George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 40

1. Structure

1- 5.
A new song: the mercies of God
Self-dedication; obedience
Prayer for help against enemies
Prayer for supporters
Prayer for himself

2. A psalm of David

Nearly all of David’s psalms include a few specific details which enable the reader to identify the occasion in David’s experience which led to the writing of it. In this instance, however, the details somehow fall short of precise identification:

A horrible pit (figurative?)
A new song
Witness to a great congregation
A multitude of iniquities
Them that seek after my soul to destroy it
Poor and needy

What personal experience lies at the back of these words? Is it the sort of sin for which all regular sacrifices are inadequate (v. 6) — i.e. the Bathsheba/Uriah affair?

3. Messianic reference

It is characteristic of many Messianic prophecies that whereas the primary fulfillment (in the life of David or Hezekiah?) goes smoothly enough, the Messianic application is less obvious (e.g. 38). On the other hand, the reverse experience is not uncommon (e.g. 22, 72). In this instance, even if the New Testament did not insist on a Messianic application (Heb. 10:5-9), there is still much in this psalm to proclaim that it belongs to Jesus Christ.


Out of the miry clay. Compare Psa. 69:2,14 — another psalm of the Messiah. Note Matt. 27:10: The “potter’s field” was a place of clay. Jeremiah’s confinement to a miry pit (38:6-13) was also a type of Messiah’s experience.

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit. RV margin: a pit of tumult, suggesting death from a hostile mob? See usage of the same word in Psa. 65:7; 74:23; Isa. 13:4; 17:12,13.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth. This suggests resurrection for “the firstborn from the dead”. Compare Psa. 33:3, notes; Rev. 5:9,10; 14:3-5; 15:3,4.

Many shall see.....and fear. In Hebrew this is a lovely play on words. Compare the hear and fear concerning one who is cursed, as hanging on a tree: Deut. 21:21,22.
Blessed is the man that maketh the Lord his trust. Trust in the Lord is equivalent to justification by faith — faith in the righteousness and resurrection of Christ.
Thy wonderful works. “The exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe” (Eph. 1:18-20).

Thy thoughts....more than can be numbered. Is there some link here with Rev. 7:9, where numbered is equivalent to being atoned for (see Exod. 30:12-16)? (“Which no man could number” cp. Psa. 49:7).

They cannot be reckoned up in order. Sacrifices (v. 6) can be set in order or array before the Lord (Lev. 1:7,8,12), but cannot be reckoned or imputed for redemption.
All kinds of sacrifices are covered here. Sacrifice = zebach, used of the peace offering (Lev. 3:1,3,6; 4:10,26; 7:11-13). Offering = minchah, the meal offering (Lev. 2; 6; 23). Then follows, in the text, burnt offering (olah) and sin offering (chataah). Yet none of these sacrifices are of any avail in themselves (Heb. 10:4) but only when linked by faith with the sacrifice of Christ; hence all the passages in even the Old Testament which appear to belittle the need or effect of Mosaic offerings (e.g. Psa. 50:9-13; 51:6,16; 1 Sam. 15:22; Hos. 6:6). But how true that God has delight in that which they symbolize!

Mine ears hast thou opened. Literally, digged or bored — an undeniable allusion to Exod. 21:5,6 (and Deut. 15:16,17): the bondslave who loves his Master so much that he has no wish to be free from his service. The acted parable is very beautiful: a holy dedication to the perpetual service of a much-loved Lord, symbolized by a pierced ear at the door of God’s house, emphasizes a willingness to hear and obey every word of instruction and command.

Hence in the volume of the book (Exod. 21, but not only there), it is written of me...I delight to do thy will, O my God. The entire passage, quoted in Heb. 10 with reference to Christ, is introduced with: “when he cometh into the world” (v. 5), a phrase which is quite inappropriate to the Lord’s birth or resurrection or second coming, but which fits his baptism perfectly (cp. John 17:12,18), when the Father declared, “My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased (the word for an acceptable sacrifice: contrast v. 6 here).” The quotation is rounded off with: “He taketh away the first [covenant so] that he may establish the second” (10:9).

Jesus Christ, the perfect slave or servant of God (Isa. 42:1,6; 49:1-7), is at the same time the “husband” of his spiritual “bride” and the “father” of spiritual “children” (Isa. 53:10). This family has been given to him by his “Master” (John 17:2,6). When confronted with the choice of personal freedom or self-inflicted bondage, Jesus chooses to stay in his Master’s service because of his great love for his Master, his “wife”, and his “children”. He says, in effect, in Gethsemane and upon the cross, “I will not go out free, or alone!” And therefore, symbolically, his ear is pierced or opened at the door of his Master’s house, he being ever attentive to his Master’s will (Psa. 40:8).

But why, in the Hebrews quotation, is there such a seemingly drastic change to A body hast thou prepared me? This, like all the other Old Testament quotations in Hebrews, is from the LXX, where the translators have very neatly interpreted the Hebrew idiom: Soma (the word for “body”) is a double-meaning word. It also means “slave” (as in Rom. 6:6; 7:24; 8:23; Rev. 18:13; Jude 9) — probably in the sense that under Roman law the “slave” was something less than human, having no real rights, in short...just a “body” or piece of equipment!
It is written of me. The Hebrew is, more precisely, because of me. Hence RV margin: prescribed to me (Luke 24:44).
I delight to do thy will is quoted by Paul in Rom. 7:22, and in idea by Jesus in John 4:34: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”

Thy law is within my heart. Hebrew “my bowels”, emphasizing either that the law of God has been eagerly devoured (Ezek. 3:3; Rev. 10:9; cp. John 4:34), or else that the teaching of God’s law has captured his emotions. LXX reads heart (i.e. mind, of course), as in v. 10. This prepares the way for Heb. 10:16: In the New Covenant, men are made like Jesus, the one who makes the New Covenant possible, by having his law put into their hearts (Jer. 31:33).

