The benefit of confidence in God, 1-3. The blessedness of those who trust in God, 4,5. The termination of the Jewish sacrifices in that of Christ, 6-8. The psalmist's resolution to publish God's goodness, 9,10: he prays to be delivered from evils, 11-13; against his enemies, 14,15; and in behalf of those who are destitute, 16,17.
NOTES ON PSALM XL
The TITLE, "To the chief Musician," we have already seen, and it contains nothing worthy of particular remark. Concerning the occasion and author of this Psalm there has been a strange and numerous diversity of opinions. I shall not trouble the reader with sentiments which I believe to be ill founded; as I am satisfied the Psalm was composed by David; and about the same time and on the same occasion as the two preceding; with this difference, that here he magnifies God for having bestowed the mercy which he sought there. It is, therefore, a thanksgiving for his recovery from the sore disease by which he was afflicted in his body, and for his restoration to the Divine favour. The sixth, seventh, and eighth verses contain a remarkable prophecy of the incarnation and sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ. From the eleventh to the end contains a new subject and appears to have belonged to another Psalm. It is the same as the seventieth Psalm; only it wants the two first verses.
I waited patiently for the Lord
The two preceding Psalms are proofs of the patience and resignation with which David waited for the mercy of God. The reader is requested to consult the notes on them.
And heard my cry.
The two preceding Psalms show how he prayed and waited; this shows how he succeeded.
A horrible pit
Literally, the sounding pit; where nothing was heard except the howlings of wild beasts, or the hollow sounds of winds reverberated and broken from the craggy sides and roof.
The miry clay
Where the longer I stayed the deeper I sank, and was utterly unable to save myself. The Syriac and Arabic translate "The pit of perdition, and the mud of corruption." These are figurative expressions to point out the dreary, dismal, ruinous state of sin and guilt, and the utter inability of a condemned sinner to save himself either from the guilt of his conscience, or the corruption of his heart.
Set my feet upon a rock
Thou hast changed my state from guilt to pardon; from corruption to holiness; in consequence of which my goings are established. I have now power over all sin, and can walk steadily in the way that leads to God's kingdom.
A new song
Cheerfulness and joy had long been strangers to him. He seemed to live to utter the most doleful complaints, and be a prey to suffering and wretchedness. Praise for a sense of God's favour was a new song to him. The word is often used to signify excellence: I will sing a most excellent and eminent song.
Many shall see it
I will publish it abroad; and fear-to sin against the Lord, knowing by my example what a grievous and bitter thing it is.
And shall trust in the Lord.
Even the worst of sinners shall not despair of mercy, being penitent, when they see that I have found favour in his sight.
Blessed is that man
The man must be blessed and happy who casts his soul, with all its burden of sin and wretchedness, at the footstool of God's mercy; for he will save all who come to him through the Son of his love.
Many-are thy wonderful works
The psalmist seems here astonished and confounded at the counsels, loving-kindnesses, and marvellous works of the Lord, not in nature, but in grace; for it was the mercy of God towards himself that he had now particularly in view.
Sacrifice and offering
The apostle, Hebrews 10:5, quoting this and the two following verses, says, When he (the Messiah) cometh into the world-was about to be incarnated, He saith-to God the Father, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not-it was never thy will and design that the sacrifices under thy own law should be considered as making atonement for sin; they were only designed to point out my incarnation and consequent sacrificial death: and therefore a body hast thou prepared me, by a miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin; according to thy word, The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent.
A body hast thou prepared me.-The quotation of this and the two following verses by the apostle, Hebrews 10:5, Septuagint, with scarcely any variety of reading: but, although the general meaning is the same, they are widely different in verbal expression in the Hebrew. David's words are oznayim caritha lli, which we translate, My ears hast thou opened; but they might be more properly rendered, My ears hast thou bored; that is, Thou hast made me thy servant for ever, to dwell in thine own house: for the allusion is evidently to the custom mentioned Exodus 21:2, years he shall serve, and in the seventh he shall go out free: but if the servant shall positively say, I love my master, not go out free; then his master shall bring him to the doorpost, and shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever."
