Theme: God’s Past Goodness
In this psalm we learn from the life of David what we must do when we find ourselves in pits of various kinds.
Scripture: Psalm 40:1-17
It is a characteristic of the psalms, particularly those of David, that they frequently first tell of the writer’s personal experience of God’s goodness and then reflect on that goodness, commending it to others. This is what the second section of Psalm 40 does (vv. 4-10). There are three parts.
A recommendation of his own trust in God to other people (vv. 4, 5). This section begins with a beatitude reminiscent of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”
Why is the person who trusts God a blessed person? The answer is in the next verse which reminds us that God has done great things for his people in the past and assures us, because his character has not changed, that God has many more similarly good things planned for those who trust him today. To experience these good things you must trust him. Or, to use the metaphor that was used a few psalms earlier, you must “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8). It is possible that someone could invite you to the most magnificent banquet in all the world. But you would never know how good it was unless you tasted it. It is the same with God’s goodness. Until you trust God you will never know how good his goodness is.
The proper relationship of the trusting person to God (vv. 6-8). What is the right relationship of a person to God? It is not something that is established through mere ceremony but is rather the expression of a fully surrendered heart. In these verses David reiterates an important biblical principle: obedience takes precedence over sacrifice (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 7:21-26; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). The words are well known because of being applied to Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced;1 burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’”
Verse 6 is a puzzling verse, which may explain the paraphrase found in the Septuagint. There are various ways of translating it. The word rendered “pierced” literally means “dug.” But because it can also mean “pierced,” many of the older commentators understood it to refer to the ceremony by which a slave could declare his desire to remain with his master permanently, as described in Exodus 21:1-6. If a slave had a good master and wanted to remain with him even after the legal six-year term of his slavery, the master was to take him to the judges where he would declare this intention. Then one of his ears would be pierced with an awl, indicating that he had become a servant for life.
The meaning of this ceremony certainly fits the context of Psalm 40. It would be an illustration of the nature of willing obedience and service. But there is a problem. The problem is that in this ceremony only one ear was pierced, and here the word is plural, “ears” rather than “ear.” The disparity is just enough to make us question the traditional understanding of the passage.
Today almost all commentators consider the word “dug” to mean “digged (or opened) up.” Obviously, this fits the context too, particularly since the passage goes on to talk about the scroll of God’s law and of the fact that its message is now written not only in the scroll, but in the psalmist’s heart.2 Is there any better way to talk about the priority of obedience over sacrifice? I do not know of any.
Why is the person who trusts God blessed?
What marks a proper relationship to God? What important biblical principle does this demonstrate?
What are the two main interpretations of v. 6? Which one is preferred, and why?
Application: This week, pray for opportunities to commend the Lord’s goodness to others.
1The Septuagint text has “a body you have prepared for me” for the words “my ears you have pierced,” which explains the different rendering in Hebrews 10:5 (see NIV footnote). The author used the Septuagint, because that was the text most familiar to his readers.2Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 159.