The Psalms express the human experience in all of its multifaceted heights and depths – some, like the fortieth, even detail certain aspects of the life of God’s ideal man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Like bookends, its opening and closing sections focus on David’s struggles, Ps. 40. 1-5, 11-17. But in between, Messiah Himself steps forward in His character as the burnt offering, declaring His full consecration to His Father and the uniqueness of His personal sacrifice, vv. 6-10. It begins and ends with dependence on God. In His life on earth, Christ exemplified this perfect trust better than anyone in history.1
Various students outline this psalm differently, as these three excellent examples demonstrate:
‘Psalm 40 has three clear sections: an opening joyful testimony of God’s past deliverance, vv. 1-3; a present reflection on God’s goodness, vv. 4-10; and a prayer for God’s deliverance in the future, vv. 11-17. The tone is established in the last verse, which is presented to us as a poor man’s cry to God for God’s help’.3
‘The structure of the psalm reflects a remarkable unity, in spite of the change in mood from thanksgiving to lament. The expository schematization is as follows:
A. Personal Experience of Salvation, vv. 1-3
B. Blessedness of God’s Protection, vv. 4-5
C. Expression of Commitment, vv. 6-8
D. Proclamation of God’s Perfections, vv. 9-10
D’. Prayer for God’s Perfections, v. 11
C’. Confession of Sin, v. 12
B’. Prayer for God’s Protection, vv. 13-16
A’. Personal Need of Salvation, v. 17’.4
The psalm begins with a retrospective of David’s earnest entreaty to the Lord. The expression is emphatic, ‘In waiting, I waited’, v. 1 KJV mg, showing his persistent seeking for God’s help. One explains, ‘It is earnest, persevering prayer that is referred to; it is continued supplication and hope when there seemed to be no answer to prayer, and no prospect that it would be answered’.5 Yet He bent His ears to David’s supplication, and responded. The Lord always hears and answers His people’s prayers, 1 John 5. 14, 15.
David was delivered out of a terrible experience – graphically called ‘a pit of noise’, ‘a pit of destruction’, or ‘a slimy pit’, and ‘the miry clay’, v. 2.6 This phrase depicts unsteady footing. Consequently, the Lord offers a secure place to stand, ‘a rock’, v. 2. God is often described as the rock, Deut. 32. 4; Isa. 17. 10; Matt. 16. 18; such great salvation elicits a divinely-inspired ‘new song’ in the sweet psalmist’s mouth. This is fitting, for singing is the spiritual and logical response to redemption, Exod. 15; Judg. 5; Rev. 5. 8-10. As Spurgeon says, ‘A rejoicing heart soon makes a praising tongue’.7 Not only did he sing, but others were led to trust in the Lord based on his example, Ps. 40. 3. One day the Saviour Himself will sing praise to His Father after bringing His redeemed people to glory, Heb. 2. 12.
Verses 6 to 8 reveal that Messiah’s redemptive work is the greatest of God’s deeds. The myriad of Levitical offerings never satisfied the Almighty’s heart; they merely foretold Christ as the future propitiation, Rom. 3. 21-26. Commenting on the quotation of these verses in Hebrews chapter 10, Gooding remarks, ‘He saw the evil and horror of human sin as no other man has ever seen it. And being God incarnate in a human body he understood how God in his holiness felt about sin as no other human being could possibly understand it, and understood perfectly what God willed him to do about it. It was God’s will that he should sanctify us by the offering of his sinless body. He did the will of God. He offered his body. We were sanctified. And his one act of offering has so completely satisfied God that he has never needed, nor will ever need, to offer his body again. God has what he always wanted; animal sacrifices are obsolete and irrelevant’.8 Even in the Old Testament, the ceremonies were valueless apart from obedient faith, 1 Sam. 15. 22, 23. But Christ’s ears were dug open, Ps. 40. 6, to hear and do His Father’s will – or, according to others, His ear was marked like the perpetual servant, Exod. 21. 6.9 The righteousness-loving and law-keeping Messiah, Ps. 40. 8-10, presented Himself in perfect obedience at the cross, Heb. 9. 14, and fulfilled the Father’s plan of salvation.
Having established the messianic sacrificial basis of the believer’s righteous standing before God, the final seven verses turn to David’s renewed lament in the face of trials and attacks. Since our Lord has settled our sin debt – our indisputably greatest problem – we may surely trust Him to resolve all subsequent challenges. The believer possesses full security in Christ and may safely rest in His just retribution against His foes. Imprecatory psalms may seem inconsistent in this age when Christ calls His people to love their enemies, but we must remember that the righteous Judge will visit punishment on all the impenitent. The poor and needy saint confides in the unfailing loving kindness and truth of their God, vv. 11, 13, and looks to Him to execute justice against the wicked in due time, vv. 14, 15. Psalm 40 pronounces a beatitude over those who trust in the Lord and eschew dependence on ‘the proud’ and those who love falsehood, v. 4.10 Instead, David focuses on God’s innumerable works and thoughts towards His people, which appropriately meet the seemingly endless troubles that assail the saints, vv. 5 and 12.11 His thoughts are toward us, showing that God is for us. As Brown notes, ‘In this Psalm you have my thought, and then you have his thought – but the psalmist does not say, “How precious unto me are my thoughts”: it is, “How precious are your thoughts unto me”. The reason why we are not happier Christians is this, we so brood over and contemplate our own thoughts, and we shall never get any good out of them. The true attitude is for my thought, like a bee, to find out the flower of God’s thought, and then dive down into the flower and get the honey there. Oh, poor self-introspective man, you who are always looking in your own heart, thinking about your own thoughts and analyzing them. Yet the object for meditation and contemplation, according to Scripture, is this, Jehovah’s thoughts’.12
As two older commentators note: ‘Here, as in several other psalms, some parts of the psalm are more applicable to David, and others to the Messiah’. Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Psalms, I–LXXII, Vol. 5. London, Holdsworth, 1836, pg. 317. ‘This psalm, like the sixteenth, twenty-second, and some others, seems to be so constructed that it may be applied generically to the whole class of pious sufferers, but specifically to its head and representative, the Messiah’. J. A. Alexander, The Psalms Translated & Explained. Edinburgh, Elliot & Thin, 1864, pg. 178.
T. E. Wilson, The Messianic Psalms. Neptune, NJ, Loizeaux Bros., 1978, pp. 22, 23.
J. M. Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1994, pg. 347.
W. A. VanGemeren, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1981, electronic ed.
Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament: Psalms, Vol. 1. London, Blackie & Son, 1870-1872, pg. 356.
KJV margin, JND, NAS, ESV, NIV.
C. H. Spurgeon, ‘Howling Changed to Singing’, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 39. London, Passmore & Alabaster, 1893, pg. 258.
David Gooding, An Unshakeable Kingdom: The Letter to the Hebrews for Today. Coleraine, Myrtlefield House, 2013, pg. 190.
The Hebrew text supports either meaning.
These categories likely allude to idolaters. ‘The proud’ literally is ‘Rahab’, an ancient sea monster in some near eastern cultures, and is sometimes associated with Egypt’s arrogance. See William Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2006, pg. 1039.
‘Trouble impoverishes the children of this world, but enriches the children of God’. G. Rawlinson, Psalms, Vol. 1. New York, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909, pg. 314.
Archibald Brown, ‘God Thinks’, This God Our God. Carlisle, PA, Banner of Truth, 2013, pp. 29, 30. [Italics original].
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