Summary: Psalm Forty Year A. 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20th, 2002 Title: “Asking God to continue to be God.”

Psalm Forty

Year A. 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20th, 2002

Title: “Asking God to continue to be God.”

During the period between the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 587 BC and its reconstruction in 520-515 BC Israel realized first-hand what was a cardinal tenet of prophetic preaching: obedience is more pleasing to God than ritual sacrifice. God accepts prayers unaccompanied by rituals when an obedient person offers them. Psalm 40 is an example of that theology. It has two clearly distinguishable parts. Verses two to eleven are a prayer of thanksgiving. Verses twelve to seventeen, is a prayer for continued protection, what scholars would classify as a “Lament”. Verses fourteen to seventeen are virtually repeated as Psalm 70.

Verse one, I waited patiently for the Lord: The text has an infinitive absolute which is better rendered as “I hope intensely.” Verses three to ten, tell that this passionate hope was fulfilled.

In verse two, He drew me up from the desolate pit: The image here is one of being snatched out of Sheol or like the cistern in which Jeremiah was lowered in Jeremiah 38:6 and resuscitated, taught to walk again, taught not merely to speak but to sing, to sing a song about the new thing God has done. Recovery from a death-threatening illness or from one’s enemies can be described in such metaphorical terms.

In verse three, “He put a new song in my mouth”: New song: New songs were commissioned for special occasions, even for a new year. Here the phrase has taken on a more metaphorical meaning. It refers to a new orientation, life begun anew, requiring a new sort of speech, lyrical even, to match the new conditions, God’s recent, if repeated, gift of new life. If there was an actual, specific situation behind this “new song,” liturgical repetition and time have smoothed it out so that it now can apply to any new situation or new grace from Yahweh.

Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord: The psalmist’s rescue is not a private matter but one of public interest and benefit that will lead others to also trust in the Lord. Even though the basis for praise- help rendered to an individual- is a private act, the praise of God for it is a public one.

In verses seven to nine, sacrifice and offering you do not want but…obedience: These verses state the classic prophetic viewpoint. Neither the prophets nor this psalmist are condemning ritual wholesale, but its empty, external, formalistic expression. Even in this psalm this statement is surrounded by ritual texts. “Sacrifice,” Hebrew zebah, was an offering where the fat, considered the best part, was burnt and the rest was shared and eaten with the assembly. “Offering,” Hebrew minkhah, was a grain or animal sacrifice, in postexilic times restricted to cereal and oil, presented as a gift of homage before Yahweh. “Holocausts,” Hebrew `olah, were sacrifices of the entire animal, except the hide, saved for out garments, burnt, offered, but not eaten. “Sin-offerings,” Hebrew hata’ah, often indistinguishable from “guilt-offerings,” Hebrew ‘asam, were animals consumed by the priest and not the offerer.

In verse eight, “I delight to do you will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” God’s will is always a delight to do, because it brings us the greatest reward and all things work correctly when we strive to do God’s will written within our heart.

In Verses ten and eleven, “I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.

The primary reference of “great congregation,” would be the people gathered for the liturgy. Yet, typical of thanksgiving psalms, this would extend concentrically to the whole nation, the other nations, the whole earth, and, finally, the universe. In giving witness regarding God’s loving kindness Hebrew hesed the psalmist is alerting others to that same loving kindness Hebrew hesed in their own lives.

In verse thirteen, “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. The fundamental quality of God’s covenant behavior, his hesed, variously translated as compassion, loving kindness, loyal love, steadfastness, fidelity, is the link between the thanksgiving part of this psalm and the lament part. The psalmist, in remembering God’s hesed in the past, a past right up to the present moment, is prompted to ask for its continuance in the future. Even though God is ever faithful and will behave consistently as he has always done, the psalmist does not take it for granted. He knows it is a gift and must be asked for.

In verse twelve, “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.

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