The Book of Psalms

A Weak Man’s Strong Tribute, Part 2


Theme: Blessed Are the Merciful
In this week’s lessons we see that there is a connection between how we treat other people and what we want the Lord to do for us.
Scripture: Psalm 41:1-13
The composition begins with the word “blessed”. There are two ways the blessing can be taken. It can be understood as an encouragement to show compassion for the weak or as an objective statement implying that the speaker is one who did so and was therefore cared for by God.1 No doubt it is both. As the rest of the psalm will make clear, David was in the position of being a weak person due to his illness, and he wanted people to show mercy to himself and those like him, which his enemies were not doing.
At the same time, he is turning to God for mercy and his chief claim on God’s mercy is that he had been merciful himself. This may be the first time in biblical history in which the issue is formulated as sharply as this, though it is certainly elaborated later. It is the meaning of Jesus’ beatitude mentioned above, namely, that God will show mercy to those who show mercy. He will bless those who bless other people.
There are seven things that the psalmist says God will do for the one who shows mercy. The Lord will: 1) deliver him in times of trouble; 2) protect him; 3) preserve his life; 4) bless him in the land; 5) not surrender him to the desire of his foes; 6) sustain him on his sickbed; and 7) restore him to health.
Since the psalmist is sick and being mocked by enemies, it would seem that this list of things the Lord will do for the one who is merciful moves from the most general (deliver him in times of trouble) to the more specific (sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from illness). This is worth noting. For it is not merely that the Lord cares for us in a general way, though he does. The wonderful thing about the Christian life is that God cares for us in specific ways. It is when we are sick that he provides comfort. It is when we are discouraged that he lifts us up. When we are not sure what decision to make he gives clear guidance. Such is the personal interest and care provided by our God.
Verse 10 is a plea for mercy in view of the merciless treatment the psalmist has been receiving from his foes and friends alike. We need to take this plea for mercy at full value and allow it to help us interpret the opening stanza. Without it we might think that the psalmist somehow thought himself deserving of God’s protection and favor because he had protected and helped others. It is true that he had done this. He is also expressing the principle, “God shows mercy on the merciful,” which is a true principle. But this is not the same thing as claiming a right to mercy because one is merciful. By its very definition “mercy” is undeserved. In fact, it is God’s favor shown to those who deserve the precise opposite. So when David asks God for mercy, he is acknowledging that he is at best an unprofitable servant and can be blessed only if God for his mercy’s sake chooses to be merciful. In fact, he is even worse than an unprofitable servant. He is a sinner, which he makes clear in verse 4 by confessing his sin to God.
Study Questions:

In what two ways can the idea of blessing be understood in verse 1?
Why can no one claim a right to God’s mercy?

Reflection: List some specific ways the Lord is demonstrating his care for you.
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 330, 331.

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