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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Psalm 41 - Recovery

This psalm is the final one in the first book of the five that make up the 150 psalms, and since it comes at the close of Book 1, it closes with a doxology in which God is praised (1) because he is eternal and (2) because he has a relationship with Israel. A doxology is not a benediction; instead a doxology is a statement of praise to God and which highlights one or more of his attributes or his achievements. Many of his attributes and actions have been mentioned in Book 1, and therefore it is very appropriate to conclude it with a doxology.

In this psalm, David is praising God for delivering him from a time of physical illness and treachery. We can read about the illness in verse 4 and the treachery in verse 9. Writing after his experience, the psalmist can state his conclusion regarding how to prepare for such times. His answer may surprise us, but true preparation is to be mindful of the needy (v. 1). The psalmist is not suggesting that blessing is merited by obedience, but he is indicating that those who are merciful to others will receive mercy themselves when necessary. And Jesus repeated this principle in Matthew 5:7: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’

The ‘poor’ in verse 1 describes more than the financially or materially poor. It is a common biblical description of those who trust in God rather than in their own or others’ resources. In other words, David is indicating that practical expressions of brotherly love are a good way of preparing for adverse circumstances.

David describes what took place in two different locations. In verses 1-4, he relates what occurred in his bedroom when he was ill: God preserved him and restored him to health, with the outcome being that others then realised that God was with him and not with his enemies. The path of restoration included earnest prayer and confession of sin, which may suggest that David realised he had been sent the illness as a form of chastisement by God.

In verses 5-10, David describes what was said to him in his throne room and about him elsewhere by his opponents. Although they spoke nice words to him (v. 6), in their hearts they hoped that he would die from his illness. In other words, there was a conspiracy against him, perhaps connected to the rebellion of Absalom. One difficult aspect of this plot was that one of David’s closest friends joined the rebellion (v. 9), perhaps a reference to Ahithophel (2 Sam. 15:12) who sided with Absalom. No doubt, this betrayal was very sore for David.

David’s experience reminds us that troubles seldom come alone. So what did he do in his difficult circumstances? He prayed to God to raise him up and restore him to his throne (another reference that suggests the background to the psalm is the rebellion of Absalom). Along with his prayer for help, David expressed his determination to serve God in the role he was given as king (this explains his statement that he will punish his opponents – they were guilty of treason).

What mattered most to David was what God thought of him and intended to do for him. This is a reminder that, despite his sin, David was a God-focussed man. He wanted clear evidence that God delighted in him and this would be seen when he was restored (both spiritually and as king) and found himself once more near to God. We should be like David, desiring signs of God’s love for us despite our sinfulness and longing for nearness to him.

Jesus quoted verse 9 in John 13:18 when referring to the deceit and betrayal of Judas. In a higher sense that did David, Jesus will yet judge those who conspire against him. Again higher than did he did for David, God delighted in Jesus and upheld him because of his integrity and set him in his presence for ever (vv. 11-12).

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