Like many psalms, Psalm 40 has an interesting symmetry about it:
(v. 1 – 3) I waited and You listened.
(v. 4 – 5) You have delivered.
(v. 6 – 11) The true and obedient heart
(v. 12 – 16) You will deliver
(v. 17) I will wait.
The Psalm shifts from a backward looking focus on God’s faithfulness to a forward looking one. In verse 1 David writes, “I waited patiently for the Lord”. This is deliberate, faithful kind of waiting; not a toe tapping, one eye on the watch kind of a wait. People who are good at waiting on the Lord are patient about it. They can tell you why they have such faith too. It has been my experience that patient waiters have stories to tell. They usually can remember a time when they were left with nothing to do but wait.
I drove to the church building to work and scurried about from one task to the other, all the time with an eye on the clock. I knew exactly when I had to bail out and return home in order to avoid being late. With less than an hour to go I noticed that my car keys weren’t handy. In the flurry of activity I had set them down and didn’t know where. I began looking in all the logical places: on the desk, on the counter, in the ignition, in my book bag… nothing. I began to get more and more frustrated with each passing minute: I was wasting time! After an hour had passed I now needed to go and still had no idea where to look for my keys. I was now looking in absolutely ridiculous places, the fridge, the parking lot, in rooms I had not been in, all to no avail.
I called to get a ride and now had to wait two hours for my wife to come and bring me an extra set of keys. I was so furiously frustrated that I could not sit still. I angrilly prayed repeatedly for God to reveal where they were and they answers weren’t coming. It was a long time coming until I bitterly resigned myself to sitting and waiting. I plunked myself down in the passenger seat, in protest of my keyless state when I heard my keys right beneath me. They were positioned in such a way to avoid detection from the driver’s side window, and the passenger window but smack dab in the middle of the seat.Those of you who think now the lesson is learned and I was exhibiting this kind of waiting are missing my point. I was now more furious than ever. I had wasted most of an afternoon looking for something that was hiding in plain sight. My reliance was still squarely on my own resources. I still had some learning (and calming down to do).
One of the neat things I have observed about the study of the Psalms is the diversity in translation that exists. In a way I have never noticed there is wide variety of ways these texts are rendered in English. The NIV translates v. 2 to say, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit,out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on a rock,and gave me a firm place to stand.” NASB calls it, “the pit of destruction”, “the pit of despair”, in the NLT, and “a lonely pit full of mud and mire” in the CEV. These pits were a traveler’s nightmare. Potter’s would find a deposit of clay and excavate it, leaving behind a slippery hole. Animals, and people would often be found in these pits, dead from dehydration after struggling for hours to climb out. One could only be saved from this pit by someone outside the pit who could pull you out. There was no working yourself out collectively climbing out with the help of fellow victims. Once trapped by a slimy pit you were there, waiting for the mercy of a passer-by.
God’s deliverance is complete. We are put back on our feet again and given a place to stand. Witnesses will be so amazed by the deliverance that they will put their trust in God as well.
In verse 6 and 7 David confesses, “Sacrifice and meal offerings You have not desired. My ears You have opened.” This phrase is reminiscent of Hosea 6: 6 in which God says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” This thought is completed in v. 7: “Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart.’”
What David is saying, ‘ Here I am, to do what is required by the Law, but I do it from my heart.’ David, who was after God’s own heart knew what pleased God; not doing the things you have to do but offering praise from the heart. The phrase “my ears You have opened” implies a complete obedience: I have heard and obey.
The word in v. 7 for scroll is a coronation decree or an oath which would apply to the Davidic Kingdom. David, here affirms his commitment to this ideal but, as the writer of Hebrews observes, it is in Christ that the whole obligation of the law is fulfilled.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,but a body you prepared for me;with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.’ “
David’s willingness was noble, but it is Jesus’ willingness to be our atoning sacrifice that fulfills the laws demands. “By this will [Jesus’] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10: 10)
Perhaps with an awareness that, at the time of David, the requirement of the Law couldn’t be satisfied, David retraces his steps in requesting deliverance, and stating his dependence on God in the last five verses. The end of this Psalm is almost identical to Psalm 70:
How profound that David, King of Israel could say,
“I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me.”
David illustrates here the awareness of spiritual poverty that is needed in the life of every devoted follower of God. Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5: 3): a poverty of the spirit. No reliance on one’s own resources but a willing reliance on His riches.
“You are my help and my deliverer, O my God, do not delay.”
It was the self reliance of the rich land owner that Jesus condemed in Luke 12: 16-21. The man was not “rich toward God”. Just like my example with the missing car keys, finding the keys did not solve the ‘heart’ problem. I needed to see my time at work as time spent in His service and not time spent on my ‘To Do List’.
God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah,
This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength,or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this:that he understands and knows me,that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,justice and righteousness on earth,for in these I delight,”declares the LORD.
“I waited patiently for the Lord … and he heard my cry”. A simple, devoted reliance is what the Lord desires. An admission of our own poverty, and His riches.