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Explaining the Book

Bible Study Guide

Psalms

Psalm 41 Commentary

Open your Bible to Psalm 41. 

Psalm 41 is a lament psalm. In it, we’ll see David pronounce a blessing on those who consider the poor. Then he gives a lament that even though he does consider the poor, he himself is being mistreated and afflicted. Then he asks God to raise him up. He expresses confidence in God’s hearing him, and then ends this psalm with a praise. 

So, let’s read the superscription to this psalm and the first verse. 

KJV Psalm 41:1 <To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>  

Psalm 41 Commentary
Confidence | 1-3 

Blessed is he that considereth the poor:
the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. 

So, immediately in view in this psalm is the one who considers the poor. 

And when David speaks of the poor he is not solely focused on financial means like we typically think when we say that someone is “poor.” In Hebrew that word can refer to the ideas of scrawnyunimportanthelplesspowerlessinsignificantoppressed, and dejected. Of course, it can also refer to those who don’t have sufficient financial means – and oftentimes those who lack financial resources experience these other problems. 

And we’re challenged to consider these people. We need to think of them to the point where we take the appropriate action to alleviate some of their troubles. We need to help them in every appropriate way. 

And catch that David doesn’t say “Blessed is he that tells others that they need to consider the poor.” Or “Blessed is he that votes for politicians who consider the poor… with other people’s money – rather than his own.” 

And notice also that David is not even saying, “Give them money!” Isn’t that the American mindset – that if we throw money at problems they will eventually go away? David doesn’t even mention money here. 

Why? Well, we have a man that our church is currently ministering to. And when he gets excess money – because, say, some concerned individual with the purest of motives pays his monthly rent – he just goes and squanders it on alcohol. Money doesn’t solve problems by itself. That’s why David doesn’t talk directly – and certainly not solely – about giving the poor money. 

Rather, David wants us to consider them. To think of the best possible way to help them in their particular need. That may be money. It may be investing time to teach them life skills. It might be evangelizing them. It might be letting them stay at your place. It might be standing up for them and defending them before others. 

The helpless and needy could have any number of issues that they need help with. And that’s why we’re encouraged to consider how best to help them. 

And David needs to declare the blessing of this activity because the tendency of self-focused mankind is to ignore people like this. Yeah, they’re needy – but we have enough needs of our own. Or so the natural man tends to think. Sure, they’re helpless – but I myself am in need of great help! Well, you can think that – but you’re going to miss out on blessing from the Lord. 

That’s what David claims. Those who consider the poor – those whose considerations lead to appropriate actions toward those who are helpless and weak – they will be blessed. 

Well – do you wonder what that blessing might look like? That’s what David elaborates on in the rest of verse 1 and through verse 3. The blessings of one who considers the helpless. 

First, “the Lord delivers him in time of trouble.” 

And at this point we need to recognize two things.  

First – David is viewing himself as this very kind of person – one who considers the poor. He’s not just theoretically musing on this kind of man – he IS this kind of man. He cares for those who are helpless and needy. 

Second – David is experiencing a time of trouble in his life as he writes this psalm. We’ll see that in the lament section in verses 4-9 later on. 

So, I think he’s taking comfort here in the fact that God will deliver him – this man who considers the poor – in his day of trouble. 

And therefore, this whole section of David expressing confidence in the Lord in verses 1-3 is really motived by two things. 

First – that God is gracious to those who are gracious to the helpless and needy. And second – that David is just such a man who is gracious to the helpless and needy. 

And we see how else God blesses those who consider the poor in verse 2. 

2 The LORD will preserve him,
and keep him alive;  

and he shall be blessed upon the earth:
and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. 

So, we see additional hints both that David thinks of himself as one who considers the poor – and that he is in some sort of danger. 

He takes comfort in the knowledge that the Lord historically preserves people like him and keeps them alive. By not delivering them over to their enemies. 

But rather – such a man who is concerned about the helpless and needy will be considered blessed on the earth – adding to what we saw in verse 1 – that this kind of man will be blessed. 

And even when David faces sickness – which we’ve seen him through the Psalms often attribute to his own sin – he’s confident that the Lord will heal him – according to verse 3. 

 3 The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing:
thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness. 

The bed of languishing is the same thing as his bed in his sickness. It’s a picture of a man who is sick – and likely as a result of his sin and God’s gracious chastening through it. 

David says that God makes all his bed. What he’s saying there is that he turns his sick bed – as in, he turns it from a sick bed into a bed of rest and healing. He does that by strengthening the one who is concerned for the helpless. 