But how is it possible that the Septuagint and the apostle should take a meaning so totally different from the sense of the Hebrew? Dr. Kennicott has a very ingenious conjecture here: he supposes that the Septuagint and apostle express the meaning of the words as they stood in the copy from which the Greek translation was made; and that the present Hebrew text is corrupted in the word oznayim, ears, which has been written through carelessness for az gevah, THEN, a BODY The first syllable, az, THEN, is the same in both; and the latter, , which, joined to makes oznayim, might have been easily mistaken for gevah, BODY; nun being very like gimel; yod like vau; and he like final mem; especially if the line on which the letters were written in the MS. happened to be blacker than ordinary, which has often been a cause of mistake, it might then have been easily taken for the under-stroke of the mem, and thus give rise to a corrupt reading; add to this, the root carah signifies as well to prepare, as to open, bore, by the Septuagint, and followed by the apostle, must have read the text thus: az gevah charitha lli; σωμαδεκατηρτισω μοι Then a body thou hast prepared me: thus the Hebrew text, the version of the Septuagint, and the apostle, will agree in what is known to be an indisputable fact in Christianity; namely, that Christ was incarnated for the sin of the world.
The AEthiopic has nearly the same reading: the Arabic has both, "A body hast thou prepared me, and mine ears thou hast opened." But the Syriac, the Chaldee, and the Vulgate, agree with the present Hebrew text; and none of the MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi have any various reading on the disputed words.
It is remarkable, that all the offerings and sacrifices which were considered to be of an atoning or cleansing nature, offered under the law, are here enumerated by the psalmist and the apostle, to show that none of them, nor all of them, could take away sin; and that the grand sacrifice of Christ was that alone which could do it.
Four kinds are here specified, both by the psalmist and the apostle: viz. SACRIFICE, zebach, θυσια; OFFERING, minchah, προσφορα; BURNT-OFFERING, olah, ολοκαυτωμα; SIN-OFFERING, chataah, περιαμαρτιας. Of all these we may say, with the apostle, it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats,
Thou hast had no pleasure.-Thou couldst never be pleased with the victims under the law; thou couldst never consider them as atonements for sin, as they could never satisfy thy justice, nor make thy law honourable.
In the volume of the book
bimegillath sepher, "in the roll of the book." Anciently, books were written on skins, and rolled up. Among the Romans, these were called volumina, from volvo, I roll; and the Pentateuch in the Jewish synagogues is still written in this way. There are two wooden rollers; on one they roll on, on the other they roll off, as they proceed in reading. One now lying before me, written on vellum, is two feet two inches in breadth and one hundred and two feet long. To roll and unroll such a MS. was no easy task, and to be managed must lie flat on a table. This contains the Pentateuch only, and is without points, or any other Masoretic distinction. The book mentioned here must be the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses; for, in David's time no other part of Divine revelation had been committed to writing. This whole book speaks about Christ, and his accomplishing the will of God, not only in "the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent," and "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;" but in all the sacrifices and sacrificial rites mentioned in the law.
To do thy will
God willed not the sacrifices under the law, but he willed that a human victim of infinite merit should be offered for the redemption of mankind. That there might be such a victim, a body was prepared for the eternal Logos, and in that body he came to do the will of God; that is, to suffer and die for the sins of the world.
1. Hence we see that the sovereign WILL of God is that Jesus should be incarnated; that he should suffer and die; or, in the apostle's words, taste death for every man; that all should believe on him, and be saved from their sins; for this is the WILL of God, our sanctification.
2. And as the apostle grounds this on the words of the Psalm, we see that it is the WILL of God that that system shall end; for as the essence of it is contained in its sacrifices, and God says he will not have these, and has appointed the Messiah to do his will, i.e., to die for men, hence it necessarily follows, from the psalmist himself, that the introduction of the Messiah into the world is the abolition of the law; and that his sacrifice is that which shall last for ever.
