PSALM 40 To the leaders, a psalm for David
I looked longingly towards the Lord
And he turned towards me, hearing my cry for help.
He lifted me from a deadly pit, from slippery mud;
He placed my feet on rock and steadied my steps.
He put in my mouth a new song of praise to our God.
Many, seeing this, will be struck with fear
And will put their trust in the Lord.
How fortunate is the one who makes the Lord a refuge
And shows no regard for arrogant people
Or for those who turn to idols.
How many wonders you have fashioned, Lord my God!
How many surprises you have contrived for us!
There can be no reckoning them in your favour;
When I try to recount them in order, they are innumerable.
You have not wanted sacrifice and food offering!
-You have dug the wax from my ears-
You have not demanded burnt offering and sin offering!
Then I said, “Here I am.
That writing in the scroll of the book is about me:
‘Doing your will is my delight, my God;
Your Law is within my heart.’”
I have announced justice in the great gathering of the people;
Yes, Lord, you know that I have not restrained my lips!
I have not concealed your justice in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and power to rescue;
I have not concealed your loving kindness and your truth
From the great gathering of the people.
Do not, Lord, restrain your tenderness towards me;
But let your loving kindness and your truth sustain me always.
For uncountable evils have surrounded me;
My faults have caught up with me;
I cannot see.
They are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my courage fails.
May it please you Lord, to rescue me;
Lord, come quickly to my aid!
Shame on them, down with them
who seek my life to destroy it!
Away with them, disgrace to them
who wish me harm!
Horror at their own disgrace to them
who mock me with laughter!
But may those who seek you, Lord
Find joy and exultation in you;
May those who love your power to rescue,
Continually say, “The Lord is great!”
I am poor and oppressed
yet the Lord values me;
You are my help and my liberator;
Do not be slow to act, my God.
(translated emmock 2015)
This is mainly a psalm of gratitude for God’s rescue of the speaker, but it ends with a new plea for help.
We are told in the first section that the Lord has rescued the speaker but, as in almost all the psalms, we are not told how. The experience of rescue is vividly described as being raised from a muddy pit, but the circumstances to which this metaphor points are not given. That is because God’s rescue is always an act of faith on the part of the rescued person: where another person might attribute their escape to luck or human help or their own skill, the believer knows it is God’s doing and gives thanks, declaring openly the generosity of God, who surprises even his faithful people with his goodness.
The speaker reflects on his/her experience of God, interestingly identifying with some words of a holy book, perhaps a book of psalms, expressing delight in the law of God. This delight in God’s justice is not only a private emotion but also the content of the speaker’s public witness to God, maybe in the liturgies of the temple or deliberations of the synagogue.
This gives the speaker confidence to speak of his present trials; bad things are happening to him which he attributes to his own faults, but he trusts that God will rescue him. Without much delicacy, he tells God to get on with it. The balance between personal and public faith is very evident in this psalm; they are mutually nourishing.
This is the first instance I know in scripture of a person seeing themselves in scripture. That’s precious to me because of course it’s what I’m trying to do in these blogs.