Psalm 40 is a psalm of total dedication and petition. It is also quoted in the New Testament as a Messianic prophecy pointing to Jesus.
One unique feature of this psalm is that verses 13-17 are also found in a slightly different version as Psalm 70. There is disagreement as to whether Psalm 70 is a break off of Psalm 40 or if it was an independent song that was combined with the first section to form Psalm 40.
The first part (verses 1-12) in the Hebrew divides into 2 equal sections of 10 verse lines and 67 words each. This is a possible indication that it was an independent psalm at one point. We will use the section structure suggested by Dr. C.J. Labuschagne.
I Waited Patiently
This introductory section is set apart from most of the rest of the psalm because the words are talking about God rather than to God. The only other words talking about God are found in the last verse.
David begins this psalm by reminding us that God has been faithful.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1
Two things stand out to me in this section:
- New Song. God's blessing leads to a new song. It is appropriate for the church to write new songs to express their fresh love for God.
- Evangelism. Our praise is a form of evangelism. As people see the blessing of God in our lives they will respond with trust.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:2-3b
David concludes the introduction by reminding us that God will bless the person who trusts in God.
I Desire to Do Your Will
Now the psalm switches to a prayer. It begins by acknowledging God's blessings, both past and future. David is convinced God will bless him. (Although this is not where most translations divide the psalm, the change from talking about God to talking to God seems to be too important structurally to ignore.)
The next section is clearly a Messianic Psalm about Jesus since it is quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7. Interestingly these words are ascribed to Jesus, not David, by the author of Hebrews. Another interesting feature of the quotation in Hebrews is that it uses the Septuagint text (Greek translation of the Old Testament.) The Septuagint text changes the words "my ears you have pierced" to "a body you have prepared for me."
Here are a few points that stand out to me:
- Servanthood. God is more interested in our submissive service than our sacrifice. "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire... Then I said, 'Here I am...'"
- Dedication. Some translations have the words "my ears you have pierced" in verse 6, possibly pointing back to the passage in Exodus 21:2-6 where we are told that a temporary servant could choose to become a life time slave by having his ears pierced. Whether this is the intended meaning of that phrase, what is clear is that the psalmist is totally dedicated to God. "I desire to do Your will, O my God." (Psalm 40:8)
- Messianic. The change in the text in the Septuagint, which is quoted in Hebrews, leads to a totally different picture. God prepared a body for Jesus. And in this body Jesus did away with the Old Testament sacrifices by offering Himself as the final sacrifice, once for all.
I don't have time in this post to fully delve into all the implications of this section (or of the change of text in the Septuagint), but I hope I have at least given you some key thoughts to consider.
Do Not Withhold Your Mercy from Me
Now David switches the theme to one of petition. Since God blesses those who trust in Him (section 1) and God is more interested in dedication than sacrifice (section 2), it is proper to plead for God's mercy and protection.
David has built his case and now he seeks God's mercy. David is not claiming that God should bless him because he is perfect, but rather because David is faithful in his desire to obey and trust God and God is faithful in His mercy.
God blesses us not because of our goodness, but because of His goodness and mercy.
The last section is a petition for God to not allow the evil people to see David's shame and ruin. Come quickly and help so that
... all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!” Psalm 40:16
As I look over the who psalm I am struck by the balance between praise, trust and petition. David begins by praising, moves on to trust and ends with petition for his current struggle. We need to learn to follow this same path as we seek God's help.
- Praise. Start by praising God. In praise we are reminded of the greatness and faithfulness of our God.
- Trust. Next we need to place our trust fully in God no matter our current circumstances.
- Petition. Only after we have reminded ourselves of God's past and present blessings and recommitted ourselves to Him are we ready to offer up our petitions to Him.