Psalms 39–41: Woes & Wonders

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 14: Wednesday

Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I desire to do Your will, O my God;
Your law is within my inner being.”
Psalm 40:7–8 LSB

Wednesday’s Bible reading is Psalms 39–41. All three psalms are psalms of David.

There is a contrast between Psalm 39 and 40. In 39, David wants to guard his mouth with a muzzle, and in 40, he says he will not restrain his lips. Why the difference?

In Psalm 39, David is in distress; Leslie M’Caw and J. T. Motyer write,

“The psalmist tells of his unavailing effort to keep his trouble to himself (vv.1–3). He then records the words of a prayer centring on the brevity of life and the seriousness of sin (vv. 4–11), and ends (vv. 12, 13) with a plea for divine mercy…

“The decision to exercise a strict watch over all that he says and to refrain from complaint about his own distress was motivated by a fear of giving the wicked ground for attacking the honour of God.”1

As Christians we must be authentic; however, there are some strug­gles in which we desperately need another person to be there and listen to us. We may find ourselves in David’s dilemma; this is when we so need the presence of other believers who will have a ministry of love and empathy to us. We don’t want to dishonor God, and those who don’t know Him may take our heartache amiss. Other believers need to stand with us; their advice may not be needed, but their love is. Having other Christians help us and walk beside us can give us strength to continue, keep us from bitterness, and enable us to bear up under our sorrow without giving way to sin.

Derek Kidner writes:

“The burning question of this psalm is why God should so assiduously discipline a creature as frail and fleeting as man. It is an outburst like that of Job 7, and especially the cry there, ‘Let me alone, for my days are a breath. What is man, that thou dost make so much of him?’ (Jb. 7:16b, 17a). But the question, like that of Job is not asked in arrogance but with touching loyalty (1) and a sub­missive faith (7). Such ‘songs in the night’ reveal something of the bewilderment about man that was only finally dispelled when the Word became flesh, and when the gospel brought life and immortality to light.

“‘Protest’ would be too strong a word if it implied defiance, yet David’s feelings were running high enough to be taken for disloyalty in the wrong company (1). He shows a responsible care for God’s good name (cf. 73:15), first by his self-restraint, and then when he can contain himself no longer, by the way he formulates his problem: as a learner (4) and as a suppliant (7).”2

David closes Psalm 39:

“Hear my prayer, O Yahweh, and give ear to my cry for help;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a sojourner with You,
A foreign resident like all my fathers.
Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile
Before I go and am no more.”
Psalm 39:12–13 LSB

Kidner explains:

“The prayer of 13a makes no more sense than Peter’s ‘depart from me’; but God knows when to treat that plea as in Luke 5:8ff., and when as in Matthew 8:34f. The very presence of such prayer in Scripture is a witness to his understanding. He knows how men speak when they are desperate.”3

In Psalm 40, David speaks to proclaim the wonders of God:

I proclaim good news of righteousness in the great assembly;
Behold, I do not restrain my lips,
O Yahweh, You know.
I do not conceal Your righteousness within my heart;
I speak of Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I do not hide Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great assembly.
Psalm 40:9–10 LSB

David opens this psalm by saying:

I hoped earnestly for Yahweh;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry for help.
Psalm 40:1 LSB

Kidner comments:

“The word patiently [as in the NASB 95 Update] is too placid for the intensity of these opening words, better reproduced by the NEB: ‘I waited, waited for the Lord.’ He inclined to me is, again, too courtly: rather, ‘he bent down to me’ (NEB) or ‘he turned and listened to my cry’ (Moffatt)—as when someone’s attention is arrested and riveted.”4

Kidner’s insight into verse 1 opens up the verse. ‘I waited, waited for the Lord,’ certainly describes how I have felt. And ‘he bent down to me’ and ‘he turned and listened to my cry’ is such a vivid picture of God’s compassion for us.

