Psalm 40 — The Lord Be Magnified, Many are His Wonders
40 I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5 Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,
8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.
10 I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
11 Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
12 For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make haste to help me.
14 Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.
15 Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha.
16 Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified.
17 But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.
We are liberated from sin, self-obsession, and the fear of man when we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Proclaiming the glory of the Lord is powerful evidence this transformation is in effect. We preach not ourselves, but Christ crucified. Is this true for you?
Psalm 40 is a messianic Psalm by virtue of being quoted by the writer of Hebrews with the royal supplication being placed in the mouth of Jesus (vv. 6–8 in Heb. 10:5–7). J. Vernon McGee unashamedly finds Christ uttering everything here in relationship to His work on the cross.
We have a clear shift from thanksgiving (vv. 1–10) to petition/lament (vv. 11–17). Various commentators have offered structural options. My suggestion is: I. (vv. 1–5) Gratitude for YHWH’s past deliverances; II. (vv. 6–10) Preaching the person and work of the Lord; III. (vv. 11–17) Petitioning YHWH for deliverance from problems caused by sin and aspersers.
The subject is deliverance, and the setting is probably David as an outlaw in the wilderness (1 Sam 21–31). The context is in the final group of four Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1–41); which all speak about personal sins. The message is one of encouragement from the representative leader/king of the great congregation. He looks back and sees God’s wonders, including his salvation. He knows his work is to glorify God by proclaiming Him to God’s people in the midst of an idolatrous world. Yet, he remains in trouble, and he needs to petition God to deliver him again. Sound familiar?
David authors an exuberant song of redemptive praise, but his present plight is dangerously vivid, too. Here is the Christian life of paradoxical praise and petition, following the example of Jesus Christ. Like Hannah, we offer our sacrifice of praise. We bear witness and testimony of the great things God has done for us, but we never forget our need for the Lord. Paul and Silas, in prison, were compelled to sing a song. It may have been one like Psalm 40 that may have been the hymn sung on the narrow path from the upper room to Gethsemane.
David recounted his past prayer, heard by YHWH (v. 1). Much of the Christian life is pray and wait. I waited is an emphatic Hebrew idiom, “I waited and waited.” We wait on the Lord, YHWH, the God of covenant. He inclined and heard my cry. David recalls past deliverances from severe crises. God hears and answers your prayers, but we are all constrained to wait for the timing of His providence.
David recalled his being delivered by YHWH (v. 2). Like Jeremiah, brought up from the cistern or Jesus being raised from the grave of death, David contrasted his crisis state with his delivered state. The pit of destruction carries imagery of doom and the underworld. Miry clay is the fabric of an impossible swamp. A Christian prays in weakness, and God responds in strength. He set my feet upon the rock, and your journey continues with firm footsteps. The actions of deliverance are exclusively divine. God does not help those who help themselves.
David praised YHWH and hoped that many were impacted by observing YHWH’s deliverance (v. 3). As Moses led Israel across the Red Sea, YHWH’s deliverance came with a song of praise to our God (Ex 15:1–18). Out of the mire of Egypt and into the choir of the Lord is the believer’s story because He put a new song in my mouth. The world is watching you, and many will see and fear. Christians are peculiar people, sojourners in the world, preparing themselves for heaven along with the brethren who will trust in the Lord. Many hear our songs, our salvation stories, and they watch us wait in faith. Some join us when they are called and believe.
David contrasted the principle of trusting in God versus trusting in man (v. 4). The aphorism, “How blessed is the man…” reminds us of Jesus’ beatitudes (Mt. 5). The temptation is to trust the world. Egypt lured Abraham, and even the Philistines were a refuge for David. The proud and those who lapse into falsehood inveigle us with promises of power, prestige, and sex. God’s chosen people made the Lord their trust. Christians must resist demonic enticements and flee from the immorality of this world. Trusting God’s Word and God’s Spirit will bless you!
