Psalm 40 Experienced Faithfulness and the Hope of Deliverance

Extract of Herbert Boeckl’s fresco “Saint Peter’s rescue from the Lake Galilee” inside the cathedral of Maria Sall, Carinthia, Austria

Psalm 40

<To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.>
1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 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.
4 Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.
5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
11 Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.
12 For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.

Any deliverance we may experience during our life is provisional. That doesn’t mean that the deliverance is insignificant or unimportant, merely that there will be future crises that we encounter in our lives. The experience of God’s faithfulness and the answer to one’s prayer does not grant us a life exempt from future struggles or conflict. Yet, these experiences of God’s faithfulness can give shape to the prayers that we state when we encounter a new crisis. Our history with God’s actions on our behalf teach us to trust that God does hear our prayer and respond and gives us a hope for deliverance in the future as we endure what hardships may come.

Psalm 40 moves from praise for a past time of salvation into a prayer in a moment of crisis. Some people have broken the psalm into two pieces and dealt with it as two distinct psalms, especially since verses 13-17 comprise the entirety of Psalm 70. Yet, here they are joined into one psalm and there is wisdom in the way Psalm 40 flows. The movement from the experience of faithfulness to praise to finding oneself needing to callon God’s deliverance is a movement that is frequent in the life of faith.

The psalm begins with recollection. The petitioner remembers a time when they waited on the LORD’s deliverance and their waiting was recognized. They were drawn out of a metaphorical pit and miry bog and placed in a secure place. God was their rock and a foundation which proved trustworthy to rely upon and to build their life around. Their response to this deliverance was one of praise, of singing and or testifying to others in the community what they LORD had done for them.

As the praise of the psalmist continues they can proclaim that ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’ is the one who makes the LORD their trust. Earlier the path of happiness was for those who do not follow the wicked and delight in the law of God (Psalm 1) or for those whose sin has been forgiven (Psalm 32) and now the path of happiness is for those who trust in the LORD instead of any other object of faith. Instead of trusting in their own strength or turning aside to follow other gods the faithful one finds peace and happiness in relying on their God. Their trust has been rewarded by seeing the wondrous deeds towards the faithful community in the past and they remind themselves of the blessings they have received. The path of the ‘happy’ one is a path of gratitude for the continued provision of God throughout their life and in the life of their community.

What the psalmist believes their LORD desires is a life that is lived according to the covenant rather than sacrifice and offering. Like the prophets (see for example 1 Samuel 15: 22; Isaiah 1: 12-17; Hosea 6:6 and Amos 5: 21-24), here the psalmist recounts that the LORD desires more than merely right worship. The God of the psalms is not swayed by lavish sacrifices or offerings or worship. No sacrifice meets what God truly wants for God’s people. Instead it is a life lived in trust, praise and obedience that is desired by God. While worship, sacrifice and offering are all a part of this life they are not sufficient.

Interpretations vary on the ‘scroll of the book of the law’ in verse seven. I read this as a way of talking about a life that conforms to God’s law. Perhaps the person brings in a scroll of either a narrative of the way in which God rescued them, or the psalm itself becomes the offering, or the scroll is an accounting of how the individual has lived in accordance with God’s will. As Rolf Jacobson can state

“the psalmist delights in doing what God truly does find acceptable. And what God delights in is a life that conforms itself to God’s teaching (tôr; see comment on Ps. 1:2)—a life so conformed to God’s teaching that the torah is alive deep (betôk mēāy) a person.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 379)

Like Jeremiah 31: 31-34 and Ezekiel 36: 26-28 we have within this psalm a heart that has the covenant imprinted on it.  Their experience of living the law, of trusting in the LORD, and knowing the benefit of the LORD’s protection and provision form the content of their witness to the community of faith. Their life and their song become tied together into a public act of worship the God who has heard them.

Yet, the faithful life is not exempted from strife and trials and within this psalm the texture changes as the psalmist is again in a place where they need to call upon the LORD’s salvation. In the past they have called, and God has answered and here again they lift their cry for God’s mercy, steadfast love and faithfulness. Evils and iniquities have somehow occluded the psalmist’s ability to see God’s action on their behalf. Those who desire their hurt may be those actively working against them or seeking to profit from their misfortune or they may simply be those who take pleasure in another person’s suffering. But the psalmist prays out of the position of trusting in God’s deliverance, a trust that has been validated in the past. They are poor and needy, they are vulnerable and yet they trust that God sees their turmoil and hears their cry. They recounted waiting patiently in the past for the LORD’s deliverance and now they are in the space of waiting again. They ask for God to act quickly to restore them to the place where once again they can testify to God’s deliverance and how God has again set their feet upon the rock instead of being caught in the pit or the miry bog.


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One Response to Psalm 40 Experienced Faithfulness and the Hope of Deliverance

  1. Pingback: The Book of Psalms | Sign of the Rose

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