A Sermon on Psalm 40
One of the best-known Psalms among our contemporaries is Psalm 40. No doubt, this is because the Irish band U2 closed out their concerts for many years with a very moving rendition of it, in which huge audiences sang along with the band. As written, Psalm 40 reflects the author’s (David) thanksgiving for deliverance from urgent danger. In light of this sense of immediate need for deliverance of which David is speaking, John Calvin–who was very reticent to speak about himself–describes his conversion as being pulled from the mire of his addiction to the papacy, a direct reference to verse 2 of this particular Psalm. Calvin goes on to say, “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life.” In light of this Psalm’s historic importance, and current familiarity, I thought Psalm 40 would be a good place to begin as we spend the next few weeks surveying select Psalms.
The Book of Psalms was the hymnal of ancient Israel. The Psalter is also one of the most beloved portions of God’s word, provides Christ’s church with much of its song, and also serves as the foundation for the devotional life of God’s people. My goal in preaching on the Psalms is to direct our attention to them so as to stir in our hearts a desire to read, study, reflect upon, and sing this wonderful portion of God’s word. The more we know about the Book of Psalms, the greater our desire to read and sing them as God’s people have done throughout the ages.
The Psalter is composed of 150 songs which reflect the entire range of human emotion–from despair to jubilation. Although the Psalter was written by different authors over the course of much of Israel’s history, most Psalms are closely tied to the life and times of David (Israel’s most prominent king). Many of the Psalms reflect Israel’s worship of YHWH during this turbulent period in the nation’s history. There are a number of different types and genres of Psalms. There are Psalms of praise, Psalms of lament (sixty-seven of them), there are imprecatory Psalms (which invoke God’s judgment on his enemies), there are messianic Psalms (which prefigure the coming of Christ), there are “enthronement” Psalms (which speak of God as king and ruler of all), there are wisdom Psalms (which reveal to us wisdom from God), and there are Psalms of trust, (which express confidence in God’s power, and in God’s faithfulness in keeping his covenant promises). And then, there is the famous “shepherd Psalm,” the twenty-third Psalm.
There are also a number of names attached to the 150 Psalms (i.e., David, Solomon, Moses, Asaph, the Sons of Korah). 73 of the Psalms are ascribed to David (king of Israel). Twelve Psalms are ascribed to Asaph (who was one of David’s three temple musicians, along with Heman and Jeduthun). Eleven Psalms are ascribed to the Sons of Korah (who were a guild of temple singers), three are ascribed to Jeduthun (a Levite), two are connected to Solomon, as well as one each to Moses, Heman (a grandson of Samuel), and Ethan (a symbol player in David’s court and thought by some to be another name for Jeduthun). The remainder of the Psalms are unattributed. With the exception Moses, the others to whom various Psalms are ascribed are mentioned throughout the two books of Chronicles, so we know certain details about them and their service of YHWH. Even through not all of the Psalms were written by David, it is reasonable to speak, as many do, of the “Psalms of David” since the vast majority of them are ascribed to David or his known associates.
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