Psalm 40

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 40 and its interpreters.  I have two items for today:

1.  Peter Craigie says that the Psalmist in Psalm 40 is on good terms with God, and yet he recognizes that he still suffers on account of his past sins.  The Psalmist loves God’s law, but he feels that his less-than-righteous past is catching up with him.  In the midst of this, he turns to God for deliverance.  I have heard Christians say that God will forgive our sins, but God won’t necessarily deliver us from the sins’ consequences.  I once heard a pastor question this assertion, for he said that God may choose to transform the consequences into something good.  I think that there should always be room for hope.  I don’t believe that I should judge others if they are experiencing negative consequences from their sins, for perhaps there is a reason for their ordeal, or God wants me to pray for their deliverance, or to help them in whatever way I can.  But I should feel free to ask God for deliverance, even if I wonder why God does not appear to help everyone.

I also think it’s important to note that negative consequences may not last forever.  David is someone whom God forgave, and yet David had to endure chastisement for his sin of sleeping with Bathsheba and killing Uriah.  But the chastisement came to an end once Absalom’s revolt was suppressed.

And, as that pastor said, there is also a possibility that God can bring something good out of negative consequences.

2. Psalm 40:6-7 states (in the King James Version): “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.  Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me.”

This passage is quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 (for which I use the KJV): “Wherefore when he [Christ] cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.  Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God.”  Hebrews relates Psalm 40:6-7 to Jesus’ work of replacing the Old Covenant (which includes animal sacrifices) with a New Covenant (in which atonement occurs through the offering of his body).

Psalm 40:6-7 in the Masoretic Text is different from how Hebrews 10:5-7 applies it, at least in certain areas.  The Masoretic presents the Psalmist saying that God has dug his ears, which the KJV interprets as God opening them.  The idea is probably that God is opening the Psalmist’s ears to God’s instruction, for God prefers listening to God to animal sacrifices and offerings.  Some evangelical pastors have related the digging of the ears to Exodus 21:6, in which the slave who chooses to remain with his master over his freedom has his ear pierced; for these pastors, Psalm 40:6 means that God would rather we be his servants than offer animals.

(And, to note an interesting point, the Jewish exegete Rashi interprets Psalm 40:6 in light of God not commanding the Israelites at Sinai to offer burnt offerings, but rather to hear his voice.  See Exodus 19:5 and Jeremiah 7:22.  Overall, Rashi maintains that Psalm 40 discusses the experience of Israel during the Exodus and the Sinai revelations.  For example, Rashi interprets v 2, which is about God bringing the Psalmist out of the miry clay, in reference to the Red Sea event.)

In place of “mine ears hast thou opened”, Hebrews has “a body hast thou prepared me”.  There are Greek manuscripts that have “body”, and there are Greek manuscripts that have “ears”, but there is a chance that the ones with “body” were written that way to coincide with Hebrews 10:5-7.  Karen Jobes observes that Hebrews 10:5-7 claims to be quoting Christ, not the Psalmist, and so it contains a detail that could only apply to Christ, not to David.  David could not offer his own body as a sacrifice, for he was sinful, but Christ could.  Jobes’ point may be that Hebrews 10:5-7 draws from Psalm 40:6-7, but it deliberately departs from the passage because it (Hebrews 10:5-7) is speaking about Christ, not David.

What about “in the volume of the book it is written of me”?  There is debate about what this phrase in Psalm 40:7 means.  “Written of me” can also be translated as “prescribed to me”, for k-t-b with the preposition al appears to carry that meaning in II Chronicles 30:1 and Esther 8:8.  The idea is probably that the Psalmist is resolving to obey the commandments of the Torah that God has prescribed to him, which accords with Psalm 40:8, where the Psalmist affirms that he delights to do God’s will and that God’s Torah is in his heart.  There are scholars who have related Psalm 40:7 to the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, which would make Psalm 40 pertinent to the king of Israel or Judah.  Others have contended that the book of Psalm 40:7 is the book of life, or a song of thanksgiving.

There are Christian interpreters who have said that Psalm 40:7 is saying that a book speaks of Christ, which perhaps means that the Hebrew Bible predicts and foreshadows Jesus Christ.  The use of Psalm 40:7 in Hebrews 10:7 may be consistent with this interpretation, for Hebrews 10:7 has the preposition peri, which many times connotes “concerning”.  The point of Hebrews 10:7’s interpretation of Psalm 40:7 appears to be that a book speaks concerning Christ, not that it prescribes commands to Christ.  At the same time, the former does not exclude the latter, for the book is speaking about Christ’s mission, and Christ resolves to submit to that.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Psalm 40

  1. James Pate says:

    On my blogger blog, Bob MacDonald says the following:

    Your meditations on the psalms always get me thinking. David in fact does offer his body – or more accurately, David is given the words of the poet in psalm 51 –
    You will make a sin-offering of me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    you will scrub me and I will be white as snow.

    I translate this as make a sin offering since it is the word sin used as a verb. It balances many such offerings in that psalm. I do think that ‘in Christ’ we have these offerings accepted as we too offer our bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12) in the same way that David’s affirmation of God’s righteousness in psalm 51 shows us how sacrifice and worship work – in all times.


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