So, these are some of the blessings that God tends to visit upon those who consider the poor. 

Psalm 41 Commentary
Lament | 4-9 

But now, we enter into the lament of the psalm – where we see David’s reason for complaining to the Lord. And that will take up verses 4-9. 

David had to begin this psalm with confidence in the Lord – in order to prepare himself for dealing with difficulties in his life – with God’s help. That’s what a lament psalm does – it shows us how this godly man dealt with difficulties in his life with God’s help. 

So, here are the problems that David needs to work through. He begins by acknowledging that he had sinned in verse 4. 

 4 I said, LORD, be merciful unto me:
heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. 

And part of the effect that that sin had on David is that his enemies took it as an occasion to persecute him – verse 5. 

 5 Mine enemies speak evil of me,  

When shall he die,
and his name perish? 

And so, what we gather from that is that these enemies have some reason to believe that David is going to die. And we can remember the fact that David mentioned a sick bed earlier in this psalm. And connecting the dots – it seems that David’s sin has brought on God’s chastening which has come in the form of some sort of sickness. And this vulnerable position that David is now in is allowing his enemies to attack him more easily. 

But what’s really awful is that it seems like some of these enemies are making disingenuous visits to David as he’s sick – according to verse 6. 

 6 And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity:
his heart gathereth iniquity to itself;  

when he goeth abroad,
he telleth it. 

So, David on his sickbed is receiving visitors. And some of the visitors happen to be these enemies of his. 

And the enemies might offer condolences – maybe even offer prayers for David – and yet it’s all vanity and emptiness. They’re not being sincere. 

David knows that in their hearts they’re gathering iniquity. They’re hiding their sinful intentions in their heart. 

But when they leave his presence – that’s another story. That’s when they go tell their wicked friends about how poorly David is doing. They mock and scoff and plan to do him evil – according to verse 7. 

 7 All that hate me whisper together against me:
against me do they devise my hurt. 

So, to these enemies, it’s not enough that David is sick and in danger even of death – but they’d like to assist in speeding that process. And so, they’re planning to do him in. If the sickness doesn’t get him, they want to. 

But they seem to prefer the sickness to do its work, so they don’t have to – according to verse 8. 

 8 An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him:
and now that he lieth he shall rise up no more. 

And these enemies of course are not just stating simple facts. They’re wishing for David to not rise from his sick bed. 

And then David singles out one particular enemy – who used to be his friend! – in verse 9. 

 9 Yea, mine own familiar friend,
in whom I trusted,
which did eat of my bread,
hath lifted up his heel against me. 

So, David had a friend who turned on him. David trusted this man. David even fed this man with his own food. Maybe he was one of those poor people mentioned earlier in the psalm that David was blessed for considering. 

But now this former friend is lifting up his heel against David. I think the picture there is that of a bug about ready to be squished by a man’s heel. This former friend and now current enemy would treat David as if he were a despicable insect and put an end to him. 

And I think we’re all aware that Jesus uses this verse of Scripture in John 13:18. 

We don’t need to turn there right now – but in John 13 Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. And he uses that to explain to them that we ought to take on the position of a servant and serve each other – just like our Master did for his servants. 

But then Jesus clarifies – because Judas is still there with them – and he says in John 13:18 – listen to it – “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” 

And of course, Jesus is speaking there of Judas – who would shortly betray him. Jesus knew whom he chose of those disciples – and he knew who would betray him. 

And by betraying the Son of God, Judas lifted his heel against him. There they were at the Last Supper. And Judas was literally eating Jesus’ bread. But in just a short while Judas was going to do his part to squish Jesus like a bug – by handing him over to his executioners. 

And in that sense, Jesus says that the Scripture would be fulfilled. And we’ve struggled with what exactly that means as we see Old Testament statements appear in the New Testament. How is Psalm 41:9 fulfilled in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus? 

I don’t think it means that Psalm 41:9 was written solely so that Jesus could use it of Judas. I think that Psalm 41:9 has meaning apart from what Jesus says in John 13:18. It has an original context and meaning that are important apart from how Jesus uses it. 

But I think what it means that Psalm 41:9 is fulfilled in Jesus’ circumstance with Judas is this. Jesus embodies the ultimate good qualities that David spoke of concerning himself. If David considered the poor, how much more did Jesus? If David was therefore blessed of God on the earth, then how much more did Jesus deserve that blessing? And in the hour of Jesus’ troubles – if his ancestor David had so-called friends who would betray him and try to destroy him – how much more did David’s son Jesus Christ experience those realities? 

