This Psalm has three layers to it. The first is the one on the surface. David recounts a deliverance from one of his many trials, and his response of praise. The second layer is that David’s sufferings reflect the common plight of Israel as whole. Her history of exiles and returns, persecutions and deliverances, separation from and the reunion with Jehovah lie just beneath the surface of David’s story. But as we go deeper we see that David’s story, which is Israel’s story, is really the Messiah’s story.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. […]Psalm 40
Summary of the Text
In the midst of his distress, David waited for the Lord (קַוֺּה קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה), crying out to Him; God heard his plea and brought him out of the pit (vv1-2). This deliverance springs forth into songs of thanksgiving, and fortifies his faith in God, rather than trust in proud man (vv3-4). This song of praise rehearses God’s marvelous works, which are innumerable (v5); and this gratitude for past mercies is the bedrock for present faith, which understands the true nature of sacrifice and offerings: obedience. The call to obedient service is pictured by the bond-servant’s ear being pierced (v6, Cf. Ex. 21:6).
Now, though he is king of Israel, David comes to the command of the Lord as a bond-servant would obey the master’s will with joyful delight (v7; Cf. Deut. 17:18-19). As king, he is steward of God’s law, and will preach righteousness in the congregation, without skipping a part (vv9-10).
Having presented himself in grateful service to the Lord, and obeyed the Lord’s command, he asks of the Lord a two-fold request: withhold not tender-mercy and let God’s lovingkindness and truth continually preserve him (v11). The reason for this request is “innumerable evils” (echoing God’s innumerable marvelous works in verse 5) surround him, and his iniquities abound to the point of despair (v12). Thus, he makes a plea for deliverance from all evils inward and outward (v13).
The prayer goes on to request the undoing of his enemies; that shame and desolation would come upon them (v14-15). In contrast, those who seek God (not man v4) as their salvation shall be vindicated, and thus their love breaks forth in song: “The Lord be magnified (v16).” The concluding verse highlights David’s humility, and his boasting in the truth that God thinks about him; the end of the psalm echos its beginning: waiting patiently for the Lord (v1) while petitioning God to not tarry (v17).
Obedience is True Sacrifice
This psalm draws a contrast between David’s response to God’s law with Saul’s famous––very pious––disobedience. In 1 Samuel 15:22-23, we’re told of how Saul’s kingdom came to be doomed; this is how it came to be that David was anointed as king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:13). We should also note that the strong allusion to David’s anointing (מָשַׁח), which is where our word Messiah is derived from.
The nub is that obedience to God’s Word was more important than vainglorious exhibitions of spirituality. Saul made sacrifices to seem very spiritual; but he disobeyed the primary task he’d been assigned (Cf. Ex. 17:8-16, Num. 24:20, Deu. 25:17-19). The Psalm reinforces this, that sacrifices aren’t what please the Lord in the first instance. Obedience, from the heart, is His delight. He doesn’t want the blood of dumb animals, He wants the life of the worshipper (Rom. 12:1). So as king, David knows that deliverance is of the Lord for those who delight in His law and obey it by glad trust in God’s will.
Messiah in Our Midst
In Hebrews 10, we find a large portion of this Psalm (vv6-8) cited. We don’t typically think of Hebrews as being a book for Christmas messages, but the underlying doctrine of Christmas is God sending the Messiah in the flesh. This is the point made in Hebrews. Christ coming in a human body was a setting aside of the sacrificial system, because His body was offered that we might be sanctified once for all (Heb. 10:10).
David anticipates that when Messiah came, He would do so in a human body. At first blush, however, Psalm 40 and its citation in Hebrews 10 seem at odds with each other. The hebrew refers to having His ear pierced (or dug open) as a bond-servant (Ps. 40:6); but Hebrews 10:5 cites the LXX, which renders it, “a body hast thou prepared for me.” What are we to make of this? As with most of these seeming contradictions, we don’t need to make them enemies, because they are friends. As a servant, Christ obeyed by taking to Himself a body. Further, He came when told, obeyed by becoming the fulfillment of the entire sacrificial system.
The ear of the bond-servant stood for the whole body of the bond servant; what we might term a synecdoche (i.e. hired hands, boots on the ground, nice set of wheels). So the apostle applies this text to the Messiah’s incarnate ministry. Christ came in the flesh in order to set aside the levitical priesthood which presided over a temporal sacrificial system, so that He might preside as a heavenly priest over an eternal sacrificial system (Heb. 10:11-14).
Not a Disembodied Incarnation
The doctrine of the incarnation is not an insignificant one. Man, left to his own imagination, tries to grab hold of all the stuff, or tries to escape stuff. At Christmastime, we celebrate the Incarnate Lord. God made flesh. The Logos manifest unto us. Heaven come to earth.
Earth is to be redeemed. Creation is to be saved, not discarded. Our bodies are planted like seeds, only to spring forth at the resurrection into everlasting glory. Some pagans sought to escape from the material world through their vain imaginations. Still others sought to hold onto the world.
One is too thick. The other too thin. Vain philosophies sought to escape the material realm through rationalistic knowledge. Whereas certain strains of paganism could not resist making all the stuff objects of worship. What we teach is that Christ came, in the flesh, to redeem creation, and thus ultimately to resurrect the whole thing into greater glory.
The practical application of this is do not shy away from all the gifts…and fudge…and wrapping every imaginable food in bacon…and more fudge. Recognize that all these gifts and blessings are shadows of the blessings which they will become in the resurrection.
These earthly blessings which Christ came to redeem, are not the destination, but they are appetizers to the main course. Earthly glories are like an elevator, they can only go to the top floor, and no further. But that desire for them to go further, that ache for glory that remains, is found in this doctrine which is presented to us in the form of a babe in a manger who later died on the tree, and then rose in the body to the Father’s right hand.
Christ took on flesh, because how else could He be true Israel. “Lo, I come!” are Christ’s words of submissive obedience to the will of the Father; obeying in Adam’s stead, in Israel’s stead, in Great David’s stead, in your stead and my stead. Indeed Christ preached righteousness in the midst of the congregation of Israel, because He was the righteousness of God, He was true Israel, He was the Prophet like unto Moses, He was great David’s greater Son. He came and delighted to do the Father’s will, by taking on flesh and obeying for us, dying for us, and rising for us.
Feet on a Rock
Christ, our Messiah, came to set your feet on a rock. He came, as the bond-servant king so that you might no longer be facedown in the mud of your sin, but stand erect and bold, fearless before the face of man and face to face––without any shame––with God Himself. He took on all your sins, which were as many as the hairs on your head, and bore them all away, so that you might be forgiven for every last one.
This cannot happen without God coming in the flesh, proclaiming in the midst of the congregation the righteousness of God. He came into our midst, as was foretold. And this is the ground of our salvation. This is the only place to find firm footing for faith. The Son of God became a son of man so that He could die in place of sinful man, and that you might also be risen with Him to a glorified earth. An earth which will be “more real” than this one. So celebrate with the stuff––here in the shadowlands––knowing that in Christ it shall all be made more itself at the resurrection.