1. From mud to rock

David had been in a dark place. He had committed the most dreadful acts in taking another man’s wife and having the woman’s husband murdered. I think there is evidence that David suffered in three distinct ways as a consequence of his sin; first from the guilt of what he had done which gnawed away at this soul, second from the natural consequences of his action – his family was ripped apart and finally at the hand of God, who brought judgment on David in the form of physical illness.

David called out his sin for what it was, he confessed. He turned away from his sin, he repented, and he sought God’s forgiveness. This is the only route out of our predicament as sinful human beings. Sadly, in our world, we redefine sin as something natural and inevitable and in so doing we close the path to restoration and healing and create the conditions for discord, mental anguish and social fracture.

David declared that he waited patiently for the Lord, and his cry was heard. The result was that David was lifted from the wretchedness of his sinful condition – he went from slimy pit, sinking in mud and mire to a place where he could stand firm, a solid rock:

 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

David’s experience of rescue from mud and restoration by being set on a firm place makes me think of the current prevailing view of our condition as human beings. Our children are explicitly taught the naturalistic view that life began in the oceans in the primordial soup, we are (they say) the products only of random processes on the material world. Interestingly this view of humanity places our origins in the mud and leaves us there! We are no better or worse than the other animals in our world. Not surprisingly this informs many views on morality that are prevalent in our society today, rather than searching for a transcendent source of morality we look to the animals – if they live in a certain way, then it cannot be so wrong for us to do the same. Thus, naturalism reduces humanity, denies our place in creation and denies the dignity that comes from knowing we are created in the image of God.  

David was in the mud! But his perspective is completely different from the naturalist view. He is in the mud because of his immorality. He was created in the image of God, but he had turned away from what is right, and he needed to be rescued from his condition. Since David had sought the Lord and his forgiveness, he was lifted up out of the slime and his feet were set on a rock – he found a firm place to stand. This is the offer that God makes to us; to lift us out of the hole of sin and to set us on a place of stability and dignity. Not only that, but David also discovered that this was a place of joy; ‘He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God (verse 3).’ You will have noticed that for David, joy comes from understanding his problem and the solution to it. In our days, dominated by naturalistic thinking we seem to be quite content to generate artificial joy – you are slightly depressed, then do stuff that promotes your happy hormones! The answer to your situation is more dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins! It seems to me that this way of thinking rather puts the cart before the horse – the source of peace and joy is relationship with God, once that is dealt with, other things can fall into place. In discussing the worries of life, Jesus said, ‘but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).’

2. In whom to trust

David could not lift himself up – he needed help, and he found help through trust in the Lord. There is a temptation to trust in others and in false gods. In David’s day there were many who trusted in idols. Idolatry was a huge problem for Israel in those days. What exactly is idolatry? It’s about in whom or what people place their trust. In David’s day the people would often place their trust in man-made idols. Idols fall into the category of the created. The gods of the ancient near east were also within the category of the created. People who put their trust in such things are putting their trust in lies. The Hebrew word translated ‘false gods’ is lie. David says, don’t put your trust in lies and false gods, but rather place your trust in the Lord. We may reasonably ask why! David explains:

Many, Lord my God,
    are the wonders you have done,
    the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
    were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
    they would be too many to declare.

David takes us back to the vitally important concept of God, that he is not created, but he is the one who creates. If we are to be lifted out of the mud and be placed on a rock, then we must recognize who God is – he is the creator of all. There is none other in his category, as David says, none can compare with you. Many atheists argue that there are many gods, they list them for effect – then add that they just go one God further than everyone else – here’s Richard Dawkins in the God delusion: “I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.” It’s amusing but it’s also rather dim – as all the gods he names are in the category of the created, the God we talk of is not part of creation, he is not created he is the creator!

It is not unreasonable to ask ourselves if we are serving idols too. Are there created things in which we place our trust? Try asking yourself these questions: Where Do I Spend My Time?
Where Do I Spend My Money? Where Do I Get My Joy? What’s Always On My Mind? The answer may well be your idol!

3. A revelation

As David had found rescue by God’s mercy from the slimy pit, he noted a key feature of God’s character. There is a need for justice to be done and for God’s righteous nature to be satisfied. For this reason, in Old Testament times there was a need for sin offerings – so far so good, but David makes a surprising statement: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire –
but my ears you have opened; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.’ There is a reality behind the sacrifices and because of that the sacrifices of themselves are not what God wants. Only in the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ could the price of sin be fully paid. The apostle John wrote of this when he said of the Lord Jesus: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’ The sacrifices are one thing, but the reality is another. We cannot leave John’s statement without noting that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world – that means your sin and my sin! No one is excluded from his love and grace – it is available for all who are willing to accept it. Having accepted God’s forgiveness, David I think suggests that for many people the ritual had become the key thing. How often is that the case! I note that in many Christian churches there are two rituals of note, baptism and communion – and it seems that these are oft fought and disputed over – I may say that such disagreements might just be because there is a greater love of ritual than the God who instituted the ritual!

But back to Psalm 40 – if rituals were no good, what was and is desirable? David now makes a seemingly strange but nonetheless remarkable statement:

Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come –
    it is written about me in the scroll
I desire to do your will, my God;
    your law is within my heart.’

It turns out that these words refer to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. This suggests three things, rituals are replaced with relationship, sacrifice of animals gives way to sacrifice of the perfect man and finally that this brings about restoration of the human condition: God’s law becomes internalized – a new nature becomes available. This is what it is to be lifted out of the slimy pit and set upon a rock, a firm place to stand!