Humility and gratitude flow through prayer in Psalm 40, grounded in a full-bodied devotion to the Lord God. The psalmist recognizes his helplessness without God; he recalls how God not only rescued him previously, but also provided for him:
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me an heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him” (Psalm 40:1-3).
These initial verses lay the groundwork for the prayer that will follow. God has rescued a worshipper from a predicament that is described as slimy and muddy. He has secured the worshiper’s future with a secure foundation. These verses introduce a vision of intense commitment to God. The psalmist’s whole body will follow God, will praise him and sing of him, will preach about his saving power, refusing to be silent about what God has done for him. A description of “full-bodied discipleship” emerges:
- God has set his feet on a rock and given him a firm place to stand (v 2)
- The LORD has put a new song in his mouth (v 3)
- God has opened his ears (v 6)
- God has prepared a body for him (v 6)
- God’s law is within his heart (v 8)
- The psalmist does not seal his lips (v 9)
- The psalmist does not hide God’s righteousness in his heart (v10)
A prayer begins in verse 5 and, as can be seen, continues to develop a description of devoted discipleship. The prayer reveals an awareness that following God transcends practice of ritual and following of rules:
“Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Sacrifice and offering you died not desire – but my ears you have opened – 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 you will, my God; your law is within my heart. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly” (Psalm 40:5-9).
The writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament describes Jesus as praying this prayer. The words of the prayer describe well Christ’s intense commitment to doing God’s will with all his heart and his proclamation of the kingdom of God. Both Hebrews 10 and Psalm 40 emphasize that following God demands a whole-hearted following that goes beyond ritual. Both underline that following God may seem terribly lonely in difficult times, but occurs in the company of other followers who, with the totality of their being, pray together, who sing and proclaim to one another what God has done for them.
Times of trial and testing continue for the follower of God. Salvation does not destroy temptations or people who oppose faith in God and seek to disgrace the disciple of God:
“Do not withhold your mercy from, LORD; may you love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have over taken me, and I cannot see” (Psalm 40:11-12a).
The psalmist, and we when we follow his example, cries out for God to forgive and to rescue. He already is a member of the covenant people of God. Because of that status, he calls out to the One he knows can deliver him:
“May those who say to me, ‘Aha! Aha!’ be appalled at their own shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The LORD is great!’ But, as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay” (Psalm 40:15-17).
As I noted above, the prayer of Psalm 40 reappears in Hebrews 10, placed in the mouth of Jesus during his incarnation as a human being. There the prayer, besides asserting full commitment to God, occurs in a context that emphasizes that the follower of God functions as part of a community of believers who encourage one another through prayer and song when meeting together. As was the case with the psalmist, the Christian is not alone in following God, but does make an individual decision to follow with all his or her heart. Discouragement or fear may tempt us to give up or to compromise, but remembering God’s power to deliver and the fact that we are not alone enables those of us who follow God through Christ to continue. We trust, obey, and pray with all our body and our mind. As the writer of Hebrews said,
“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39).
- Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.