This psalm begins with the Psalmist crying out from the depths of a slimy pit, stuck in the mud and mire. I chose this Psalm to reflect on, because its somewhat autobiographic in nature. In my younger days I used to spend a lot times crying out to the Lord from a slimy pit. Here is a picture of one such experience of crying out from the muck and mire. I say this is what I did in my younger days, but the truth is that a week ago Alfred and I went on a scouting trip, and towards the end of the hike we were doing a lot of crying out to the Lord from the muck and mire. Which is why I thought this Psalm would be especially appropriate on the day before our Mountain Trip. I believe that this verse will be a spot-on description of what our experience will be. Without the muck and mire, how will our campers get to the place of praise in the next part of the Psalm: “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
I’m sort of joking about finding routes covered in mud pits. But the truth in the joke is that of the trips I’ve gone on, the ones on which I’ve suffered the most are the ones I remember most fondly. Those experiences can change a persons life. That’s a unique characteristic for some types of suffering. One person I know often views the suffering a person has experienced as a gauge for their character. Just last week I was talking to her about her brother, and she said, “yeah, he’s a good man, he’s been raked over the coals a few times.” That’s the experience of the person in this Psalm. The Psalm writer was raked over the coals and came out praising God. The Psalmist was raked over the coals, and as a result was somehow transformed.
Their experience was akin to being in a slimy, muddy pit. They are likely referring to a cistern, or a well, that was used for collecting water in the rainy season that could be drawn from when things went dry in the summer. After the good water was used up, cisterns would often be used as makeshift jails. Jeremiah 38:6 reads: “they lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern, it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.” This is probably the reality behind the metaphor used in this Psalm. To push the metaphor further, the pit is also likely a metaphor for Sheol. The Psalm writer is likening their experience to sinking down into the world of the dead. Imagine being left in that pit. What sort of emotions do you think you’d feel if you were left in the bottom of this pit? Of course, the difficulty of such a situation is to stay calm. To not panic. Our translation says, “I waited patiently on the Lord.” But that word patiently isn’t in the Hebrew. All we know is that the Psalm writer waited. We don’t know how long. We don’t know in what emotional state. All we know is they waited on the Lord, crying out in the mouth of death. Have you ever felt trapped like that, or stuck, or suffocated by your circumstances. What did you do? How did you wait on the Lord?
And then comes the rescue. Have you ever experienced a moment of rescue? Have you ever been pulled out of a pit, literally or metaphorically? What was that like? How did you experience that moment? The writer of the Psalm bursts into joyous praise, and tells everyone about the experience! “God set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God!” This brings us back to the thought we started with, that when God’s hand brings us up out of the pit, we come out transformed. God brings the Psalm writer out of the pit, and a change has taken place. The writer comes up from the pit with a new song, a new insight, new revelation. A new understanding of who God is. A new affirmation as to how the world works. In fact, the next number of verses in the Psalm are probably lyrics of the new song that the Psalmist is talking about.
The new song starts: “Blessed is the one who makes the Lord their trust…” This New Song begins in much the same way as Psalm 1. You remember, a couple of weeks ago we said that Psalm 1 is a map of how the world should work. Psalm 1 says that the ones who walk in the way of the Lord will be blessed. Psalm 1 also says that those who delight in the law of the Lord will also be blessed. Those themes are repeated here again in this Psalm, Psalm 40. But a lot has taken place between Psalm 1 and Psalm 40, and in light of all that’s happened in-between, someone might wonder if the good world described in Psalm 1 even exists. After all, in Psalm 13 the faithful cry out, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” In Psalm 22 the faithful cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. In Psalm 31 the faithful cry out, “For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life.”
It begs the question, is the world described in Psalm 1, where the wicked are blown away like chaff, and the righteous are supposed to prosper, does that world still exist? Well, here in this New Song, after being rescued from the pit, the Psalmist is able to sing out “YES! Those who makes the Lord their trust really are blessed. The world of Psalm 1 really does hold together.
After emerging from the pit of suffering, after experiencing the rescue of God Himself, the Psalmist is now able to hear Psalm 1 with new ears. That’s the fruit of suffering. The Psalmist is somehow able to hear with new ears the hope of God’s salvation. Let me tell you how I get to this point, because its not immediately obvious. In verse 6. the older NIV, the version we have in this church, translates the Hebrew as “my ears you have pierced.” But newer versions of the NIV translates verse 6 as, “My ears you have opened,” you can see that option is listed as a footnote in our Bibles. The Hebrew literally says, “Ears you have dug for me.” Initially, this doesn’t make a ton of sense. What does it mean to dig ears for someone? Before, the Psalmist didn’t have ears to hear the new song, but through suffering, God dug new ears for the psalmist to hear with.
This is a new image for what has happened to the Psalmist after the Lord’s rescue from suffering. Ears you have dug for me. With this new metaphor, the image of the cistern is transformed into being an image of the ears of the Psalmist. Before the Psalmists ears were closed up, those ears couldn’t hear God’s new song even if they tried. Somehow, through the suffering, God cleaned out those ears so that they could truly hear God’s New Song.
And with new ears, the Psalmist hears the rest of the song: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire… burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Throughout the Old Testament, Sacrifice and Ritual is seen as normal and good. The Psalmist here isn’t talking about how terrible sacrificial offerings are. What’s taking place here, is a realization of what is affirmed throughout the Old Testament. If one’s heart isn’t in the right place, sacrifice and offerings become pointless. This basic point comes out in the New Testament as well. Jesus is having a conversation with a lawyer. After Jesus says that the most important commandment is to Love God and love your neighbour, the teacher of the law says, “You are right teacher, that… to love him with all your heart, and with all your understanding, and with all your strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Sacrifice without heart is the wrong religion. That’s certainly the point that Paul is making in that most famous of passages in 1 Corinthians, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The purpose of all sacrifice is meant to cleanse a person from sin, restore their relationship with God, so that they can be free to love God with all their heart, mind soul and strength.
This transformation has taken place in the heart of the Psalmist, who says: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” That’s the transformation that God desires to take place in all of our hearts. That’s the transformation that Jesus accomplished through His death on the cross. That one sacrifice that put the end to all sacrifices.
Talking about this Psalm, the author of Hebrews says that “through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus once and for all.” God has dug out our ears so that we can hear this New Song. The self-sacrifice of Jesus, the bloody death on the cross, is the way we become like the writer of the psalm, who says, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” The sacrificial death of Jesus has the power of God, the power to bring transformation of the heart. This is the reality that Jeremiah looked forward to when he was thrown in the bottom of that cistern and remembered God’s prophecy, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” The great and final sacrifice of Jesus has brought this New Song into all its symphonic glory.
May that God dig up our ears so we have ears to hear this remarkable, glorious new song. May we hear this new song and be filled with desire for God. May His law become written on our heart so that we can offer ourselves back up to Him, as a living sacrifice, Holy and pleasing to the Lord.
But the Psalm doesn’t end there. Trouble still comes. That’s part three of this Psalm. The person who lives in this new song, still experiences trouble. With the new song still ringing in freshly dug ears, the writer of the psalm is once again in that familiar place and cries: “Be pleased O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help.” The singer once again has to fiercely trusts in God to put things right. The speaker is in that place of desperation, and cries out, “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer’ O my God, do not delay.”
So, I have a question for you: what new song do you think the Psalmist will hear when the salvation of God digs up his ears afresh? What new song will you sing when God again sets your feet on solid ground? If we share in Jesus’ sufferings, we shall also share in his glory.