David rejoiced in praising YHWH for His incomparable works (v. 5). Quantity is key for the suppliant. Many are His wonders and thoughts toward us. Creation is a wonder. Sustenance is a wonder. Redemption is a wonder. Judgment is a wonder. Heaven is a wonder. Wonders belong to YHWH. Maybe the most amazing wonder is that He thinks of us. Our greatest need was met in Christ, with whom there is none to compare. Too numerous are His works, as John noted, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written (John 21:25).” For the Christian, filled with gratitude for countless deliverances, it is not a question of if I would declare and speak of them. We must.
David recognized the fallacy of trusting in the sacrificial worship system for establishing righteousness (v. 6). God gave the law of offering and sacrifice to Moses (Lev 1–7). However, YHWH wanted something more than external ceremony from His people. A classic example of getting this wrong is King Saul. Saul did not obey the scroll of instruction for kings (Dt 17:14–20), then refused to wait for Samuel the priest to offer sacrifices to YHWH (1 Sam 15). YHWH desired obedience, not sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). Christians know this error as cheap grace. When we live like the world, and then claim the blood of Christ, we have misplaced love for God.
Much to do is made about “My ears Thou hast opened.” Exodus 21:5–6 (see also Dt 15:12–17) speak of a slave making his life commitment to his master. He was subjected to a wooden door post, and his ear was pierced in a significant manner. It was opened. We prefer the basic reading that YHWH had gotten the king’s attention. It is like that with us, we must have our eyes and ears opened by the Holy Spirit, “Let him who has ears, let him hear.”
In verses 6–8, we have the basis for calling Psalm 40, messianic. Remarkably, the inspired writer of Hebrews takes these verses and puts the words into Jesus’ mouth (Heb 10:5–7). The purpose is to show the removal of the old sacrificial system in light of Christ’s perfect obedience in life and on the cross. Obedience made Jesus the perfect sacrifice for sins. Jesus made an offering of Himself, once for all of God’s people, who come to the cross and trust Christ. Thou hast not required the Old Testament sacrifices because they served as mere types of a better sacrifice.
David reviewed his agreed upon responsibilities as YHWH’s anointed king (v. 7). “Behold, I come,” is a statement of submissive compliance. Again, there is debate on the interpretation of what is the scroll written of me. Applied to David, it is reasonable this is the king’s scroll from Deuteronomy 17:14–20. Applied to Christ, as the writer of Hebrews would interpret, we have all of the Scriptures written for us to know Jesus the Messiah. Behold, He has come, is come, and will come again.
David knew the Law of God and found joy and satisfaction in obeying it (v. 8). He meditated on it day and night, but the Bible is clear that he did not always do God’s will. I delight to do Thy will, so who can state this without being a liar? Again, the writer of Hebrews answers us with the revelation of Jesus Christ. He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us according to the will of God. Likewise, before the New Covenant promise was fulfilled in that the Spirit would put the Law in the heart of the believer (Jer 31:33), who could honestly say, “Thy Law is within my heart?” Only Jesus Christ, of all the people who have lived in history, could utter and honestly mean these words. Thus, Psalm 40 is royal and messianic.
David defended his faithfulness as a preacher of God’s righteousness (v. 9). Christians view their own sinfulness, the world of sin around them, and the holiness of God. We know the best man could never attain the righteous standard of YHWH. Instead of practicing religion, I have proclaimed glad tidings. Here is the legacy and foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ as the cornerstone. The Gospel witness is a continuing activity of faithful men and women. Our audience is the great congregation. For David it was Israel, but for Jesus and His followers, God’s righteousness is sent out to the nations. For, I will not restrain my lips. David’s exuberant thanksgiving spilled over the cup of salvation given to him, and he preached the grace of God…O Lord, You know it!