I have preached righteousness
I think it best to refer these words to Christ and his apostles. In consequence of his having become a sacrifice for sin, the Jewish sacrificial system being ended, the middle wall of partition was broken down, and the door of faith, the doctrine of justification by faith, opened to the Gentiles. Hence the Gospel was preached in all the world, and the mercy of God made known to the Gentiles; and thus righteousness-justification by faith, was preached in the great congregation-to Jews and Gentiles, throughout the Roman empire.
The great congregation, both in this and the following verse, I think, means the Gentiles, contradistinguished from the Jews.
The word righteousness means the plan or method of salvation by Jesus Christ-God's method of justifying sinners by faith, without the deeds of the law. See Romans 3:25,26, and the notes there.
This means the exact fulfilment of the promises made by the prophets relative to the incarnation of Christ, and the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Shows the gift itself of Jesus Christ, the highest proof that God could give to a lost world of his mercy, kindness, and loving-kindness.
Thy tender mercies
rachameycha, such propensities and feelings as a mother bears to her child; or animals in general to their young.
Let thy loving-kindness
chasdecha, thy overflowing and superabundant mercy.
And thy truth
What is revealed in thy word: continually preserve me. Mercy to help me, truth to direct me; and, by the operation of both, I shall be continually preserved from sin and evil.
Innumerable evils have compassed me about
This part does not comport with the preceding; and either argues a former experience, or must be considered a part of another Psalm, written at a different time, and on another occasion, and, were we to prefix the two first verses of the seventieth Psalm to it we should find it to be a Psalm as complete in itself as that is.
They are more than the hairs of mine head
This could not be said by any person who was exulting in the pardoning mercy of God, as David was at the time he penned the commencement of this Psalm.
That say unto me, Aha, aha.
heach, heach. See on Psalms 35:21.
Let all those that seek thee-be glad
In making prayer and supplication to thee, let them ever find thee, that they may magnify thee for the blessings they receive.
Love thy salvation
Who earnestly desire to be saved from sin: saved in thy own way, and on thy own terms.
The Lord be magnified.
Let God be praised continually for the continual blessings he pours down.
But I am poor
ani, afflicted, greatly depressed.
ebyon, a beggar. One utterly destitute, and seeking help.
The Lord thinketh upon me
The words are very emphatic; Adonai, my prop, my support, thinketh, yachshab, meditateth, upon me. On which he concludes: "Thou art my help and deliverer." Seeing that my miserable state occupies thy heart, it will soon employ thy hand. Thou, who meditatest upon me, wilt deliver me.
Make no tarrying
Seeing thou art disposed to help, and I am in such great necessity, delay not, but come speedily to my assistance. The old Psalter speaks to this effect: "Let us not be so long under distress and misery that we lose our patience, or our love to thee."
ANALYSIS OF THE FORTIETH PSALM
There are two main parts in this Psalm:-
I. A thanksgiving, Psalms 40:1-11.
II. A prayer, from Psalms 40:12-17.
Thankfulness consists in the exercise of two virtues, truth and justice.
1. Truth calls upon us to acknowledge the benefit, and him from whom we receive it.
2. Justice obliges us to be grateful, and to perform some duties as evidences of our thankful minds; and both these we meet with in the first part.
I. David begins with a profession of thankfulness; shows his confidence: "I waited patiently for the Lord;" then shows the success, or what God did for him.
1. "He inclined his ear, and heard my cry."
2. "He brought me out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay."
3. "He set my feet upon a rock." Being redeemed from danger, he set me in a safe place.
4. "He established my goings." He confirmed my steps, so that I slipped and slided no more.
5. And he hath moved me to be thankful: "He hath put a new song in my mouth." The deliverance was not common, and therefore the praise should not be common, but expressed by a new and exquisite song.
And in this he supposed his example would be a common document. Many shall see my deliverance and my thanksgiving, and shall fear God, and acknowledge his grace, his providence, and protection; and be led thereby to put their trust in him. And then he produces his form of thanksgiving.
