Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm consists of two parts, differing widely in tone and character. In the first part (Psalm 40:1-11) thanksgiving for deliverance and its true expression in the devotion of obedience to God’s will are the prominent ideas: in the second part (Psalm 40:12-17) the Psalmist is still the victim of a cruel persecution, from which he prays for deliverance.
The first part is marked by singular vigour and spirituality; the second part consists mainly of phrases found elsewhere, and Psalm 40:13-17 recur separately in Book ii as Psalms 70.
It seems most probable that two Psalms or parts of Psalms have been combined by a compiler, with reference to his own needs or for liturgical purposes, at a time when he himself or the nation looked back upon past deliverance from the midst of present trials. Still it is possible that the author of Psalm 40:1-11 himself added Psalm 40:12-17 at a later time under changed circumstances, making use of language which he had employed before in time of distress. There are links of connexion between the two parts. Be pleased (Psalm 40:13) takes up thy good pleasure (Psalm 40:8); taketh thought for me (Psalm 40:17) glances back to thy thoughts to us-ward (Psalm 40:5); they are more (Psalm 40:12) is found in Psalm 40:5 : and such repetition of a word already used in a different connexion is characteristic of the author of the first part: e.g. restrain not thou (Psalm 40:11) corresponds to I will not restrain (Psalm 40:9); thy lovingkindness and thy truth (Psalm 40:11) to the same words in Psalm 40:10.
If the Psalm is David’s, it would seem to belong to the later years of his outlaw life, shortly before he became king, rather than to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. It has been well pointed out that the words of Psalm 40:6 ff. gain fresh force if they are taken in connexion with 1 Samuel 15:22. The self-devotion of the king after God’s own heart is the exact opposite of the self-will which was the ground of Saul’s rejection.
The ascription of the Psalm to Jeremiah rests mainly on the supposed reference of Psalm 40:2 to Jeremiah’s imprisonment (Jeremiah 38:6), but the language is certainly figurative and not literal.
Some regard the speaker in this, as in the two preceding Psalms, as “either pious Israel personified, or (virtually the same thing) a representative pious Israelite” (Cheyne), who speaks in the name of the nation. But though Israel in later times may well have appropriated to itself the words of the Psalm, the personal origin of it appears to be unmistakable. There is not the slightest hint that the enemies referred to are heathen, or that those who are won by the sight of God’s mercy (Psalm 40:3) are distant nations.
The first part falls into four approximately equal stanzas. The following is an outline of the contents.
A. i. After long and patient waiting prayer has been answered and occasion given for fresh thanksgiving (Psalm 40:1-3).
ii. Once more it has been proved that trust in God is the only source of true happiness. The goodness of God to His people is infinite and incomparable (Psalm 40:4-5).
iii. What shall be man’s response to that love? Not material sacrifice, but the service of glad obedience (Psalm 40:6-8).
iv. The Psalmist has not failed publicly to confess what God has proved Himself to be, and confidently anticipates the continuance of His favour (Psalm 40:9-11).
B. Suddenly the scene changes. The Psalmist represents himself as overwhelmed by afflictions, and pleads for speedy help, and the discomfiture of his malicious enemies. Yet even in the midst of distress his trust remains unshaken (Psalm 40:12-17).
This Psalm is one of the Proper Psalms for Good Friday. Its appropriateness is obvious, as describing in Psalm 40:6 ff. the fundamental nature of the sacrifice which was consummated upon the Cross.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.1. I waited patiently] Such renderings as I waited, yea I waited, or, I waited waitingly (Vulg. expectans expectavi) are closer to the original. Cp. Psalm 38:15; Psalm 39:7 : and the confession of the Church in the day of Redemption, Isaiah 25:9.
he inclined unto me] As it were, ‘bent down towards me.’ To ‘incline’ or ‘bow down the ear’ is the usual phrase (Psalm 31:2; Psalm 116:2).
my cry] Cp. Psalm 39:12; Psalm 18:6.
1–3. The reward of patient waiting upon God.
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.2. And brought me up out of a pit of destruction, out of the miry slough:
And set my feet upon a rock, made firm my steps.
A literal reference to Jeremiah’s imprisonment in the dungeon can hardly be intended. The second line, set … rock, makes it plain that the whole verse is to be understood figuratively. He compares his plight to that of a prisoner in a dungeon (Lamentations 3:53; Lamentations 3:55), or even a dead man in the grave (Psalm 28:1; Psalm 88:4; Psalm 88:6); to that of a traveller floundering in a morass, or quicksand. Quagmires, ‘treacherous to the last degree,’ are common in Palestine. Thomson’s Land and the Book, p. 360. Now he has been given firm footing (Psalm 27:5), and the possibility of secure advance (Psalm 17:5; Psalm 37:31).
