Messianic Psalms: God's King: Psalm 40

Psalm 40
Written, as the Psalms were, for the instruction of others, and not simply to record the experience of the one whose thoughts they express, we find at times in the construction of these sacred songs a methodical arrangement very different from what might have been expected. Of this the Psalm before us is a good example, for; historically speaking, the first four verses have their place at the conclusion instead of at the beginning of the Psalm, announcing as they do the answer to the cry of the poor and needy One, which we meet with in the closing verses. The purport of this arrangement seems plain; for the Psalms were written to encourage God's saints in trial, and to afford suited expressions for the thoughts of their hearts. Now to know that others are in the furnace with the sufferer will show him that he is not alone and may check the thoughts so common under such circumstances, that he is singular in what he has to pass through; but the companionship of others in the trial offers no ground for expecting deliverance from it. Yet this is what the sufferer wants and, thank God, it is what the Word provides. So before reading of the trials which forced the cry of distress from His lips, we learn that He has been brought out of them, and the new song of praise and thanksgiving has taken the place of the prayer for deliverance. Hence others may be encouraged to act like the delivered One when placed in similar circumstances. For the comfort is-this, that He has been brought out of all His trials by the goodness and power of His God. Had it been the might of His arm that had gotten Him the victory, His example would only avail for those who possessed the like strength. Any wanting that would find no encouragement for them in the knowledge of His salvation. But that is not the aspect of things we have here. It is the full deliverance of the poor One-of the needy One-who having felt the power of man's opposition, has been saved by the power of Jehovah's arm, and has thus learned what it was to be thrown upon God. This is what God's saints want, and what the godly remnant in Israel will find applicable to their condition upon earth.
Another remark as to the structure of the Psalm will not be without interest. We learn from Peter that the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets, and guided them in their writings (1 Pet. 1:11); so that the sacred writers, taught by the Holy Spirit, clothed the ideas which God intended should be in the Word, in language suited to express His thoughts and those of God's saints. All that the Lord could say, His saints cannot, for in some respects He stood alone. Certain things were true of Him in one way (v. 12), and true of His people in another; but many things, to which He could give utterance, His people can take up as true of themselves likewise. On the cross, of course, when making atonement, He was alone. Suffering the consequences of sins He was the sinner's Substitute-the thieves suffering justly, receiving the due reward of their deeds-He having done nothing amiss, yet bearing the sins of others. Sins then, as laid upon Him, He might call His own, but in a sense very different from that in which others must acknowledge them as theirs.
Besides suffering from God when making atonement, He suffered from men as God's faithful witness upon earth. His people can share in this in their measure; therefore the language He could use, they can likewise, for He has been in circumstances similar to theirs. Now, as we read this Psalm, we must admit that there is one and the same speaker throughout. He who sings the song is the same One who uttered the cry; and He who looks for deliverance is the One who is the subject of prophecy. The Psalm is clearly the utterance of Christ, and part of it (vv. 6, 7) refers to Him exclusively. But we learn from Psalm 70, which is nearly the same as Psalm 40:13-17, how God's saints can take up, as divinely provided for them, the language He could use. What is peculiar to Christ in Psalm 40 is not reproduced in Psalm 70; but what a saint under pressure from the opposition of men might express, is given us as His language in Psalm 40, and is put into the mouth of the saints in Psalm 70.
Had we only Psalm 40, we might not have been able to draw a line between language there peculiar to Him, and language common to Him and to others. With Psalm 70 to compare with Psalm 40, we can on the highest authority do this; and while marking what applies especially to Him, we can see how really and how fully He entered into circumstances similar to those in which God's saints have been, and may be found; so not only in walking before God, but in His bearing as He suffered from men, is the Lord Jesus Christ an example and an encouragement to God's saints.
