Psalm 41 — Et Tu, Judas?

41 Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.

2 The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.

3 The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.

4 I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.

5 Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish?

6 And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it.

7 All that hate me whisper together against me: against me do they devise my hurt.

8 An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.

9 Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.

10 But thou, O Lord, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them.

11 By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.

12 And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever.

13 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.

Betrayal by a trusted friend comes with some of the sorest sorrows. When the betrayal of Julius Caesar led to his death, the emperor’s final inquisition of his trusted advisor Marcus Brutus brought infamy to the words, “Et Tu, Brute?” As Warren Wiersbe has noted in his commentary on Psalm 41, Christians avoid naming their children, “Judah” because of the irreparable shame Judas Iscariot brought to this name as Christ’s infamous betrayer. David’s trusted advisor, Ahithophel (another name Christians don’t use for more reasons than betrayal), is the implied antagonist in this messianic psalm, from which Jesus Christ quoted v. 9 in reference to Judas (Jn 13:18).

Structured in three, possibly four parts, a chiasmus is observed in the (A) testimony of blessing (vv. 1–3 and vv. 11–12); in the (B) petitions for grace (v. 4 and v. 10); and in the (C) case evidence against David’s enemies (vv. 5–9). The fourth part is v. 13, a doxology appropriate for the whole of Book I (Psalms 1–41). Psalms 1 and 2, which introduce the “blessed” (Heb. ashre) formula to the Psalms, are greeted by closing blessings in each of the remaining books (Ps. 72, 89, 106). Book V, where Psalm 150 is the grand finale of praise to YHWH, is the climax.

The setting (2 Samuel 13–17) was a remarkable family and national drama. David was betrayed by his son, Absalom, and his trusted advisor, Ahithophel, among others. The former conspired to murder his half brother Amnon, who had raped his half sister (Absalom’s full sister). David could never confront Amnon with the Law because the king was guilty of treating Bathsheba the same way. The latter, Ahithophel, was Bathsheba’s grandfather, who sought revenge against David for destroying Bathsheba’s marriage to Uriah. David could not bring the Law against Absalom for his murder because he was guilty of treating Uriah the same way. Betrayers are opportunists and love company.

While David was sick, Absalom positioned himself as Israel’s judge in place of his father. When David was so weakened (connected with sin, c/f Ps. 38), Absalom declared himself King of Israel. Ahithophel was the key figure in validating Absalom because in those days his words were equated with prophetic utterances in Israel. Ahithophel was the epitome of acumen, but he earned for himself a reputation for disloyalty that has shamed his name ever since. He is a type of Judah Iscariot.

The message of Psalm 41 is one of confidence for a sinner, (David) who had shown mercy to the poor (integrity) because he had received mercy from YHWH. He petitioned YHWH because enemies (betrayers) took advantage of his vulnerability, caused by sickness, which was linked to sin. God forgives sin, but consequences remain. Triumph is temporal and eternal, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ…(2 Cor 2:14).”

Psalm 41 closes Book I (Psalms 1–41), and the context of the final four Psalms is personal sins. Sin and lament are sandwiched by blessing, something we can all identify with in our lives.

David gave this work to the choir director (Title). The chiastic structure suggests a liturgical use of priest and people alternating spoken parts.

David gave testimony of YHWH’s merciful deliverance of those who show mercy (v. 1). “Blessed” is translated from two different Hebrew words ashre and baruk. Ashre is the word used here and in v. 2. It has the connotation of being happy. Happy is the man who has shown mercy to the poor, the helpless, for on his day of trouble, he shall receive mercy from YHWH. Christians should recognize Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 5:7. The Lord is actually YHWH. YHWH delivers the merciful man. Jesus, meaning YHWH delivers, warned his disciples that they would have trouble in the world. We, too, have our days of trouble. Jesus is our Savior.

