Psalm 40: A New Song and an Old One

Read Psalm 40.

Psalm 40 is obviously the coolest psalm, because it was turned into a U2 song. At least a few verses of it were. I can’t read the first line without hearing Bono’s voice in my head. But the message of Psalm 40 stands on its own. It’s all about the faithfulness of God.

The Lord rescued David—“He lifted me out of a slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock” (v. 2). And then David reports, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (v. 3).

New songs are a mystery to me. When you think about how much music is produced every week, every month, every year–how are we still finding ways to write new songs? But, amazingly, new tunes with new lyrics are written all the time. It seems there’s no stopping the river of creativity God has given to songwriters and musicians. It’s in flood stage, and there are no signs of a drought coming anytime soon. It must be that God wants new songs.

In Psalm 40, David’s new song has a purpose: “Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him” (v. 3). That’s the power of right worship. Whether our songs tell the story of God’s goodness or simply lift up His name, these songs are a testimony to the goodness of God. Our joy ought to capture the attention of other people.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden…. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). I won’t argue that we shouldn’t preach or that the Church should remain silent in the public square at all times, but it is interesting to me that a city on a hill just minds its own business, being a light in the distance for the towns below. In the same way, a song of praise—a “new song” like the one David talks about—does not rebuke or correct. It’s directed toward God, not other people.

What if Christians were known mostly for their joy? What if people looked in on the Church from the outside and saw we had something better than what the world has—greater peace, lots of love, and something to live for beyond the American dream? What if we focused on own journey with Jesus, what if we got our own house in order, instead of looking down from our hilltop town to put a spotlight on everything wrong with the world? I ask these questions of myself most of all.

It occurs to me that God never told Adam and Eve to focus on the world outside of Eden, the vast lands that were good but not paradise. He put Adam in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15), and then He told the first couple, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). But these are not contradictory commands. They were to work the garden and fill the earth by pushing out the boundaries of Eden until the whole earth became just as lush, a place where God would dwell with His people. Maybe like our first parents in Eden, we are to make the world more like heaven, not by focusing on the brokenness we see, but by focusing on the goodness, beauty, and truth of the Lord.

God’s original plan for Eden is still moving forward. History is headed in that direction, whether it looks like it or not: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). In that way, Jesus’ prayer will be finally be answered: the will of God “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

So let’s sing a new song. Let’s be people with joy overflowing, so that “many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him” (Psalm 40:3), just because they heard our song.

What is this all about?

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