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Friday, December 16, 2005

The Ugly Duckling Christmas Song

When you think of David of the Bible, what comes to mind? I like to ask this question when I teach a on a psalm or a passage that quotes a psalm. I am very interested in people’s answers. Once we are reminded of traits and attributes of the person, I then turn back to the passage and highlight this: in many cases we can’t tell when David is writing—is he writing as a shepherd or a king? Is he writing before or after Goliath? Is he writing while being pursued by Saul (some of these psalms are more obvious)? Is he writing before or after Bathsheba? I like to stretch the thought process out to see how these situations have any bearing on understanding the text . . . but I digress . . .

Psalm 40 is a Davidic psalm addresses “for the Choir Director.” When I see this my knee-jerk reaction is, “As lead worshipper, what am I glean from this that others who worship God must also understand?” Thinking of celebrating Christ, I cannot help but make the following observations:

Verses 6-8[1]:
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart
.”

Observation #1: The New Testament records the angel’s announcement to Mary, Joseph and shepherds (!), the birth in the cattle stall, the visit of the Magi, the exile into Egypt and other details we equate with Christmas. But Christmas did not start in the New Testament—it started in thousands of years before it actually happened. It started right after creation, when man fell in sin and God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”(Gen 3:15) I imagine Eve thought the promise was fulfilled at the birth of her first-born because she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” (Gen 3:1)

Observations #2: Before Christ could come, God had to show men they were sinners by demonstrating how they could not keep the law of God and God constantly extended grace so they would not be destroyed though camping in the shadow of His glory. The people of God lived with the constant reminder that sin had to be paid for—and God alone had to cover what they could not. David is inspired to look ahead and sees Christ, one who has the law of God perfectly in His heart. In contrast to all other men, Christ is perfect, keeping the law perfectly because He is God. Remember, it is sin that makes Christmas necessary.

Observation #3: David records a conversation that seems to indicate the determination of one coming to take care of sin. Hebrews 10:5-7 provide a commentary on these verses:
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’ ” After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.”

Something strange is going on—did you catch it?

Psalm 40 says: “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.”

Hebrews 10 says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.”

What’s going on? Is the writer of Hebrews reading some modern translation? Well, sort of. He is reading from the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint (LXX). Could it possibly mean that God prepared for man a body and he wants something to happen in that body? Ultimately, the principle is that every part of the body is to be used for God’s glory (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pe 2:5). Truly spiritual sacrifices are acts of worship offered to God and Christ Jesus put an end to constant offerings of someone or something else’s body. The Old Testament system was a constant portrayal of all Christ Jesus came to do, right? I think David saw this, which is why he could say “it was written”.

But there could be another way to think about this: Exodus 21:2-6 speaks of a slave, who after being freed by his owner, could choose to remain a permanent attachment to his house. The agreement was symbolically sealed by the servant being literally nailed to the doorpost. His ear would be drived through with nail so the world will know by the ring that he wears that he is not for sale. Could this be an implied in reaching for the meaning? After all, it is through that prepared body that Christ demonstrated dedicated obedience and sacrificial service. Just a thought.

Why did Jesus come to earth? To be a good example? To be a great teacher? To philosophize on love? To serve men? To be savior from sin? The angel told Joseph, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Observation #4: Psalm 40:1-5 sounds like a lament, a crying out and complaining in agony then a sudden turn of rejoicing. One cannot help but see the crucifixion and resurrection here. A new song of redemption!

Observation #5: Psalm 40:6-8. Is it a coincidence that those who saw Christ crucified also saw the abolition of the priesthood and the discontinuation of sacrifices? Why aren’t sacrifices being given today?

Observation #6: Psalm 40:9-10 sure sounds like the Great Commission!

Observation #7: Psalm 40:11-17 The Cross again, where the sacrifice is being identified with sinners. Some people think this psalm is actually two because of the sudden change in tone.

One might think of this as “The Ugly Duckling” passage because it starts and ends with tragedy, yet in the middle are these beautiful words. In another sense, all people start out quite ugly in and remain so until each is changed by faith in Christ Jesus. Then there is sanctification.

Observation #8: God is mentioned 34 times (or more, depending on how you count). Whatever David was experiencing in his life, the LORD is mentioned almost twice as much as there are verses in the psalm! Takl about the thrill of hope in which the wearly world rejoices!

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[1]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, Ps 40:5. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. All references follow suit.

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