First, He pronounces the man blessed who relies on God. 1. "Blessed is the man that maketh the Lord his trust." 2. "And blessed is he who respects not the proud;" men proud of their wealth and power, or such as turn aside to lies.
Secondly, Then by exclamation admires God's mercies, and goodness to his people. 1. For their grandeur and multitude: "Many, O Lord my God, are thy works." 2. For their supernatural appearance: "Thy wonderful works." 3. For the incomparable wisdom by which they are ordered: "Many, O Lord, are thy wondrous works; and thy thoughts to us-ward, they cannot be reckoned up,"
And having acknowledged his thankfulness, he speaks of the other part, his gratitude; to which, in equity, he thought himself bound, viz., to be obedient to God's voice, which is, indeed, the best sacrifice, and far beyond all those that are offered by the law; as is apparent in Christ, to whom these words and the obedience contained in them are principally attributed: by way of accommodation, they belong to every one of his members who means to be thankful for his redemption.
And, first, he tells us that outward worship is of little worth, if sincerity and true piety be wanting: "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not require." Not these absolutely, but as subservient to the true piety, and significative of the obedience of Christ unto death.
2. To this end "mine ears hast thou opened;" bored, made docile, and taken me for thy servant.
3. And I will be thy voluntary and obedient servant: "Then said I, Lo, I come!" I am ready to hear thy commands.
4. He describes his ready obedience:-
1. That he performed it cheerfully: "I delight to do thy will."
2. That he did it heartily: "Thy law is in my heart." The obedience of eyes, hands, and feet may be hypocritical; that which is of the heart cannot. The heart thou requirest, and the heart thou shalt have; and to that purpose "I have put thy law in my heart."
3. He did this for the benefit of others: he published the Gospel. 1. "I have preached righteousness in the great congregation." 2. "I have not refrained my lips; that thou knowest." 3. "I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart." 4. "I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation." 5. "I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and truth from the great congregation."
In this verse we have the commendation of the gospel, that it is righteousness. Jesus, who is the sum and substance of it, justifies and sanctifies. It is God's truth and faithfulness, for in it his promises are performed. It is our salvation, freeing us from sin, death, the curse of the law, and hell-fire. It must, as such, be preached in the great congregation. And to it obedience must be yielded; and to this four things are necessary:-
1. The help of God's Spirit: "Thou hast opened mine ears."
2. A ready and willing mind: "Then said I, Lo, I come."
3. A ready performance in the work: "I delight to do thy will."
4. That respect be had to God's law: "Thy law is within my heart."
But all that is here spoken must be considered as resting on the sacrificial offering which Christ made; for we must be justified by his blood; and through him alone can we have remission of sins, the help of God's Spirit, or any power to do any kind of good.
II. This second part of the Psalm appears rather to be a part of another, or a Psalm of itself, as it relates to a different subject.
In the first part of the following prayer we have the sorrowful sighing of a distressed heart, vented in the most earnest petitions on account of the greatness of its sins, and the evils by which it was surrounded. A fear of being cut off causes the penitent to pray, "Withhold not thou thy mercy from me, O Lord." 1. "For innumerable evils have compassed me," iniquities have taken fast hold upon me," heart faileth me." My agony is great, my vital spirit fails; and therefore he prays again, 4. "Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! make haste to help me!"
The second part of his prayer is for the confusion of his wicked enemies: "Let them be ashamed and confounded together, that say, Aha! aha! "
The third part of the prayer is for all good men. Let all those who seek thee be joyful and glad in thee; let them say, "The Lord be magnified."
In the close he prays for himself; and to move Divine mercy the sooner:-
1. He puts himself in the number of the poor and afflicted. He boasts not that he is a king, a prophet, a great man; but "I am poor and needy."
2. He shows his hope and confidence: "Yet the Lord thinketh upon me."
3. He casts himself wholly upon God: "Thou art my help and my deliverer."
4. Therefore delay not: "Make no tarrying, O my God!"