Friday, October 11, 2013

Exegetical Look at Psalm 40

                        While some might say that we know a lot about Psalm forty others may tend to disagree. In doing research on this psalm in particular the material covering it was scant at best. It is hard to understand why since it is such a rich psalm full of such awe-inspiring material. What can be learned about it starts in the very first verse in the Hebrew; To the choirmaster, a psalm of David. This tells the audience a great deal because David had gone through so many different things in his life. John Calvin has this to say of the Psalm itself:
David, being delivered from some great danger, and it may be, not from one only, but from many, extols very highly the grace of God, and by means of this, his soul is filled with admiration of the providence of God, which extends itself to the whole human race. Then he protests that he will give himself wholly to the service of God, and defines briefly in what manner God is to be served and honored. Afterwards, he again returns to the exercise of thanksgiving, and celebrates the praises of the Eternal by rehearsing many of his glorious and powerful deeds. Lastly, when he has complained of his enemies he concludes the psalm with a new prayer.[1]
There are two challenges that readers of the Psalms will face and they are, feeling as though this psalm is actually two psalms compiled into one and the other has to do with the fact that Psalm 70 contains the exact wording from verses 13-17 within this psalm. A thought that Richard Belcher brings up in his work The Messiah and the Psalms is whether the whole psalm should be considered messianic since verses 6-8 are quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7. It is this authors hope to answer all of the challenges brought up in this paragraph while also encouraging the reader to trust more fully in the Lord because he inclines his ears towards the cries of his people.
Exegesis of Passage
                        I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry (Ps 40:1, ESV). What is David trying to tell the reader when he says he waited patiently? The word that is used in the Hebrew for waited is qavah ( and it has been used to mean); a prim. root; to wait for:—eagerly waits(1), expect(1), expected(3), hope(3), hoped(1), hopefully wait(1), hoping(1), look(1), look eagerly(1), looked(2), wait(22), waited(7), waited for you eagerly(1), waited patiently(1).[2] This word is only used a total of forty-seven times in the OT and it is used seventeen times in the Psalms alone. So what David is saying is he waited eagerly for the LORD, or with a deep longing.  Another word that is worthy of taking a closer look at is inclined, the Hebrew word natah could also mean to bend down, or turned aside. This gives the reader the thought that the Lord himself in a intimate act of caring came close and responded to their plea for help.
            Calvin suggests, “The beginning of this psalm is an expression of thanksgiving in which David relates that he had been delivered, not only from danger, but also from present death. Some are of the opinion, but without good reason, that it ought to be understood of sickness.”[3] August Konkel in his essay The Sacrifice of Obedience is one of those who is under the belief that David is praising God for healing. He says, “First is a hymn of thanksgiving for healing from mortal illness, which is followed by a lament.”[4]
            Verse two brings in imagery that almost every commentator had an opinion on. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure (Ps 40:2, ESV).  There are some versions such as the NIV that use the word slimy before pit in an effort to make it sound more arduous. Willem A.VanGemeren believes, “The allusions to death and dying in the words “slimy pit,” “mud,” and “mire” (v.2) suggest that David was seriously sick (cf. Ps 38), even to death. Healing was then a salvation from the nether world (cf. 69:2, 14), out of which the Lord “lifted” him….But the metaphors may also express the threat to Isreal’s national existence by an enemy attack.”[5]
As has been seen there are some who want to think this is a personal refernce to sickness while others contest this. Belcher adds some good thoughts when we think about this verse; he says, “The deliverance is from the beginning to end the work of the Lord. The poetic language doesnot allow the specific danger to be identified, but ‘pit of destruction’ and ‘miry bog’ remind one of Joseph being thrown down into the pit and Jeremiah being thrown into a cistern.”[6] Also as Craig Broyles notes, “By contrast, Yahweh’s salvation is depicted in the image of a rock and a firm place to stand. As seen in Psalm 22, this speaker is confident that his experience of deliverance will have repercussions to others (v. 3b).”[7] One thing that is important to note is that this Psalm may not just be a personal Psalm of David, but it could be a representation of the nation as a whole.
            Verse three speaks of the Lord giving David a “new song” and Calvin has much to say about ths new song. Calvin says, “By God’s putting a new song into his mouth he denotes to consumation of his deliverance…As often, therefore, as he bestows benefits upon us, so often does he open our mouths to praise his name…He uses the word new in the sense of exquistie and not ordinary, even as he manner of his deliverance was singular ans worthy of everlasting rememberance.”[8] Even though the author does say he sung a new song there are some that feel that it is not necessarily a new compostion[9], but perhaps just a different tune. He has gone from complaining about a situation to rejoicing in his deliverance therefore singing a new song.
            Verse four starts off in a similar manner of Psalm one “Blessed is the man..” The word used for blessed is asre and it is used a total of forty-four times in the OT and twenty-six times in the Psalms; the word can be translated either as blessed or happy (are). In understanding the alternate definition the verse reads differently at least to this author. Let’s replace the word blessed with the word happy and see the difference it makes; Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust…. Wow! David’s experience caused him to state a general truth: anyone who trusts in the Lord is blessed of the Lord. Trusting the Lord is, of course, the opposite of relying on arrogant people who follow their own deceived reasoning.[10]
There is a huge difference, in American culture there tends to be a correlation between material wealth and being blessed, but happiness can come in many forms and as the verse says it comes to the man who trust the Lord. John MacArthur says of this trust, “The verb and noun forms of this important Hebrew root connote a faith of confident commitment, here in the right object, God alone (cf. the teaching of Jer. 17:7). David’s desire was always to make such commitment contagious.”[11]
