Vol. 3, No. 3
In Hebrews 10:5-7, the writer quoted three verses from this Psalm.
According to the inspired author of that book, in these verses our Lord Jesus Christ was speaking to the Father at a time when Jesus was leaving heaven to come into this world.
For this reason there are very few, if any Christian scholars to doubt that this Psalm is Messianic in its import.
In this Psalm, as well as in many others of the Psalms, one has a difficult time in trying to determine what is spoken by the writer, and that which is spoken of the Messiah.
It would seem logical to believe if Christ is doing the speaking in verses 6-10 of the Psalm, he would be doing the speaking throughout the Psalm, but not necessarily so because in verse twelve there is a confession of sin which certainly could not be attributed to the Messiah for he was, and is, the sinless Son of God.
In addition to this there are in verses fourteen and fifteen prayers which some scholars regard as incompatible with the spirit of forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.
Milligan handles this problem in the following words in his commentary on Hebrews: "This citation is from the fortieth Psalm, and has reference primarily to David as a type of Christ; and secondarily to Christ himself as the antitype." Milligan goes on to say: "David speaks; but Christ, whose Spirit already dwells and works in David, and who will hereafter receive from David his human nature, now already speaks in him."1
Because David was speaking as the antitype of Christ the language can shift from the lofty language of the Son of God to mundane language of the earth-bound king of Israel.
David is speaking on behalf of the Messiah and on behalf of himself!
That David is the author of the Psalm has never been seriously doubted by students of the Bible, but what the occasion was for its writing students are not sure. Some think:
It was written after a particularly close call when Saul was seeking David to try to take his life.
Others believe the Psalm was written after Absalom had rebelled against his father, and drove David and his royal family out of Jerusalem.
Others say that it reflects his sense of sin after his adultery with Bathsheba.
These, at best, can only be speculations so we will not attempt to defend any of them over another.
The Psalm has six divisions:
It speaks of a great deliverance (vv. 1-4).
Of the works and words of God (vv. 5-8).
The proclamation of good news (vv. 9-10).
A petition to God (vv. 11-13).
The prediction of defeat of the enemy (vv. 14-16).
The expression of confidence in God's deliverance (v. 17).
We will attempt to study the Psalm, adhering as closely as we can to those divisions just mentioned.
The Great Deliverance (verses 1-4).
The Messianic psalms emphasize that the Father responded to the Messiah's cries for help, and how he did that.
Jehovah inclined his ear and heard the cry of his Son (v. 1).
The word picture is that of Yahweh leaning forward to catch a faint and distant sound which is the cry of his Son.
We think, almost immediately, of the numerous times Jesus prayed to the Father while on the earth, in particular those agonizing cries in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Messiah next describes the ordeal through which he went as a horrible pit filled with miry clay in which there was no firm footing.
Our minds go almost immediately to the case of Jeremiah who was thrown into a pit of mud by the princes of Judah during the latter part of the reign of Zedekiah in Jeremiah 38:6. Here there was no firm footing.
The Messiah was delivered from that very difficult (understatement) experience, and his feet were set on a rock (v. 2).
Jesus, at the time of his crucifixion, was slowed, or hampered, in his work of redemption, but he was delivered from the grave and resumed his ministry in behalf of man, and to the glory of God.
In verse three, we have the new song that was put in the Messiah's mouth, a song of praise to God who had given the Messiah the victory over his enemies.
This is the same thought that is found near the end of Psalm Twenty-Two.
As a result of the Messiah's victory many people will come to fear and to trust his Father.
In the next verse (v. 4) there is a beautiful beatitude (blessing) pronounced on those who continue to trust in Jehovah.
"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust." Happy and approved of God is the man who trusts in Jehovah. Trust, of course, implies faith in Jehovah.
Notice two negative aspects of this beatitude.
Blessed is the man who does not respect the proud. (The idea of the proud in this verse refers to the man who would, in his arrogance, give up his worship and service to Jehovah to worship and serve some dumb idol, or some other falsehood.)
Blessed is the man who does not turn aside from Jehovah to lies. (This is a parallelism, and states for emphasis sake the same truth that was just spoken in the first negative part of the verse.
The Messiah Speaks of the Works and Words of Jehovah (verses 5-8).
