…we wait in traffic, wait for things to get better, or wait in the waiting room. We are no good at waiting. We want to get moving, we can’t bear wasting time, and the clock is ticking while we just don’t know what will unfold next. Patience is listed by Paul as a “fruit of the Spirit,” which means it must be for somebody, somewhere, but not me, or at least not yet. I can’t muster it; maybe a miracle will dawn.
I like the way the New English Bible translates Psalm 40. It’s earthy, human-ey,. personal and visual- here goes:
I waited, waited for the Lord, he bent down to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the muddy pit, out of the mire and the clay; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm footing; and on my lips he put a new song, a song of praise to our God. Many when they see will be filled with awe and will learn to trust in the Lord:
Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust, and does not look to brutal and treacherous men.
Great things thou has done, O Lord my God; thy wonderful purposes are all for our good; none can compare with thee; I would proclaim them and speak of them, but they are more than I can tell.
If thou hast desired sacrifice and offerings thou wouldst have given me ears to hear. If thou had asked for whole-offerings and sin offering I would have said. ‘Here I am.’ My desire is to do thy will, O God, and thy law is in my heart.
In the great assembly I have proclaimed what is right, I do not hold back my words, as thou knowest, O Lord. I have not kept thy goodness hidden in my heart; I have proclaimed thy faithfulness and saving power and not concealed thy unfailing love and truth from the great assembly. Thou, O Lord, dost not withhold thy tender care from me; thy unfailing love and truth for ever guard me.
For misfortunes beyond counting press on me from all sides; my iniquities have overtaken me, and my sight fails; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my courage forsakes me; Show me favor, O Lord, and save me; hasten to help me, O Lord. Let those who seek to take my life be put to shame and dismayed one and all; let all who love to hurt me shrink back disgraced; let those who cry ‘Hurrah!’ at my downfall be horrified at their reward of shame.
But let all those who seek thee be jubilant and rejoice in thee; and let those who long for the saving help ever cry, ‘All glory to the Lord!’
But I am poor and needy; O Lord, think of me. Thou art my help and my salvation; O my God, make no delay.
Walter Brueggemann refered to Psalm 40 and those like it as “psalms of reorientation (or new orientation).” They are the songs of praise that are sung by those who have walked the darkest valleys, stood in the midst of the shaking mountains, experienced life when the bottom drops out. They “bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected.”1 They recognize that the ship has sailed through the storm and a new shore has been reached. But having sailed through the flood and the hurricane, there is no going back to a naive harbor childlike “orientation.” These psalms speak for those who have been brought through a deep crisis. As such, they know that faith that speaks the truth can never pretend that all will always be well and that all is as it should be. And yet, they have experienced new life and grace — so they know that despair is not all powerful and evil does not have the last word.
Sylvia Purdie calls the 40th Psalm the Mud Psalm. For her, David is recalling an actual event from his days on the lam from Saul when he got stuck in quicksand. In most versions the opening verse is badly mistranslated. It should not say, “I waited patiently.” The prayer for help cries out, “How long?!” “I waited and waited” is both a more literal and more faithful translation. And when the opening line gets translated “I waited patiently for the Lord” it misunderstands both the situation and David. David was never known for his patience. “Help me” he calls out. Then the waiting began, trying not to struggle with panic rising in his chest. If you fight the mud it will claim you. It is the fear you must fight and keep still. The most you can do is to cry for help. And in her retelling the story, his friends come and extricate him from the mire. And David has never been so grateful.
But then, who among us can with any candor say or sing “I waited patiently for the Lord”? When did I ever wait for anything at all without frustration or anxiety? It’s not a typical human response. You take your life in your hands when you drive Maple or Ash with people ignoring the speed signs imagining they are driving the NASCAR circuit. But, we wait in traffic, wait for things to get better, or wait in the waiting room. We are no good at waiting. We want to get moving, we can’t bear wasting time, and the clock is ticking while we just don’t know what will unfold next. Patience is listed by Paul as a “fruit of the Spirit,” which means it must be for somebody, somewhere, but not me, or at least not yet. I can’t muster it; maybe a miracle will dawn.
His whole life long David remembered being stuck in that bog. Later, when enemies encircled him, when stress threatened to overwhelm him, he remembered his cry for help. “Save me, rescue me, oh please hurry! And he remembered the reality of the help. He brought me up out of the muddy pit, out of the mire and the clay; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm footing; and on my lips he put a new song, a song of praise to our God . He remembered bursting with joy. “I will tell of all you have done.” he promises You are beyond compare. I will sing of you. I will not hide your saving help within my heart. Thou art my help and my salvation; O my God, make no delay. Everyone must know! Great is the Lord.
For many years the rock band U2 ended most concerts singing, “I will sing, sing a new song.” Today, it is the most famous version of Psalm 40. The “new song” from the Hebrew is most likely a “song of thanksgiving” — a song that is sung after the psalmist has been delivered by the Lord from the jaws of some crisis.
This Psalm must have been a favorite of the prophets, with the talk of God not wanting burnt offerings. What God wants is “an open ear,” and a “delight” in doing God’s will. The Hebrew for this “open ear” means literally “ears you have dug out for me,” as if our ears are jammed with gunk and wax, and only if God can bore it all out can we actually hear God! What fills your ears so you can’t hear God? And is the doing of God’s will a chore? A duty? Or is it a delight? Young lovers take great delight in doing any little favor for the beloved; can we be as eager and gleeful to do favors for God?
The message of this psalm is that it calls for testimony time. David says: “I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation” (verse 10). When we receive God’s aid, the “thank you note” that God desires isn’t the sacrifice of animals but that we tell others where they, too, can find God. This Psalm isn’t a prayer so much as a report on a prayer. In Bible times, if you were under duress, you would pray and ask others to pray — and then later you would share what it was like, what transpired, and what God had done. If God does something good for us, can we find the words to share? Could our experience be of help to someone else who is struggling, and might even make us more solid in our sense of God’s goodness. The good that God does may not be precisely what we might have asked for, but that is no barrier to testimony.
The songs of thanksgiving are reorientation psalms because they are the songs of praise that are sung by those who have walked the darkest valleys, stood in the midst of the shaking mountains, experienced life when the bottom drops out. Life will never be the same. But God met these sufferers in the depths of their sufferings. And they have a simple message: God bent down and p ulled me out of the mire. Praise the Lord.
Bob Wiese, accompanied by Wade Schwartz, continued our worship is sharing “A New Song” a rendition of Psalm 340 by U2.