Are we wrong in saying that the Psalm applies to Christ? The statement it contains makes the matter pretty plain, and the comment of the Holy Ghost by Paul, on His own words by David dispels all doubt. "In the volume of the book it is written of Me," introduces us not to David, of whom we have no prediction before his birth, but to another, who is the subject of divine revelation. "I come," tells us that He had an existence before He appeared on this scene; for no mere child of man, speaking of his entrance into this world, could say, "I have come." Thus, His pre-existence is implied, and the agreement of His will with the action is announced. For, though taking human form, the form of a servant, He speaks not as one obeying a command, but as one agreeing to take up a work, and delighting to do God's will. The conclusion which must force itself on the mind from the words of the Psalm is declared to be correct by the statement in Heb. 10:5: "Wherefore, when He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice," etc. His presence on earth was to be the harbinger of a great change, as His presence here at a future day will inaugurate a new regime. What Israel had brought to God year after year, was not that which He came to offer. Burnt offerings and sin offerings of the herd and of the flock God would not require. The Speaker here was to be the Sacrifice. He was God's Lamb for both sin offering and burnt offering. Obedience to God's will in the offering up of Himself was to characterize Him. "Mine ears hast Thou opened" (or digged) expresses this; for "a body hast Thou prepared Me," which we read in Hebrews, is the statement of the Greek translation-man's paraphrase of God's own thought.
The great burden of the Psalm is the Lord's life of ministry upon earth while, however, looking forward to His death with its consequences, first of opposition from men, and then of deliverance by Jehovah out of all His trials, being brought up out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay. Verses 1-3 tell of this deliverance; verse 4 shows that others may experience a similar one; verses 5-10 recount the subjects of His ministry; verses 11-17 give His cry to Jehovah consequent upon the opposition He met with from men.
He preached to the Jews, righteousness, and set forth God's righteousness, faithfulness, salvation, loving-kindness, and truth, in the great congregation (the general assembly of the nation-not the elders and doctors simply). Before the flood there had been a preacher of righteousness. When the Lord appeared, He too preached righteousness, but under very different circumstances. Noah could show men what they ought to do, and warn them of the sure fulfillment of God's word, Nit the patriarch had nothing to point to as a witness that God was faithful, except previous actions in judgment (Gen. 3; 4). The flood attested God's truth, but only when not was too late for man to prove God's loving-kindness and salvation. But the Lord's presence on earth told of God's faithfulness, for the Word had often predicted His advent; and as He moved about from place to place, He declared God's love, and announced His willingness to save.
A preacher of a different class Israel had formerly known. Solomon, the wisest of men, was charged with this duty among his countrymen. He preached of man's follies, and sought to impress on his subjects the vanities of the things of this life. John the Baptist, at a later epoch, was known as a preacher, proclaiming the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. But differing from Noah, Solomon, and John, the Lord preached the glad tidings of the kingdom Of God-a message never before delivered by any teacher or messenger from God; for it was not till He, the King, stood upon the earth, that the kingdom as a present thing could be preached. By-and-by on the mountains of Judah will voices be heard proclaiming the advent in power of Him who Himself preached in lowliness the gospel of the kingdom (Isa. 52:7). The Lord's ministry was, however, different in character from that which will be. On earth-though in heaven- the only begotten Son declared the Father, and displayed in His actions and taught by His word what God was. To His disciples He insisted on the need of righteousness (Matt. 5:20) as necessary to enter the kingdom; to Nicodemus He spoke of God's love; before the Pharisees He justified God's ways in receiving sinners (Luke 15); and to the woman of Sychar He made known for what the Father was now seeking (John 4:23). In Galilee He told the multitude of life everlasting (John 6); in Jerusalem He proclaimed the grace which God was offering (John 5:24, 25); and the full refreshment provided for sinners, whose only needful qualification was to thirst for it (John 7:37). Rest too for the weary He offered (Matt. II); and the door to abundance of pasture He pointed out (John 10:9); God's grace and man's need He freely and fully preached; but what the results would be to Himself, the Psalm beforehand made known.
Ministering thus among men, declaring God, proclaiming His salvation, He has to turn to Jehovah, and on the ground Of His own faithful service await His intervention for deliverance. Had it been the power of the enemy which thus openly assailed Him, none need have wondered; for He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). But the instruments used to kill Him were men on whose behalf He came-manifested, as John also tells us, to take away sins (1 John 3:5). From these, for whom He so patiently and graciously labored, He asks deliverance. They sought after His soul to destroy it; He sought to give them everlasting life. At Nazareth and at Jerusalem men attempted to kill Him, who was God's faithful witness among them, once at the former place and several times at the latter. At last they succeeded, and Jerusalem thus earned the unenviable title of Sodom and Egypt, and the place where our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8).
