1–2 The experience of salvation is the story of what God has done: “he turned … and heard … he lifted … he set” (vv. 1–2; cf. 116:1–2). Psalm 27 concluded on a repeated exhortation to “wait for the Lord” (v. 14), and our psalmist recounts what happens when one waits “patiently” for him (v. 1; cf. 37:7, 10, 34; 38:15; 39:7). Answer to prayer may not be immediate, but perseverance in prayer expresses itself in humble submission to God’s sovereignty and the longing for a “new” expression of God’s covenantal faithfulness (cf. 37:34; 38:15; 39:7).
In past crises the Lord had rescued the king in response to his intense and patient longing. The allusions to death and dying in the words “slimy pit,” “mud,” and “mire” (v. 2) suggest that David was seriously sick (cf. Ps 38), even to death. Healing was then salvation from the netherworld (cf. 69:2, 14), out of which the Lord “lifted” him (see Reflections, p. 663, Sheol—Grave—Death in the Psalms). But the metaphors may also express the threat to Israel’s national existence by an enemy attack. The king personified the severity of the crisis by the imagery of his own suffering and the Lord’s deliverance. The deliverance experienced personally by the king was representative of the experience of the nation.
1–3 In the opening section of the psalm, as is typical in songs of thanksgiving, the psalmist recalls a time of crisis and the divine help that delivered the psalmist from the crisis (cf. 30:2–3, 6–12). It should not be missed here that the audience to which the psalmist addresses his words is other humans. This is not yet speech to God (prayer), but speech about God (testimony). This, too, is typical of the song of thanksgiving.
Looking back on such a time, the psalmist recalls, I waited and waited for the Lord. Many versions translate the emphatic phrase with which the psalm opens, qawwōh qiwwîṯî, as “I waited patiently.” But qāwâ denotes an expectant longing for God to act, rather than a patient endurance. This is indicated clearly in 130:5–6: “I wait expectantly. My inmost being (waits expectantly) for the Lord, more than those watching for the morning, those watching for the morning.” The emphatic repetition of qāwâ only makes the translation “patiently” more inappropriate. The psalmist is recalling a desperate, impatient waiting for the Lord to deliver him from an intolerable situation. Thus, I waited and waited.
This abrupt opening announcement of the song immediately transitions into a more gentle melody. The psalmist reports, he turned and heard my cry. The verbs employed in this report, turn (nāṭâ) and heard (šāmaʿ), are typical pleas found in prayers for help (cf. 27:9; 31:2; 4:1; 17:1). By using verbs typical of the petitions in prayers for help, the psalmist is connecting the dots for his listeners—he cried to the Lord in distress, the Lord heard the cry and delivered him, and now he has come to praise God in grateful response.
The poet’s report of deliverance is rounded out and expanded through the use of two metaphors. The first metaphor draws upon vocabulary and imagery for the place of the dead. The bôr šāʾôn (desolate pit) and ṭîṭ hayyāwēn (wet clay) both refer poetically to the place of the dead, a place of separation from God (cf. 30:3; 69:2, etc.). The image, which was characteristic not only within Israel but also among Israel’s neighbors, evokes the image of a body being buried. That is, it is an image for one who was near to death (near to being buried) but was saved. The counterpart of this image is the image of having one’s feet set upon a rock, making my steps secure. Both the image of being set upon a rock or some other firm foundation (26:12; 27:5; 31:8, etc.) and the image of not stumbling/have sure steps (121:3; 30:6) are stock images for security, deliverance, and safety. These images also naturally evoke the frequent metaphor of God as the psalmists’ rock of refuge (18:2; 31:3, etc.). Thus, the metaphor powerfully communicates the experience of delivery from a near death experience, while also offering compelling and thankful testimony that the rescue came from God.
The singer closes the opening stanza of the song with a statement of confidence. The psalmist is confident that many of the faithful will respond to the thankful testimony in faith. They will see, fear, and put their trust in the Lord. The statement of confidence is a reminder that the purpose of thanksgiving and praise is testimony. Praise and thanks are not primarily for God, but for the neighbor. A slightly mixed metaphor may confuse the reader. Given the testimony, one expects “many will hear” in place of the poem’s many will see. But Hebrew they will see (yirʾû) plays poetically off of they will fear (yîrāʾû). In addition, it calls attention not only to the psalmist’s song, but to the psalmist’s entire life as testimony to God’s salvific intervention.
1. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Patient waiting upon God was a special characteristic of our Lord Jesus. Impatience never lingered in his heart, much less escaped his lips. All through his agony in the garden, his trial of cruel mockings before Herod and Pilate, and his passion on the tree, he waited in omnipotence of patience. No glance of wrath, no word of murmuring, no deed of vengeance came from God’s patient Lamb; he waited and waited on; was patient, and patient to perfection, far excelling all others who have according to their measure glorified God in the fires. Job on the dunghill does not equal Jesus on the cross. The Christ of God wears the imperial crown among the patient. Did the Only Begotten wait, and shall we be petulant and rebellious? “And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” Neither Jesus the head, nor any one of the members of his body, shall ever wait upon the Lord in vain. Mark the figure of inclining, as though the suppliant cried out of the lowest depression, and condescending love stooped to hear his feeble moans. What a marvel is it that our Lord should have to cry as we do, and wait as we do, and should receive the Father’s help after the same process of faith and pleading as must be gone through by ourselves! The Saviour’s prayers among the midnight mountains and in Gethsemane expound this verse. The Son of David was brought very low, but he rose to victory; and here he teaches us how to conduct our conflicts so as to succeed after the same glorious pattern of triumph. Let us arm ourselves with the same mind; and panoplied in patience, armed with prayer, and girt with faith, let us maintain the Holy War.
2. “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit.” When our Lord bore in his own person the terrible curse which was due to sin, he was so cast down as to be like a prisoner in a deep, dark, fearful dungeon, amid whose horrible glooms the captive heard a noise as of rushing torrents, while overhead resounded the tramp of furious foes. Our Lord in his anguish was like a captive in the oubliettes, forgotten of all mankind, immured amid horror, darkness, and desolation. Yet the Lord Jehovah made him to ascend from all his abasement; he retraced his steps from that deep hell of anguish into which he had been cast as our substitute. He who thus delivered our surety in extremis, will not fail to liberate us from our far lighter griefs. “Out of the miry clay.” The sufferer was as one who cannot find a foothold, but slips and sinks. The figure indicates not only positive misery as in the former figure, but the absence of solid comfort by which sorrow might have been rendered supportable. Once give a man good foothold, and a burden is greatly lightened, but to be loaded and to be placed on slimy, slippery clay, is to be tried doubly. Reader, with humble gratitude, adore the dear Redeemer who, for thy sake, was deprived of all consolation while surrounded with every form of misery; remark his gratitude at being upborne amid his arduous labours and sufferings, and if thou too hast experienced the divine help, be sure to join thy Lord in this song. “And set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” The Redeemer’s work is done. He reposes on the firm ground of his accomplished engagements; he can never suffer again; for ever does he reign in glory. What a comfort to know that Jesus our Lord and Saviour stands on a sure foundation in all that he is and does for us, and his goings forth in love are not liable to be cut short by failure in years to come, for God has fixed him firmly. He is for ever and eternally able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him, seeing that in the highest heavens he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Jesus is the true Joseph taken from the pit to be Lord of all. It is something more than a “sip of sweetness” to remember that if we are cast like our Lord into the lowest pit of shame and sorrow, we shall by faith rise to stand on the same elevated, sure, and everlasting rock of divine favour and faithfulness.
1–3 (A1) Fruitful waiting. Simply waiting (in hope and confidence, 1) leads to personal deliverance, security, renewal and effective public impact (2–3). 1 Waited patiently, rather ‘I only waited.’ 2 Slimy, meaning uncertain, maybe ‘noisy’/‘desolate’. 3 New, ‘fresh’, responding to ‘new’ mercies. Many. How we react to life constitutes a potent testimony and nothing is more powerful than to maintain a simple attitude of waiting trust. It is noted (see), prompts reverence for the God who responds to faith (fear) and brings others to faith (trust).
40:1 The speaker is Messiah Jesus. He waited patiently for the Lord to hear His prayer and to deliver Him out of death. Even our blessed Lord did not always receive instant answers to prayer. But He realized that delays do not necessarily mean denials. God answers prayer at the time that is best suited to the accomplishment of His purposes in our lives.
God’s help comes, not too soon,
lest we should not know
the blessedness of trusting in the
dark, and not too late,
lest we should know the misery of
trusting in vain.
40:2 The Savior likens His glorious deliverance out of death to being rescued out of a horrible pit and from a miry bog. Who can imagine what it meant to the Giver of life to step forth from the tomb as the Victor over sin, Satan, death, and the grave—alive forevermore!
