Michael Browne, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Psalm of the Burnt Offering, as this fortieth Psalm is commonly called, presents as its central theme the one perfect offering, or, obedience "unto death, even the death of the cross". It is the Godward aspect of Christ's voluntary offering of Himself upon the cross, the sweet-savour that only God could appreciate in the perfection of a sacrifice made exclusively for and to Him - this being the special emphasis of the burnt offering. Through the perfect obedience of this "poor and needy" One, not only are we "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all", Heb. 10. 10, but God has proclaimed for ever the inefficacy of all Levitical sacrifices to take away sins, Heb. 10. 1-10.
Farewell Speech of the Eternal Son. In all probability, this Psalm was the expression of David's heart when he fled from Absalom, and particularly the shame and bitterness of Shimei's cursing (compare verses 14-15 with 2 Sam. 16). But soon the heart of Messiah appears, and the Spirit uses David to voice the language and experience of David's Lord and David's Son. The inspired author of Hebrews applies the words of our Psalm, w. 6-8, to Christ, and thus draws aside the curtain of eternity allowing us to listen to the farewell speech of the Eternal Son speaking to God as He is poised on the very threshold of entrance into the world of men, Heb. 10. 5-7. We have the highest and holiest authority therefore for marking this Psalm out as Messianic.
Christ's Resurrection, 1-5, the new song of His eternal triumph.
Christ's Incarnation, and Propitiation, and sacrifice to God 6-8, "A body prepared" as an offering for a sweetsmelling savour, Eph. 5. 2.
Christ's Declaration, 9-10, to Israel.
Christ's Substitution, 11-12, for the believer.
Christ's Supplication, 13-17, for personal deliverance and judgment upon the mockers.
Christ's Resurrection and New Song, 1-5. In these verses we hear the voice of the lowly Man of sorrows who "waited patiently" till the time appointed by the Father for His sorrow to be turned into joy. The first verse lays before us the Vindication of the Patient Man who in quiet dependence and fervent prayer "waited patiently" for the deliverance of Jehovah out of the pit and mire of death. His piety was rewarded, His prayer heard and His faith vindicated, Heb. 5. 7-8. He "heard my cry" is the joyous testimony of this patient Man. Unspeakable and unfathomable depths are plumbed as Christ is made sin for us and sinks beneath the waves and billows of God's fearful wrath. "An horrible pit" (Hebrew: a pit of confused, tumultuous noise), and "miry clay" describe the terrors of that judgment. But here too is the Elevation of the Triumphant Man, v. 2, who in resurrection is ""brought up" from death by the power of Jehovah, Eph. 1. 20, His personal justification thereby manifested and the assurance given that the salvation He accomplished is fully accepted, Rom. 4.24-25. And now His ascension up to the throne as God "established" (set for ever, with no more return to humiliation and suffering) His "goings" into glory. Verse 3 shows the Jubilation of the Glorified Man as He sings the "new song" of praise to our God. His sufferings were vicarious for now He has won a bride, and together they sing redemption's eternal song, Heb. 2. 12. This song will open the eyes of many, who through its testimony to Christ's resurrection "shall trust in the Lord". Then follows a Description of the Blessed Man, v. 4, in His positive cleaving to the Lord and separation from the proud and "such as turn aside to lies". While generally true of all who "trust in Jehovah" it particularly applies to Christ. The Meditation of the Enthroned Man is the subject of verse 5 where Christ contemplates the unnumbered multitude of God's thoughts toward Him and "the many sons" which He has brought to glory. How precious is the Son and all who are associated with Him to God, that God's occupation should be to make them the centre of His thoughts and the objects of His "wonderful works". Among the future activities of heaven, the most blessed will surely be to hear the lips of the Glorified Lamb expounding to our enraptured hearts the wonderful works and precious thoughts of God that brought us to that glorious sanctuary.
