The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 41

Psa 41:1


HISTORICAL: Absalom's rebellion.

See Lesson, Psalms, Psalms, "Messianic" sin?

BLESSED IS HE WHO HAS REGARD FOR THE WEAK: Not one who is financially poor, but instead one in dire straits who knows that his only help is in God (eg Psa 82:3,4; Pro 21:13; Isa 11:4; etc). Thus was David at this time.

MAY THE LORD THINK OF ME: This describes a man of affairs who gives his mind to a serious matter; as, for example, Hushai walking a tightrope of diplomacy at Absalom's court on David's behalf: 2Sa 17:5-15.

(NT) Jesus preeminently (Mat 11:5; Luk 4:18). [Judas was the faithless "poor" -- desperately in need of help, but by his own deliberate action removing himself from the one place where help could be obtained. And, in the end, all the ill-gotten gains of the one who "kept the bag" (John 12:6) left him only the "poorer"!]

THE LORD DELIVERS HIM: Writing when the crisis is still unresolved, David put his faith into words.

Psa 41:2

THE LORD WILL PROTECT HIM AND PRESERVE HIS LIFE: David was now physically in poor straits. (NT) Could mean "make him alive", ie resurrection (sw Eze 37:10).

HE WILL BLESS HIM IN THE LAND: Not nec "upon the earth" (AV). Written at a time when David was in danger of being hunted right out of it! The future tenses in vv 2,3 should perhaps be read as requests: "May the Lord preserve him.... do not deliver him", etc.

AND NOT SURRENDER HIM TO THE DESIRE OF HIS FOES: (NT) This is apparently the precise opposite of Luk 23:25: Jesus was so delivered. But the further perspective of the resurrection alters this seeming contradiction: it was certainly not his enemies' "will" that he be raised from the dead!

Psa 41:3

In all his recurring sickness God is in constant attendance to comfort him. There was an earlier sickness in David's life (Psa 30). The first hint of this later prostration is in 2Sa 15:3,7, a period of four years (not forty, as in AV) during which the revolt was being carefully prepared. See also Psa 6, 38.

(NT) Should this be linked with the reclining (see Joh 13:23) at the Last Supper? "Sickness" is sw "grief(s)" in Isa 53:3,4.

Psa 41:4

I HAVE SINNED AGAINST YOU: Cp Psa 51:4; 2Sa 12:13. This sickness is one of the penalties for that great lapse. USC 157-161 traces very graphically how all this complex of troubles -- including Ahithophel's otherwise puzzling disloyalty -- stemmed from David's sin with Bathsheba.

(NT) For I have sinned against thee, in that there was the bearing of the sins of others, but also the feeling of all the natural propensities of an Adamic nature. Such a burden made him feel, understandably, unworthy of his Father's care -- though of course such a feeling was not correct! See Lesson, Psalms, "Messianic" sin?

I HAVE SINNED: There is a radical distinction between natural regret and God-given repentance. The flesh can feel remorse, acknowledge its evil deeds, and be ashamed of itself. However, this sort of disgust with past actions can be quickly shrugged off, and the individual can soon go back to his old wicked ways. None of the marks of true repentance described in 2Co 7:11 are found in his behavior. Out of a list of 11 men in the Bible who said, "I have sinned," poss only five actually repented. They were David (2Sa 12:13; 24:10; 1Ch 21:8; Psa 41:4), Nehemiah (Neh 1:6), Job (Job 42:5,6), Micah (Mic 7:9), and the prodigal son (Luk 15:18). The other (poss less sincere) instances? Pharaoh in Exo 9:27; 10:16; Balaam in Num 22:34; Achan in Jos 7:20; Saul in 1Sa 15:24,30; 26:21; Shimei in 2Sa 19:20; Judas in Mat 27:4.

Psa 41:5

MY ENEMIES SAY OF ME IN MALICE, "WHEN WILL HE DIE?": In his sickness David evidently had friends who kept him informed about the rising tide of disaffection. But without the king's dominant personality to hold things together, they were powerless.

