The 40 I am referring to is not my age. It is Psalm 40. We read Psalm 40 at breakfast the other week, and I thought it would be an excellent Psalm to reflect on for my morning bible readings. I’ve therefore been trying to read it slowly and reflectively.
The first thing that struck me about it was the first line – in most English translations:
“I waited patiently for the LORD”
I always have trouble when I read “patient” in these sort of contexts. To me it conjures up an image of something like sitting quietly in a restaurant waiting for the food to arrive. It conjures up a scene when one is supposed to be still and quiet and polite. However that doesn’t seem like the situation David faces. He is trapped in a deep pit. He is desperate for God’s help. And he never sounds particularly patient.
So I checked out the Hebrew and realised that it didn’t say patiently. It says literally “waiting I waited for the LORD”. That doesn’t make a lot of sense in English, but in Hebrew it intensifies and emphasises the verb – and context will often determine how. One alternative translation suggests “I waited eagerly”. Perhaps “I waited desperately”, or “I waited longingly” might capture something of the need for God to act that David feels.
Essentially he is saying he has put all he has into waiting for the LORD to act, because the LORD is all he has – that will become clear as the next verses are read. He has been in a pit of destruction, in a miry bog with no way out. Life can feel like that at times to one degree or another. At one time or another we all reach the end of our resources and ability to cope. Such times are not like sitting quietly at a table waiting, rather they are the like the stranded victims of a flood waiting desperately for the sound of the helicopter overhead bringing rescue.
The encouragement from Psalm 40 is the actions God takes. First of all in v1: “He turned to me and he heard my cry”. David was crying out – so his waiting was a reasonably noisy waiting – he has been calling out, longing for God to take action. The word for cry here is first used in Exodus 2:23 of the Israelites crying out under the Egyptian oppression. It is a cry that God hears.
Here it caught my attention that God first turns, and then hears. This sounded at first like God needs to turn to really hear what is being said, which would be a bit odd. I think on reflection that what is being said here is that God, hearing the cry of David turns, and then really pays attention and listens to the cry. Sometimes my children cry out to me and I “hear” them, but it is only when I actually turn to them and pay attention that I really hear what their cry is all about.
Here it is in the act of God’s turning to the cry of his people that he really hears what they are saying. The encouragement here for us is that God does hear, God does pay attention and God does actually get it. He turns so that he can listen to us properly. He’s not like the adult who picks the child up, gives them a hug and a pat and sets them down, but never listens. He’s like the parent who stoops down, listens to what is actually going on and prepares to do something about it.
In this case God’s action is to lift David out of his pit and put his feet on solid rock. He gives him a solid foundation to stand from. Just as God lifted the Israelites out of Egypt so he lifted David up out of the pit. He does this so that many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. This rescue is a bigger rescue than just an individual rescue, it is a rescue that impacts others. A rescue that causes others to trust in God.
There is more to say than I can form words for now. As we approach Easter week though, it is good to remember that God’s act of lifting Jesus up from the grave is God doing what God does – God following through on his pattern of work in the Old Testament – and a promise that God will one day do it on a cosmic scale for his broken, groaning world. Meantime we, like David, live in a world of deep pits and muddy clay, yet like David know a God who lifts our feet onto a solid rock, and gives us a new song to sing – a song that calls many to trust and look forward to the day when the pits will be finally destroyed for ever, and we will know that God has rescued us, and all who trust him, for good.