Christ's Incarnation and Propitiation, 6-8. Here is the vital core of the Psalm, the unveiling of the Devotion of the Obedient Man. The Spirit of God in Hebrews 10 is unequivocal in putting these words upon the lips of the pre-incarnate Son of God, and granting us a glimpse of the holy activity, the strategies, preparations and resolves within the Godhead, that preceded the coming into manhood of the Saviour. Four things are apparent here:
We observe firstly the Abrogation of the Old, "sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire". "Sacrifice" is the peace offering; "offering" the meal offering; these, together with the burnt and sin offerings of verse 6 (the trespass offering is omitted here, being comprehended in the deeper meaning of the sin offering) are not desired by Jehovah; He takes no delight in them. So the whole system of Levitical offerings is here cancelled. Why? Because to a great extent the principles of worship, holiness and righteousness that they were intended to convey had been lost sight of, and barren formalism, hollow ceremonial and crippling hypocrisy had blotted out the reality and character of God that they were meant to portray. (Ponder carefully these Scriptures: I Sam. 15. 22; Psa. 51. 16-17; Isa. 1. 11-15; Jer. 7. 22-23; Hos. 6. 6-7; Mic. 6. 6-8; and apply them to our engaging in assembly activity today if the heart is cold and the life unresponsive to the teachings of the Master). But the main reason is that all these sacrifices and offerings looked forward to Christ; He was the Substance of which they were but the shadow, Heb. 10. 1. How could the intelligent Creator be seriously impressed with the blood of bulls and goats as a means of purging sin? - impossible!, Heb. 10. 4.
Therefore the necessity arises for the Introduction of the New, "but a body hast thou prepared me". This phrase is the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) rendering of the Hebrew "mine ears hast thou opened (digged)" and is the translation used in Hebrews 10. 5. What is meant by the Spirit's paraphrase in Hebrews 10 is that this holy prepared body was to be offered as the final sacrifice that would deal with sins for ever, Heb. 10.12,14, and sweep God's altar clear for all time of dead animal sacrifices and legal offerings. This was God's "will" - His purpose in preparing that holy body - and explains more fully what David meant by writing "mine ears hast thou opened". It was the thought of "obedience" that Psalm 40 expressed (cf. Isa. 50. 5-6), amplified in Hebrews to show the obedience of Messiah that would be worked out in a prepared body in which He would be "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross".
Thirdly, a Revelation from the Past, "in the volume of the book it is written of me". What book? The reference is undoubtedly to the Pentateuch, for at the time of David's writing little else of Hebrew scripture was extant, and the context suggests that part of the Pentateuch which dealt particularly with "sacrifice and offering", the book of Leviticus. Marvellous! for the prophetic Word thus gives full authority for seeing Christ, and His obedience unto death, writ large in the offerings and sacrifices of the Mosaic writings, cf. John 5. 39, 46. What a needful lesson this is for today, surrounded as we are by theological sophisticates who tend increasingly to ignore the Levitical sacrifices and offerings. And fourthly Joyful Submission to the Will of God3 "I delight to do thy will, O my God". Here was One who went through life so utterly conformed to the righteous requirement of the law that He says it permeated His innermost being - Holy, holy, holy Lamb of God. As the two tables of the decalogue lay unbroken within the ark as it journeyed through the wilderness, so God's law, treasured and revered, lay undisturbed in the sanctuary of His holy heart as He journeyed through life.
Christ's Declaration to Israel, 9-10. As the previous section described His priestly office, so these verses introduce the prophetic ministry of Messiah, "I have preached (lit: announced good tidings) ... in the great congregation". In this Declaration of the Faithful Man we see His life of perfect service and faithful testimony toward Israel (the great congregation). He declared what God was in His character, righteous, faithful, loving; what His requirements were from men, righteousness and truth; and what was His great provision for them, salvation. But His message was ignored and the Messenger rejected by a perverse nation, John 10. 33; Luke 19. 14.
Christ's Substitution for the Church, n-12. Again He looks back to the "horrible pit" and the confessional language He uses points to the Identification of the Sacrificing Man as He identifies Himself with men as the Substitutionary Bearer of their iniquity. How clearly the cross and all its shame come through in verse 12.
1. The final verses 13-17 expose the poignant Supplication of the Humble Man, the "poor and needy" Sufferer who, though deeply wounded by the mockery, shame and blasphemy of His enemies, is confident in Jehovah's eventual help and deliverance. For the mockers of Messiah - desolation and shame. For those who love His salvation - eternal joy as they swell the mighty chorus, "The Lord be magnified".
AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael is in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, where he serves as an elder. He worked as a missionary in Hong Kong for thirteen years and since 1972 has had an itinerant Bible teaching and gospel ministry labouring in many parts of the world.