Summary: We know from whence our help comes...


Psalm 40:1-11.

“Waiting I waited” (Psalm 40:1) begins the Hebrew of this familiar and much loved Psalm. This gives rise to the Latin title, itself a dynamic equivalent, which translates “Expectantly I expected.” This appears to be not so much anxious hope, as some have suggested, but eager anticipation.

We may well imagine that there is cause enough for anxiety, for those of us who are in the “awesome pit” and "miry clay” (Psalm 40:2). Like Joseph in the pit, and then the dungeon; Job on the slag heap; Jonah in the fish; the three Hebrew children in the burning fiery furnace; Daniel in the lion’s den. Or Jeremiah in the waterless, miry, deep dungeon (see Jeremiah 38:6).

However, each of these men - along with David whose name is found in the Greek heading to this Psalm - knew well, as we also know, from whence their help would come (cf. Psalm 121:2). Furthermore, the LORD “sets our feet upon a Rock” (Psalm 40:2) - ‘and that Rock was (is) Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4). He it is who guides us in our going out and coming in, and in all that we put our hand to.

No wonder the book of Psalms abounds so much in the “new song” (Psalm 40:3; e.g. Psalm 30:3-4; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98;1). The ‘new song’ is heard from the lips of Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 15:1-2). It also became a motif in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3).

We may feel, as with the exiles in Babylon, ‘How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?’ (Psalm 137:4) - but we know that, when God turns away our captivity, our tongues will be filled with melody (Psalm 126:1-2). Perhaps we could therefore be more like Paul and Silas, and sing praises at midnight, even before the deliverance comes (Acts 16:25) - for we know that ‘weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5).

The key to all this lies in where we place our trust (Psalm 40:4). Do we trust in the LORD, or in “the proud” who will ultimately let us down? [‘Rahab’ is the Hebrew word for “the proud” - but also a name for Egypt, who would eventually fail Israel in their hour of need (Isaiah 30:7).]

The Psalmist is at great pains to demonstrate how “numberless” are the proofs of the LORD’s goodness (Psalm 40:5). What the LORD has done for us ‘hitherto’ (cf. 1 Samuel 7:12) becomes more and more difficult to enumerate: His mercies are ‘new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:22-23). As one songwriter put it: ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.’

Psalm 40:6 is not a polemic against the sacrificial system. After all, the Temple cultus was established by the LORD. However, ‘to obey is better than sacrifice’ (1 Samuel 15:22; cf. Psalm 51:16-17).

So the Psalmist speaks of his “open ears” (Psalm 40:6) - an interesting term which embraces:

(i) an open ear to God’s word (cf. Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:23; Revelation 2:7);

(ii) the ‘pierced’ ear of the willing slave, who surrenders his whole body to a well-loved master (Deuteronomy 15:16-17);

(iii) This in turn becomes, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “a body thou didst prepare for me” - and is placed upon the lips of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5.

With the words of Psalm 40:6-8 upon His lips, Jesus was already on His way. He was heard announcing the incarnation: “a body You have prepared for me … Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me” (Psalm 40:7). His name is, in effect, the heading of the scroll: and after the resurrection Jesus opened up the Scriptures to show His disciples ‘the things concerning Himself’ (Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-45).

He added, “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matthew 6:10) - yet it was also His prayer. He echoed this in the Garden of Gethsemane: ‘not my will, but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42).

The Psalmist reminds the LORD of his faithful preaching of righteousness in “the great congregation” (Psalm 40:9). Yet this also applies to Jesus, who is the subject of another acknowledged Messianic Psalm (cf. Psalm 22:25). It should also be true of us, that we should “not refrain our lips” (Psalm 40:9) from telling forth the LORD’s goodness (Psalm 40:10).

And having “waited patiently” (Psalm 40:1) may not be the end of all trouble: but we do know from whence our help comes (Psalm 40:11)!

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