Psalm 40 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Psalm 40)

Ps 40:1-17. In this Psalm a celebration of God's deliverance is followed by a profession of devotion to His service. Then follows a prayer for relief from imminent dangers, involving the overthrow of enemies and the rejoicing of sympathizing friends. In Heb 10:5, &c., Paul quotes Ps 40:6-8 as the words of Christ, offering Himself as a better sacrifice. Some suppose Paul thus accommodated David's words to express Christ's sentiments. But the value of his quotation would be thus destroyed, as it would have no force in his argument, unless regarded by his readers as the original sense of the passage in the Old Testament. Others suppose the Psalm describes David's feelings in suffering and joy; but the language quoted by Paul, in the sense given by him, could not apply to David in any of his relations, for as a type the language is not adapted to describe any event or condition of David's career, and as an individual representing the pious generally, neither he nor they could properly use it (see on Ps 40:7, below). The Psalm must be taken then, as the sixteenth, to express the feelings of Christ's human nature. The difficulties pertinent to this view will be considered as they occur.

1-3. The figures for deep distress are illustrated in Jeremiah's history (Jer 38:6-12). Patience and trust manifested in distress, deliverance in answer to prayer, and the blessed effect of it in eliciting praise from God's true worshippers, teach us that Christ's suffering is our example, and His deliverance our encouragement (Heb 5:7, 8; 12:3; 1Pe 4:12-16).
inclined--(the ear, Ps 17:6), as if to catch the faintest sigh.

3. a new song--(See on Ps 33:3).
fear, and . . . trust--revere with love and faith.

4. Blessed-- (Ps 1:1; 2:12).
respecteth--literally, "turns towards," as an object of confidence.
turn aside--from true God and His law to falsehood in worship and conduct.

5. be reckoned up in order--(compare Ps 5:3; 33:14; Isa 44:7), too many to be set forth regularly. This is but one instance of many. The use of the plural accords with the union of Christ and His people. In suffering and triumph, they are one with Him.

6-8. In Paul's view this passage has more meaning than the mere expression of grateful devotion to God's service. He represents Christ as declaring that the sacrifices, whether vegetable or animal, general or special expiatory offerings, would not avail to meet the demands of God's law, and that He had come to render the required satisfaction, which he states was effected by "the offering of the body of Christ" [Heb 10:10], for that is the "will of God" which Christ came to fulfil or do, in order to effect man's redemption. We thus see that the contrast to the unsatisfactory character assigned the Old Testament offerings in Ps 40:6 is found in the compliance with God's law (compare Ps 40:7, 8). Of course, as Paul and other New Testament writers explain Christ's work, it consisted in more than being made under the law or obeying its precepts. It required an "obedience unto death" [Php 2:8], and that is the compliance here chiefly intended, and which makes the contrast with Ps 40:6 clear.
mine ears hast thou opened--Whether allusion is made to the custom of boring a servant's ear, in token of voluntary and perpetual enslavement (Ex 21:6), or that the opening of the ear, as in Isa 48:8; 50:5 (though by a different word in Hebrew) denotes obedience by the common figure of hearing for obeying, it is evident that the clause is designed to express a devotion to God's will as avowed more fully in Ps 40:8, and already explained. Paul, however, uses the words, "a body hast thou prepared me" [Heb 10:5], which are found in the Septuagint in the place of the words, "mine ears hast thou opened." He does not lay any stress on this clause, and his argument is complete without it. It is, perhaps, to be regarded rather as an interpretation or free translation by the Septuagint, than either an addition or attempt at verbal translation. The Septuagint translators may have had reference to Christ's vicarious sufferings as taught in other Scriptures, as in Isa 53:4-11; at all events, the sense is substantially the same, as a body was essential to the required obedience (compare Ro 7:4; 1Pe 2:24).

7. Then--in such case, without necessarily referring to order of time.
Lo, I come--I am prepared to do, &c.
in the volume of the book--roll of the book. Such rolls, resembling maps, are still used in the synagogues.
written of me--or on me, prescribed to me (2Ki 22:13). The first is the sense adopted by Paul. In either case, the Pentateuch, or law of Moses, is meant, and while it contains much respecting Christ directly, as Ge 3:15; 49:10; De 18:15, and, indirectly, in the Levitical ritual, there is nowhere any allusion to David.

9, 10. I have preached--literally, "announced good tidings." Christ's prophetical office is taught. He "preached" the great truths of God's government of sinners.

11. may be rendered as an assertion, that God will not withhold (Ps 16:1).

12. evils--inflicted by others.
iniquities--or penal afflictions, and sometimes calamities in the wide sense. This meaning of the word is very common (Ps 31:11; 38:4; compare Ge 4:13, Cain's punishment; Ge 19:15, that of Sodom; 1Sa 28:10, of the witch of En-dor; also 2Sa 16:12; Job 19:29; Isa 5:18; 53:11). This meaning of the word is also favored by the clause, "taken hold of me," which follows, which can be said appropriately of sufferings, but not of sins (compare Job 27:20; Ps 69:24). Thus, the difficulties in referring this Psalm to Christ, arising from the usual reading of this verse, are removed. Of the terrible afflictions, or sufferings, alluded to and endured for us, compare Lu 22:39-44, and the narrative of the scenes of Calvary.
my heart faileth me-- (Mt 26:38), "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death."
cannot look up--literally, "I cannot see," not denoting the depression of conscious guilt, as Lu 18:13, but exhaustion from suffering, as dimness of eyes (compare Ps 6:7; 13:3; 38:10). The whole context thus sustains the sense assigned to iniquities.

13. (Compare Ps 22:19).

14, 15. The language is not necessarily imprecatory, but rather a confident expectation (Ps 5:11), though the former sense is not inconsistent with Christ's prayer for the forgiveness of His murderers, inasmuch as their confusion and shame might be the very means to prepare them for humbly seeking forgiveness (compare Ac 2:37).

15. for a reward--literally, "in consequence of."
Aha--(Compare Ps 35:21, 25).

16. (Compare Ps 35:27).
love thy salvation--delight in its bestowal on others as well as themselves.

17. A summary of his condition and hopes.
thinketh upon--or provides for me. "He was heard," "when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save him from death" [Heb 5:7].