40:9-10, set forth his faithful declaration of the divine righteousness (implying his own sinfulness) before the great congregation, and thus give the glory to God. Prophetically this strophe is Messianic. The second division contains three strophes; Psalms 40:11-12, a complaint of unnumbered evils in consequence of his sins, and a prayer for deliverance; Psalms 40:13-15, a prayer against his enemies; Psalms 40:16-17, a prayer for the triumph of the righteous, and instant help for himself, with confession of his trust in the special care of God.

If we date the psalm the same as Psalms 32:0, after David’s pardon and restoration, the first division given above fitly coincides. If we consider his numerous enemies who had taken occasion of his sickness to menace the peace of his kingdom, and even plot the subversion of his throne, together with the fact that his foreign wars were not yet ended, (Joab was still in the siege of Rabbath Ammon, 2 Samuel 12:26, and a reaction of his foreign victories might yet bring an invasion of David’s own kingdom,) we shall find sufficient cause for the complaint and prayer beginning with Psalms 40:11. The psalm, as already noticed, is highly Messianic; for evidence of which see notes.

Verse 1

1. I waited patiently Hebrew, In waiting, I waited. The long and patient waiting implies an unexplained delay in answering.

Verse 2

2. Horrible pit The first word may be translated noise, in which sense we get the idea of a deep “pit” which resounds at the least noise; or it may be rendered desolation, a “pit” of desolation. The latter is the probable idea.

Miry clay Or, clay of the mire, Psalms 69:2 gives the idea of thick mud. The “pit” itself is a description of a prison, into which the felon might have been lowered by cords, as in Jeremiah 38:6; Isaiah 24:22 a condition which the prisoner could not long survive.

Feet upon a rock The most perfect contrast to the “miry clay.”

Established my goings Gave me a firm and sure footing, as opposed to the “miry” bottom of the “pit.” The figure denotes safety and prosperity. Psalms 37:31; Psalms 73:2; Proverbs 14:15

Verse 3

3. New song Because suited to a new occasion of mercy. Psalms 33:3.

Many shall see it The deliverance is such that all who knew of the affliction would take knowledge of the signal mercy, and give thanks to God. All divine dispensations to individuals are intended also for a social influence.

Verse 4

4. That man הגבר , ( hageber,) the strong man, one who would be naturally tempted to trust in himself.

The proud The arrogant, who despise others and outrage the rights of men.

Turn aside to lies Apostates from truth and faithfulness, such as Absalom, Ahithophel, and their associate conspirators eleven years later.

Verse 5

5. Thy wonderful works Both in nature and providence. Works are his developed thoughts, or plans; while thoughts are his devices, which are reserved for accomplishment in their time, and which we know only in their fulfilment.

To us-ward In modern phrase, toward us. A beautiful acknowledgment of a special providence. The end of all divine dispensation in nature and in grace is for man.

They are more than can be numbered The word “more” means strong, and hence, great, numerous. Both the magnitude and multitude of the “works” of God towards man are beyond the human power to compute.

Verse 6

6. According to Hebrews 10:5, Psalms 40:6-10 are the words of Christ, or of David speaking in the person of Christ.

Sacrifice… offering… burnt offering… sin offering The enumeration covers all the offerings necessary to entering into and continuing in covenant with God. The first two are generic terms for bloody and unbloody offerings, the last two specific of bloody sacrifices; the “burnt offering,” עולה , ( ‘olah,) a self-dedicatory sacrifice, the “sin offering,” חשׂאה , ( hhattaah,) an expiation.

Mine ears hast thou opened Literally, ears hast thou digged for me. More naturally the mind turns to boring through the ear of the servant, Exodus 21:6, as the basis of this metaphor. But a different word occurs there, and the noun ( ear) is in the singular, while this is plural. Besides, the import of the passages is not identical. The verb כרה , ( karah,) in the text, has the general sense of to dig, as a pit, a wall, a grave, but allows the sense of to uncover, to open, as in the English text. To open the ears is a figurative expression for to awaken attention, as the inlet to the understanding, (Isaiah 50:4,) the indispensable preparation of a servant in order to perfect obedience. It signifies, also, to reveal, or communicate, as 1 Samuel 20:3; where “show it me,” is literally, uncover mine ear. See also chapter Psalms 22:17; Job 36:10; Job 36:15. The emblematic idea, then, of “mine ears hast thou opened,” is, thou hast revealed to me, caused me to understand, thy most secret will, or mind. The ideas of attentive listening and an inward, hearty obedience, are implied. David’s interior ear had now been opened to receive the will of God in its spiritual sense, and to perceive that animal sacrifice, in itself, was not the ultimate requirement, but the obedience of the heart, of which the ritual form was but the expression. Compare 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 51:16-17. The application of all this to Messiah, to whom it primarily refers, (and to David only secondarily,) is made in Hebrews 10:5-9, where it is quoted in proof of the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, namely, that pardon is obtained only by the death of Christ as a sin offering.

