Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
The following commentary covers Psalms 40 and 41.
In Psalm 40 then Christ is seen, not only in His passage through the sorrows which beset His way, if He took up the cause of the disobedient and guilty people of His love sorrows which gave Him the tongue of the learned, and enabled Him to enter into those of the tried and spared ones in the latter days, and give a voice to their cry suited to their condition before God; but primarily the deliverance in which, having waited on Jehovah in these sorrows, Jehovah's faithfulness was proved, so that He came out from them for the encouragement of many, and then the blessed key to His whole history in His having undertaken to do the will of Jehovah, the whole Jewish system under the law being thus closed and set aside. He has been perfectly faithful to Jehovah in the face of the whole congregation of Israel, yet is in the deepest sorrow and trial. So the psalm closes, and it is important it should, because the thesis of it is complete deliverance. Hence the application of this very deliverance to the sorrows of Christ, which were analogous to that of the remnant, is most precious for the remnant when they are in them.
But this principle is brought out in a very distinct way in the psalm, and makes it one of the most remarkable in this wonderful book. It brings out the connection of Christ with Israel in the remnant in the most striking way possible lays it down as a foundation for the whole teaching of the Psalms, though the circumstances are altered after Psalm 41. That Christ is personally spoken of in it, I need hardly say, as the apostle quotes it as His words, undertaking that blessed work by which figures and symbols were set aside, and which has perfected, as he tells us, the believer for ever. "Lo, I come" is the word of the Son's free offering of Himself to accomplish the whole will of God in His work here below according to the everlasting counsels of the Godhead. It is the blessed Lord's undertaking the work. His work was to obey; but He in perfect free voluntariness offers Himself for it in the delight of willingly undertaken obedience. In the great congregation of Israel, in pursuing His service to Jehovah, He had not shrunk (whatever reception He met with) from preaching righteousness had not refrained His lips. He had been faithful to His service at all cost; and it was Jehovah He thus proclaimed. His righteousness, His faithfulness, His salvation, His lovingkindness, and His truth, He had not refrained from declaring before the whole body of Israel. Such had been His service.
Then, all changes with this faithful One; for innumerable evils have compassed Him about. He looks for Jehovah's lovingkindness and truth, to whom He had been faithful. Nor is it all that evils had compassed Him, that men sought after His soul to destroy it. "Mine iniquities have taken hold on me." He says, "so that I am not able to look up." Of course, with Christ they were those of others of all the redeemed, and also particularly of Israel viewed as a nation. In this state He desires that those that seek Jehovah may be able to praise, to say continually, Let Jehovah be magnified; and that the others may be ashamed and confounded. He separates the godly remnant who seek Jehovah from those who, when He is faithfully and lovingly presented, are enemies to Him who manifests His name. Thus Christ closes His experience in this world, poor and needy, yet assured that Jehovah thinks upon Him.
He is not forsaken in what is presented here, but comes into that place, through a life of faithfulness, in which He was to undergo that dreadful moment. It is the cry when, so to speak, He confesses the sins before the victim is consumed or slain. He is in the deep sorrow of the position crying to Jehovah, not in the wrath shown in the time of His not being heard. The psalm depicts not that wrath, but the faithfulness of Christ in waiting for Jehovah when in the sorrow, rather than seek ease, or have twelve legions of angels, or drink the stupefying myrrh, or shrink back from suffering the will of God any more than He did from facing man when He preached it. He waited patiently for Jehovah; and He inclined unto Him and heard His cry. This was His perfection: no outlet from obedience sought, no shrinking, no turning back or aside. He waited for Jehovah's time in the path of perfect obedience, and it came. The time, as said of Joseph, came that His cause was known; it is not said here how or when. The object of the Spirit here was to show to the tried ones that One had gone before them in the path of sorrow and had been heard. We can say that it was fully in resurrection; but even on the cross the dark hour was passed, and with a loud voice He could commend His own spirit to His Father, and His mother to His beloved disciple.
