Psalm 40:6-10 - The Obedience of Christ
The Great Deliverance
In Psalm 40, as in many other Psalms, the poet first speaks of the difficulty in which he has found himself and later speaks of the deliverance which has been granted him. In this kind of context he often speaks of the deliverance which the Christ will bring in His own time. In this particular Psalm he has spoken of a horrible pit, of miry clay in which he was trapped. But, God rescued him and he now wonders how he may show true gratitude for the deliverance which was granted him.
How to Give Thanks
It is always a good question: How shall we give adequate thanks to God for what He has done for us? The Psalmist first approaches the problem negatively when he says: Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in; burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. It is important for us to realize that God had indeed required these offerings and sacrifices of His people! He had shown them that without blood there was no approach for them into the holy place. But, it was always a dangerous type of religion which Israel was called to practice. They had to bring the sacrifices — but, the mere bringing of these sacrifices accomplished nothing. The prophets were sent to Israel time and again to warn the people concerning an external religion. Sacrifices had to be brought, but, they had to be brought with a believing heart! Now when the Psalmist contemplates the giving of thanks to his God he finds the bringing of sacrifices wholly inadequate. Israel also had to realize, of course, that the blood of bulls and goats would not cleanse the heart of man. The thankofferings too were not sufficient as an expression of thanks to the Most High. But, if He does not require the sacrifices and has no delight in all these offerings, how shall man approach Him? Man is not able to bring gifts in order to enrich Him! Gratitude must be expressed and the author of this Psalm feels it.
He now uses a very peculiar terminology to make clear how he will give thanks to God for the salvation He has given him. But, this manner of thanksgiving also comes from God! Everything originates in Him! He is the Author of life, of faith and even of the means to give thanks. All the Psalmist is able to do is to receive and receive some more. Psalm 116:12-13 gives a beautiful expression to this thought. "What shall I render unto Jehovah for all his benefits toward me?" The answer is "I will take the cup of salvation..." The only way a man will be able to render anything to his God is by taking more! So it is here. Sacrifices and offerings do not fill the bill. What now? God has opened his ears! God did it — not the Psalmist! These words "mine ears hast thou opened" have been translated in different ways. This translation is one; others speak of "mine ears hast thou pierced;" and still others "mine ears hast thou digged." The main thrust of these words is that he can now listen and thus be obedient! Obedience always was better than sacrifice! ... In the idea of the "piercing" of the ears is the thought expressed in Exodus 21:6. The slave who did not wish to be set free, but wished to remain in his master's employ, was taken to a doorpost and his ear was pierced with an awl to show that he voluntarily remained in the employ of his master. Regardless of the translation, the idea of obedience is most prominent. This is the way in which he will show his gratitude to God.
The Savior's Obedience
The writer to the Hebrews gives a different interpretation and translation to these words (10:4-10). He says: "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare for me." This writer is following the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint Version. This writer is also speaking by inspiration. How all the various parts are to be understood is very difficult to say and some of the best commentators simply say that they have not been able to find a convincing interpretation. Although the writer of Hebrews in 10:5 certainly adds an element which seems foreign to Psalm 40:6, the idea of the obedience which Christ only could bring is in the foreground in both instances. This is where the emphasis lies. He hears the word and fulfills it in obedience; He is given a body in order to fulfill all obedience which was required of man.
If the sacrifices and offerings do not suffice, the Christ says, "Lo I come!" He is the end of all sacrifices. He will bring the sacrifice which will complete all the sacrifices ever prescribed and no one may come with another sacrifice! He sets Himself over against the sacrifices of the Old Testament. With His coming all the answers are given to the spiritual problems of man. If sacrifices will not be acceptable where can man turn? Then He says, "Lo I am come!" By these words this Psalm is shown to be clearly Messianic. No one could speak these words in this context! Christ Jesus is the answer. He is the answer to the sacrifices and He is the answer to the expression of gratitude. The Old Testament is nothing without the Christ. The Psalms may be ever so beautiful but they are empty sounds without the Christ!
