Today’s passage: Psalm 41
Today’s chocolate: Endangered Species dark chocolate with sea salt & almonds
You might think, as you begin reading Psalm 41, that David’s speaking from a place of smooth sailing. The first few verses are a blessing for people who are generous to those without means, much like Psalm 1 or Psalm 15. The message seems to be “God helps those who help the helpless,” which sounds like a message of orientation: fair recompense for good deeds, right? And then David reveals that the helpless man in need of aid is himself.
It’s a Psalm of Complaint.
David reveals that he’s surrounded by enemies who want him to die and who lie to his face. “When he comes to see me, he speaks falsehood” (6), he writes; David’s enemy covers up his beef when he’s around him, then speaks his hatred openly when David leaves. Possibly the worst part is that one of the enemies here is a former friend. David confesses: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (9). David ate with this guy, even gave his own food to this guy. He may not have wanted anything in return, but he certainly didn’t want his good deed to be paid back with malice and ill will.
At the end of the day, though, David can count on God not to betray him, to listen to his complaint and preserve him even through times of suffering. He declares his confidence that God will continue to support him, concluding the psalm with another blessing: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen” (13). If the man who goes to bat for the helpless deserves a blessing, then certainly so does an all-good God.
But there’s a weird verse in the middle of the psalm that I’m not sure what to make of. Transitioning to the opening to the complaint, David confesses his sin: “As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You'” (4). Why is this here? What does it have to do with the rest of the psalm? What does David’s affliction, his sickness, the ill will of his enemies, have to do with his sin? Does he feel some need to get a clean conscience before he can reasonably expect God to help him? What do you think?