Psalm 40

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2006-07-25 09:03.

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This psalm is ascribed to David. The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition meaning “to”) is commonly thought to denote “to the musical director” or “leader.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads pro victoria (“for victory”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” This indicates that there is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew expression.

Apparently to convey intensity with reference to “waiting” for or “hoping” in YHWH, forms of the Hebrew word qawáh and the Greek term hypoméno are repeated. Translators have preserved the repetition (“I waited, waited,” NAB), used an adverb for intensification (“I waited patiently,” Margolis, NIV, NRSV), or chose not to incorporate the repetition (“I put my hope,” Tanakh). The psalmist rested his hope on YHWH, confidently waiting for his aid. His God did turn his attention to him and heard his cry or “entreaty” (LXX).

David found himself in a situation comparable to being in a “pit of roaring” or a “pit of distress” (LXX). Possibly the Hebrew expression is descriptive of a dark cavern where the sound of roaring water can be heard. It would indeed have been a “pit of distress,” “misery,” or “wretchedness.” David also likened his situation to being on unstable ground, as if sinking in mire. YHWH delivered him from the perilous circumstances and placed his “feet” in a secure position like that provided by a crag in mountainous terrain. As when on firm ground, David would have no concern about his “steps.” YHWH had secured them. According to the Septuagint, “he kept his [the psalmist’s] steps straight.”

YHWH put a new song in David’s mouth by effecting his deliverance and thus providing the basis for a new melody of praise to God. Many would see the evidence of divine assistance, and this would cause them to have a wholesome fear of YHWH and to put their trust or hope in him.

Happy, fortunate, or in a truly enviable state is the man who makes YHWH his trust and does not direct his face to those who are defiant. The proud or defiant ones apparently are persons who insolently disregard God’s law, and the godly man does not join their company or look to them for any reason. Evidently the defiant ones are also described as falling away to falsehood. (For the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section on verse 4[5].)

This falsehood may be idolatry. A number of translations either identify the defiant ones as idolaters or in other ways render the words to indicate a departure from the worship of YHWH. “You bless all those who trust you, LORD, and refuse to worship idols or follow false gods.” (CEV) “Happy those whose trust is the LORD, who turn not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood.” (NAB) “Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.” (NRSV) “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.” (NIV)

There is a possibility, however, that the proud are being described as followers of falsehood or what is untrustworthy and treacherous. This would mean that haughty ones, by reason of their “falling away” to falsehood, would also be treacherous ones. The renderings of a number of translations favor this significance. “Happy is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who turns not to the arrogant or to followers of falsehood.” (Tanakh) “Happy is he who puts his trust in the LORD and does not look to the arrogant and treacherous.” (REB) “Happy is the man that hath made the LORD his trust, and hath not turned unto the arrogant, nor unto such as fall away treacherously.” (Margolis) “How blessed are those who put their trust in Yahweh, who have not sided with rebels and those who have gone astray in falsehood.” (NJB)

In this context, the many things that YHWH did apparently relate to his often having delivered his people from perils. The psalmist referred to YHWH in a personal way as “my God.” The acts of the Most High are “wondrous deeds,” giving rise to amazement. His “thoughts” for his people evidently included the good that he purposed for them. If the Hebrew is to be understood as meaning that YHWH is without equal, this would be on account of his activity. A number of translations, however, link the statement that none can be compared to YHWH with the aspect about his “thoughts” or “plans.” “And in your plans for us there is none to equal you.” (NAB) This fits the reading of the Septuagint, “And in your thoughts no one is compared to you.” The Hebrew word for “compare” (‘arák), in its basic sense, means “arrange” or “set in order.” This has provided the basis for the following rendering (one that would not have the support of the Septuagint):“You, O LORD my God, have done many things; the wonders You have devised for us cannot be set out before You.” (Tanakh)

So many were God’s deeds and thoughts for the good of his people that, in the estimation of the psalmist, they would be beyond numbering.

God’s law outlined an arrangement for sacrifices. His not desiring or finding pleasure in sacrifice and offering may be understood to mean that he was in no need of such sacrifices and that, in themselves, outward acts of worship brought him no delight. The expression “you have dug ears for me” is commonly rendered to mean that God opened the psalmist’s ears. Such opening of the ears would signify obedient response to YHWH’s commands. The thought in this verse is seemingly like that expressed in 1 Samuel 15:22, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” In the parallel words, God’s not asking for holocaust and sin offering evidently signifies that he did not request such because of needing them. (See the Notes section for additional comments.)

David’s “coming” was for the purpose of doing God’s will. The “roll of the book” contained specific commands that applied uniquely to the king or the anointed of YHWH. Apparently for this reason, David could say, “it is written of me.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) In the fullest sense, this would be the case with the promised Messiah or the “seed” of David.

The psalmist found delight or pleasure in doing God’s will as set forth in the law. That law had become a part of his inner self or his “inward parts,” guiding his attitude, thoughts, and actions. The promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, by his words and actions, revealed the true intent or spirit of the law and thereby demonstrated that it was in his “inward parts.”