What had He done to deserve this at their hands? He had preached God's faithfulness and God's salvation. He had declared God's righteousness and God's truth. His feelings under this hostility, the result of His ministry, He here lets us understand. He was not as one indifferent to their behavior and insults, or as one conscious of His own strength, looking down from a pinnacle of greatness on the rage and spite of puny creatures. He felt deeply what He passed through, and looked only to the Lord for deliverance. "Innumerable evils have compassed Me about," He has to say, and Jehovah's active interference He asks for as really wanted: "Withhold not Thou Thy tender mercies from Me, o LORD: let Thy loving-kindness and Thy truth continually preserve Me." "Be pleased O LORD, to deliver Me: O LORD, make haste to help Me." Such words prove what He felt and what He desired; and the opening of the Psalm acquaints us with that which He experienced from God, as the body of it tells us what He experienced from man. He cried, and was delivered. He was heard because of His piety. Impossible was it that a faithful witness should not be delivered, all must admit. But the depth of need into which the faithful and true Witness descended, tells a tale of man's heart, and of His obedience. Heard, raised up, and so delivered, He exemplified in His own salvation the sure future of those who bear witness faithfully for God in the world which has crucified His Son. And the new song, at a future time to be sung by myriads of the redeemed, the Lord Jesus was the first to pour forth, for the term, "new song" has reference in Scripture to the celebration of full and final victory, and that in connection with the kingdom. Israel at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) did not sing it, but their descendants will bear their part in it (Psalm 96; 98), and joyful tones from creation's voice will form the accompaniment to that new song sung by God's ransomed and finally rescued people upon earth. Nor will earth only hear it, for in heaven, around God's throne, the heavenly saints will give expression to it (Rev. 5:9). No angels that we read of have part in this. Those only who have been delivered by God can join in it. The Captain of our salvation first,. then all who share in deliverance will sing the new song, for in common with Him they will have proved God's power to help.
Delivered from His enemies, He looks for their destruction (vv. 14, 15), the righteous retribution which their conduct deserves. As delivered by God, He owns the godly as His associates, and this too after His resurrection. On earth He found His delight in them; on high He does not separate Himself from them. "Praise unto our God" shows that He is forever a man; and though Himself the only faithful witness who never once failed, He reminds all God's servants that He regards them as in connection with Himself. "Our God" witnesses of this-His voice to us from beyond the grave. By-and-by the whole universe will see that He is not ashamed to call us "brethren." But now "our God" and "us-ward" speaks to our hearts of this grace; for having once identified Himself with God's saints, He will never separate Himself from them.
Nor is this all. The present effect on others of His deliverance He describes. His feet established, the new song put into His mouth, all that Jehovah has done for Him who waited God's time, and has proved His faithfulness and power, will tell on many hearts, and encourage suffering disciples (v. 3). Results of everlasting importance flow from the Lord's atoning work; results too of great value accrue to God and to the saints from His deliverance out of death. God's power to deliver is seen, therefore confidence in God must be engendered. How great that confidence should be, the following verse sets forth, announcing the blessing of the man (Gr., lit., the strong man) who "maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies." Not the poor feeble one only, but the naturally strong man, should learn wherein his great strength lies.
Faithful in service, we learn what the true spirit of a minister should be. Drawing attention by His ministry to what God is and does, He desires all eyes to be turned to, and all hearts to be occupied with, the Lord Jehovah alone. God's salvation they should love. "The LORD be magnified," they should continually say. To rejoice in Jehovah, and be glad in His God, is what He desires for them, and trust in the Lord, encouraged in others by the knowledge of His deliverance, is the wish of His heart. This should be the result of true ministry, and it is what He looks for. Differing from all other ministers who speak of a work done and proclaim God as the righteous One and the Giver of all good likewise, He, who was in Himself God's gift, and did the work in which we rest, and because of which we give thanks to God, yet seeks not to draw attention to Himself, but turns all hearts to God. Thus the character of Christ's ministry, the consequences of it to Himself, and the spirit which actuated Him, are brought out by the instrumentality of the inspired penman.
A few remarks in conclusion. In Psalm 16 we meet with an atmosphere unruffled. Here we read of opposition and hatred which pursued Him to death; for the former Psalm gives us His walk in communion with God; this latter, His service for God among men. Thus both Psalms are needed to show us what the Lord Jesus Christ was when upon earth. The former acquaints us with that which was within Him- this, with that which was around Him. Psalm 16 shows us how to walk-this, how to serve, our example in both being Him who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1 Pet. 2:23); and for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2); receiving a title of which He is indeed worthy, "The leader and the perfecter of faith" (W.K. Trans.), a title descriptive of Him, and suggestive to us.