David testified to YHWH’s guardianship of the merciful man who is in trouble (v. 2). YHWH, used six times in Psalm 41, is the agent of protection and preservation. To protect and keep him alive, allows the suppliant to be called blessed upon the earth. The legacy of David’s throne produced the eternal King of kings in Jesus Christ, the promised blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1–3). Through sin and sickness, deserving death and hell, God’s mercy did not give him over to the desire of his enemies. C.H. Spurgeon said, “The Lord should be praised every day if we are preserved from gross sin. When others sin they show us what we would do but for grace.” Grace forgives and protects us, and we are the happy ones on the earth.

David’s continued testimony anticipated YHWH’s faithful healing (v. 3). In his later years, trouble with illness laid him up on a sick bed. During these elongated periods (2 Sam 13–15), David’s public presence waned. This allowed Absalom to pomp and politic in Jerusalem. Still, YHWH sustains and restores. Health returned to David even enough for him to flee Jerusalem during Absalom’s coup d’etat. YHWH creates us, sustains and heals us as our Great Physician. Our healing can be temporal, but it is for sure, eternal.

David petitioned for grace as he confessed his sins to YHWH (v. 4). The second section begins with a prayer, a petition for grace. The change from a third person testimonial to a second person address allows us to make the connection that David has been referring to himself. His prayer is reiterated in v. 10, creating the bookends for his lament against his opponents. The body is sick with illness, but David asks for YHWH to heal my soul. He knew the problem, for I have sinned against Thee. Sin makes our bodies and our souls sick. Mental and physical illness are gracious warnings to remind us of our death sentence soon executed. We need to pray, “be gracious to me.” Mercy is not getting what we deserve (holy judgment), and grace is getting what we do not deserve (forgiveness and healing).

David reported his opponents’ rhetoric, hoping for his demise (v. 5). Sin weakened him, and his enemies speak evil against me. Words have the power of life, but they can also kill. They often precede greater malice. Jerusalem was filled with rumors that David’s sickbed was his deathbed, “When will he die?” His enemies wanted more than his destruction, “When will his name perish?” In the ancient near east, names produced legacies and the sense of eternal significance. Ironically, Absalom was the son of David without an heir (2 Sam 18:18). Jesus clarified that we should rejoice, not in power over demons, but we should rejoice that our names are recorded in heaven (Lk 10:17–20). Christians should refrain from trying to make a name for themselves like people in the world. Instead, we should publicly identify with Jesus, who the Father has afforded the Name above every other name.

David evidenced the hypocrisy of his visiting comforters, who departed his slanderers (v. 6). Absalom was eventually granted access to his father, the King. Forgiveness came without repentance, and grace was cheapened. Sin was granted another door. Respect was lost. Absalom comforted his father with a deceitful heart. We could say Absalom wanted David’s house, job, car, and his furnishings for public spectacle (2 Sam 16:22). Ahithophel coveted revenge for David’s treachery against his granddaughter, Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He speaks falsehood; especially, when he goes outside to tell it to others. The heart of the betrayer gathers wickedness to itself over time. Jealousy, envy, covetousness, and greed are sinful by-products of pride.

David recognized the conspiracy of the elders of Israel against him (v. 7). All who hate me were those closest to David who wanted his position and power. They had forgotten his anointing was from God. By fighting against the Lord’s anointed, you find yourself fighting against God. Whisper together may be just that, but some hear magical incantations. Against me is now repeated for the third time, with a fourth coming. David seems to marvel at tactics and strategies they devise for my hurt. The conspiracy to get rid of David was quiet, calculated. The same was true for Jesus. Even Paul warned that savage wolves sneak into church leadership and undermine the Spirit’s work through His chosen servants. If it happened to David and Jesus, it just might happen to you.

David knew his opponents were spreading reports that God had forsaken him (v. 8). Here is the party line from David’s opponents, “A wicked thing is poured out upon him.” A vile thing (Heb. belial or beliar) is from the devil. Their argument is that God had forsaken His anointed. Meetings were used to persuade the people that David’s days as God’s chosen leader were over, “That when he lies down, he will not rise up again.” The allusion in these words reverberates with Jesus’ reference to His body in death and resurrection. His opponents could never thwart His work because God was with Him.

