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Messianic Psalms – Psalm 40


Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40: 6–8). These verses are quoted in the New Testament as a direct prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 10:5–10). In fact, they should be read with the Epistle to the Hebrews in one’s hand.

Psalm 40 has been called “the Psalm of the incarnation.” The central theme of this Psalm, as revealed in the verses above, is Christ becoming a man and coming into the world in order to do God’s will.

It is Messiah Himself, speaking in this Psalm. He declares that God had no pleasure in the sacrificial offerings of the Levitical system. God’s purpose, and our sin required, something greater than animal sacrifices. The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish believers in Messiah to explain this fact to them. Many were in danger of slipping back into the Jewish temple system of animal sacrifices, earthly priesthood, and all the attendant rituals. But the Holy Spirit warned them of the danger of this and that Christ’s one offering was superior to the repeated sacrifices of the Old Covenant order. Indeed, these sacrifices were only types and shadows of the work Christ accomplished.

It is interesting to see the different offerings mentioned in the verse which may not readily appear to the English reader:

1. The Peace Offering (“sacrifice”)

2 The Meal or Grain Offering (“offering”)

3. The Burnt Offering

4. The Sin Offering

These were the main offerings recorded in Leviticus, all of which speak of the Lord Jesus in some way or another. But apart from their typical significance, it is clear that these offerings had no efficacy to remit sins; rather they were a regular reminder that the offerors’ sins had not been remitted by their very repetition (Heb. 10:3). The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 3:25–26 (see DBY) that God was righteous in “passing over” (not yet remitting but showing them “forbearance”) the sins of the Old Testament saints as He looked forward to the time when Christ would come. This is the main argument of Hebrews, which contrasts these offerings to Christ’s one offering.  

In the Psalm, Messiah says, “My ears You have opened” (v. 6). Hebrews quotes this verse from the Greek translation of the Old Testament1 which interprets this verse to mean “a body You have prepared for Me” (see Heb. 10:5).2 The writer to the Hebrews explains that we “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ” (Heb. 10:10). Christ became a man in order that He might offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:14). Another has written: “The shadowy ordinance fulfilled its purpose and remained its time. Peace of conscience and personal acceptance stood not in the shedding of the blood of beasts. They could come only by the doing of God’s will; and Jesus wrought this for His people to the full. He here appeals to Him who alone could prove His work” (Arthur Pridham, Pridham on the Psalms, page 251). Before time ever began, Christ said “I have come: in the volume of the book (“scroll”) it is written of Me” (v. 7). The expression, “in the volume of the book,” means that in the eternal counsels of God it was purposed that Christ would come into the world. Some also understand this to mean the Old Testament Scriptures, from Genesis to Malachi. Christ is the center of God’s counsels whether in eternity or in the written prophecies of the Bible.

It was Christ’s “delight” to do God’s will for He says “Your law is within my heart” (v. 8). Like the “ark of the covenant” with the tables of the law contained within, the inner spring of the Lord Jesus was His Father’s will (Ex. 25:16; Heb. 9:4). Indeed God’s will was His food (Jn. 4:34); He could say, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (Jn. 8:29): even if it meant the “death of the cross.”  


Endnotes

1.  The Septuagint (LXX). In the centuries before the coming of Christ, Jews of the dispersion gradually lost touch with the Hebrew language. Greek was the lingua franca of the day so a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible was commissioned and completed in North Africa where there was a large population of Jews. It was the translation the Apostles used, thus all of the quotations in the New Testament are taken from the LXX and not the Hebrew Bible.

2.  The Hebrew version literally is: My ears You have “digged” or “hollowed out” (DBY footnote). “Ears Thou hast prepared Me” (JND). The idea may be that as the devoted servant who would have his ear pierced with an awl as a mark of continual servitude to his master (see Ex. 21:1–6). Thus it is perhaps the case that the translators of the LXX understood it in this way. God prepared a body for Messiah, He would be an obedient servant to God’s will (cf. Isa. 50:4).  

By Brian Reynolds

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