Impatience inversion, Psalm 40

Many laments begin with a cry to God, but end with resting in him and waiting on his will. Psalm 40 reverses that usual order. It begins with patient rest and ends with an impatient plea.

TEASER: This psalm concludes with another striking aspect, which I’ll write about at the end of this post.

Time after time we’ve seen psalms of lament open with a cry to God as the psalmist begs for deliverance. But Psalm 40 begins with a quiet statement of confidence in God and a declaration of God’s answer to the psalmist’s plea.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure (Psalm 40:1-2, ESV).

David waited patiently until the Lord answered his cry by drawing him out of what seems a like-threatening situation. He describes it as being in the pit of destruction, in a miry bog. But God pulled him out of that literal or figurative pit and placed his feet securely on a solid rock so David can walk with confidence.

God went beyond mere deliverance to fill David’s heart with creative praise.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord (verse 3, ESV).

As God generates praise within David’s heart and mind, David shares his song with many other people. God uses his musical witness to move their hearts to trust in the Lord.

David then describes the kind of person who is blessed by God as well as ways God blesses his people.

Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told (verses 4-5, ESV).

Blessing comes from trusting in God, turning from pride, and walking in truth. God works so many wondrous deeds toward his people that he is beyond compare. David will proclaim God’s marvelous deeds, but he will never be able to tell all of them.

As we see in other scripture texts as well, God does not delight in sacrifices and burnt offerings (verses 6-8, ESV):

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

God delights in ears that are open to hearing his word. And what does David delight in? He loves God’s will and his word! He comes into the presence of God by reading and remembering his word. Evidently this psalm was written after others that declare delight in doing God’s will and hiding his word in the heart.

But there are some things David does not hide in his heart!

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation (9-10, ESV).

David doesn’t hide God’s deliverance in his heart! Just as he confessed to verbal witness in verse 3, he again confesses to public declarations of deliverance within the great congregation. David doesn’t keep God’s answers to prayer a secret; he freely shares with God’s people the glad news of God’s deliverance, faithfulness, salvation, and steadfast love.

But then we see a shift in David’s thinking.

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me (verse 11-12, ESV).

After expressing his confidence in God’s continued care far into the future, David describes a terrible crisis. Unlimited evils surround him, his own countless iniquities blind him, and his heart fails.

The psalm concludes with a petitionary section that seems extremely impatient (verses 13-17, ESV):

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

Does that text sound familiar? If you’ve recently read Psalm 70, it should! Compare the last few verses of Psalm 40 (above) to the entire five verses of Psalm 70 (below):

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let them be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life!
Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
Let them turn back because of their shame
    who say, “Aha, Aha!”

May all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you!
May those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

On this blog in the past and at a recent women’s retreat, I pointed out how Psalm 70 is like a condensed version of Psalm 69 since both express a plea for God’s speedy rescue.  But isn’t it amazing how closely these verses of Psalm 40 mirror Psalm 70. They’re almost identical, aren’t they?

And what do they tell us? Even though we know that we must wait patiently on God’s will, these texts seems to indicate that God understands that we sometimes become impatient. During those times, it would be perfectly appropriate to pray the words of these psalms. When persecutors surround us and delight in our pain, we certainly may pray for God hasten to our aid. We may say, “O Lord, do not delay!”

But when we feel poor and needy, we can remind ourselves that the Lord takes thought for us. He is our help and our deliverer. And we can pray that all who seek him will rejoice and be glad in him. While we say, “Do not delay,” we still can continually say, “Great is the Lord!”

While you seek God’s deliverance, may you rejoice and be glad in him! May you continually proclaim God’s greatness and his faithfulness, even when you pray, “Do not delay!”

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