(NT) Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin: "It is expedient that one man should die for the people" (Joh 11:50). Not to mention all the earlier plots against his life (Mar 3:6; Joh 5:16,18; 7:1; etc).

AND HIS NAME PERISH?: "And his line become extinct" (NEB). It may be surmised that Benjamites of the house of Saul (eg Shimei) saw in this rebellion an opportunity. They would help Absalom overthrow the authority of his father and would then, after some appropriate interval, throw out Absalom too so as to bring back the Benjamite kingship. Thus the name and dynasty of David would perish, in spite of the great promise that it was to last forever (2Sa 7:16).

(NT) Suggests hostility to the very idea of a Messiah from the house of David -- a hostility appropriate to the outlook of the Sadducee chief priests. Furthermore, Jesus died childless, and presumably without a "name" to be perpetuated to succeeding generations. But it was not true, for "he shall see his seed" (Isa 53:10,11; Psa 22:30,31).

Psa 41:6

WHENEVER ONE COMES: Note the change from "enemies" (v 5) to a singular pronoun. This individual was doubtless Ahithophel, still nominally David's chief adviser whilst already hand in glove with Absalom.

HE SPEAKS FALSELY: Feigning sympathy and commiseration with the sick man. This suggests a remarkable (inspired?) level of insight for the critically ill David.

(NT) Lying must have been a constant feature of Judas' relations with his Master throughout the last year or so of the ministry: John 6:70,71. "The callousness of a 'mouth-friend' " (NPH) is seen esp in his "Hail, master" and his kiss of betrayal.

HIS HEART GATHERS SLANDER: All through this sick visit the villain is eagerly studying the wretched patient for every symptom of weakness and approaching death -- which in his deluded state he considers additional evidence of David's "iniquity".

(NT) This expresses a growing conviction by Judas that Jesus was the wrong sort of Messiah, and this feeling finally led to his wicked betrayal. These words alone veto the popular notion that a well-intentioned Judas sought by pretended "betrayal" to force Jesus to assume then and there the role of King of the Jews.

THEN HE GOES OUT AND SPREADS IT ABROAD: At a meeting of chief conspirators.

(NT) Judas' secret meetings with the chief priests and their operatives (Mat 26:14,15; Joh 13:30). The details may be easily imagined: 'He is in a mood of deep pessimism, talking of failure and death. What better time for action? We must move quickly!'

Psa 41:7

How galling for the suffering king to know that all this was going on and yet to feel utterly powerless to cope with the situation.

Psa 41:8

A VILE DISEASE: Lit, a thing of Belial. This was the abuse hurled at David by Shimei (2Sa 16:7), the implication being: He is paying now for his iniquity. A variety of guesses is available about this word Belial: (a) "no profit", ie worthlessness. (b) "no yoke", ie a son of Belial being one who thrusts aside all moral restraints. (c) "the Lord of Night", compressed into one word. (This is supported by 2Co 6:14,15: "light... darkness... Christ... Belial". Also the alternative form Beliar -- "Lord of Light" -- is then seen as an obvious attempt at upgrading.) (NT) The gospel equivalent: "He casts out demons by Beelzebub the prince of demons" (Mat 12:25-29; Mar 3:23-27; Luk 11:17-22). The RSV reads: "A deadly thing has fastened upon him; he will rise not again from where he lies." Consider the symbolism of Act 28:3-5. In this "victory" over the deadly serpent, the apostle was plainly a pattern of Christ set forth before the eyes of man (cp Gal 3:1), as well as a fulfillment of Christ's own words (Mar 16:18)!

HE WILL NEVER GET UP: Implying: 'He won't last long anyway; so the sooner the country has a new settled government the better.'

Psa 41:9

MY CLOSE FRIEND: Undoubtedly, Ahithophel. See also what David says of him in Psa 55:12-14, 20.

