Psalm 40 Study Notes


40:1 Waited patiently shows faithfulness to the Lord in refraining from taking things into one’s own hands (see note at 27:14) or going to another source for help. The Lord is the only source of help for those who trust in him (40:17; 70:5).

40:2 Pit can refer to a deep well. Someone trapped in a well would probably sink down in the muddy clay and die if someone did not pull him out (Jr 38:6,10). Figuratively the term is related to Sheol, representing death (see note at Ps 28:1). To be brought . . . up means to be rescued from death (30:3).

40:3 The new song likely refers to the newness of life after being delivered from death (see note at 30:3).

40:4 On happy, see note at 1:1.

40:5 The shift from personal experience to identification with the community of Israel is significant in linking the psalmist to God’s covenant promises to the nation (see note at 28:8-9). God’s wondrous works are his saving acts on behalf of his people (see note at 9:1). The experience of the psalmist’s personal deliverance is intricately connected with God’s salvation of his people.

40:6-8 Some interpreters think v. 6 repudiates the act of sacrifice, even though God himself had commanded it. However, the most important issue is delight in God’s will. In other words, acts of sacrifice must be accompanied by cheerful obedience. This was precisely the problem with Israel when God said he was tired of their sacrifices because they were not offered with pure motives of love and faithfulness to him (Is 1:11). The phrase open my ears to listen (lit “dig/hollow out ears for me”) is a symbol of being attentive to the Lord in order to obey him (the opposite of closed or “uncircumcised” ears; see Jr 6:10). This emphasizes the importance of obedience over sacrifice (1Sm 15:22). See, I have come is similar to Isaiah’s expression, “Here I am” (Is 6:8), showing submission to God’s will. Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was the ultimate expression of submission (Heb 10:5-10). The meaning of the scroll is unclear. Some suggest it was the book where the deeds of people were recorded (51:1; 56:8; 87:6; 139:16), but in this context it may refer to God’s will (his instruction) in general (note “will” in 40:8).

40:9-10 Personal experiences, especially those involving rescue by the Lord, were to be related to those in the congregation of Israel in order to instruct the community (see note at 22:22-24).

40:11-13 Overtaken is used mostly with enemies as the subject (7:5; Jr 39:5; Lm 1:3), but here it is the psalmist’s iniquities that have overtaken him. His troubles (apparently the result of his sins) surrounded him in the same way as enemies who were ready to attack.

40:14-15 It is a common request for the disgrace intended by enemies against the psalmist to be turned back on them (7:14-16; 35:4,26; 70:3). Aha is an expression often associated with ridicule (see note at 35:21).

40:16-17 All who seek you is equivalent to those who are faithful to the Lord (see note at 9:9-10). The phrase oppressed and needy refers to those who are humble and dependent on the Lord as their only help (see notes at 34:6 and 35; 9-10).