Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Christ in Psalm 40

My pastor has been teaching through the Psalms during our mid-week services. He is currently in the middle of Psalm 40, one of the great Messianic psalms. We know this Psalm is Messianic because of the interpretation given to it by the author of Hebrews. There is a very interesting, and sometimes misunderstood, relationship between Psalm 40 and the use of that Psalm in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Perhaps the most difficult issue to resolve is the apparent misquotation of Psalm 40:6. The Psalm reads in verse 6, “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened;” whereas the verse appears in Hebrews as, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;” It is helpful to note that the writer of the book of Hebrews quotes from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) here, so while that clarifies the difference in wording it doesn’t explain how going from an “open ear” to a “prepared body” is legitimate. This translational puzzle turns out to be quite easy to solve.

The idea in Psalm 40 is that God has opened the ear of His servant to hear and do God’s will. Walter Kaiser gives two reasons why this is NOT a reference to the boring of a loyal servant’s ear in Exodus 21:6. First, the word in Psalm 40 is “to dig” (Heb., kara) rather than “to bore” (Heb., rasa) in Exodus 21:6. Second, the process in Exodus 21 involves the boring of only one ear, while in Psalm 40 both ears (plural) are dug. Consequently, the idea behind this idiom is that God is digging or opening His servant’s ears for use (i.e, hearing and doing) just as one would dig a pit or a well for a particular usage. The opposite of this idea occurs in Jeremiah 6:10 where closed ears prevent the hearing and doing of God’s Word.

The LXX version of the Psalm, as quoted in Hebrews, uses synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part is put for the whole, or vice-versa. In stead of a strict word for word translation, the LXX uses a dynamic equivalent of the idiom to fully convey the meaning of the expression. In this case, the opened (“dug”) or prepared ear represents a whole body prepared for service. Put in its Messianic terms, it means that God has prepared His servant to do His will, exactly what was written for Christ to do (cf., Ps. 40:7-8; Heb. 10:7).

I love how Isaac Watts combined both expressions in his rendition of Psalm 40:6-9.

Thus saith the Lord, “Your work is vain,
Give your burnt-offerings o’er;
In dying goats, and bullocks slain,
My soul delights no more.”

Then spake the Savior, “Lo, I’m here,
My God, to do thy will;
Whate’er thy sacred books declare,
Thy servant shall fulfill.

“Thy law is ever in my sight,
I keep it near my heart;
Mine ears are opened with delight
To what thy lips impart

And see, the bless’d Redeemer comes,
The eternal Son appears,
And at the appointed time assumes
The body God prepares

Much he revealed his Father’s grace,
And much his truth he showed,
And preached the way of righteousness
Where great assemblies stood.

His Father’s honor touched his heart,
He pitied sinner’ cries,
And, to fulfill a Savior’s part,
Was made a sacrifice.

No blood of beasts on altars she
Could wash the conscience clean;
But the rich sacrifice he paid
Atones for all our sin.

Then was the great salvation spread,
And Satan’s kingdom shook;
Thus by the woman’s promised seed
The serpent’s head was broke.


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