We’re studying Psalm 40 today, but before we get into the psalm, I want to begin by talking a little about covenant theology. A covenant, you may recall, is a relationship based on a promise. I’ve said many times before that we regard marriage as a covenant, because when a man and woman are married, they make certain promises to one another; and by those promises they enter into a new relationship with one another as husband and wife.
There are two main covenants in the Bible. The first one is known as the covenant of works which God made with Adam in which God promised Adam and all his descendants everlasting life in his presence in glory on condition of perfect obedience to God. In particular, Adam was forbidden from eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned that if Adam ate the fruit from that tree, then he would surely die. On the other hand, and by implication, if he remained obedient, and did not eat the forbidden fruit, he and all his descendants would enjoy everlasting life in God’s presence in glory. But Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command and he ate the forbidden fruit. And as a result, he and all his descendants — descending from him in the ordinary manner — fell into what the theologians call a state of sin and misery. It’s a state of sin because by nature we’re guilty sinners who sin naturally. And it’s a state of misery because by nature we’re under the wrath and curse of God and we’re justly liable to all miseries in this life and to death and to eternal punishment in hell.
However, God being gracious and merciful, did not leave us in our state of sin and misery, but he made with us the covenant of grace by which he promises to deliver his people from their sin and misery and to bring them into a state of salvation by a Redeemer, who is none other than Jesus Christ. God first announced this covenant in the Garden of Eden when he promised that the seed of the woman would crush the seed of the serpent. By that announcement he was promising that Jesus Christ, who was descended from Eve, would come into the world to destroy the works of Satan and to set his people free from their sin and misery. And all the other covenants which we read about in the Old Testament relate in one way or another to this covenant of grace. So, there’s the covenant God made in the days of Noah with the whole of creation not to destroy the world with a flood. There’s the covenant he made with Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through one of his descendants. There’s the covenant he made with the Israelites in the days of Moses to be their God and to give them the Promised Land. There’s the covenant he made with David that there would be a king who will rule forever. And there’s the new and everlasting covenant which he announced through the prophet Jeremiah of how he would remember our sins no more. All of those covenants are related in one way or another to the covenant of grace by which God promises to deliver his people from their sin and misery by his Son and all he requires from them is faith in Jesus Christ.
So, there’s the covenant of works. And there’s the covenant of grace. You won’t find the words ‘covenant of works’ or ‘covenant of grace’ in the Bible, but the theologians have come up with those names, because they describe the covenants which God has made. The covenant with Adam was a covenant of works, because it depended on what Adam did. The covenant of grace is a gracious covenant, because God graciously and freely eternal life to sinners.
Many of us are familiar with those two covenants and I’ve certainly mentioned them lots of time. However, there’s another covenant in the Bible which we’re perhaps less familiar with. It’s known as the covenant of redemption or the covenant of salvation. And this covenant was made before the world was made; and it’s an agreement between the persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And by this covenant, God the Father promised to give his Son a people to rule over. And God the Son promised to do what was necessary to give salvation and eternal life to his people. That meant he agreed to come to earth as a man and to live a life of perfect obedience for his people and to die on the cross to pay for their sins. And the role of the Holy Spirit is to apply this salvation to his people by using the means of grace to enable his people to believe the good news.
Again, you won’t find the words ‘covenant of redemption’ or ‘covenant of salvation’ in the Bible, but in various places in the Bible, there’s evidence of this covenant. For instance, in John 6, the Lord Jesus tells us that he came down from heaven not to do his own will, but to do the will of his Father who sent him. In other words, he came to earth to do what was required according to the terms of this covenant of redemption. And it was his Father’s will for him not to lose any of the people the Father has given him. So, God the Father promised to give him a people; and he promised not to lose them, but to save them and to give them eternal life. And, of course, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus resolved to do, not his own will, but the will of his Father which was to suffer the wrath of God according to the terms of the covenant. And when the Lord Jesus cried from the cross, ‘It is finished’, he meant he had finished the work he had agreed to do according to the terms of the covenant of redemption.
So, there are three covenants in the Bible. The covenant of works made with Adam in the beginning. The covenant of grace made with sinners. And the covenant of redemption which God the Father made with his Son and Spirit before the world was made.
Presumably by now you’re wondering: ‘Why is he telling me all this? What’s this got to do with Psalm 40?’ Well, Psalm 40 is one of the places where God revealed to us the covenant of redemption. In particular, verses 6 to 8 reveal this covenant to us. Listen again to those verses:
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.
Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come —
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’
Now, those words are quoted in Hebrews 10. Turn with me to Hebrews 10, which begins with the writer explaining to us that the Old Testament sacrifices which were repeated endlessly year after year could never make the people perfect. That is, they could never cleanse the people from their guilt. Though the Old Testament law required the people to bring these offerings as a sacrifice for their sins, those offerings could not cleanse the people from their sins; they could not make the people fit to come into God’s holy presence. The fact that those sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly proves they were inadequate, because if they could really take away sins, there would be no reason to repeat them. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us in verse 3 that those animal sacrifices were really only a reminder to the people that they were sinners who needed forgiveness. They were only a reminder, because it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away the guilt of our sins. Those Old Testament animal sacrifices were to make do until the true sacrifice for sins was offered.
Therefore, the writer says in verse 5, since it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, when Christ came into the world, he said…. So, having told us that the Old Testament sacrifices were ineffective, the writer goes on to refer to the incarnation of the Lord Jesus who came into the world as one of us. And what did the the Lord Jesus say when he came into the world? Well, he said what is written in Psalm 40.
Now, the writer to the Hebrews is quoting from the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is slightly different from the Hebrew version of the Old Testament. And so, according to the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus said:
Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire,
but a body you have prepared for me.
In other words, he said to his Father: ‘You didn’t desire sacrifices and offerings. You didn’t really want all those Old Testament animal sacrifices. What you want is something else, something better. And so, you’ve prepared for me a body.’ He’s referring to the incarnation, when God the Son came into the world as one of us with a body like ours. And he came into the world as one of us with a body like ours so that he could do what the Old Testament animal sacrifices could not do. He came to take away our sins.
And so, when the Lord Jesus came into the world as one of us, he said to his Father in heaven: ‘You didn’t desire sacrifices and offerings. But you’ve prepared a body for me. And here I am now. I have come to do your will. I have come to do what we agreed I would do according to the terms of the covenant of redemption.’ And then, after putting the words of Psalm 40 on the lips of the Lord Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews goes on to explain what the quotation means. He contrasts the animal sacrifices and offerings which God did not desire with the Son who said:
Here I am, I have come to do your will.
Even though the Old Testament animal sacrifices were required by the law, God was setting them aside, because God the Son had come into the world with a body prepared for him to do his Father’s will. And the will of God the Father was for his Son to offer himself as the true sacrifice for sins to make his people perfect. And when it says he came to make us perfect, it means that God the Son came to cleanse us from our guilt forever.
Before the world was made, God the Father and God the Son entered into a covenant with one another, into an agreement, by which the Son promised he would come into the world and offer himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And the Father promised to prepare for his Son a body so that he could offer himself for our sins. And not only did he offer himself on the cross, but the Lord Jesus did his Father’s will in everything; he did everything required by the terms of the covenant of redemption.
And so, Psalm 40 testifies to us of this covenant between the Father and the Son by which they agreed to save their people from their sins so that we could come into God’s presence to be with him forever and forever. Whereas Adam disobeyed the Father and forfeited the right to eternal life, Jesus Christ has done all things necessary to deliver his people from their sin and misery and to give them eternal life.
And the way the writer of Hebrews handles Psalm 40, and puts the words of verses 6 to 8 of the psalm on the lips of the Lord Jesus, helps us to interpret the rest of the psalm. While on one level, the psalm refers to David, giving thanks to the Lord for delivering him from trouble, on a higher level, the psalm speaks to us of Christ and the salvation he won for us on the cross. Indeed, the psalm records the words of the Lord to his people, so that we might trust in him for the forgiveness of our sins and for peace with God forever.
Verses 1 to 5
And so, when we read in verse 1 the words, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord’, we should understand these as the words of the Lord Jesus who waited patiently for his Father. When he was arrested, and when he stood before the Sanhedrin and listened to the false witnesses who falsely accused him, and when he stood before Pilate, who sentenced him to death, and when he was beaten and crucified by the soldiers, and when he was buried in the ground and held under the power of death, he waited patiently for his Father to save him.
And when the psalmist tells us how the Lord lifted him from the slimy pit and out of the mud and the mire and set his feet on a rock and gave him a firm place to stand, we should understand this as referring to the time when God the Father raised his Son from the grave and exalted him to the highest place.
And when the psalmist tells us how he trusted in the Lord and not in the proud, we should understand this as referring to the Lord Jesus, who trusted in his Father in heaven so that even as he died, he committed himself into the hands of his Father. And, as the psalmist says, his Father did wonderful things for him, when he rescued him from death and from the grave and from all his enemies.
Verses 6 to 10
In verses 6 to 8, which we’ve already considered, God the Son is recalling the arrangement he made with his Father to do his Father’s will and to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. I’ve already referred to the difference between the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and the Greek version of the Old Testament. The original Hebrew version says in verse 6:
my ears you have pierced….
By contrast, the Greek version says in verse 6:
a body you have prepared for me….