In verse five, we have a prayer which is an expression of the Messiah's praise for the Father.
He speaks of the wonderful works which God has done, which are demonstrations of his mercy upon his own people.
These works of God result from the incomparable wisdom of Jehovah which are seen in his thoughts toward us.
These works of God, toward mankind, cannot be numbered or counted.
Then, in verse 6, the Messiah points out that there will be an ending to the sacrificial system of Moses.
He names sacrifices, offering, burnt-offering, and sin-offering will no longer be required.
These were the four basic sacrifices under the law of Moses and of them it is said that God would no longer require them. Why?
Because after Yahweh had completed his work, and the Messiah had come to redeem men from unrighteousness, the perfect sacrifice of Christ would have been made, and there would no longer be a need for the sacrifices of the Old Testament, since they were but shadows of that which was to come in Christ.
It is true that the Old Testament sacrifices were very important as types and shadows, and that through them God pointed to a time when the Perfect Sacrifice would be made upon the earth that had the power to completely cleanse from sin.
But we should point out that even under the law of Moses, when the religion of the Jews degenerated into meaningless rituals, God refused to accept their offerings. (See: 1 Samuel 2:12-17; 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-12; Amos 5:21-24; Malachi 1:7-8.)
Even under the law of Moses, God wanted his people to sacrifice as a result of their faith and love; God wanted obedient hearts. (See: 1 Samuel 15:22; Jeremiah 7:21-27; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.)
It should also be pointed out that all the blood offerings under the Mosaic system could not cleanse the sinners of that period from sin completely as does the blood of Christ in our time. Consequently, remembrance of sin was made every year by God, and atonement was made every year by the High Priest.
In Hebrews 10:5-11, the author quoted this passage from the Septuagint and explained its meaning and fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
"The sacrifice offered on Calvary's altar not only removed any further obligation to offer Levitical offerings, it also signaled the end of the entire system under which those Mosaic sacrifices were offered."2
What is the meaning of the statement, "My ears You have opened . . ." in verse six?
In the New Testament the phrase is rendered, "But a body you have prepared for me . . ." (Hebrews 10:5).
This is one of the great problems that exists between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint Translation.
Here, in Hebrews 10:5, the author sees the Messiah, in this Psalm, as using synecdoche, that is, where a part is spoken of as a whole, "My ears you have opened (pierced) of this Psalm becomes" "A body you have given me," in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:5.
We must also remember that under the law of Moses if a servant wanted to remain forever with his Master his ear was pierced with an awl. (See: Exodus 21:6.)
The idea of the Masoretic Text is that the Messiah had his ear pierced to show that he was the Servant of Yahweh forever, and as the Servant of Yahweh he would come to the earth to redeem man from all sin.
The idea is the same in both the Masoretic text, and in the Septuagint text, and that is that the Messiah would come to do the will of the Father as a slave does the will of his Master. The bottom line of both renderings is that the Messiah was coming as a Servant to Jehovah, as we can see in verses seven and eight.
It had been spoken of the Messiah (verse 7) in the scroll of the book, meaning in the Old Testament Scriptures, and especially the books of the Pentateuch, that the Messiah was coming to do the will of God, because he delighted in doing that will.
At the well of Jacob in Sychar, Jesus told his disciples, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work." (John 4:34)
In the darkest hour of his earthly life Jesus prayed thusly: "Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." (Luke 22 :42)
In verse eight the Messiah said, "I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart."
No matter how difficult the work of Christ became, because it was for the purpose of redeeming fallen mankind, Jesus took enjoyment in doing this work.
Jesus said that the law of God was in his heart. He speaks here of the Gospel and not the law of Moses as can be plainly seen from Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The Proclamation of the Glad Tidings of Righteousness (verses 9-10).
Verses six through eight portray the High Priestly ministry, and verses nine and ten set forth his prophetic work.
Christ did not come into the world merely to suffer for the sins of the world, but he also came to preach the Gospel which would set forth the results of his sufferings and lead men to salvation.
The "great congregation" in this passage means "a great assembly," and probably refers to both the Jews and to the Gentiles who would submit to Christ.
In Hebrews 2:3, the author spoke of "the great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken of by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard them."
