Psalm 40 – “Proclamation of Trust; Petition”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist proclaims his devotion to God and asks to be saved from his enemies.

II. Photo
The psalmist was saved: “[God] lifted me out of the miry pit, the slimy clay, and set my feet on a rock, steadied my legs!” (v. 3)

III. Select Verses    
2-4:  I put my hope in the LORD; He inclined toward me, and heeded my cry.  He lifted me out of the miry pit, the slimy clay, and set my feet on a rock, steadied my legs. He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. May many see it and stand in awe, and trust in the LORD.
5: Happy is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who turns not to the arrogant or to followers of falsehood.
6-8: You, O LORD my God, have done many things; the wonders You have devised for us cannot be set out before You; I would rehearse the tale of them, but they are more than can be told.  You gave me to understand that You do not desire sacrifice and meal offering; You do not ask for burnt offering and sin offering.  Then I said, “See, I will bring a scroll recounting what befell me.”
12-13: O LORD, You will not withhold from me Your compassion; Your steadfast love will protect me always. For misfortunes without number envelop me; my iniquities have caught up with me; I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; I am at my wits’ end.
15-16: Let those who seek to destroy my life be frustrated and disgraced; let those who wish me harm fall back in shame. Let those who say “Aha! Aha!” over me be desolate because of their frustration.

IV. Outline

1. Superscription
2-11. Proclamation of trust/devotion/innocence
    2-4a. Account of trouble, faith, and salvation
    4b. Wish: People will trust in God
    5. Rationale
    6. Invocation, Hymnic praise
    7-9a. Description of service
    9b-11. Proclamation of innocence/faith
12-18. Petition
    12. Initial plea
    13. Complaint
    14. Petition
    15-16. Imprecation
    17. Wish/blessing
    18. Final plea

V. Comment
Like Psalm 27, Psalm 40 appears to be two psalms joined together. Craigie summarizes the argument as follows: “Psalm 40 is commonly identified as a composite psalm containing two originally independent units which have been linked into the present unified whole: A, vv 2–11 and B, vv 12–18 (though there is disagreement among holders of this view concerning where the precise point of transition might be; v 12 and/or v 13 could be viewed as a redactional link). The evidence giving rise to the two-psalm hypothesis is essentially twofold. (1) In formcritical terms, A is an individual thanksgiving psalm and B is an individual lament. (2) Verses 14–18 of this psalm are duplicated (with only minor changes) in Ps 70. If the latter is an independent composition, then Ps 40 might either be a composite work in which two psalms are joined by an editor, or a new composition in which the poet takes an older psalm (Ps 70) and develops it by additions into a new work. The two-psalm hypothesis, whatever its faults, is based on a particular interpretation of the evidence and has many adherents.” (318-319)

Like Gerstenberger, Craigie disagrees with this position: “Yet, for a number of reasons, the two-psalm hypothesis must be rejected. The problem and evidence are directly parallel to those encountered in the study of Ps 27; the argument for unity and the overall interpretation follow essentially along similar lines. First, it should be noted that the language in the two supposed “parts” of the psalm is intimately interrelated. Forms of the following roots are found in both “parts” of the psalm (the list omits duplicate forms in one or other part). (1) bvj (vv 6, 18); (2) Mxo (vv 6, 13); (3) rpsm (vv 6, 13); (4) rma (vv 8, 11, 16, 17); (5) har (vv 4, 13); (6) Xph (vv 7, 9, 15); (7) hxr (vv 9, 14);  howvt (vv 11, 17). The overlap in language and repetitive style strongly suggest a single, unified composition.

“But more persuasive than the argument of language, is that based on form and setting. As was the case in Ps 27, the apparent diversity of form is in reality not diversity at all; the two-psalm hypothesis, in fact, rises in part from too rigid a view of form-critical categories. The essence of Ps 40 is that it is a part of a liturgy, and the formal and substantial changes within the psalm are to be understood against the background of progression within the liturgy. The liturgy begins with thanksgiving, thereby establishing precedent and laying a foundation for what is to follow. It then moves on to lament and prayer; it is only in the prayer that the overall purpose of the liturgy emerges, and the preparatory role of the thanksgiving is clarified.” (319)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Photo taken from