The circumstances under which King David penned this Psalm is unknown, although some commentators had speculated that it was likely written during the monarchical period when the King experienced divine deliverance from a crisis in the past and was praying in the midst of a renewed calamity. The past event alluded to was David regaining his throne following Absalom’s usurpation (viz., Ps 40:4 and Psalm 40:14). The theme of the Psalm is revealed in the first verse: doing God’s will at times requires us to wait patiently. However, contrary to the standard translation, David’s testimony on ‘waiting‘ for God to come to his aid in an intolerable situation was characterised by a prolonged persevering belief (i.e., ‘an expectant longing’ with the emphatic double qawwoh qiwwiti; Ps 40:1). And, as though he suddenly found observers witnessing his new redemptive song, he publicly declared his thanksgiving and praised God (Ps 40:2-3). God’s gracious liberation in the past was not missed by King David as he was entirely cognizant of how intertwined his life was with what Yahweh had planned for His people and nation, despite their unfaithfulness. Our trust and faith in God are in direct contrast to the reality of God’s sovereignty in our lives but invariably moderated by our deep-rooted idolatrous propensity. King David reiterated a similar sentiment for his onlookers, that their dependence on pride and entities or objects that offer them a false sense of security would erode their confidence and faith in Yahweh (Ps 40:4).
Then David turned his attention, away from his listeners, and addressed his Creator (Ps 40:5-17). His high view of allowing God to be God in his life speaks volumes about his understanding of his role as a sinner in his Master’s economy; for the simple fact that he knew that his name had been written in the scroll of the book (c.f., the Book of Life, Rev 3:5; Rev 21:27). Its implication did not escape King David’s convictions: the evidence of Almighty God’s numerous blessed thoughts towards him throughout his life’s circumstances (Ps 40:5, 7; c.f., Ps 139:13-16; James 1:17; Heb 13:8), and the only way he could have known that was an unambiguous relationship with his Lord. What was David’s response to God’s uninterrupted faithfulness to him? Although religious obligations were necessary, he knew they were insufficient (Ps 40:6), and what was required was ‘a pierced ear’; an attitude of permanent servanthood that recognises God’s voice immediately to do His will (Ps 40:6, 8; c.f., Ex 21:2-6; Heb 10:1-10), and David modelled this for us by dedicating himself to obey God unconditionally (c.f., Rom 12: 1-2). Out of that irreversible commitment comes an unflinching public proclamation thereafter – unashamedly witnessing to God’s truth in His faithfulness and righteousness (Ps 40:9-10).
In the final segment, King David petitioned God for assistance on a current intractable issue (Ps 40:11-17). First, he pleads for forgiveness over his own sins. The fact of the matter is that as we become more aware of God’s holiness, our own sense of sinfulness and depravity become more pronounced, but by God’s grace, He comforts us as our human failings and vices increasingly haunt us (Ps 40:12-13). Besides, He is fully aware of our enemies’ unjustified accusations and threats to our lives and He is able to assuredly deliver us (Ps 40:13-15). King David eventually testified that those who sought the Lord’s salvation would rejoice in His greatness, magnifying Him to all (Ps 40:16), and because God is God, He is to be trusted in His faithfulness towards those who eternally belong to Him (Ps 40:17). “You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.”