Bible Studies on the Messianic Psalms
Psalm 40 – The Pit and the Pierced Ear in the Paths of God

By I Gordon


We are going to look at another Messianic Psalm and it is one that takes me back to my youth. When I was about 13 I had an album on cassette tape which I would play on my ‘Ghetto Blaster’ from a popular band that I enjoyed. I remember being drawn to the last song on the album that had the following lyrics:

I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit Out of the miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song. How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long How long to sing this song?
You set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm. Many will see, many will see and hear.
I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?

Now I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but I remember being intrigued by this song. As a very wise 13 year old I thought quite a bit about it and using my immense powers of deduction I concluded that it must be a song about... God! Clearly I had great, and very deep, insight at that age! I didn’t really know what the pit or miry clay was. Nor did I know what the rock was that this person had his feet set upon. And the song had a strange name that didn’t mean very much to me either at the time. It was simply called by a number. It was called ‘40’. It wasn’t for another 6 years that I started reading the Bible and found out what ‘40’ meant! It is Psalm 40. Let’s have a look at the first part of this Psalm.


Psalms 40:1-8 for the choir director. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. (2) He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. (3) He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD. (4) How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. (5) Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count. (6) Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. (7) Then I said, "Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. (8) I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart."

Here we have a Psalm of David [1] . It was no doubt inspired by events that occurred in the life of David. And boy did he have a lot of highs and lows from which to choose from! But, as a Messianic Psalm, it goes a lot further than that. It speaks of the coming One. So we’ll examine the first 8 verses and look at these three levels and swap between them:

1. The Psalm in the life of David

2. The Psalm in our life

3. The Psalm in the life of the Messiah

We will look at the paths and ways of God – what is normally involved and what is required of us, and the Lord Jesus, to walk those paths.

The Paths of God

Psalm 40:1-2 ‘I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. (2) He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm’.

Herein, in these verses, are the paths and ways of God. You say you want to learn the ways of God? Well here it is. Here is how it is learned. These are the paths. God’s ways and paths aren’t really learnt through Bible College, theology degrees or even listening to sermons. It is learned through pits, miry clay, crying out, patiently waiting and finally having your feet put back upon the rock. Still want to learn the ways and paths of God?

So where do we first find David? We find him in a pit of destruction, in a place of miry clay. He feels trapped, bogged down and there is no way out. I don’t know, and scholars don’t know, exactly what situation he was talking about and maybe that is just as well for there are several times that it could relate to. Now, the prophet Jeremiah was one who was literally thrown down into a pit and into the mud. We read of him in Jeremiah...

Jeremiah 38:6 so they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king's son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

Jeremiah literally sank down into the mud in a literal pit because the King and the officials didn’t like the message that he gave. For David, there were many times that he may have had in his mind as he wrote this Psalm. Can you think of any? There were times when he is physically and emotionally exhausted as he runs and hides in the caves with King Saul seeking his life. Maybe one of his most humiliating and lowest points is when David, with Saul closing in, is forced to flee to the Philistines (whose champion Goliath he has previously killed) and act like a madman dribbling salvia down his beard in an attempt to escape with his life! And yet God lifted Him up from all of this and put his feet back upon the rock and made him king over Israel. Or maybe he was thinking spiritually of the mire and muck that he fell into over his sin with Bathsheba. That was his lowest ever point spiritually speaking. Many believe this Psalm speaks of a time when his own son, Absalom, whom he loved, broke his heart by turning the people of Israel against him so that he could take the kingdom for himself. What would it be like for your own child to betray you? David knew the pits of destruction. He knew the miry clay. He knew what it meant to be trapped or to sink down into the depths of despair, loneliness, fear, isolation, guilt, despondency... That is where we find him at the start of this Psalm.

What do we do in such times?

As a brief detour, have a quick look at Psalm 143. It is another Psalm of David’s and it speaks of what he did during these times of difficulty.

Psa 143:3 For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead.
Psa 143:4 Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me.
Psa 143:5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands.
Psa 143:6 I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah.

You will note that there are four ‘I’s’ in this passage. Each give us an insight into what David did when he felt crushed or oppressed. David wrote that at times like this ‘I remember, I meditate, I muse, and I stretch.’ We can all learn from that. He remembered the days of old and how God had been faithful. We meditate on this – that is we chew it over and make it something that we ponder for long periods on. We ‘muse’ on the work of His hands. ‘Muse’ is to consider something carefully and thoughtfully. The Hebrew word even has the thought of talking to yourself about it as in Psalm 42, where the Psalmist has to say to himself ‘Why are you in despair oh my soul? Trust in God!’ And then finally we read that David would stretch out his hands to God in prayer and worship.

