We started our study of Psalms all the way back in November of last year. Now, we reach Psalm 41, which is the end of Book I of the psalter. Since this is the end of Book I, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try a different way of reading the psalms.
There are three ways of reading a Psalm, particularly a Messianic psalm like Psalm 41: (1) you can read it in it’s historical Old Testament context, (i.e., the author’s perspective); (2) you can read it through the lens of the New Testament authors (i.e., Christ’s perspective in a Messianic psalm); or (3) you can read it from a personal perspective—like God is speaking directly to you, or you are praying this psalm to God. A good study of any psalm will apply all three of these perspectives together, as I have tried to do so far. However, I thought we could use Psalm 41 as an example of the three different perspectives one can have when reading the Psalm.
Today, we will be reading it through the historical-cultural perspective, as was relevant to David. On Monday, we will read it through the lens of the New Testament perspective, particularly as it applies to Jesus Christ. Finally, on Tuesday, we will read this psalm through the personal perspective, as a private devotion with the Lord.
Please read Psalm 41 now, and as you are doing so, picture David writing the words and try to imagine what he was going through as he was writing them.
As with most of the psalms, it is difficult to conclusively declare exactly when and where David wrote Psalm 41. In an older manuscript of a Syriac translation, there is a notation that this was “a psalm of David, when he appointed overseers to take care of the poor.” Such notations are frequent in later manuscripts as scribes comment on their opinion of the author’s original context. They may carry some weight, but, as these notations are made centuries after the original psalm was written, they cannot be considered conclusive.
As a result, the only information we have about the origins of this psalm come from the psalm itself. After reading the psalm, it is reasonable to conclude that David would have written this psalm later in his life.
He would have learned the Lord’s commands in the law about right treatment of the poor while only a child (1-2). As he grew, he experienced some kind of major illness from which God healed him (3). He attributes this healing to God’s mercy on him for obeying his childhood lessons and showing mercy to the poor (2).
If this psalm were ended after verse 3, it could have been written by a teenage David, but as the Psalm continues, we see that He has lived long enough to amass enemies that wish him dead (5), and to have committed some kind of public sin (4). He is more than a child or a soldier, but someone of power, because even his enemies are required to submit to him, though they do so with empty words of flattery (6). Still, his enemies do not dare to speak out boldly against him because he is a man of power, so they whisper (7). Even though he has power, he has been betrayed by someone close to him (9). Still, he did not lose everything, but was upheld by the Lord (11-12).
All of this would seem to indicate that David wrote this psalm while he was King of Israel. It was most likely after his sin with Bathsheba became publicly known (2 Samuel 12), which would give his enemies reasons to whisper about him. While we are unable to definitively identify his traitor, perhaps he is writing after Absalom began sitting at the gate and turning the hearts of Israel against their king (2 Samuel 15).
David is therefore writing this psalm as an older king who has experienced a lot during his life. The trials that he writes about in just a dozen verses are more than most people would be able to bear alone. Still, after going through all of this, he concludes, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” God has sustained him through every trial (12), and everything that David has gone through has led him to the conclusion that God is worthy of all blessing and honor and praise!
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