Psalm 40 I waited, I waited ... My God, do not tarry!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I had posted Psalm 40 a week ago. I used it again as a prayer during my devotion this morning. It is such a beautiful psalm. Terrien in his commentary divided the psalm into 2 parts: Part One (v.1-12) with 5 strophes and Part Two (v.13-18) with 3 strophes.

(This post is dedicated to Noel who gave me Terrien's commentary on the psalms as an early Christmas gift. Thank you Noel, God bless you!)

Part One Strophe 1
I waited, I waited for the Lord;
...He inclined toward me, and he heard my cry.
He draw me from the pit of roaring waters,
...From the mire of mud,
And he set me standing, my feet on a rock,
...With my steps secure.

He placed in my mouth a new song,
...A hymn of praise for our God!

This strophe deals with praise and thanksgiving, rather than lament but the background of the entire psalm is dire indeed. I particularly like Terrien's interpretation of the first verse: "I waited, I waited for the Lord." The psalmist has been in a pit and in mud - literal or symbolical. There are some times in our lives that we would be in such a state - dumped deep into a hole and enmired in mud we can't get out off. And when we are pulled out of such a situation and set on firm rock, standing, how glorious we would feel, that we will burst out in song of praise to our God who came and inclined towards us to save us.

Part One Strophe 2
Many will see and fear;
...They will have confidence in the Lord.
Happy is the strong man
...Who has placed his confidence in the Lord,
And has not turned to the arrogant ones,
...Glutted with lies!

The Hebrew religion back then communicated itself chiefly by word and silence through oracular revelation - through patriachal and Mosaic theophanies and the sermons of the great prophets. It is therefore a visual process - "many will see and fear." Our lives is a witness of God's goodness to the others around us. We should always remember that and present ourselves with the glory of God shown in our faces for we bear his light. Many a days I trod along with a gloomy spirit about me which is really not a good thing to do, for Paul says "Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice!" (Phi 4:4) for we have placed our confidence in the Lord and not upon lies of mere men.

Part One Strophe 3
Thou thyself has multiplied, O Lord
...My God, thy marvels,
And thy grand designs in our favour!
...None may be compared to thee!
I wish to reveal and to recite them;
...They are too numerous to count.

As the psalmist goes along, he becomes more intimate in his expression of gratitude to "my God" for all the things God has done "in our favour". Just how many times have we forgotten to offer him thanksgivings for all that he has done for us? How many times have we remained in our murmurings and complaints when his blessings are really "too numerous to count"? Forgive us O God, and teach us to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18).

Part One Strophe 4
Thou desirest neither sacrifice nor offering;
...Thou hast opened my ears.
...Thou demandest neither holocaust nor expiatory gift.
Then I said, Behold I come!
...In the scroll of a book [it is] written of me,
"To do thy good pleasure, my God, I delight!
...For thy law is in the midst of my inner being."

For the psalmist who lived in times where his life evolves around rituals and sacrifices, these lines are revolutionary. These gifts and sacrifices are neither God-required or God-desired. He said at once, "Behold, I come!" - doesn't it reminds us of Isaiah's "Here I am, send me!" (Isa 6:8) or even better, Paul's appeal "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1).

Part One Strophe 5
I shall announce righteousness in the great assembly
...Behold, I shall not keep my lips shut;
...Lord, thou surely knowest!
I did not conceal thy justice in my heart;
...Thy truth and thy salvation I have proclaimed;
I have covered up thy goodness and thy fidelity
...Before the great assembly.

Lord, surely thou wilt not withhild thy compassion from me!
...Thy goodness and fidelity will protect me always.

A fitting conclusion to Part One - we must be committed to speak about the righteousness and goodness of God wherever we are.

Part Two Strophe 1
Disasters have surrounded me;
...They are without number.
My faults have overtaken me;
...I cannot even see [thee].
They are more numerous than the hairs of my head,
...And my courage is abandoning me.

Part Two starts with a new cry of distress, with the psalmist insisting that "numberless" disasters have befallen him, just as he had previously celebrated the "numberless" marvels God had accomplished for his people. In the traditional form of lament, he accuses himself of his own fault and in a hyperbolic style, he now faces the dark prospect of despair: "My courage is abandoning me." This impresses upon me one thing: problems will always beset us. It brings one back to the lament and God's love of v.1: "I waited, I waited for the Lord; He inclined toward me, and he heard my cry." It certainly keeps us on our toes - my good pastor once said, "the devil won't be bothered with someone dead to Christ." Having to face problems after problems just show that we are very much alive in Christ.

Part Two Strophe 2
Be pleased to deliver me Lord!
...Hasten to succor me, Lord!
Let them altogether be ashamed and confused,
...Those who seek my life to snatch it!
Let them fall backward and be dishonoured,
...Those who desire my ruin!

Not only sinfulness but also the hostility of advesaries: this is the second feature of the conventional forms of lament.

Part Two Strophe 3
Let them be ravaged on account of their shame,
...Those who say, Ah! Ah!
But let all those who seek thee
...Be thrilled and rejoice in thee!
Let them say ceaselessly, May the Lord be magnified!
...Those who love thy salvation!

I am poor and humble;
...Let my Lord take thought of me!
Thou art my help and my liberator;
...My God, do not tarry!

Condemnation and sneering - "Ah! Ah!" - will still besiege us but praising and rejoicing should never stop. The psalmist concludes with an ultimate confession of poverty and humility with an urgent plea of deliverance: "My God, do not tarry!" Our hope and our help entirely rest on our God. Oh God, indeed do not tarry as we wait and wait and wait - you will ultimately incline towards us. We believe, help our unbelief! (Mar 9:24)

Picture by Amir Darafsheh

Samuel Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003): 335-41

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6 comment(s)

  1. Super post, Maeghan. Thank you.

  2. Yes Maeghan, thank you for that. It brings tears to my eyes today.

  3. CP,
    Am glad to be able to share. His Word is indeed alive and sharper than any double-edged sword.

  4. Julia,
    The psalms really touch our hearts - all 150 of them each at every point of our lives.

  5. Sorry I have to change the picture - the first one proved too intense for my liking.