Psalm 40 - I have told the glad news
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1) I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2) He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3) 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.
4) Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
5) You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
6) Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7) Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8) I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9) I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10) I have not hidden your saving help 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.
11) Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe forever.
12) For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
13) Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
14) Let all those be put to shame and confusion
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who desire my hurt.
15) Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16) But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17) 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.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
This psalm is rooted in testimony. The Lord heard my cry, he lifted me out of the mire, established me on solid ground, and gave me the gift of praise. There is a new and glorious song in my mouth. And I want to go tell it on the mountain, I want to tell everyone what God has done for me.
God has been "gooder than good." God has acted on my behalf, delivering me from whatever pit I was in. While there are real enemies, so often we are complicit in our own destruction. Here we are able to recognize that "my iniquities have overtaken me." The combination of my own faults and those who wish me evil have brought me to despair: "my heart fails me."
"Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me..." And so she did. The psalm does not detail the precise form of rescue. But it repeats in multiple dimensions, God's personal act of salvation. I may have been in the depths - but you did not require me to be right. You did not ask me to act pious or perform rituals for you to draw near, to listen to my misery and hear my plea.
You know how bad it was. My sins took over me. I suffered trouble after trouble. Against that, I have only your steadfast love. And that is everything.
You are changing my sight and my insight. No longer can I give any credit to what the world worships. Your Word has become part of me. And I can't hide that even if I wanted to.
You, O God, are what I proclaim. Your mercy, your power, your wonders-worked. I cannot forget, nor keep silent about, how you delivered me. For no reason other than your love.
Yet this is not a "one and done" story. One of the interesting features of this psalm is the way in which it moves back and forth, between praise and thanks for the deliverance which has already been achieved, and also makes a plea for help in the present tense. My need for your help, O Lord, continues in real time. I am still poor and needy. And still, the Lord "takes thought for me."
So let me sing that new song from my heart, again this day.
Chris Hunkeler, Belting Out the Vocals, Reuben M. Koroma of the Refugee All Stars, August 10, 2012. Used under (CC BY 2.0). The Refugee All Stars is a band formed by already accomplished musicians when war forced them from their homeland into the border camps of Guinea. Discovering one another and forging a musical family, they began entertaining other camp residents. Since their return to Sierra Leone after the civil war, they band has toured to raise awareness for humanitarian causes.
The Message translation, by Eugene Peterson, was particularly helpful in shifting some of how I heard the psalm.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.