Moving ahead to verse six, this is where things become interesting. Verse six is the start of a small section that Belcher sees clearly as messianic. There are some who would argue that verse six is an argument against the sacrificial system. VanGemeren argues, “David is very much aware that the Lord was not pleased with mere sacrifice, as the accounts of Saul bring out. The kingdom had been torn from him because of his disobedince and not because of his aversion to sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22-23). “[12] Konkel makes a vaild point when he says, “God requires the sacrifice of obedience in our lives, not merely the sacrifice of external liturgy.”[13]
Verses seven and eight should be taken together. When the audience read about the scroll of the book there is a high likely hood they knew what he was referring to. Konkel suggests, “The law (Torah) of the king “written abot me in the roll of the book” (v.8) is the specific requirement that he be one among his brothers subservient to the covenant (Deut 17:14-20).”[14] While verse eight starts of speaking of delight the word used for it chaphets a prim. root; can mean to delight in:—delight(15), delighted(7), delights(8), desire(9), desired(3), desired*(1), desires(5), favors(1), have any pleasure(1), have … delight(2), have … pleasure(1), pleased(6), pleases(7), take pleasure(1), take … pleasure(2), wish(2), wished(1), wishes(1).[15] This verse could read I take pleasure in doing your will, My God; for your teaching is in my heart. Even though I have substituted the word teaching the word is actually Torah also translated as Law.
Verses nine and ten also make a nice set together, because of the repetition of ideas and words. Verse nine is very rich in its imagery, the author says that he has told the good news and he has not restrained his lips. It is like when a couple first falls in love all the guy can talk about to his friends is his new lady. He exclaims that the Lord knows that he hasn’t been able to shut up, the best part is the Psalmist he has been speaking about God’s righteousness to the great multitude. In his commentary on this verse John MacArthur says, “This word for good news in Hebrew (cf. the root in 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1) is the precursor of the NT terminology for the “gospel” and “preaching the gospel” i.e. “announcing the good news.”[16]
To continue along the lines that he has not been quiet he says “I have not hidden” then he says deliverance. The word deliverance can be translated as righteousness and a host of other words it is used forty-nine times in the psalms and twice in verses nine and ten. The parallelism is highly visible to those who are looking closely at these verses. Calvin says that, “the great assembly of which he speaks is not to be understood of the concourse of people that assemble at courts of law, or at the pubic market places, but it denotes the true and lawfully constituted Church of God, which we know assembled in the place of his sanctuary.”[17]
            In verse twelve the author hits home to his readers and the sins that have been committed in their lives. He speaks of evil as if it were an enemy army that has fully surrounded him and he can see no end to the vastness of it. His sins are so great they have taken him to the point where he feels like he can no longer see, one author says that “he felt overwhelmed like a flood.”[18] There seems to be so much sin that he is incapable of counting them, Calvin makes a great observation about this verse, “He, however, does not complain of being punished unjustly, or above his desert, but rather confesses plainly that it is the just recompense of his sins which is rendered to him.”[19] While he is receiving what may be due to him, it feels so heavy as though he may die from dealing with it all at this one time.
            The rest of this psalm deals with wanting vengeance being brought upon his enemies, and then thanksgiving for his ultimate deliverance. Psalm 40:14-17 also constitutes Psalm 70 with a few minor tweaks. In verses fourteen and fifteen the phrase “Let those” meaning those who have come against David and he list what he would like to see happen to them.  The psalmist prays for his enemies fall and shame in accordance to the principles of justice and with the promise of God to curse those who cursed his own.[20] The word shame appears once in verse fourteen and again at the end of verse fifteen. They are different words one refers to a feeling while the other seems to refer to an act. Verse sixteen is rich with praise especially from those who should have experienced the Lord’s deliverance or his salvation. The word used here for salvation  is teshuah (448b); from 3467; deliverance, salvation:—deliverance(6), help*(1), salvation(16), victory(11).[21] Seeing as how just a few verses ago David felt as though he could not make it any further because of his sin, or possible enemies, he now can rejoice in the victory won by the Lord. David ends this Psalm on such a great note saying that while he may be poor and needy (referring to a spiritual sense possibly) the Lord takes thought of me. The word here to take thought is chashab and it can also mean to hold in high regard or with respect. So no matter my position in the world the Lord still sees me with high regard especially to those who are in Christ. And in knowing that no one else can help him he cries out to his God for a speedy rescue.
            This Psalm has taught us a lot about how David viewed God and his trials and how we should do the same. As modern day believers we can see how this can apply to future and past events. It is hard to say why it was separated and part used in Psalm 70 some say it was for post-exilic liturgical purposes. May you continue reading the Psalms and seeing them for more than what is just there because behind each word lies the potential to change your life or the way you understand it.

[1] John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries. (Psalms 36-92. Edited by John Owen. Vol. 5. 22 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005)89.

[2] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
[3] Calvin, Psalms, 89.
[4] August H. Konkel, "The sacrifice of obedience." Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 2, no. 2 (April 1, 1991): 2-11. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 7, 2013)3.

[5] Willem A. VanGemeren, Expositors Bible Commentary-Psalms . (Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 5. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991)318.
[6] Belcher., Messiah., 173.
[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentay Series- Psalms. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999)191.

[8] Calvin, Psalms, 91.
[9] VanGemeren., Psalms., 318
[10] Roger Ellsworth, Opening up Psalms, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 106.
[11] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005)624.
[12] VanGemeren., Psalms., 320.
[13] Konkel., Sacrifice.,5.
[14] Ibid., 4.
[15] Thomas, Dictionaries
[16] MacArthur. Commentary., 625.
[17] Calvin., Psalms., 105.
[18] VanGemeren., Pslams., 323.
[19] Calvin., Psalms., 108.
[20] VanGemeren., Pslams., 324.
[21] Thomas, Dictionaries.

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