What about in Psalm 40? What did David do there? Well, there are two things that are mentioned in this passage that he did: He cried out to the Lord and he waited patiently. Those two words (waiting, patiently) are tough enough separately. Together they are very difficult! This is especially so when you are trapped in the miry clay for a long time. Maybe years, maybe decades even.

An example from my life

As I read through this Psalm I couldn’t help think about my upbringing and our family life. I had a dysfunctional father and because of that we were a dysfunctional family. I don’t say that to in anyway disrespect my father. I believe in the 5th commandment and Dad was very much the product of a very difficult life. When my Dad was 11 he tried to get a fire going better with his friends by throwing petrol on it. Not a good move. The fire went straight up the petrol and set him alight. Petrified and in shock he took off down the road where, thankfully, an old drunk walking along the road caught him and wrapped him in his trench coat to put the flames out. Dad was then in hospital for about 4 months and at times they didn’t know if he would live. From that day till the very night that he died in 2005, he had epilepsy. He was on a cocktail of drugs to try and control this but instead of helping they had very nasty side effects. In fact, in the last five years of his life we were told that some of the drugs that he had been on to try and control his epilepsy had ‘psychotic side effects’. That helped explain a lot of what we had seen in the last 30-40 years. I won’t go into detail about what things were like growing up, other than to say there were some crazy times. Why do I say all this? Because sometimes the ‘patiently waiting’ for the Lord takes a long, long time! But it doesn’t mean that His promise will not come to pass. I was reminiscing with my Mother recently about those days and she told me about a time when I was only young and she was in the kitchen, in tears, because she didn’t know how we could go on as a family. She didn’t know how she could cope and how we as kids could cope. And the Lord gave her a promise and a command from the book of Jeremiah. Here it is:

Jeremiah 31:16-17 Thus says the LORD, "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; For your work will be rewarded," declares the LORD, "And they will return from the land of the enemy. (17) "There is hope for your future," declares the LORD, "And your children will return to their own territory.

What an awesome promise! In effect the promise was saying: ‘Don’t cry - Your work will be rewarded... There is hope for your future... and your children.’ Being one of those children, I like that! But it would be nearly 20 years before Mum got to see any fulfilment of that... but it came to pass. In life, and in the paths of God, there are times of miry clay, times of being down in the pit, times of waiting patiently (even if it takes decades) but thank God there is also the truth of the next phase – ‘He set my feet upon the rock’.

The result of patient waiting

Psalm 40:3-5 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD. (4) How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. (5) Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.

We see here the result: A new song is put in our mouth – a song of praise. We are on resurrection ground now. Many will see and fear and trust in the Lord. How many people would have looked at what David went through and had their faith strengthened and encouraged by the hand of God clearly seen in his life? Maybe it is the same for your life? What about the Messiah, the Lord Jesus? We need to remember that this is a Messianic Psalm! Think about the life of Jesus for a moment – He knew all about the pit of destruction! He knew all about having to wait until the perfect time to be raised up. He knew all about the resurrection. And look at the results from verse 3: ‘Many will see and fear and trust in the Lord!’ Is that you today? I trust that you have seen, you have heard and you have trusted in the Lord. There is a purpose in every pit and miry clay that the Lord allows you to experience. It doesn’t matter whether it is David’s life, Jesus’ life or your own life – the paths and ways of God are the same.

So let’s look at the end result of going through the pit and the clay is:

1. Praise: Our praise for God. You get to experience a God given song. (vs 3)

2. Commitment: Lives are committed to God. People see what the Lord went through and people see what we go through and how we are lifted above it. It inspires faith. (vs 3b)

3. Happiness: Blessing and happiness through a greater faith and realisation of a living God (vs 4) [2]

4. Intimacy: A more intimate awareness of His care and thoughts concerning His children (vs 5)

The pierced ear – The quality of our commitment in and to the paths of God

The next section deals with the commitment required as we walk in the ways and paths of God.

Psalm 40:6-7 sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. (7) Then I said, "Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. (8) I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart."