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.3. Such deliverance is a fresh theme of praise. Cp. Psalm 33:3. The plural pronoun, ‘our God,’ implies that others were interested in the Psalmist and his fortunes.
many shall see it] Omit it, which only weakens the expression. The contemplation of God’s mercy in the deliverance of His servant, and God’s power in the discomfiture of his enemies which that deliverance implies, will inspire a reverent a we, and lead to trust. Cp. Psalm 52:6; and generally, Psalm 22:22 ff.
Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.4. Happy is the man that hath mada Jehovah his trust,
And hath not turned unto the arrogant, and false apostates.
The word for man is that used in Psalm 34:8, where see note. For the opposite to ‘making Jehovah the object of trust’ see Psalm 52:7.
respecteth not] Rather, as above, hath not turned unto: non est aversus ad … Jerome. The word is specially used of turning away from God to idols or false objects of confidence (Dunt. 29:18; Hosea 3:1; Ezekiel 29:16).
the proud &c.] The word for ‘proud’ suggests the idea of overbearing arrogance and ostentatious self-assertion: ‘such as turn aside to lies’, or as R.V. marg., fall away treacherously, are those who desert God and the right cause for false objects of reliance and false aims. Idolatry does not appear to be meant, at any rate exclusively. Happy the man who is not misled by appearances to despise God’s help, and seek the patronage of worldly men who boast of their own power.
4, 5. The blessedness of such a trust.
Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.5. Abundantly hast Thou wrought, even Thou, O Jehovah my God,
Thy marvellous works and Thy thoughts to us-ward:
There is none to be compared unto Thee.
Multa fecisti tu Domine Deus meus mirabilia tua et cogitationes tuas pro nobis. Jerome. Thou is emphatic. Jehovah is contrasted with all such objects of reliance as those mentioned in the preceding verse. His ‘marvellous works’ (Psalm 9:1 note) are the embodiment of His ‘thoughts’ or purposes of love toward His people. Cp. Psalm 92:5; Isaiah 55:8-9; Jeremiah 29:11. The rendering of R.V. marg., there is none to be compared unto thee, an exclamation of reverent wonder (cp. Psalm 89:6; Psalm 71:9), is decidedly preferable to that of the A.V., and that of R.V. text, they cannot be set in order unto thee. The P.B.V. and yet there is no man that ordereth them unto thee (cp. Isaiah 40:14) is improbable.
they are moe than can be numbered] Or, than I can tell of (Psalm 26:7). Moe as the comparative of many is an archaism which has disappeared from modern editions of the Bible. The word for they are more may mean they are mightier. Their number and their greatness alike baffle human powers to celebrate. Cp. John 21:25.
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.6. The various kinds of offerings are described according to their material, as sacrifice of slain animals, and offering (‘meal-offering’) of the fruits of the earth (Leviticus 2:1 ff.); and according to their purpose, as burnt-offering; symbolising the dedication of the worshipper to God, and sin-offering, for the reconciliation of the offender and the restoration of interrupted communion.
thou didst not desire] R.V. thou hast no delight in. It is the same word as in Psalm 40:8, and in the parallel passages Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:11; cp. 1 Samuel 15:22.
mine ears hast thou opened] Lit. ears hast thou dug (or, pierced) for me. This unique phrase can hardly be an equivalent for the common expression to ‘uncover’ or ‘open the ear,’ to be explained as a parenthetical exclamation that this truth has been impressed upon the Psalmist by a special revelation. It is best to regard it as a statement preparing the way for Psalm 40:7, and placed between the two parallel clauses of Psalm 40:6 for poetic effect. God has endowed man with the faculty of hearing, and the endowment implies a corresponding duty of obedience. ‘Ears’ need not be limited to the physical organ, but may include ‘the ears of the heart.’ The same Hebr. word means to hear and to obey. Cp. the repeated appeals to Israel to hear; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 6:4; &c.
The language does not suggest any reference to the custom of boring to the slave’s ear (Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17) in the sense, ‘Thou hast bound me to Thyself for perpetual service.’
hast thou not required] Lit. asked. Cp. Deuteronomy 10:12; Micah 6:8.
6–8. True service consists not in material sacrifices but in obedience to the will of God. The stanza is an answer to the implied question, How should man express his gratitude? It affirms the common prophetic doctrine that sacrifice was in itself of no value apart from the dispositions of heart which it was intended to represent. The new commandment of the Exodus was not sacrifice but obedience (Exodus 15:26). See Psalm 50:7 ff; Psalm 51:16 ff.; 1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; Jeremiah 7:21 ff.
Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,7. Then said I] This was his answer when he became aware of God’s requirements.
Lo, I come] Rather as R.V., Lo, I am come: (LXX. ἰδοὺ ἥκω) the servant’s response to his master’s summons (Numbers 22:38; 2 Samuel 19:20): like ‘Behold me,’ or, ‘Here I am’ (Isaiah 6:9). The object of the coming is not expressed, but is clear from the context.
in the volume of the book it is written of me] Better, in a roll of a book is it prescribed to me: though the rendering of A.V., which is that of the LXX, is possible. The exact phrase ‘roll of a book’ occurs only in Jeremiah 36:2; Jeremiah 36:4; Ezekiel 2:9; ‘roll’ only in Jeremiah 36; Ezekiel 3:1-3; Zechariah 5:1-2; Ezra 6:2. Cp. however Isaiah 34:4. The context points to Deuteronomy, or at any rate the nucleus of the teaching contained in it, as the book referred to. The absence of the it article seems to emphasise the fact that a written document is referred to (in a book, cp. Hosea 8:12), rather than to single out a particular document as ‘the book’ par excellence, as the A.V. seems to imply.
 ‘Roll’ in Isaiah 8:1 (A.V.) should be tabiet.
I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.8. I delight] Cp. Psalm 40:6. What is God’s delight is his delight. Contrast the delight of the wicked in evil, Psalm 40:14.
thy will] Thy good pleasure: what Thou approvest (Proverbs 15:8; Psalm 19:14).
thy law is within my heart] Lit. in the midst of my body, as though God’s law were itself the heart which gives life to his whole being (Psalm 22:14). Such was God’s demand of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:6); such is the characteristic of the righteous (Psalm 37:31; Isaiah 51:7): such is to be the universal condition in the Messianic age (Jeremiah 31:33). The law will be graven not on tablets of stone (Exodus 32:15 f.), but on the tablet of the heart (Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3).
Psalm 40:6-8 a are quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 according to the LXX, with some slight variations. The writer is contrasting Christ’s perfect obedience with the inefficacy of the sacrifices of the Law, and he puts these words into His mouth as the most fitting expression of the purpose of His life. The willing obedience which the Psalmist of old was taught to recognise as the divine requirement for himself and Israel was carried to its completion, was ‘fulfilled,’ in Christ. The variation of the LXX from the Hebrew may seem to present a serious difficulty. But the appropriateness of the quotation does not depend on this particular clause, and the rendering of the LXX, whatever its origin, has in effect a sense analogous to the sense of the original. As the ear is the instrument for receiving the divine command, so the body is the instrument for fulfilling it. The possession of a body implies the duty of service, in the same way that the possession of hearing implies the duty of obedience. See Bp. Westcott’s note.
 The reading of the LXX is σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι, a body didst thou Prepare for me. This reading is attested by the Vulgate. Aures in the Gallican Psalter is a correction. καταρτίζεσθαι occurs in the LXX as the rendering of several Hebrew words, and might easily have been chosen to represent the obscure thou hart dug. ‘Body’ for ‘ears’ may then have been a free paraphrase. But the reading may have originated in an ancient corruption of the Greek text. Through a repetition of the final ϲ of the preceding word and the change of ⲰⲧⲓⲀ into ⲰⲘⲀ, ⲎθελⲎⲤⲀⲤωⲦⲓⲁ might easily have become ⲎθελⲎⲤⲀⲤⲤωⲘⲀ.
I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.9. I have preached righteousness] R.V. I have published: better, as R.V. marg., I have proclaimed glad tidings of, εὐηγγελισάμην δικαιοσύνην (LXX). His theme was ‘righteousness;’ all the facts which are the concrete manifestation and evidence of God’s righteousness (Psalm 40:10). The good news which he can proclaim is the certainty of the just moral government of the world, and Jehovah’s faithfulness to His people. And this he has done in the great congregation, with the utmost publicity (Psalm 22:25; Psalm 35:18), perhaps, as the prophets often delivered their messages, on some festival (Jeremiah 26:2).
I have not refrained] R.V. restores Coverdale’s I will not refrain: but the words refer rather to what he did in the past than to what he resolves to do in the future. By rendering I did not restrain, the connexion with Psalm 40:11 may be brought out.
thou knowest] For the appeal to God’s omniscience, cp. Psalm 69:5; Jeremiah 15:15.
9–11. Beside the sacrifice of himself, he has not failed to render the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, by the fullest public proclamation of Jehovah’s goodness, which he trusts he will still continue to experience.