So, Psalm 41:9 is fulfilled in Jesus’ life in the sense that it finds its ultimate fleshing-out in the life of Jesus Christ. 

OK, so that’s David’s lament – verses 4-9 in Psalm 41. He’s sick. His enemies are taking advantage of that situation. And they’re even trying to kill him as he’s in this vulnerable position – this man who has been so gracious to those who are needy – now that he’s needy, he’s receiving not grace from others – but rather abuse. 

Psalm 41 Commentary
Petition/Invocation | 10 

And so, with his enemies and sickness in full view, David asks the Lord for mercy and healing in verse 10. 

 10 But thou, O LORD, be merciful unto me,
and raise me up, that I may requite them. 

And I think probably what strikes us as most difficult to deal with is the reasoning that David gives for God to mercifully raise him up. He wants God’s help so that he can pay these guys back! 

And this can be a little confusing to us. After all, we know that God has promised that vengeance is his – he will repay. And therefore, we’re supposed to leave room for the wrath of God and not take our own vengeance. 

And actually – from David’s own life we see that so often he was not in the practice of paying people back immediately for wrongs done to him. 

And yet – as king, David would need to repay people for wrongs done. That was his job. If these people were breaking God’s laws he was tasked with enforcing those laws and punishing wrongdoing. 

I think that’s what David is getting at. This would be his job as king to avenge evildoing. To pay back those who commit crime. 

In addition, if what David says in verse 10 applies to Christ and his relationship with Judas – think about it. Christ was raised up from the dead. And it’s that fact that will allow him to requite Judas eternally. 

So, there’s an aspect where verse 10 can apply to both David and Christ. 

And so, verse 10 is David’s sole request in this psalm. 

Psalm 41 Commentary
Confidence | 11-12 

So, with his confidence initially expressed, his lament described, and his petition made – now David will return once more to express his confidence in verses 11-12. 

Now, he already expressed some confidence in verses 1-3 in his own concern for the helpless and needy. But now, he says… 

 11 By this I know that thou favourest me,
because mine enemy doth not triumph over me. 

After all that David had been through – by way of sickness and persecution – the Lord had still not allowed his enemies to ultimately triumph over him. So, David is confident that the Lord was favoring him as he reviews that amazing fact. So many against him – even his health failing – and yet, David was still standing. 

And David realizes that he was standing because the Lord was upholding him. 

 12 And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity,
and settest me before thy face for ever. 

So, David’s saying here that he’s been a man of integrity. As we heard earlier – he was one who was concerned for the poor. He took his suffering humbly. He had integrity. And part of the reason he did is because the Lord upheld him in that integrity.  

There’s a tendency for us to think that David here is saying that the Lord upholds him BECAUSE he had integrity. But I think the better way to read this is that the Lord upheld him IN ORDER THAT HE MIGHT BE a man of integrity. David’s integrity came from his being upheld by the Lord – rather than the idea that God upheld David because of his integrity. I think that’s what he means. 

Psalm 41 Commentary
Praise | 13 

And then David ends this psalm with praise in verse 13. 

 13 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel
from everlasting, and to everlasting.  

Amen, and Amen. 

Now, this is the end of “Book 1” of the Psalms. You can probably see that in your Bible. Right before Psalm 42 you probably see a heading saying that you’ve now entered Book 2 of the Psalms. 

And we see each psalm that ends each book of the Psalms end with praise. 

Psalm 72:19 ends Book 2 of Psalms and says “And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen. 

Psalm 89:53 ends Book 3 – “Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen. 

Psalm 106:48 ends Book 4 and says “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD.” 

And last, Psalm 150:6 ends Book 5 with praise, “Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.” 

So, the ending to the first 3 books of Psalms has this statement “Amen and amen!” The end of Book 4 has “amen and praise the Lord.” And then book 5 ends with “praise the Lord.” So, it seems that what the psalmists are looking for is a voice to echo back their Amen and praise to the Lord! They assert that what has been said is trustworthy and reliable and true! 

So, the Lord who is the God of Israel is blessed for ever! Amen, I say to that! And we all say in our hearts Amen to that, no doubt. 

And I trust that our sense of the trustworthiness and reliability of God’s Word in this first book of the Psalms has only increased and deepened as a result of us studying through it. 

And Lord-willing next week we’ll have opportunity to deepen and increase our heart’s Amen to the Scripture as we begin to study the Old Testament book of Job. 

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