Though Christ’s deliverance was unique, in a lesser sense we can all experience the power of God in saving us out of the pits and bogs of life. As we all know, life is full of these deep holes. The unconverted person who is being convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit is in a particularly horrible pit. The backslidden believer also finds himself in a treacherous quagmire. There are the bogs of sickness, suffering and sorrow. Often when we are seeking guidance, we seem to be in a dark dungeon. And of course we sometimes founder in the morass of bereavement, loneliness, or discouragement. These are unforgettable experiences, times when we pray and cry and groan but nothing seems to happen. We need to learn from our Savior’s example to wait patiently for the Lord. In God’s own time and way He will come to our side, pulling us up out of the pit, setting our feet upon a rock and making our steps secure.
40:1 Waited patiently shows faithfulness to the Lord in refraining from taking things into one’s own hands (see note at 27:14) or going to another source for help. The Lord is the only source of help for those who trust in him (40:17; 70:5).
40:2 Pit can refer to a deep well. Someone trapped in a well would probably sink down in the muddy clay and die if someone did not pull him out (Jr 38:6, 10). Figuratively the term is related to Sheol, representing death (see note at Ps 28:1). To be brought … up means to be rescued from death (30:3).
1. In waiting I waited. The beginning of this psalm is an expression of thanksgiving, in which David relates that he had been delivered, not only from danger, but also from present death. Some are of opinion, but without good reason, that it ought to be understood of sickness. It is rather to be supposed that David here comprehends a multitude of dangers from which he had escaped. He had certainly been more than once exposed to the greatest danger, even of death, so that, with good reason, he might be said to have been swallowed up in the gulf of death, and sunk in the miry clay. It, nevertheless, appears that his faith had still continued firm, for he ceased not to trust in God, although the long continuance of the calamity had well nigh exhausted his patience. He tells us, not merely that he had waited, but by the repetition of the same expression, he shows that he had been a long time in anxious suspense. In proportion then as his trial was prolonged, the evidence and proof of his faith in enduring the delay with calmness and equanimity of mind was so much the more apparent. The meaning in short is, that although God delayed his help, yet the heart of David did not faint, or grow weary from delay; but that after he had given, as it were, sufficient proof of his patience, he was at length heard. In his example there is set before us this very useful doctrine, that although God may not forth-with appear for our help, but rather of design keep us in suspense and perplexity, yet we must not lose courage, inasmuch as faith is not thoroughly tried, except by long endurance. The result, too, of which he speaks in terms of praise, ought to inspire us with increased fortitude. God may succour us more slowly than we desire, but, when he seems to take no notice of our condition, or, if we might so speak, when he seems to be inactive or to sleep, this is totally different from deceit: for if we are enabled by the invincible strength and power of faith to endure, the fitting season of our deliverance will at length arrive.
2. And he drew me out of the roaring pit. Some translate, from the pit of desolation, because the verb שאה, shaäh, from which the noun שאון, shaon, is derived, signifies to destroy or to waste, as well as to resound or echo. But it is more appropriate to consider that there is here an allusion to the deep gulfs, where the waters gush with a tumultuous force. By this similitude he shows that he was placed in as imminent peril of death as if he had been cast into a deep pit, roaring with the impetuous rage of waters. To the same purpose also is the similitude of the miry clay, by which he intimates that he had been so nearly overwhelmed by the weight of his calamities, that it was no easy matter to extricate him from them. Next, there follows a sudden and incredible change, by which he makes manifest to all the greatness of the grace which had been bestowed upon him. He declares that his feet were set upon a rock, whereas formerly he had been overwhelmed with water; and that his steps were established or upheld, whereas before they were not only unsteady and slippery, but were also stuck fast in the mire.
Ver. 1.—I waited patiently for the Lord; literally, waiting, I waited—a common Hebrew idiom, when an idea is to be emphasized. No writer enforces upon us more earnestly than David the duty of awaiting God’s pleasure (Pss. 27:14; 37:7; 62:1, 5; 69:3, etc.). And he inclined unto me; literally, bent towards me—an anthropomorphism, but most expressive. And heard my cry; i.e. answered it—gave me what I prayed for.
Ver. 2.—He brought me up also out of an horrible pit; literally, a pit of tumult or uproar, which is variously explained. Some imagine a pit with rushing water at the bottom of it, but such pits are scarcely known in Palestine. Others a pit which is filled with noise as a warrior, with crash of arms and amid the shouts of enemies, falls into it. But pits, though used in hunting, were not employed in warfare. The explanation that שׁאון here is to be taken in the secondary sense of “destruction” or “misery,” seems to me preferable (see the Septuagint, ἐκ λάκκου ταλαιπωρίας. Out of the miry clay (comp. Ps. 69:2, 14). Such “clay” would be frequently found at the bottom of disused cisterns. And set my feet upon a rock; i.e. upon solid ground, where I had a firm footing. And established my goings; literally, and make my steps firm (comp. Pss. 17:5; 18:36; 94:18).
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