Psalm 40

Good Times, Bad Times

Have you ever been happy in the midst of bad times? Or have you ever been sad when you should have rejoiced? Why do you feel you experienced these contradictions?

Yes, good times and bad times. Everyone experiences both in life, no matter if they are single or married, poor or rich, powerful or powerless. Happiness and sorrow are part of life's very fabric. No matter how much we try to escape the bad, we inevitably experience pain along with ecstacy.

Psalm 40 is unusual because it combined two psalms, one of praise with one of supplication. 40:1-11 praised God; 40:12-13 acted as a transition to the psalm of supplication in 40:14-18 (these verses are almost identical to Psalm 70).

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David.

1 I waited patiently for YHWH.
He turned to me, and heard my cry.
2 He brought me up also out of a horrible pit,
out of the miry clay.
He set my feet on a rock,
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God.
Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in YHWH.
4 Blessed is the man who makes YHWH his trust,
and doesn't respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.

World English Bible

The first part of the psalm (40:1-4) declared the praise of author. He waited on the Lord to act and he was not disappointed. The Lord responded to his prayer by inspiring the psalmist to "sing a new song" (i.e., declare God's new activity in the assembly). Some scholars believe these first verses came from the time of the return from Babylon, for their tone matched that of Second and Third Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66).

5 Many, YHWH, my God, are the wonderful works which you have done,
and your thoughts which are toward us.
They can't be declared back to you.
If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
6 Sacrifice and offering you didn't desire.
You have opened my ears.
You have not required burnt offering and sin offering.

Praise continued as a theme in 40:5-6. These verses included a beatitude for a loyal Israelite. The faithful who did not practice syncretism (i.e., worshiped many gods along side YHWH) were fortunate; their world view was monotheistic in practice and caused them to spread the reputation of the Jewish God.

7 Then I said, "Behold, I have come.
It is written about me in the book in the scroll.
8 I delight to do your will, my God.
Yes, your law is within my heart."
9 I have proclaimed glad news of righteousness in the great assembly.
Behold, I will not seal my lips, YHWH, you know.
10 I have not hidden your righteousness within my heart.
I have declared your faithfulness and your salvation.
I have not concealed your loving kindness and your truth from the great assembly.
11 Don't withhold your tender mercies from me, YHWH.
Let your loving kindness and your truth continually preserve me.

In 40:7-11, the author declared his personal loyalty to God; these verses reflected the beatitude of 40:5-6. The author stated that faithfulness was greater than Temple cult; the "ears open" of 40:7 echoed an ear-piercing ceremony that marked a slave's loyalty to his master. Like a devoted slave, the psalmist received the word of God (i.e., his commands found in the Torah) and proclaimed them to those assembled at the Temple. While insisting upon faithful adherence of the Law over ritual in the Temple might seem contradictory on the surface, the author actually appealed to a tradition that supported Temple cult (after all, the rituals of the Temple were spelled out in the Law itself!).

12 For innumerable evils have surrounded me.
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up.
They are more than the hairs of my head.
My heart has failed me.
13 Be pleased, YHWH, to deliver me.
Hurry to help me, YHWH.
14 Let them be disappointed and confounded together who seek after my soul to destroy it.
Let them be turned backward and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt.
15 Let them be desolate by reason of their shame that tell me, "Aha! Aha!"
16 Let all those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
Let such as love your salvation say continually, "Let YHWH be exalted!"
17 But I am poor and needy.
May the Lord think about me.
You are my help and my deliverer.
Don't delay, my God.

40:12-13 marked an abrupt shift. The psalmist did not speak of praise and proud proclamations in the assembly, but turned dramatically inward. He pleaded with the Lord for help in the midst of his sin and weakness. These verses led naturally into the psalm of supplication (40:14-18), where the author pleaded for deliverance from enemies and assured himself God would rescue him with haste.

Sometimes life points us in opposing directions. Sometimes life becomes like a roller coaster ride, where the ups and downs seem extreme. At one point we praise God openly for his goodness; at other points we hit the skids and pray for help. The changes from good times to bad and back can seem breathtaking. These extreme experiences call for prayer and the virtue of hope.

How does your spirituality and prayer life reflect your life's condition? How can prayer help you weather the times of transition in life?