Psalm 41


Faith of the Sick


For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David.


1 Blessed is he who considers the poor.
YHWH will deliver him in the day of evil.
2 YHWH will preserve him, and keep him alive.
He shall be blessed on the earth,
and he will not surrender him to the will of his enemies.
3 YHWH will sustain him on his sickbed,
and restore him from his bed of illness.
4 I said, “YHWH, have mercy on me!
Heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies speak evil against me:
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
6 If he comes to see me, he speaks falsehood.
His heart gathers iniquity to itself.
When he goes abroad, he tells it.
7 All who hate me whisper together against me.
They imagine the worst for me.
8 “An evil disease,” they say, “has afflicted him.
Now that he lies he shall rise up no more.”
9 Yes, my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted,
who ate bread with me,
has lifted up his heel against me.
10 But you, YHWH, have mercy on me, and raise me up,
that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you delight in me,
because my enemy doesn’t triumph over me.
12 As for me, you uphold me in my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.

13 Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel,
from everlasting and to everlasting!

Amen and amen.


World English Bible


Have you faced a major illness? How did this misfortune change your prayer life?


Major illness and near death experiences have the potential for conversion. Many people have pointed to these events as life-changing moments. Some turn to God and change their lives. Others no longer fear death. Still others deliberately set out to reconcile with enemies and dedicate their lives towards the common good. Most of these people who experience a life-change can point to a moment of prayer that marked the crossroad between their old life and their new one. They called out to God for deliverance and he answered their prayer. Their desperation turned to hope.


This psalm is a petition of the sick, wrapped in a prayer of hope. It can be divided into three sections: a beatitude for a righteous man who falls ill, a prayer for mercy for the sick man, and a doxology of the recovered. The tone of the psalm created an “A-B-A” structure: praise, petition, praise.


The background for the psalm lie in the ancient world view of the spirit realm. While goodness could be attributed to God directly, misfortune could be blamed on malevolent spirits and the evil of humanity. In other words, sin caused illness (through the agency of evil spirits); health was God’s reward for righteousness. If malevolent spirits had influence in the physical world, evil people could invoke such spirits to cause the misfortune of others. Ancient societies believed spells and curses had bodily effects.


With this in mind, notice the beatitude was addressed to the righteous. They could survive major illness because of the direct intervention of the Lord. God preserved such people, fulfilled the promises he made to the patriarchs (i.e., the land), and delivered them from physical/spiritual enemies. If the righteous should undergo deadly disease (believed to be the attack of an evil spirit), God would sustain them, even on their deathbeds.


The tone of the psalm now shifted from a beatitude of the righteous to the petition of a repentant sinner. The voice of the psalm shifted from third person (“they”) to first person (“I”). The sick man implicitly acknowledged the connection between his sin and his state of affairs, yet he called out for health so he could re-balance the scales of justice. The sick man saw visitors as self-seeking; their sympathy was false and their behavior was two dimensional. They whispered behind the back of the penitent and wished the worse; such comments could have been malicious gossip, but the wording hinted at spells and curses. Only God could act against such powers and restore the sinner to his place in the community.


The doxology of the psalm assumed recovery. The illness was gone and the reputation of the healed was restored. The former sinner was forgiven and vindicated. He now stood in the presence of the Lord forever.


While we might not attribute the power of direct physical intervention to demonic forces, the power of sickness can cause us to pray. Illness is a time to appreciate the fragile nature of life. It is an invitation to come closer to the Lord, for, in our weakness, we find strength in him.


Obviously, personal illness is not the only time to pray, but we should remember the sick in our prayers. Sometimes how the sick carry their burdens can inspire us.