29 October 2013

Psalm 40

“We'll praise him for all that is past, and trust him for all that's to come.” Joseph Hart, This, this is the god we adore (Singing the Faith 67)


Psalm 40 is a prayer that affirms that God's past salvation means hope for the future. It begins with an assertion that the psalmist's personal experience of salvation is the story of what God has done: "he inclined ... and heard.... he drew ... and set" (vv. 1-2). This has come from waiting patiently upon God to act (verse 1). As a description of salvation, the imagery of being lifted out of desolation and the mire of uncertainty (verse 2) and set upon a rock - ie the firm foundation of God - where future direction can be confidently sought ("steps secure") is powerful. The psalmist's response to God's action is joyous praise and an affirmation that the acts of God inspire the Lord's people with the sense of awe at divine power (verse 3).

The psalmist both proclaims the blessedness of God's protection and exhortspeople not to depend on human strength or idolatry (verse 4). There are two paths open and the psalmist leaves the reader in no doubt as to which one brings fulfilment. Such fulfilment results from the actions and thoughts of God, incomparable and too numerous to record (verse 5). For the psalmist, choosing to place oneself under the protection of such a God is, in modern parlance 'a no-brainer'.

The psalmist then goes on to make a personal declaration of commitment to God, who is not impressed by the formalism of ritual (verse 6) but rather in a life gladly devoted in service: "Here I am … I delight to do your will" (vv. 7-8). These verses are related in the New Testament to 'the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all' (Hebrews 10:5-9), the ultimate demonstration of God's inclination to humanity through self-sacrifice upon the cross.

God's inclination towards humanity, says the psalmist, should not be kept a secret through "restrained lips" (v. 9) but rather the story of God's faithfulness, salvation and steadfast love (verse 10) need to be shared as an encouragement to all God's people to hope in the future. It is, for the psalmist, time to talk of God!

To Ponder

  • To what extent is the imagery of salvation as being lifted from a place of uncertainty and desperation to a place of safety and security in God a helpful one for you? What other images have resonance for you?
  • When sharing your experience of God in your life with others, what is the most exciting part of the story?

Bible notes author

The Revd Tim Woolley