It should come as no surprise to anyone living during the days of the Psalmist that the Christ would come to fulfill all that was lacking before. In the roll of the book, of the Torah, of the Book of the Law, it was written of Him that He delighted to do the will of God! Where does this teaching come in the books of Moses? Not in any particular passage but rather throughout this entire Pentateuch. He is the message of the Old Testament! He is the heart of it. No one else has such a delight in doing the will of God. Even Moses had his difficulties with the will of God and went contrary to this will several times. David, though a friend of God, nevertheless sinned deeply in disobeying the will of God. But Christ can say, "I delight to do thy will, O my God."
The obedience of Jesus Christ is referred to again in the New Testament. He was obedient even unto death (Philippians 2:8). Isn't it strange that we hear so little about the obedience of Jesus Christ today? We constantly speak of what He has done, and rightly so, but the element of obedience is so often forgotten.
God's Law in the Heart
That He is obedient is natural, because the law of God is written in His heart. The prophet Jeremiah writes of the fact that the law will be written on the hearts at the time of the "new covenant" (Jeremiah 31:33). That is not yet the case at the present time in which the Psalmist is writing. There are even many today who believe that we are finished with that law because grace came through Jesus Christ, and we are therefore under grace rather than under the law. The law is written on the heart of Christ! That is the reason why He has such a delight in doing the will of God! When He renders His obedience, He renders the desire of His heart. He and the Father are One — both in being and in thought. What the Father desires, He desires.
Declaring the Gospel
David has experienced the goodness and the favor of God, and he also bears witness to the grace which has been shown him. He has proclaimed, he has borne witness, to the "glad tidings of righteousness." This was the "good news" which he proclaimed. He was engaging in evangelism! He bore witness to the righteousness of God in the great assembly, i.e., in the gathering of His people, in the church! He bore witness to the righteousness of God. It is not a bearing witness to what has happened inside of him first of all, but he bears witness to the mighty works of God! This is true witnessing. He reiterates this thought by saying that he will not refrain his lips, he will not stop them from bearing witness to the great things his God has done. Jehovah is called in as a witness to this truth — "O Jehovah, thou knowest."
In verse 10 he continues this thought. He had spoken of the fact that the law of God was written on his heart, but this is not sufficient. He will not hide that righteousness within his heart but will publish it abroad. He has declared, and will declare the faithfulness and the salvation of his God. The one grace tumbles over the other in these two verses! He has tasted of this faithfulness and the salvation of God. How can he then keep silence? How can you have a silent believer? The heart being filled with all the mercies the Lord has bestowed, the lips will have to speak. I have not concealed thy loving kindness and thy truth from the great assembly. David is the true man of God. He has indeed been highly favored by Him. David will now also speak of all that the Lord has done for him and thereby bring glory to the name of his God.
Jesus Christ has come to fulfill all the things David saw only in principle. He has been obedient and has also been obedient to the great missionary command. "I have glorified Thee on the earth." "I have glorified Thy name." Nowhere are the virtues and the attributes of God proclaimed more dearly than from the lips of Jesus Christ. He made the good confession when He was standing before His earthly judges. He did not refrain His lips. He came not to do His own will, but the will of Him who had sent Him. He sought not His own glory, but always glorified the Father from Whom He had come. He indeed brought the good news.
This section of this beautiful Psalm has much to teach us concerning the coming of our Savior, His purpose in coming and even in the proclamation of the good news of the gospel. There is much "witnessing" today which is no witnessing in the Biblical sense. The witnesses only testify of their own feelings. This is no true witness. We are "His witnesses!" We are to bear testimony to His greatness. This is stressed in this Psalm. This was stressed by Jesus Christ. We are His witnesses that He is God!
Questions for Discussion:
- Was there more danger of externalizing religion among the Jews of the Old Testament than among us? Explain.
- Is the law of God still important today? Should it be read in one of the services on Sunday? Is the reading of a New Testament passage just as effective?
- Is the law of God written on our hearts? When will it be? How can the heathen who do not know the law keep the law by nature (Romans 2:14, 15)?
- Is all evangelism per se good? Why or why not? How should it be judged?
- Is there a need of bearing witness to the greatness of God and His goodness to His own people? Or should this be done to those who do not know Him?