David testified to his vocal and public witness of God’s goodness to him (v. 10). Four attributes of God are not concealed in David’s preaching. God imputed His righteousness to David because David was chosen by YHWH, in mercy, to receive God’s salvation. Salvation was promised to the offspring of the woman (Gen 3:15), and we must join David in acknowledging God’s faithfulness in keeping His Word. God has executed salvation through Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is applying the blood of the Lamb through Spirit-filled preaching of the Gospel of God. God’s truth is not cold, hard, mechanical facts. God’s Word reveals God’s motive, His lovingkindness to His elect ones. God forbid we would conceal so great a salvation!
David began his petition by stating his trust in YHWH (v. 11). Our third section begins with a statement of confidence in the midst of trouble. Compassion, entering the suffering of another, is what God did in Christ. In essence, God has said, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Love and truth are reiterated from v. 10. They are identified as the agent of preservation of the saints. Truth sets the Christian free and love never fails to cast out fear. Paul said it this way, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.” My hope is in You, Lord.
David lamented his voluminous sins and the problems caused by them (v. 12). Confidence (v. 11) is not irrational. Evils are the manifestation of evil. David was acquainted with sin. Sin tried to encompass him in his iniquities. Iniquity is twisting the truth, and David was efficient. Sin blinds our way, “I was not able to see.” Honesty in confession about the volume of sins was something David was ready to do, “they are more numerous than the hairs of my head.” Proper assessment of our troubled situations is imperative. Innumerable sins invite evil into our lives, and my heart has failed me. Carnal man has no hope of salvation, but He that is spiritual knows that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 2:32).
David sought YHWH’s assistance and salvation (v. 13). Psalm 70 is comprised with verses 13–17. David’s petition continues as his faith makes its pleasing request of YHWH, “Be pleased, YHWH, to deliver me.” Salvation belongs to God; therefore, I will not call on another. In the past, David waited and waited, but he is free here to ask to receive what he needs now, “Make haste, YHWH, to help me.” Peter sinking into the pit of the sea said it this way, “Lord, save me.” Have you made your request to the Lord Jesus for salvation from your sins and their consequences?
David lamented the work of his opponents in their effort to harm him (v. 14). When we are weakened by our sin, the vultures appear to scavenge our bodies and souls. David had enemies. Jesus had enemies. You have enemies. David’s were in the house of Saul. Jesus’ enemies were in the house of Israel. Yours may be in your congregation or family. Rather than taking revenge into His own hands, David requested YHWH’s retribution for his mocking enemies (v. 15). These proud promulgators of falsehoods slander, libel, malign, mock, repay evil for good, excommunicate, blackball, etc., but let them be ashamed, humiliated, turned back, destroyed, and desolated.
David requested a blessing for everyone who sought YHWH and His salvation (v. 16). After calling down curses for his opponents, he petitioned YHWH for joy for himself and the faithful in the great congregation. Joy is one fruit of the Holy Spirit in a salvation that produces praise and glory to God. All who seek YHWH, meaning His redeemed people, utter exaltations, “The Lord be magnified.” Jesus captured all of this in His passion, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose, I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name (Jn 12:27–28).” For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross!
David closed with his current status and requested a speedy deliverance (v. 17). No pride, no arrogance, no falsehoods or hopes, but he did find humble confession, “I am afflicted and needy.” Be pleased, make hast, and be mindful of me and do not delay. We need the same things as David did three thousand years ago: help and deliverance. What kind of trouble are you in, today? Are you humble enough to recognize your need for the Lord Jesus Christ? He hears. He answers. He delivers His people from their sins and oppressions when they humble themselves and ask Him in faith.
In sum, we have an individual thanksgiving and petition for help. These are not inconsistent. David recounted grace in his past. He rededicated himself in the present, and this led him to trust YHWH again. He called on God to help him once again.
In conclusion, there is much to be grateful to God for in your past. There are plenty of reasons to bear testimony of Him, even in your present trouble. Speak of His wonders. Proclaim His attributes and call for help. Do not delay and feel free to make that same request of Him. Together, let us marvel in saying, “He is exalted, many are His wonders!”
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 29, 2021