David did not hold back from letting others know about YHWH’s activity. In the large congregation, evidently when many assembled for worship, he related glad tidings of “righteousness” (the divine acts that revealed divine righteousness or justice). David was confident that YHWH knew that he had not restrained his lips when making his expressions. The psalmist was never reticent in telling about YHWH’s deeds and raising his voice in praise.

He did not conceal God’s righteousness (the deeds revealing divine righteousness or justice) within his heart, keeping to himself what deserved to be openly acknowledged. He told about God’s “faithfulness” or “truth” (LXX) and “salvation” or deliverance, revealing his God to be deserving of absolute trust and as the One who would deliver his people. In the large congregation, David did not hide, or fail to speak out about, God’s abiding loyalty, steadfast love, compassionate care or “mercy” (LXX) and his “truth,” constancy, or trustworthiness.

In keeping with his open acknowledgment about his God’s attributes, David prayed that YHWH would not withhold his mercy from him. He asked for God’s compassionate care and “truth” or constancy to preserve or safeguard him at all times. According to the Septuagint, he pleaded, “You, O Lord, do not remove your compassions from me; your mercy and your truth continually supported me.”

The psalmist desperately needed to be shown compassion. So many evils or calamities surrounded him that they were beyond counting. David attributed his sad plight to his own guilt. His iniquities had overtaken him, and he could not see. This inability to see could mean that he was so overwhelmed with many transgressions that he could not look up. Perhaps he felt that the record of his sin was so great that he could not even get an overview of his many failings or that his many sins obstructed his vision so that he could not see anything else. His iniquities were more numerous than the hairs on his head. The reference to his “heart” failing him could signify that he was reduced to helpless state and deprived of courage.

David longed to be freed from his distress, asking that it be pleasing to YHWH to deliver him. Evidently because of the seriousness of his situation, he pleaded that YHWH would hasten to help him.

Upon seeing David receiving the needed aid, those who were seeking to seize his “soul” or life would be ashamed or disappointed and abashed or frustrated. Those who would have found pleasure in seeing David’s ruin would be “turned back,” unable to pursue their evil intent, and disgraced. The psalmist petitioned that this would be the outcome for his enemies.

He continued his supplication, “Let them be appalled because of their shame, the ones saying to me, ‘Aha! Aha!’” Their shame would consist of their seeing their hateful efforts against David fail. This would result in their being dismayed or, according to another meaning of the Hebrew term (shamém), “desolated.” The Septuagint rendering is, “Let them immediately receive their shame.” This would end their gloating over David’s situation. The Septuagint rendering for “Aha! Aha!” is “Good! Good!”

The ones whom the psalmist wanted to see exult and rejoice were all those seeking YHWH, desiring his approval and blessing. It was his desire that they, all those loving divine deliverance or salvation, would continually acknowledge, “Great is YHWH,” or “magnified” (LXX) be he.

As for David, he found himself “poor” or helpless and “needy. Still, he maintained confidence that his Lord would have regard for or take care of him. Nevertheless, though recognizing YHWH as his “help” and “deliverance” (“protector” or “shield bearer”) David pleaded, “My God, do not delay,” which expression reflected the urgency of the situation.


Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

Although conveying the basic thought of the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint reading of verse 4(5) is, “Fortunate [is] the man whose hope is the name of the Lord and [who] did not consider vanities and false crazes.” In this case, “vanities” could denote worthless deities or empty pursuits. If the reference is to be understood as involving idolatry, the “false crazes” could designate the debased rituals associated with the veneration of gods and goddesses. Otherwise, the “false crazes” may mean the frenzies that merely result in worthlessness.

Rahlfs’ text, like the Masoretic Text, says “ears” (otía) in verse 7(6). The letter to the Hebrews (10:6), where these words are quoted, reads “body” (sóma), which (in this psalm) is also the word found in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus and fifth century Codex Alexandrinus.

The quotation in the letter to the Hebrews of verses 6-8(7-9) departs in minor ways from the reading of Septuagint manuscripts. In Hebrews 10:6, the reading holokautómata (holocausts; burnt offerings] agrees with fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, but other Septuagint manuscripts say holokaútoma (holocaust; burnt offering). The last two words of this verse in the letter to the Hebrews are ouk eudókesas (you were not pleased; you found no pleasure). Printed texts of the Septuagint read ouk étesas (you did not require), whereas fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus read ouk ezétesas (you did not seek; you did not desire). In Hebrews 10:7, the position of “God” differs from the Septuagint and also lacks the pronoun “my” (my God).

In the letter to the Hebrews, the words of verses 6-8(7-9) are rightly applied to Jesus Christ, as he proved to be the promised Messiah or the “seed” of David. He found delight in doing his Father’s will, and his life demonstrated that obedience was better than sacrifice. In his case, his obedient submission to his Father’s will did include sacrificing his “prepared body.” (Hebrews 10:8-10)

According to the reading of fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, the concluding part of verse 9(10) is linked directly to the next verse and could be rendered: “Lord, you know my righteousness. I have not hidden your truth in my heart. I spoke of your salvation.” Rahlfs’ text, like the Masoretic Text, says “your righteousness” (not “my righteousness”).

In verse 13(14), fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, like the Masoretic Text, says “hasten” (a form of speúdo, but other Septuagint manuscripts have a form of prosécho, meaning “to be concerned about” or “to be attentive to.”