David knew that God took no pleasure in the various sacrifices and offerings. They were used to cover sin temporarily but it wasn’t what He desired. This is expressed elsewhere by both the prophet Samuel and David himself:

1Sa 15:22 But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Psa 51:16-17 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

From this we could see that God isn’t interested in rituals or religion. He is after a heart that desires to obey Him. But what about Jesus? Did He have to walk this path? We know He did as Psalm 40 is a Messianic Psalm and these verses in Psalm 40:6-8 are the portion specifically quoted in the New Testament. We’ll look at that soon but first there is a beautiful little picture here of the Lord Jesus even from the Old Testament. After saying that God didn’t desire the ongoing sacrifices, the passage introduces a person – the Lord Jesus – and says ‘my ear you have opened’. Now what does that mean? The Hebrew word translated ‘opened’ here means ‘to dig, bore’ like you were digging a pit or well. The NIV says ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced.’ There are two common thoughts on this and both show what is required to walk in the ways and paths of God. They both relate to the Lord Jesus first and foremost, but also to us:

1. The opening of the ear for instruction: We can take the ‘opening of the ear’ to having our ear awakened or opened to hear the voice of God. This was specifically prophesied concerning Jesus in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 50:4-7 The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. (5) The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient Nor did I turn back. (6) I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. (7) For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed.

2. The opening of the ear for service: This passage could also mean ‘pierced’ as translated by the NIV and as such would speak of a common practice given in the law of God.

Deuteronomy 15:11-17 "For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' (12) "If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. (13) "When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. (14) "You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. (15) "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. (16) "It shall come about if he says to you, 'I will not go out from you,' because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; (17) then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant.

Let’s focus on the second ‘opening’. Because of debt or sometimes crime, some in Israel became slaves. But this was never to be like the slavery known by the Israelites while they were in Egypt so God, in His provision, made sure this was not to be permanent. A law of release was given concerning the 7th year. In this ‘Shemitah’ or ‘Sabbath’ year, the slave could go free. But what if he loved his master? What if his wife was also a slave? What if, because of love, he chose of his own free will not to go free? In such cases he could remain and carry on as the master’s permanent servant if he so wished. In such cases they would take the bond-servant and pierce or open his ear to signify his decision to not go free, but to remain as a servant.

This has instruction for our lives and that of the Lord Jesus. Let’s start where we always should - with the Lord. This is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus. He came and took upon himself the place of a servant. He could have gone free at any stage. He could have gone back to heaven and wiped his hands of us if He so desired. But He didn’t. In His freedom, He chose to remain a servant. He did this because of love just as the slaves and servants of old had the choice to do. Jesus loved His master. He loved His bride. He loved His people. He decided not to go free while they were in bondage. He allowed His ear to be opened or His body to be pierced, as a sign of His love to both His master and His bride.

The New Testament confirmation

Hebrews 10:4-10 …it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (5) Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; (6) with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. (7) Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.' " (8) First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). (9) Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second.

The Lord Jesus was the servant who not only offered up His ear to be pierced, but a body was prepared for Him which would be pierced and offered up for our sake. As discussed above, it was love that made the decision to remain a servant till the end when He could have gone free. And look again at the results for us of that decision!

(10) And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
(14) By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

But we also are the slave set free

The second aspect to this is that if you are a Christian and have been born again, then you are that slave set free and this life is the 7 th year Sabbath rest when you get to decide what you are going to do with your freedom. Through that one sacrifice He has, past tense, made you PERFECT, FOREVER! You are free. Now what are you going to do with your freedom? The Apostle Paul speaks of both this freedom and the responsibility in it [3] :

Galatians 5:13-14 for you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (14) For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."


The Lord Jesus came not to do His own will but His Fathers. We are called to do the same. Even if the ways and paths of God that we read about at the start, sometimes require long period of waiting patiently and obedience while we patiently wait. The paths of God may travel through the clay. They may travel through the pits. This is all part of His training and development of His sons and daughters. But thank the Lord also that there is a new song that we can experience once He lifts us up and puts our feet back on the rock!

[1] Now, I don’t know if you read the Psalms a lot. When I was a young Christian, I didn’t read the Psalms very much. I tried a few times but they didn’t really speak to me. I stuck more to the Gospels and the prophetic books. Everything was going pretty sweet for the first few years of my Christian life. And then... it didn’t. And soon I found myself spending lots of time in the Psalms and I became a lover of the Psalms. I could suddenly see myself in the ups and downs, the highs and the lows, in the times of crying out to the Lord and also in the times of being raised up and singing a new song of praise - all of which are prominent in the Psalms. And in this Psalm 40 we have all that and more.

[2] The Hebrew word for ‘Blessed’ has the thought of ‘Happy’. Today people search for their happiness in lots of alternative places... and thus don’t find what they are looking for; ‘Happiness’ stems from a right relationship with God.

[3] Someone once noted the connection between the slave, who choose to remain and serve his master perpetually, and the freedom and responsibility given to the Christian. They wrote the following:

‘My Master, lead me to the door; Pierce this now-willing ear once more.
Thy bonds are freedom; let me stay, With Thee to toil, endure, obey.’