I hoped earnestly for Yahweh;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry for help.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a high rock, He established my steps.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in Yahweh.
How blessed is the man who has made Yahweh his trust,
And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who stray into falsehood.
Many, O Yahweh my God, are the wondrous deeds You have done,
And Your thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with You.
I would declare and speak of them,
But they are too numerous to recount.
Psalm 40:1–5 LSB

Kidner comments on the theme of trust in these verses:

Trust [in verse 4] is taken up from verse 3, as David draws out for the rest of us this lesson from his experience, first by rejecting other claimants for our trust (for the proud he uses the term that became the nickname for Egypt, the empty blusterer, Is. 30:7), and then by enlarging on the incomparable claims of God. The past is full of his miracles (wondrous deeds), the future full of His plans—this is the force of the word thoughts. Cf. these two themes again in 139:13–18.”5

Kidner writes:

“The theme of waiting, expounded in Psalm 37, has had its painful application in Psalm 38 and 39, but now its triumphant outcome. The rescue pictured memorably in the opening lines, demands a fitting celebration, and David is enable to see that no mere ritual can suffice for it: only an act of pure self-giving. This he prepares to make, with a declaration which in reality none but the Messiah will be able to fullfil, as the New Testament makes plain [40:6–8; cf. Heb. 10:5–7]. His ‘Lo, I come’ [LSB: ‘Behold, I come’] is the high point of the psalm.”6

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I desire to do Your will, O my God;
Your law is within my inner being.”
Psalm 40:6–8 LSB

David begins Psalm 41 by saying:

How blessed is he who considers the poor;
Yahweh will provide him escape in a day of calamity.
Yahweh will keep him and keep him alive,
And he shall be blessed upon the earth;
And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies.
Yahweh will sustain him upon his sickbed;
In his illness, You restore him to health.
Psalm 41:1–3 LSB

Kidner writes:

“Only the body of the psalm can reveal how heartfelt is the beatitude with which it opens…

“It is soon clear that the word for poor is meant in its primary sense of ‘weak’ or ‘helpless’ (cf. NEB): one who is at low ebb. The word considers is striking, in that it usually describes the practical wisdom of the man of affairs, and so implies giving careful thought to this person’s situations, rather than perfunctory help.”7

That explanation so well describes what real help is to someone who is at low ebb with its sketch of what real love does for a person in need.

In Psalm 41 David speaks of the the horrific circumstance of betrayal by a close friend.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread,
Has lifted up his heel against me.
Psalm 41:9 LSB

This verse is also quoted in the New Testament. M’Caw and Motyer explain:

“The Lord Jesus Christ used the psalm to speak of His own experience (Jn. 13:18), and in the wonderful variety of Scripture it enshrines the not-uncommon experience of human disloyalty, and speaks for the comfort of those who suffer at the hands of friends.”8

There is so much in the psalms that speaks for our comfort. The emotions in the poetry of this book run the gamut of our own lives. Through His Word, God lets us know that we are not alone, and we are not the only ones to have gone through what we experience and feel what we feel. The Psalms are another testimony to His love for us at the lowest ebb of our lives.

Psalm 41 is the last psalm in the first book of Psalms. Kidner writes:

“Each of the five books ends with an outburst of praise, clinched by a double Amen (here and at 72:19; 89:52), and Amen and Hallelujah(106:48) or, finally, what is virtually a double Hallelujah (150:6), indeed a whole psalm of doxology. For all its fluctuations of mood, the Psalter constantly returns to its keynote, identified in its Hebrew title, ‘Praises’.”9

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Betende Hände (Praying Hands): Otto Greiner. Public Domain. Cropped.
1Leslie S. M’Caw and J. T. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 475, 477.
2,3,4,5,6,7,9Derek Kidner, Psalm 1–72 (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1973) 155-156, 157, 158: In the excerpt on the main page, I used Kidner’s comments for the working of Psalm 40:1., 159, 158, 161, 163.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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