Psalm 40 is one of the most popular Psalms in the Bible, mostly because the opening verses are so moving and memorable. But what about the rest of it?
Psalm 40 is a complex Psalm, but in my study, two clear themes emerged: 1.) Our continuous need for deliverance, which God will continuously and faithfully supply, and 2.) the importance of testimony in the life of the believer.
Psalm 40 opens with a dramatic story: David says that he was in a pit “of destruction,” a slimy pit that he couldn’t escape on his own. In this hopeless situation, God heard David’s prayer and lifted him out. Not only that, but He set David’s feet upon a rock (an image contrasted with muddy footing), and put a new song in his mouth, a song of praise to God. He gave David a new life.
The pit is obviously a metaphor – this was not a literal pit from which God lifted David. It could have been a dangerous situation, like when he was running from Saul, or it could have been a time when he was trapped in sin, like when he slept with Bathsheba and murdered her husband to cover it up. It may have been some other deep and dark defeat. Whatever it was, the situation seemed hopeless, but God dramatically turned it around.
Many Christians can relate to this experience of sudden and dramatic deliverance. For me, verses 1-3 describe my deliverance from depression 25 years ago. I was in my teens, lost without the Lord, severely depressed, and didn’t really see any point to living. I contemplated suicide. Out of that dark place, I heard the Gospel at a youth retreat, Christ invaded my heart and saved me, I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the depression was suddenly gone, and hasn’t come back since. Life suddenly made sense, the Bible suddenly made sense, and that feeling of lostness and hopelessness was replaced by a joy and a peace I’d never known before. It was a Psalm 40 deliverance. God heard my cry, lifted me out of the pit, set my feet on a rock, and put a new song in my mouth. What a great description of what God did in my life!
But what of the rest of the Psalm? David goes on in verses 4 and 5 to extol what the Lord has done, and to urge others to trust Him. He even says that God has done so many wondrous things, David could never possibly declare them all! In verses 6-8, David declares that God has “given him an open ear” (the text literally says that the Lord “dug” out ears for him, presumably to hear His Word), and put His law in David’s heart. David emphasizes obedience to the Lord, from the heart, over and above outward ritual, and praises God for His inner illumination.
As a fascinating aside, verses 6-8 are quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 in reference to Christ. The writer of Hebrews even says that Psalm 40:6-8 is what Christ declared when He came into the world! The Hebrews passage uses the Septuagint translation of verse 6 – “A body you have prepared for me” instead of “ears you have dug for me” – as a reference to Christ’s body being prepared for obedience, just like David was when God “dug ears” for him.
In verses 9-10, David continues to extol what God has done. He declares that he has testified of God’s faithfulness and salvation publicly, and has not “hidden” God’s deliverance from others. He insists that he has spoken openly and boldly, holding nothing back from anyone.
Verse 11 seems to be a turning point of the Psalm. David makes another declaration: “You will not restrain Your mercy from me; Your steadfast love and faithfulness will ever preserve me!” David declares that God has delivered, and will continue to deliver him.
Then come verses 12-15, a lament and urgent plea for David’s current situation, which (once again) seems quite desperate. These verses seem out-of-place at first because of what has come before: a bold and optimistic Psalm of praise. Verses 12-15 seem sudden and jolting. In fact, some scholars have even speculated that verses 12-15 were not part of the original Psalm, so drastic is the shift in tone from verses 1-11.
Adding to this speculation is the fact that verses 12-17 of Psalm 40 are nearly identical to the entire text of Psalm 70. Which came first, Psalm 40: 12-17, or Psalm 70? Which borrowed from the other? I think it makes much more sense that Psalm 70 took the end of Psalm 40 and made it its own congregational prayer, rather than that Psalm 70 was tacked on to Psalm 40. Yet how to explain the stark contrast between the two halves of Psalm 40? The simplest explanation is that the two halves flow seamlessly together in Psalm 40 to communicate a powerful message: our need for deliverance is continuous, and God will continuously and faithfully supply it.
It really should not surprise us that David is still experiencing trouble in Psalm 40, even after the dramatic deliverance of verses 1-3. Jesus promised us that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul experienced one tribulation after another: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; I spent a day and a night in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
Paul summed up the Christian life well in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Our need for deliverance is continuous, and God will continuously and faithfully supply the precise deliverance we need. This was David’s testimony, this was Paul’s testimony, and in the end, it will be ours as well.
Psalm 40 ends with a prayer and confident declaration that God will come through again. David says that even though he is “poor and needy,” “the Lord takes thought for me.” David declares in the midst of his suffering that “You are my help and my deliverer.”
Thus Psalm 40 comes full circle: the deliverance of which David testifies at the beginning of Psalm 40 is the experience he is expecting again. His lifestyle of testimony (seen also in verses 4-11) has prepared his soul and mind to trust God in his current suffering and to expect God’s continuous and faithful deliverance to come again, and soon: “Do not delay, O my God.”
Is your lifestyle one of testimony of what God has done for You? Do you expect His continuous and faithful deliverance as you experience the continuous trials of life? Do you meet difficulties with the faith and expectation David shows in Psalm 40? These are challenging questions for us all.
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). Every experience God brings into our lives is sovereignly decreed, and works together for good (Romans 8:28) to bring about our conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As surely as we can expect suffering in this life, we can expect God’s deliverance to come right along with it, supplying exactly what we need.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13