Piercing the ear perhaps refers to the way Old Testament slaves would have their ears pierced to signify their willingness to obey their masters. Or the psalmist could be saying that his ears are opened to listen to God’s voice and to obey his commands. In any case, it refers to his willingness to obey God and it matches what we read in Hebrews about Christ’s willingness to obey his Father and to devote himself — and the body prepared for him — to doing God’s will on earth.
In verses 9 and 10, the psalmist describes how he proclaimed God’s righteousness and faithfulness and salvation and love and truth to the great assembly of God’s people. And this too refers to Christ, because now that he has been exalted to the highest place, he declares the good news of the gospel to all the nations by means of the preachers he has sent out into the world. Whenever a preacher opens the Bible and faithfully preaches from it, the Lord Jesus is speaking through him by his Spirit to convince and convert sinners to a true faith and to build up his people in faith and love.
Verses 11 to 17
And in verses 11 to 17, the psalmist cries to the Lord for help. And once again, we should take these as the words of the Lord Jesus, appealing to his Father in heaven to deliver him from death.
And so, in verse 11, he cries to his Father in heaven not to withhold his mercy, but to protect him by his love and truth. And God the Father heard him and answered him when he rescued him from death on the third day. For a time he was surrounded by troubles, as verse 12 makes clear, because so many people hated him, including the Devil himself who used to tempt him and who stirred up others to hate him. But his Father in heaven rescued him.
‘My sins have overtaken me’, he says in verse 12. Of course, the Lord Jesus never sinned. He never did anything wrong and he obeyed his Father in everything, even to the point of death on the cross. But though he never sinned, he became sin for us so that we might become right with God. He took the guilt of our sin upon himself and took the blame for what we have done wrong. And so, though he was sinless, he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Though sinless, he was regarded and treated as a sinner, so that we might be regarded and treated as righteous in God’s sight.
In verse 13, he says:
Be pleased, O Lord, to save me;
O Lord, come quickly to help me.
God the Father did come and save his Son from death and the grave. Verse 14 refers to those who sought his life. Well, those who sought to take his life included the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and all the people who demanded he be crucified, but it also included the Devil who hated him and wanted to destroy him. But they were all put to shame and confusion when God the Father raised his Son from the dead. And all of God’s people around the world can rejoice and be glad, because of what Christ suffered on their behalf. And because of the salvation he won for us, we are able to praise the Lord and to say: ‘The Lord be exalted!’ The Lord be exalted in all the earth, because he has done great things to save us from our sin and misery by his Son who loved us and who gave up his life for us.
‘I am poor and needy’, the psalmist says at the end, ‘may the Lord think of me.’ The one who was rich made himself poor for his people. The one who is the Eternal Son of God, equal with the Father and Spirit in glory and power and honour, made himself nothing. And he made himself nothing in order to rescue you from your sin and misery. Though he never sinned, he became sin for you so that you might become right with God. Before the world was made, he agreed with God the Father to set aside his glory and to come to earth as one of us with a body like ours to offer himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins to take the blame for what you have done wrong so that, by believing in him, you may have forgiveness and peace with God forever and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in God’s presence.
In the beginning, God made a covenant with Adam, offering him life and peace forever so long as he obeyed. But Adam disobeyed the Lord and forfeited the right to live forever in glory. And you are just like him, because every day you sin against the Lord your Maker, who has given you life and breath and everything else and who requires from you perfect obedience. But every day you have disobeyed him and you have failed to give him the honour he deserves. You have received his good gifts, and you have relied on his kindness every day, but you have disobeyed him. And since you have disobeyed him, you deserve to be punished by him and sent away from his presence forever. And that’s what you deserve, because you are just like Adam, who sinned against the Lord in the beginning.
But the good news is that before the world was made, and before Adam had sinned, God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit made a covenant with one another, an arrangement. God the Father would give his Son a people for himself. And God the Son would come into the world as one of them with a body like theirs to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice and to suffer the wrath of God in their place and to pay for their sins in full. And God the Holy Spirit agreed to use the reading and preaching of the gospel to convince and convert his people to faith in Christ and to build them up in their faith so that they would continue to believe and would live their lives, no longer for themselves, but for God’s glory alone.
And God the Holy Spirit is speaking to you now, through the preaching of God’s word. He’s speaking to you now, saying to you: ‘Listen to what God has done for you by his Son who loved you and who gave his life for you. Believe in him and live your life for him.’ He’s speaking to you now. And you can either disregard his word and harden your heart to what Christ has done; or you can believe his word and trust the Saviour for eternal life. Do not disregard his word, do not harden your heart, because whoever does not believe will be condemned for your sins and shortcomings and punished forever. But the one who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ receives from him the joy of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life. And so, if you believe in him, then you’re believing in the one who before the world was made agreed to suffer and to die for you so that you could have everlasting life in the presence of God in glory.