In verse nine, the Messiah makes reference to that same "great salvation" of which the author of Hebrews spoke.
Jesus, while on this earth, did not shrink from proclaiming the Gospel at every opportunity.
Then, verse ten, the Psalm condenses the five main ideas surrounding the public preaching of the Messiah. He declared:
These things could not be hidden from man because the Messiah proclaimed them.
The Great Petition to God (verses 11-13).
In verse eleven, the Messiah makes a petition to God to allow his tender mercies, lovingkindness, and truth preserve him.
God's tender mercies, his lovingkindness, and his truth are unchanging and unchangeable.
Thus the Messiah accepts fully the promises of the Father.
Verse twelve has become one of the most disputed passages in the Old Testament, and in the Book of Psalms.
Several scholars have taken the position that this cannot possibly be a statement by the Messiah, because it confesses sin on the part of the speaker, and therefore, cannot be predictive in its nature. However, two things must be looked at before one can make that assertion without fear of contradiction. They are:
The writer of the Book of Hebrews in Chapter Ten, verses six through eight, regarded the Messiah as the speaker, so it has to be Messianic.
There is no indication in the Psalm that the speaker has changed.
What do we do about this apparent dilemma?
The New Testament tells us that Jesus "bore our sins on the tree," and that he "became sin for us" (1 Peter 2:21-24; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
In this sense, that is, that Jesus was carrying the weight of the sin of the world upon the cross, he could then confess the iniquities that had overtaken him.
The sins were those of Christ, not in the sense that he had committed them, but in the sense that he had taken them upon himself to bear to the cross of Calvary.
Furthermore, Isaiah (53:3-11) plainly points out that the Messiah bore the sins and iniquities of us all.
Jesus also bore the crimes which were committed against him by the Jewish leadership of his day, and obviously the innocent suffered as if he were guilty, and so it could be in this way that the Messiah calls these sins, "My sins."
Still another possible explanation is found in the fact that the Hebrew word, which is in the verses rendered "iniquities," can also be rendered "calamities," so the Messiah may be understood here as saying that great calamities were going to come upon him due to the sin which he would take upon himself as he went to the cross.
The calamities/sins came upon him with such force that he was unable to look up to God due to the weight of them.
So, in verse thirteen, the Messiah calls upon Yahweh to deliver him for these iniquities, or calamities, and in this he shows two important things:
That the Messiah acknowledges his utter dependence on Yahweh.
That Yahweh will deliver him from the punishments that he would suffer, and bring him again into his presence.
The Prediction of the Destruction of the Enemies of the Messiah (verses 14-16).
It is the certain expectation of the Messiah that his adversaries, as is pointed out in verse fourteen would be:
Brought to confusion.
Turned back. (They would retreat.)
They would suffer disgrace.
Due to their shameful treatment of the Messiah, including their mockery of him in his desperate hour, they would be appalled, that is, desolate.
There is little doubt that this must be a reference to Matthew 23:38 in which Jesus told the leadership of the Jews, "Behold your house is left to you desolate . . .
Those who were the enemies of the Messiah, namely, first the Jews, and then many of the Gentiles, would suffer a hopeless future.
Those who seek a saving relationship with Jesus Christ would find that relationship and rejoice in it.
The Expression of Confidence in God's Deliverance (verse 17).
The Messiah here describes himself as being "poor and needy," that is, poor and afflicted. But he knows:
That Yahweh will think upon him, that is, he will remember his Messiah and his plans to deliver him.
This is because Yahweh is both the Help and the Deliverer of the Messiah.
The Messiah ends this psalm with the plea to Yahweh, 'Do not delay, O my God."
*We are not dealing with the Messianic Psalms in order, but as they speak of certain phases of truth regarding the Messiah. For example, Psalms 89 and 132 deal with Jesus as descending from David, while Psalms 8 and 40 deal with the incarnation of Jesus. Other Psalms will deal with his rejection, betrayal, death, resurrection, priesthood, reign in his kingdom, etc.
1 R. Milligan, The New Testament Commentary, Epistle to the Hebrews, Gospel Advocate, Nashville, 1953, pp. 269, 271.
2 James Edward Smith, What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, 1993 p.116.