David made special note of his close friend, who betrayed him (v. 9). Psalm 41 is a messianic Psalm because of Jesus’ quote of this verse in reference to Judas Iscariot (Jn 13:18). It is noteworthy, that Jesus does not quote, “in whom I trusted.” Jesus knew what was in Judah’s heart. Even my close friend refers to Ahithophel (see also Psalm 55), a type of Judas Iscariot. Both were trusted advisors. Judah was the treasurer. They were both those who ate my bread. It was the ultimate treason for one to eat at the table of another and then forsake him in a traitorous plot. Betrayal is to place one’s heel against me. One is down and his close friend puts his heel on his neck to expose his betrayal. Treason is punishable by death. Both Ahithophel and Judas Iscariot committed suicide.

David petitioned for restorative grace to execute justice against his enemies (v. 10). He repeats his prayer, “be gracious to me.” “Heal my soul” is echoed in “raise me up.” Commentators are greatly disturbed by the allegedly unchristian that I may repay them. Just as all authority for judgment to bring about justice has been given to Jesus, David was the supreme court of Israel. Beyond this, we must acknowledge that Day of the Lord and the Great White Throne of judgment are pending. It is a right observation that David usually relegated vengeance to YHWH, but here, he foreshadows Jesus Messiah as Righteous Judge of all, faithful and true.

David shared his confidence in God’s acceptance of him, even in his sorry state (v. 11). In this third section he returned to confident testimonial (vv. 1–3) in vv. 11–12. It seems remarkable through this tragedy that David could estimate Thou art pleased with me. His enemies whisper together about his seeming demise, but they do not shout in triumph over me. We note that YHWH, as a voice from heaven, declared at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Nothing spoke more of this pleasure than raising Jesus up from the grave, and by this I know. We know that it is impossible to please God without faith in His Son (Heb 11:6), and it should be our ambition to please Him (2 Cor 5:9). After all, God is always leading us in Christ’s triumph (2 Cor 2:14). Faith is our victory (1 Jn 5:4)!”

David understood his temporal and eternally favorable position before YHWH (v. 12). Despite David’s many and varied sins, he was confident in YHWH to uphold me in my integrity. We learn to confess much and often, regarding our sins. This is a demonstration of our faith in His forgiveness. We are set free from guilt and shame in this life because we have explored the depths of grief in our offense against His love and grace. Paul said it, “O wretched man that I am!” Thou dost set me in Thy presence forever is a confident statement of blessed assurance. Eternal life is biblical, but most precious when spoken by Jesus Christ to those who trust Him. Because salvation belongs to YHWH, we see He is the One who deserves all the glory because He is the One who: sets me in His presence; upholds my integrity; is pleased with me; is gracious to me; restores me; sustains me; keeps me alive; protects me; delivers me now and gives me eternal life. Blessed be the Lord!

A later editor probably added this doxology to the close of Book I (v. 13). “Blessed be the Lord” is the exact sentiment of the editor of the Psalms. “Blessed” here is Heb. baruk, which is praise to YHWH. The Lord is YHWH. YHWH, the God of Israel is the covenant name of the Eternal One from everlasting to everlasting. The editor used the emphatic Amen and Amen to stir up the praises of God’s people.

In sum, we have heard David’s testimonial of YHWH’s work in the midst of personal sins and political betrayal. The enemies of God’s anointed leaders have been, are being, and will be repaid. David has served as a type of Jesus Christ, who fulfills the promise of a descendant being on his throne, forever.

In conclusion, let us share our testimonies of God’s work in Jesus Christ to accomplish His purposes. Let us warn our enemies and pray with confidence in our day of trouble. All of these disciplines speak volumes of our trust in Jesus Christ, imputed with our sins and betrayed, but victorious.

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

June 30, 2021

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher

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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher