Psalm 40:6-8

6. In sacrifice and oblation thou hast not taken pleasure: thou hast bored my ears: thou hast not required burnt offering nor sin-offering. 7. Then I said, Lo! I come: in the roll of the book it is written of me, 8. That I may do thy pleasure, O my God! I have delighted to do it, and thy law is in the midst of my bowels. (Hebrews 10:5.)


6. In sacrifice and oblation thou hast not taken pleasure. Here David offers not only the sacrifice of praise, or, as the prophet Hosea calls it, (Hosea 14:2,) "the calves of the lips," but, in token of his gratitude, offers and consecrates himself entirely to God; as if he had said, I am now wholly devoted to God, because, having been delivered by his wonderful power, I am doubly indebted to him for my life. At the same time, treating of the true worship of God, he shows that it consists not in outward ceremonies, but rather that it is spiritual. Accordingly, the meaning is, that he came into the presence of God not only in the outward pomp or ceremony and figures of the law, but that he brought with him the true devotion of the heart. We know, indeed, that all men have some sense of religion impressed upon their hearts, so that no one dares to withdraw openly and wholly from his service, and yet the greater part of men turn aside into winding and crooked paths; and hence it happens, that in serving God in a perfunctory manner, their worship is scarcely anything else than a mockery of him. We see then the reason why David, on the present occasion, shows in what the true worship of God consists; it is, that he may distinguish between himself and hypocrites, who draw near to God with their lips only, or at least seek to pacify him with cold and unmeaning ceremonies.

We now come to the exposition of the words. I have no doubt that David, under the four different kinds of sacrifices which he here enumerates, comprehends all the sacrifices of the law. His meaning, to express it in a few words, is, that God requires not mere ceremonies of those who serve him, but that he is satisfied only with sincerity of heart, with faith and holiness of life: and that he takes no pleasure merely in the visible sanctuary, the altar, the burning of incense, the killing of beasts, the lights, the costly apparel, and outward washings. From this he concludes, that he ought to be guided by another principle, and to observe another rule in the service of God, than a mere attention to these -- that he should yield himself wholly to God.

Thou hast bored my ears. Some think that in using this form of expression, David has a reference to the ordinance under the Law of which we read in Exodus 21:6. If any bond-servant, when the time of his being discharged from servitude had arrived, made no account of his freedom, he was brought to the public place of judgment, and having there declared that he wished to continue in servitude, his master pierced his ear with an awl, as a mark of perpetual bondage. But this mode of interpretation appears to be too forced and refined.1 Others more simply consider that it is of the same meaning as to render fit, or qualify for service, for David mentions not one ear only, but both. Men, we know, are naturally deaf, because they are so dull, that their ears are stopped until God pierce them. By this expression, therefore, is denoted the docility to which we are brought and moulded by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I, however, apply this manner of expression more closely to the scope of the passage before us, and explain it in this sense, That David was not slow and dull of hearing, as men usually are, so that he could discern nothing but what was earthly in the sacrifices, but that his ears had been cleansed, so that he was a better interpreter of the Law, and able to refer all the outward ceremonies to the spiritual service of God. He encloses the sentence, Thou hast bored my ears, as it were, in parenthesis, whilst he is treating professedly of sacrifices, so that the sentence might be explained in this way: Lord, thou hast opened my ears, that I may distinctly understand whatever thou hast commanded concerning the sacrifices, namely, that of themselves they afford thee no pleasure: for thou, who art a Spirit, takest no delight in these earthly elements, and hast no need of flesh or blood; and, therefore, thou requirest something of a higher and more excellent nature. If, however, it is objected that sacrifices were offered by the express commandment of God, I have just said that David here distinguishes between the spiritual service of God, and that which consisted in outward types and shadows. And in making this comparison, it is no great wonder to find him saying that the sacrifices are of no value, since they were only helps designed to lead men to true piety, and tended to a far higher end than that which was at first apparent. Seeing, then, God made use of these elements, only to lead his people to the exercises of faith and repentance, we conclude that he had no delight in being worshipped by sacrifices. We must always bear in mind, that whatever is not pleasing to God for its own sake, but only in so far as it leads to some other end, if it be put in the place of his true worship and service is rejected and cast away by him.

7. Then said I, Lo! I come. By the adverb then he intimates, that he had not been a good scholar, and capable of profiting by instruction, until God had opened his ears; but as soon as he had been instructed by the secret inspirations of the Spirit, he tells us, that then his heart was ready to yield a willing and cheerful obedience. Here true obedience is very properly distinguished from a constrained and slavish subjection. Whatever service, therefore, men may offer to God, it is vain and offensive in his sight, unless at the same time they offer themselves; and, moreover, this offering of one's self is of no value unless it be done willingly. These words, Lo! I come, ought to be observed, and likewise the words, I have delighted to do thy will; for the Hebrew word ytupx, chaphatsti, means, I was well pleased, or, I willingly condescended. Here David indicates his readiness to yield obedience, as well as the cordial affection of his heart and persevering resolution. His language implies, that he cordially preferred the service of God to every other desire and care, and had not only yielded a willing subjection, but also embraced the rule of a pious and holy life, with a fixed and steady purpose of adhering to it. This he confirms still further in the third clause of the verse, in which he says, that the Law of God was deeply fixed in the midst of his bowels.2 It follows from this, first, that however beautiful and splendid the works of men may appear, yet unless they spring from the living root of the heart, they are nothing better than a mere pretense; and, secondly, that it is to no purpose that the feet, and hands, and eyes, are framed for keeping the Law, unless obedience begin at the heart. Moreover, it appears from other places of Scripture, that it is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit to engrave the Law of God on our hearts. God, it is true, does not perform his work in us as if we were stones or stocks, drawing us to himself without the feeling or inward moving of our hearts towards him. But as there is in us naturally a will, which, however, is depraved by the corruption of our nature, so that it always inclines us to sin, God changes it for the better, and thus leads us cordially to seek after righteousness, to which our hearts were previously altogether averse. Hence arises that true freedom which we obtain when God frames our hearts, which before were in thraldom to sin, unto obedience to himself.

In the roll of the book. As the Septuagint has made use of the word head instead of roll,3 some have been inclined to philosophise upon this clause with so much refinement of speculation, that they have exposed themselves to ridicule by their foolish and silly inventions. But the etymology of the word tlgmb, bemegilath, is the same as the Latin word volumen,4 which we call a roll. It is necessary to ascertain in what sense David claims peculiarly to himself what is common or alike to all men. Since the Law prescribes to all men the rule of a holy and upright life, it does not appear, it may be said, that what is here stated pertains to any one man or any set of men. I answer, that although the literal doctrine of the Law belongs to all men in common, yet as of itself it is dead, and only beats the air, God teaches his own people after another manner; and that, as the inward and effectual teaching of the Spirit is a treasure which belongs peculiarly to them, it is written of them only in the secret book of God, that they should fulfill his will. The voice of God, indeed, resounds throughout the whole world, so that all who do not obey it are rendered inexcusable; but it penetrates into the hearts of the godly alone, for whose salvation it is ordained. As a general, therefore, enrols the names of his soldiers, that he may know their exact number, and as a schoolmaster writes the names of his scholars in a scroll, so has God written the names of his children in the book of life, that he may retain them under the yoke of his own discipline.

There still remains another difficulty connected with this passage. The Apostle, in Hebrews 10:5, seems to wrest this place, when he restricts what is spoken of all the elect to Christ alone, and expressly contends that the sacrifices of the Law, which David says are not agreeable to God in comparison of the obedience of the heart, are abrogated; and when quoting rather the words of the Septuagint,5 than those of the prophet, he infers from them more than David intended to teach. As to his restricting this passage to the person of Christ, the solution is easy. David did not speak in his own name only, but has shown in general what belongs to all the children of God. But when bringing into view the whole body of the Church, it was necessary that he should refer us to the head itself. It is no objection that David soon after imputes to his own sins the miseries which he endures; for it is by no means an uncommon thing to find our errors, by a mode of expression not strictly correct, transferred to Christ. As to the abrogation of the sacrifices that were under the Law, I answer thus: That their abrogation may be fairly inferred from the language of the prophets; for this is not like many other places in which God condemns and rejects the sacrifices which were offered by hypocrites, and which were deservedly offensive to him on account of their uncleanness: for in these God condemns the outward ceremony, on account of the abuse and corruption of it, which rendered it nothing but a vain mockery; whereas here, when the Prophet speaks of himself as one who worshipped God sincerely, and yet denies that God had pleasure in these sacrifices, it may easily be inferred, that the rudiments which God had enjoined upon his ancient people for a time had some other end in view, and were only like infantile instructions designed to prepare them for some higher state. But if their truth and substance are contained in Christ, it is certain that they have been abolished by his coming. They were indeed still in use in the time of David: and yet he admonishes us that the true service of God, even when performed without sacrifices, was perfect and complete in all its parts, and every where; and that the ceremonies are things which might be regarded as non-essential, and, as we speak, adventitious. This is worthy of being noticed, that we may know that God, even after he has removed the figures which he had commanded for a time, does not cease always to resemble himself; for in these outward services he had respect solely to men. As to this, that the Apostle, following the Septuagint, has made subservient to his own use the word body, which is not used here by David, in such an allusion there is no inconsistency; for he does not undertake expressly to unfold and explain in every point the Psalmist's meaning: but as he had said, that by the one sacrifice of Christ all the others had been abolished, he adds at the same time that a body had been prepared for Christ, that by the offering up of it he might fulfill the will of God.

1 The objections to this interpretation are,

1. That the verb hrk carah, here used, does not mean to bore, but that the radical idea of the word is, to dig, to hollow out; as to dig a well, Genesis 26:25; a pit, Psalm 7:15; to carve or cut out a sepulcher from a rock, 2 Chronicles 16:14; and hence we find it transferred from the grottoes of the sepulcher to the quarry of human nature, Isaiah 51:1, 2. Williams, viewing the verb as properly signifying digged, carved, or cut out, in the sense of forming, explains the words as if the Psalmist had said, "Mine ears hast thou made, or prepared, for the most exact and complete obedience." Stuart, (Commentary on Hebrews 10:5,) and Davidson, (Sacred Hermeneutics, p. 461,) viewing the word as meaning digged, hollowed out, simply in the sense of opening, read, "Mine ears hast thou opened;" which they explain as meaning, Thou hast made me obedient, or, I am entirely devoted to thy service; observing, that to open or uncover the ear was a customary expression among the Hebrews, to signify a revealing something to any one, including the idea of listening to the communication, followed by prompt obedience, Isaiah 50:5; 1 Samuel. 20:2. There is another verb of the same radical letters, which means to purchase or provide; and this is the sense in which the LXX. understood hrk, carah, as is evident from their rendering it by kathrti>sw.

2. That the verb used in Exodus is not hrk, as here, but eur, ratsang.

3. That only one ear was pierced, as appears from the passages in the Pentateuch in which the rite is described. But here the plural number is used, denoting both ears. From these considerations, it is concluded that there is here no allusion to the custom of boring the ear of a servant under the Law.

2 This is the literal rendering of the Hebrew, and means, As dear to me as life itself; (John 6:38; Job 38:36.)

3 Anciently, books did not consist, like ours, of a number of distinct leaves bound together, but were composed of sheets of parchment joined to each other, and rolled up for preservation upon wooden rollers, as our charts of geography are; and in this form are all the sacred MSS. of the Jewish synagogues to this day. The roll of the book, therefore, simply means the book itself. With respect to the reading of the Septuagint, "En keqali>sdi bibli>ou;" -- "In the head of the book;" and which Paul, in Hebrews 10:7, quotes instead of the Hebrew: this is an expression which the LXX. employ simply to mean the book, as in Ezra 6:2; Ezekiel 2:9; and 3:1-3; and not the beginning or head of the book. At the extremity of the cylinder on which the Hebrew rpk, bibliou, book or manuscript, was rolled, were heads or knobs for the sake of convenience to those who used the MS. The knob or head, keqaliv, is here taken as a part put for the whole. Keqaliv bibli>ou means therefore bibliou, or rpo, with a keqaliv, i.e., a manuscript roll. -- Stuart on Hebrews 10:7. Hence it is evident, that we are not to understand this phrase, the head of the book, as referring to that prophecy in Genesis 3:15. As to what book is here referred to, there is some diversity of opinion among interpreters. Some understand it to be the book of the divine decrees, some the Pentateuch, and others all that was written concerning Christ "in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms."

4 Volumen is from volvo, I roll.

5 The Septuagint here reads, "Sw~ma de< kathrti>sw moi" -- "But a body hast thou prepared [or fitted] for me." This reading is widely different from that of our Hebrew Bibles; and, to account for it, critics and commentators have had recourse to various conjectures: nor is the subject without considerable difficulty. Some think that the Septuagint has been corrupted, and others the Hebrew. Grotius is of opinion, and he is followed by Houbigant, that the original reading of the Septuagint was a]kousma, auditum, which afterwards, in the process of transcription, had been changed into sw~ma; while Drs Owen and Hammond think that the original reading was wjti>a, ears. It is conjectured by Kennicott that the Hebrew text has been changed from twg za, az gevah, then a body, into Mwnza, aznayim, ears; a conjecture which meets with the approbation of Dr Lowth, Dr Adam Clarke, and Dr Pye Smith. But it goes far to support the accuracy of the Hebrew text as it now stands, that the Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate versions agree with it, and that in all the MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi there is not a single variation. With respect to the Apostle's quoting from the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew, it is sufficient to say, that he did so because the Septuagint was then in common use. And it is worthy of observation, that his argument does not depend on the word, sw~ma de< kathrti>sw moi: his design is to show the insufficiency of the legal sacrifices, and to establish the efficacy of Christ s obedience unto death; and his argument would be equally complete had these words been omitted: for it is not made to depend on the manner of the obedience. -- See Archbishop Secker's able Dissertation on the subject in the Appendix to Merrick's Notes on the Psalms; and Stuart on Hebrews 10:5, and Excursus 20.


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