Theme: Worshiping While in a Wicked World
In this week’s lessons, we see the stark reality of evil, even in our own hearts, and that God protects and preserves those who come to him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 140:1-13
I have been arguing for a number of studies that the final psalms in the Psalter, beginning with Psalm 135, are chiefly about worship. They tell us what worship is and how we are to worship God acceptably.
But there are some psalms that do not seem to fit this category nicely, and this is one of them. Psalm 140 is about people who are incorrigibly wicked, who seem to practice evil for its own sake. Does a psalm about evil really belong with others that are written chiefly to praise God? I think it does, and for two reasons. First, it is a reminder that even in our moments of most transcendent praise we still praise God in the midst of a very wicked world. Second, in spite of its somber theme Psalm 140 nevertheless does deal with praise, particularly in the last stanza: “I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name and the upright will live before you.”
In addition, Psalm 140 is used in the New Testament as an inspired witness to human depravity. Part of Romans 3:13 is from the psalm, and Romans 3:10-18 is showing how God sees each of us in our sin apart from Jesus Christ. So when we study this psalm we must remember that it is also describing us as we truly are. If we have become something other than those who love evil for evil’s sake, it is only because of Christ’s work, and we should praise God for that.
The general opinion of scholars is that Psalm 140 is not by David even though the heading claims it is: “For the director of music. A psalm of David.” They believe that it is only in the style of David’s writing. J. J. Stewart Perowne is a conservative commentator, but he wrote, “The impression left upon the mind in reading [Psalms 140-142]…is that they are cast in David’s vein and in imitation of his manner rather than written by David himself.”1 Similarly, Alexander Maclaren, another conservative exegete and preacher, wrote, “The present writer receives the impression strongly from the psalm that it is cast in the Davidic manner by a later singer, and is rather an echo than an original voice.”2
That may be. “A psalm of David” might mean only “a psalm like David’s.” But I do not know how to judge whether a psalm is by David other than by its inscription and by whether it sounds like David or not. And this one certainly sounds like David. Many of his undisputed psalms speak of enemies and ask God to deliver him from them. All of them sustain a steadfast confidence in God in spite of danger. Even the images are Davidic. Instead of disputing David’s authorship, it seems better to me to think of Psalms 138-145 as a block of psalms by David discovered at some late date and added to this last book of psalms by its late compilers.
Besides, there may be a connection between this and the former psalm. In verses 19-22 of Psalm 139 David asks God to “slay the wicked.” In this psalm he asks for the same thing (in vv. 9-11), as well as to be delivered from such men (in vv. 1-8). Herbert Lockyer highlights a number of such links, observing: “In Psalm 138, David sets forth God’s promise as the anchor of hope; in Psalm 139, God’s omniscience as our consolation in danger and motive for shunning evil; in Psalm 140, our danger from calumnious enemies, and our only safety in Jehovah our strength.”3
1J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1989), p. 446. Original edition 1878-1879.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A.C. Armstrong, 1894), p. 394.
3Herbert Lockyer, Jr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), p. 726.
What is Psalm 140 about? Does this psalm belong with the five preceding psalms? What is the possible connection with Psalm 139?
Explain the relationship of Psalm 140 to Romans 3.
Summarize the discussion over this psalm’s authorship.
Application: Think of ways God has changed you since you became a Christian. What other areas in your life might need to change?
Observation: A psalmist’s writing style provides clues to its authorship and therefore to the psalm’s setting and meaning.
Prayer: Praise God for saving you from your state of depravity.
Key Point: Even in our moments of most transcendent praise we still praise God in the midst of a very wicked world.