Instead of “mine ears hast thou opened,” the Septuagint gives σωμα κατηρτισω μοι , Thou hast prepared me a body. This, not the Hebrew form, the apostle quotes Hebrews 10:5, for the reason, says Hammond, “that the apostle attended more to the sense than to the words, and changed it into those words which more fully and perspicuously expressed the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.” G.C. Storr admits that a body hast thou prepared me, may be brought within the general limits of an ad sensum quotation. To this Professor Stuart also agrees. This would be sustained also by the analogy of New Testament quotations from the Old. Bengel thinks the version of the Seventy is an interpretation rather than a translation of the Hebrew text, the “ears,” as a part, being put for the “body.” Moll, also, thinks the Septuagint is an “enlarged and explanatory translation” of the Hebrew. Olshausen calls it a “free translation,” and thinks that the Septuagint might have considered “ears” to be unintelligible, and substituted the more general idea, “Thou hast prepared for me a body.” This view simply takes כרה , ( karah,) opened, in the sense of prepared, which is admissible, and by synecdoche the “ears” for the whole body. It is in harmony, also, with the scope both of the psalm and the quotation, for the inadequacy of animal sacrifice with the doctrine of atonement unchanged, naturally suggests a higher expiation which Messiah, in his greater fulfilment of the will of God, relating to pardon by atonement, could accomplish only by taking upon himself a human body. On this plan, therefore, “the incarnation of the Son was a prerequisite to obedience, ” ( Alexander,) and hence in itself an act of obedience to the will of God touching the redemptive plan. “It was the first and most direct step to his being made a servant.” Bonar. See note on Hebrews 10:5

Verse 7

7. Then said I Christ still speaks, (see Psalms 40:6.) The language is slightly historic, but passes over into the typically predictive. “Then” is emphatic. With David it was after the revelation and spiritual discernment of the insufficiency of animal sacrifice to atone for his crimes. With Christ it points to the date when, “ εισερχομενος εις τον κοσμον λεγει , coming into the world, he said,” etc. Hebrews 10:5. In David’s agony of repentance he had obtained deeper views of sin. He had passed beyond the reach of atonement under the law, but with a “crushed and contrite heart” appealed to a higher power and provision of pardon. See on Psalms 51:16. In these depths, but especially after his conscious restoration, he was lifted up to the spiritual height of antitypical vision to behold the “one offering” to which animal sacrifice could only point. His “ears being now opened” to receive a profounder subjective sense of law and sin, he obtains also a clearer ectypal view of the true atoning Sacrifice. But this faint trace of historic application falls far below the energy and dignity of the style, which finds its fulness of import only in Christ. Lo,

I come The verb is in the preterite, Lo, I have come. This was Christ’s profession as to the import and end of his incarnation and all his subsequent work. He came to fulfil the will of God, which involved obedience “unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:8. Compare, also, John 6:38. This prophetic application of the text must be given if we pay any respect to the laws of typical Messianic prediction, or the inspired authority of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 10:5-10, where see note.

Volume of the book The roll of the book, that is, the Torah, or law of Moses. Its general import, not any particular passage, is here alluded to. See Luke 24:44. Books anciently were written on skins, or papyrus, and rolled, not bound, as now.

It is written of me See Deuteronomy 18:15, and compare Luke 24:27; John 1:45; John 5:46-47; Acts 3:22

Verse 8

8. I delight to do thy will “Delight” in God’s will is the true test of a spiritual mind, and of the highest obedience. This was Christ’s profession.

John 4:34; John 17:4.

Within my heart Hebrew, In the midst of my bowels; which, according to the Hebrew psychology means, in my innermost (most spiritual) sympathies, with tender affection implied.

Jeremiah 31:33. This is an intensive repetition of the preceding line.