But these are details history has given us, not prophecy; they would not have been available for the remnant. They want to know that they will be heard when waiting patiently for Jehovah. If killed, the answer will be for them in resurrection; if not, to have Israel's place in blessing, I doubt not with the Lamb on Mount Zion, as having gone through (however feebly or infirmly) like trials and sorrows in faithfulness to Jehovah in the great congregation. Do their iniquities alarm them? they are not left out. They do not yet know atonement, but they know that One, who could say, "Mine iniquities have taken hold of me," waited patiently, was heard and delivered. They wait, trusting the mercy of Jehovah, though peace be not yet known. Their iniquities have taken hold of them, so that they feel: how can they hope Jehovah will deliver them? There is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared. And the psalm assures them that One in like depths has been set free. When they look upon Him, they will judge their sins in the light of His having born them and they will find peace; but the foundation of peace is laid in hope for them here. A heart failing under iniquities, laying hold of it, can look for deliverance. It has been found (and however obscure their light, and it will be), the ground of hope is laid. Compare Isa 50:10-11, which describes this very state, consequent, as to the remnant, on Christ's being justified and helped.
But this is not all. Messiah puts Himself in this association with them. "He hath put a new song in my mouth, praise unto our God: many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in Jehovah." Blessed is the man that makes Jehovah his trust and does not trust outward prosperity nor apostatise to lying vanities. So in Verse 5 (Psa 40:5), to usward. That is, in Verse 1 (Psa 40:1), we have Christ, who has waited on Jehovah, and been heard, and brought up out of a horrible pit and miry clay. I doubt not that David's heart sung it: still it is surely Christ in prophetic purpose. But then Christ identifies Himself (though, as we have seen, distinguishing the remnant) with Israel. Praise, He says, unto our God. The effect of this is that many see it, fear, and trust in Jehovah. It acts on the remnant in the latter day, and leads them to trust in Jehovah. They can trust for deliverance too; many will. His preaching righteousness to the great congregation gathered a little flock. His deliverance as the suffering One will be blessed to many. Who hath begotten me all these? says Zion in that day. This may take in the ten tribes too; still, as a principle, a multitude will be there. It was not so at Christ's first coming. He was to be a despised and rejected One in His own history and trial.
Verse 5 (Psa 40:5). These are the thoughts of Jehovah in blessing. This leads to the great thought, the center and groundwork of it all Christ coming to do Jehovah's will. Now, we can comment, or, still better, the Spirit of God has commented for us, on the value of His doing Jehovah's will. Here we have much more the faithfulness of Christ in doing it, His being overwhelmed with iniquities taking hold of Him in His own spirit, as we see in Gethsemane, but deliverance. We must remember that the confession of sins over the head of the sacrifice was not the slaying, or casting into the fire, of the victim. So Christ's acknowledging thus, or confessing the iniquities with which He was charging Himself as His, was not His enduring the wrath, nor His being cut off out of the land of the living. Dreadful indeed it must have been to Him, as we see in the Gospels, and He saw all that was coming upon Him by reason of it; still it was essentially different confessing the sins and bearing the wrath due to them. His confession of sins His people must (I will not say imitate, but) take up in the knowledge that those He confessed were their own; and may, till grace is fully known, do it with dreadful anguish and apprehension of the wrath to come. It is this which particularly, besides outward trials, constitutes the analogy between the Jewish remnant and the Lord. The wrath endured in atonement, we know, He endured that we never might.
In this psalm then we see Christ, according to the eternal counsels of God, come to do God's will in human nature, taking His place in the midst of the great congregation of Israel, suffering most deeply in consequence, getting into the horrible pit, but His trust is firm in Jehovah. He waited patiently for Him, and He is brought up, and a new song put into His mouth. The first three Verses (Psa 40:1-3) state the great fact: Jehovah heard and delivered out of the horrible pit. It is a lesson for all the remnant. How blessed is the man who trusts Jehovah, and does not look at the appearance of persons to turn aside after vanity! Then we get the course of events. Wonderful have been Jehovah's counsels. Christ comes to do His will as a man, delights to do it, declares Jehovah's righteousness before all. This brings Him into the greatest distress. Evils come upon Him unnumbered, and, besides that, His iniquities (those of His people) come upon Him; but patience has its perfect work, and He is perfect and complete in all the will of God; and, as the psalm shows at the beginning, He is delivered, as we well know. But, as already said, the psalm recites His faithfulness especially. Hence we see Him up to the close of the trial still under it. What He asks for is that the ungodly, being found His enemies, may be set aside; but that the poor of the flock may be able to praise, rejoice, and be glad in Jehovah.