(NT) LXX: The man of my peace, in whom I set my hope. Cp Mar 14:10: "Judas, the one of the twelve" might mean the exceptional one, the traitor; or, the one of outstanding ability, who might have outshone Peter or John. But, "in whom I trusted" is not quoted by the Lord in Joh 13:18. Jesus "knew what was in man" (Joh 2:24,25), and so put real trust in no man.

HE WHO SHARED MY BREAD: It is considered an act of great baseness among Eastern nations for a man to do an evil deed against him whose hospitality and table he has accepted (cp Oba 1:7).

(NT) Even more pointed than Joh 13:18 in emphasizing that Judas did indeed share the memorial bread along with the others. What a heinous crime: to share fullest fellowship with the Master, and then to "betray" him! But every disciple should remember that such things are recorded for his admonition (1Co 10:11,12).

HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME: Most simply, an animal kicking against its master (ie Act 9:5).

(NT) A direct allusion to Gen 3:15, but with a peculiar twist: Jesus is represented as the serpent and Judas as the Savior, lifting up his heel to crush a dangerous "serpent" underfoot! This means, then, that Judas saw his Master as the potential destroyer of Israel -- thus the need for his own drastic action. Did the decision that Jesus be crucified, with a large Roman nail in the heel, all at once switch Judas' perspective so that he now saw himself as the serpent? And hence his end, in a garden suspended from a tree -- his fate the same as his OT counterpart Ahithophel (2Sa 17:23; Mat 27:5). The climax was that the "serpent" was indeed crushed in the death of Jesus, but certainly not in the way the leaders of Israel (and Judas) expected. Or -- perhaps, more simply -- sym of Jesus as the serpent lifted up on the cross (Joh 3:14), thus putting to death the "serpent" nature.

"Aqeb"/"heel": The allusion to "heel", coupled with Gen 3:15, suggests an interesting word study. "Aqeb", or "heel", appears for the first time in Gen 3:15. "Aqeb" is the root word in the name Yaacov, or "Jacob" -- the reason being that Jacob took his brother by the heel when they were born (Gen 25:26; Hos 12:3). Figuratively, then, to take by the heel means to trip up and to supplant -- which, of course, Jacob did to his older brother Esau (Gen 27:36) in appropriating the blessing and birthright. The antitype is Jesus, the "last Adam", who has supplanted the first Adam in receiving the blessing and dominion which he lost (Gen 1:26,28). (Notice that Esau's other name is Edom -- virtually equivalent to "Adam"!) The other Bible occurrences of "aqeb": Gen 49:17,19; Jos 8:13; Job 18:9; Psa 49:3; 56:5,6; 89:50,51; Song 1:8.

Psa 41:10

HAVE MERCY ON ME: How well David knew that he needed God's forgiveness.

RAISE ME UP: And God did! Psa 71 and vv 11-13 here celebrate the fact.

(NT) LXX uses the word for resurrection.

THAT I MAY REPAY THEM: And, being raised up, David didn't! The magnanimity in 2Sa 19:22 is superb.

(NT) Not out of personal vindictiveness, but as God's appointed Judge. It was (and always has been) the duty of a king in Israel to administer justice and punish rebellion against God. Although Jesus always yearned to save his enemies (Joh 5:34,40; Mat 23:36,37; Luk 13:6,9; etc), he could in no case (nor would he desire to) disregard God's righteous requirements. Jesus will act as a Righteous Judge!

Psa 41:11

PLEASED: Sw "delight" (2Sa 15:26).

Psa 41:12

MY INTEGRITY: Used of both Jacob and David in spite of their sins (sw Gen 25:27: plain).

SET ME IN YOUR PRESENCE FOREVER: David's firm belief in the promise of 2Sa 7:16.

Psa 41:13

This v reads as a natural conclusion to the psalm (and cp 1Ch 29:10), suggesting that Psa 41 was inserted here as a fit ending to Book 1. On the other hand, this v reads equally well as a formal separate conclusion.


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