Verse 9

9. I have preached The word preach is too modern and technical. The idea is, to announce, publish, make manifest. This was Christ’s distinctive office. See note on Psalms 22:22; Psalms 22:25; and compare Matthew 4:23.

Righteousness This was the subject announced called Psalms 40:10, “thy righteousness,” “thy faithfulness,” “thy salvation,” “thy lovingkindness and thy truth.” These are evangelical themes involving the justice and faithfulness of God in the methods of atonement and pardon. Romans 3:21-22; Isaiah 61:1.

Great congregation “Congregation” is the title of the collective body of the Hebrew nation as a religious community, an ecclesiastical rather than a civil designation. The Septuagint here is, εκκλησια , the New Testament word for church. In the closing line of this verse the Greek has it, great synagogue, another Jewish designation of a religious assembly. “Great congregation,” probably only stands opposed to local or partial gatherings, or to masses as opposed to representative elders or princes. The repeated asseverations, “I have preached,” “I have not refrained,” “I have not bid,” “I have declared,” “I have not concealed,” evince the earnest faithfulness of the psalmist in making known God’s mercy.

Verse 11

11. The tone and theme of the psalm suddenly change from thanksgiving and gladness to complaint, confession of sin, and prayer. That these two dissimilar parts make one whole, and belong to one occasion, is explained in the introduction to the psalm. But the complaint and confession are not to be restricted to David. They are a fore-shadowing of the sufferings of Christ, whose earthly advent was heralded with joy, but whose triumphant life closed in agony. If Psalms 40:6-8 are the profession of Christ upon his coming into the world, and Psalms 40:9-10 a declaration of his faithful life and labour, answering to “I have glorified thee on the earth,” John 17:4; then Psalms 40:11-13 are an allusive sketch of the agony of Gethsemane, and of the mystery of imputation, by which he was made not a personal sinner, but legally answerable for our offences, and treated as if he were a sinner, when “his own self bare our sins in his own body.”

Continually preserve me That is, day by day, without intermission. In moments of peril and intervals of quiet, we alike need the ever present help of God. The spiritual keeping is the predominant idea, as in Psalms 25:21; Proverbs 13:6; Isaiah 26:3

Verse 12

12. Innumerable evils The complaint is an echo of Psalms 31:9-13.

Iniquities The word is sometimes used for sin, and sometimes for punishment of sin. In the Messianic sense Christ was “made sin for us,” or answerable for our sins, that is, for making satisfaction to the law for us, by giving his life as an indemnity to government that no injury should result to its authority where sin should be forgiven on gospel terms.

Verse 14

14. My soul “Soul” is here taken in the sense of life.

Wish me evil Will or purpose “evil” to me. It is translated desire, Psalms 70:2, and sometimes delight, but generally signifies either will, or that disposition of mind which induces will or choice.

Verse 15

15. Desolate The word may be taken in the sense of astonished, struck dumb with fear, Jeremiah 18:16, or of laid waste, as Ezekiel 35:12. The verb is in Kal future, and may be rendered, they shall be astonished. The words “desolate,” “ashamed,” “confounded,” “driven backward,” in this and the previous verses, must be applied to temporal visitations, in defeat of their wicked plots.

Aha An exclamation at once of mockery and triumph. Psalms 35:21; Ezekiel 25:3; Ezekiel 26:2

Verse 16

16. Those that seek thee… such as love thy salvation A description of character in marked contrast to that of his enemies. The Hebrew word rendered “salvation” is used to denote deliverance of any kind, temporal or spiritual, and the connexion must indicate its quality and extent. Here it is spiritual, alluding to Psalms 40:1-3. It is often thus used, (Psalms 69:13; Psalms 79:1,) but never applied to the wicked as such. It stands in connexion with the divine attributes of righteousness and faithfulness, Psalms 24:5; Psalms 25:5, or with joy, spiritual gifts, etc., Psalms 51:1; Psalms 68:19-20. In the text, as in Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9, it refers to Christ and his method of redemption.

Verse 17

17. Thinketh upon me The word denotes special thought, either in the sense of esteem, value, or of plan, device. Both united in David. God regarded him with marked favour, and devised for his deliverance. His love and his wisdom are ever towards the humble. A more touching appeal, or childlike trust, is not given in the Bible. The psalm begins with grateful praise for deliverance past, and ends with agonizing prayer for instant relief from still impending dangers.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 40". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.