To what extent was this really true of Jesus, that God’s law was within his heart? In him was certainly the true and perfect realization of the law of Deut. 17:18-20, commanding the king of Israel to write his own copy of the law. The ones who observed this law could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, but no doubt Jesus fulfilled this law in the best possible way. It is reasonable to infer that at some time during the days of his flesh (perhaps in the hidden years, from twelve to thirty: Luke 2:47) Jesus wrote out his own copy of the law, and probably memorized it as well! Everything about the spontaneous suitability of all he had to say in his handling of the Word of God suggests this. And so for Jesus the law was written not upon cold tables of stone or upon perishable parchments, but in the warm and living table of the human heart (Deut. 6:6; Prov. 3:3; 7:3; 2 Cor. 3:3).
I have preached, and not kept hidden (v. 10).

Righteousness. Very often (as in v. 10) in Psalms and Isaiah, this is used as a synonym for God’s redeeming salvation. The righteousness of God is declared in the sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 3:21,22).

Congregation = ekklesia in LXX: v. 10; 22:26; 35:18. The great multitude of the redeemed.
Note the piling up of phrases: faithfulness, lovingkindness, truth, mercies, all of which are idiomatic expressions for God’s covenants of promise (Mic. 7:20; Gen. 24:27; 32:9,10; Psa. 85:10; 115:1; etc.).
I have not hid....I have not concealed, but rather I have borne witness unto the truth (John 18:37; Luke 4:18,19).
Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me. The recurring problem in Messianic prophecy: How can such phrases (e.g. 6:7; 31:9; 38:4; contrast v. 8 here and also 18:20-23) fit a sinless Messiah? Three factors need to be borne in mind:

The burden of human sin which was laid on Jesus: Isa. 53:4-6.

His inheritance of cursed human nature, as a son of Adam (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14; etc.). The very presence in himself of propensities to sin (even though they were all separately and continuously defeated) must have been a sore trial to this wholly dedicated Son of God.

The dreadful smear of “guilt by association” (as confessed by many devout men of God): e.g. Achan and his family (Josh. 7:1,24; 22:20). There can be no disowning of the sin of the community of which one is a member: Dan. 9:15-19; Neh. 1:6,7; Ezra 9:6; 1 Chron. 15:13; 21:13; 2 Sam. 21:1; Isa. 59:8,9; Jer. 3:25; Matt. 18:25; 23:35,36; Rom. 5:12-21. (But there is also “blessing by association”, as with Rahab and her family — and righteousness by association: “in Christ....heirs according to the promise”).

Perhaps there is also a fourth:

The imputing of iniquity by one’s enemies (69:4; Matt. 10:25). Especially during his trial and crucifixion, his enemies certainly took great pains to see that Jesus was “esteemed” a grievous sinner!
These verses are repeated in Psalm 70. Why? To emphasize the close connection between Psalm 40 and Psalm 69?
Again, as in Psalm 35, what seem to be malevolent imprecations are now seen to be pronouncements of Christ the righteous Judge of all the earth.
Continually (as in v. 11) emphasizes that what Christ looks for in his disciples is not so much superlative achievement of personal righteousness as a steadfast loyalty — Paul’s “If ye continue grounded and settled....and be not moved away....”
I am poor and needy. Here is “the poor in spirit”, whom Christ calls blessed (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20,24). The man who is truly “poor in spirit” has learned the important lesson: all that a man has by inheritance, or which he has acquired by his own effort, is worth little or nothing before God. But the man who comes to God, truly realizing his abject weakness and total unworthiness — that man will find help and deliverance from the Lord, and an abundant entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Make no tarrying, O my God. A breathtaking hint of impatience even in the Son of God that the fulfillment of the divine purpose might be hurried forward (cp. Luke 12:50; John 13:27; see also Isa. 46:13; Dan. 9:19; Hab. 2:3; 3:2; Heb. 10:37).

4. Christ’s use of Psalm 40

The remarkable connections between Psalm 40 and John 7 emphasize the psalm’s Messianic content, though in a way which would not be expected:

Psalm 40

John 7
Many shall trust in the Lord.
Many of the people believed in him.
Blessed is the man that makes the Lord his trust.

To do thy will (LXX thelema).
If any man willeth (thelo) to do his will (thelema).
Thy law within my heart.
Did not Moses give you the law?
I have preached righteousness in the great congregation.
On the great day of the feast....
I have not refrained my lips.
(Reluctance at first to “go public” at the Feast of Tabernacles.)
I have not hid thy righteous ness within my heart.
He went up to the feast, but as it were in secret.
Preserve me.
No man laid hands on him.
They seek after my soul to destroy it.
Is this not he, whom they seek to kill?
The Lord be magnified.
He seeketh his glory that sent him.

5. Other details

In waiting I waited (margin). A Hebrew intensive. But not necessarily “patiently” (see v. 17)! Rather, ‘I waited anxiously!’
Rock is sela, the “fortress” (18:2).
Such as turn aside to lies = such as worship “false gods” (RSV, NIV) — the greatest of which are wealth and self!
Two innumerable things: God’s mercies and man’s sins! “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). No matter how high the “mountain” of man’s sin, the depths of God’s love can still swallow it up (Mic. 7:19; Matt. 21:21; Eph. 3:18,19).
I have preached righteousness: “I have told the glad news of deliverance” (RSV).
So that I am not able to look up. As the publican in Christ’s parable of prayer: Luke 18:13.

They (mine iniquities) are more than the hairs of my head. But even that number is known to God (Matt. 10:30; Luke 12:7)!
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