I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.10. Neither indolence nor ingratitude nor fear of man has deterred him from openly celebrating those fundamental attributes of the divine character which have been once more manifested in his deliverance. For thy righteousness, see Psalm 5:8, note; for lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness, cp. Psalm 36:5-7; Psalm 36:10; for truth and salvation, Psalm 25:5; lovingkindness and truth, Psalm 25:10.
Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.11. Thou, O Jehovah, wilt not restrain Thy tender mercies from me,
Thy lovingkindness and thy truth shall continually guard me.
The words are not a prayer but an expression of confidence in the certainty of God’s response (Matthew 10:32). Thou is emphatic. God on His part will not fail. The double correspondence with Psalm 40:9-10 should be noted. As he has not restrained his lips, so, he trusts, God will not restrain His tender mercies: as he has not ceased to acknowledge God’s lovingkindness and truth, so that lovingkindness and truth will not cease to protect him. Cp. Psalm 25:21; Psalm 61:7; Isaiah 63:15.
For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.12. This verse is somewhat loosely attached to Psalm 40:11 by for. The rendering of Psalm 40:11 as a prayer makes the connexion appear closer and more natural than it is.
evils] Afflictions (Psalm 34:19), which are trials of faith or chastisements for sin.
have compassed me about] The use of the word in 2 Samuel 22:5 suggests that the true meaning is ‘have overwhelmed me like a flood.’ Cp. Jonah 2:5.
have taken hold uton me] R.V. have overtaken me. Sin pursues the sinner like an avenging Nemesis, till it gets him into its power and punishes him. Cp. Psalm 38:4; Deuteronomy 28:15; Job 8:4 (R.V.); Proverbs 5:22.
so that I am not able to look up] The only rendering justified by usage is, and I cannot see. In the extremity of terror and faintness sight fails him. Cp. Psalm 38:10; Psalm 69:3, and note that the next line contains parallels to both passages.
than the hairs of my head] As in Psalm 69:4. (A different word is used there for they art more: here it is the same as in Psalm 40:5.)
therefore &c.] Lit. and my heart hath forsaken me. Courage utterly fails. Cp. Psalm 38:10.
12–17. The scene is changed. The sky is overclouded. Supplication for speedy help in time of danger takes the place of joyous thanksgiving.
Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me: O LORD, make haste to help me.13. Psalm 40:13-17 recur as Psalms 70, with some verbal variations.
Be pleased] An echo of ‘thy good pleasure’ (‘thy will’) in Psalm 40:8. The word is omitted in Psalms 70, and in the first line, though not in the second, God is substituted for Lord, according to the usual rule in Book II See Introd., p. lv f.
make haste to hell me] Cp. Psalm 38:22; Psalm 22:19.
Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.14. The whole verse is a repetition, with variations, of Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:26 (cp. Psalm 38:12); and v. 5-17 recall v. 21, 25, 27, 10 of the same Psalm. Together and to destroy it are omitted in Psalm 70:2.
let them be driven backward &c.] Render, as in Psalms 35;
Let them be turned back and brought to dishonour
That delight in my hurt.
Contrast Psalm 35:27 with the last line.
Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha.15. R.V., Let them be desolate (Lamentations 1:16) by reason of their shame, the defeat of their malicious plans: or, less probably, let them be astonished (Leviticus 26:32) for a reward of their shame, at the shame which is their recompense. Psalm 70:4 reads let them turn back, as in Psalm 6:10. The difference of reading probably arose out of the confusion of sound or form between M and B (ישמו—ישבו).
Aha, aha] The exclamation of malicious pleasure at another’s misfortune. Cp. Psalm 35:21; Psalm 35:25.
Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified.16. Cp. Psalm 35:27. The discomfiture of the wicked gives occasion for the righteous to rejoice in God, not merely because they are set free from persecution, but because they see in it the proof of God’s righteous sovereignty and the unfolding of His purposes of salvation.
such as love thy salvation] Cp. Psalm 40:10 : and the corresponding N.T. thought in 2 Timothy 4:8.
But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.17. The Psalmist reverts to his own need, but in calm assurance that he is not forgotten.
But I, who am afflicted and needy:—
The Lord will take thought for me.
For afflicted and needy, see Psalm 9:18; Psalm 35:10; Psalm 37:14; Psalm 86:1; Psalm 109:22. With will take thought for me, cp. Psalm 40:5 (thoughts): Jonah 1:6. Psalm 70:5 reads O God, make haste unto me, probably an alteration suggested by the parallelism, make no tarrying. My help, as in Psalm 27:9 : my deliverer, as in Psalm 18:2; Psalm 18:48 (a different word from deliver in Psalm 40:13).
make no tarrying] Cp. Daniel’s prayer, Daniel 9:19 (A.V. defer not); and the promise, Isaiah 46:13