It is beautiful to see His perfect patience in the trial, that the whole will of God may be accomplished, and seeking the joy and full blessing of the poor remnant; yet Himself taking the place of complete dependence on Jehovah, and praying for His coming in as God. Obedience and dependence are the two characteristics of the acting of the divine life in man towards God. It may be remarked here that the testimony in the congregation is closed when the innumerable evils come upon Him. The preface of the psalm speaks of the horrible pit when He is out of it, and we know whereunto He was obedient; but His death is not spoken of here. In the body of the psalm we have, as come to do God's will, His faithfulness in life as witness, and the evils that came upon Him at the close when He had to meet the burden of the iniquity of His people. The fourth Verse (Psa 40:4) applies to the remnant the result of Christ's faithfulness for instruction and encouragement.
A few words on the expression, "opened my ears." The word is not the same as in Exodus 21. There it is attaching the ear with an awl to the door post; the man thus became a servant for ever. Nor is it the same as in Isaiah 50, where it has the signification of being so completely a servant to His Master's will that He received His commands morning by morning. Here it is "digged ears" that is, took the place of a servant). But this He did, as may be seen in Philippians 2, by becoming a man. Hence the Spirit accepts the interpretation of the LXX "a body hast thou prepared me." Compare John 13 (which answers in point of time to Exodus 21); Luk 12:37, and Co1 15:28.
Psalm 41 shows the blessedness of the man who understands this position of the poor of the flock and enters into it (compare Mat 5:3; Luk 6:20). It is spoken in the person of one of the suffering remnant doubtless with the psalmist's own experience. It is one of the psalms in which Christ takes up an expression to show how, in the close of His life, when He entered into their sorrows, He tasted fully their bitterness. Still the poor man is upheld in his integrity, and set before Jehovah's face. The apparent triumph of the wicked is short.
This closes the book. It is the experience, as a whole, of the remnant before they are driven out, or at the least of those who are not so. And the covenant name of Jehovah is used. Hence, the place of Christ is entered into, so far as He came and set Himself amongst the poor of the flock upon earth, and led the life of sorrow and integrity in the midst of evil. Of this last psalm He is not the subject, as Verse 4 (Psa 41:4) shows.
We have seen an introduction in the first eight psalms, in which the whole scene is brought before us in its principles and result in the purpose of God; then in Psalms 9, 10, the actual historical circumstances of the Jews in the latter day. Thus, as to historical facts, their state forms the groundwork and subject of the whole book; while the way in which Christ could enter into their sorrows, and they be encouraged by His example, is fully introduced. His whole life amidst the nation is passed in review; but particularly the close, when, after declaring God's righteousness in the great congregation, He passed into the deep sufferings of the last hours of His passage on earth, going on to His being forsaken of God. Yet it was for Him surely for us, blessed be God the path of life.
Psalm 40 has this peculiar interest, that it gives us, not merely the history of Christ, His faithfulness, but His freely offering Himself to accomplish all that the Father's counsels required of Him; and then shows Him waiting in obedience till Jehovah was pleased to come in. And then He has the new song to sing. Of this intervention of God the resurrection was the grand witness; through which, as we have seen in Psalm 22, He has awakened, or rather created, it in so many other hearts. As is common, the first three Verses (Psa 40:1-3) give the thesis the rest all that led up to this: only here it is traced from His first offering Himself to do it.
The reader will remark in Psalm 41 what we have noticed as characterising the remnant the acknowledgment of sin ((Psa 41:4)), and the declaration of integrity ((Psa 41:12)). We have Christ using it as to Himself, showing, though the psalm be not of Him, how He took the place to which the spirit of the whole applies. The proud and wicked could despise and trample upon the meek and lowly, and perhaps chastened, remnant. Here it is more the false and treacherous spirit of those whom he ought to have been able to trust. Blessedness is with those who understand, the meek and lowly ones who are chastened, for they understand the Lord's ways; the meek one himself looks to the Lord when His hand is upon him. The point of the psalm is the blessedness of those who understand and enter into the position of those with whom Jehovah is dealing. This place, Christ fully took, though not chastened with sickness.