Psalms 41, 39, and 55 – A Sick and Weary King Observes the Gathering Storm

Alexander Maclaren’s The Life of David as Reflected in His Psalms

Part 4 of 5

The Psalms show us the aftermath of David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah.

(That sin: He got one of his soldier’s wives pregnant and then orchestrated to have that soldier killed in battle.)

Psalm 51 shows us David’s repentance: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”

Psalm 32 may also refer ot the same event: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

These two psalms speak beautifully of repentance and forgiveness. But the same prophet who pronounced David’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13) also warned of future consequences: “‘Thus says  the LORD, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house.”‘” (2 Samuel 12:11)

So, in the years that followed, David lived with both the blessing of forgiveness and the dread of coming evil.

Alexander Maclaren saw other psalms as fitting into that period. They also give us insight into David’s experience.

It took about ten years for that evil to come to pass with the revolt of David’s son Absalom. Here’s what Maclaren saw in 2 Samuel’s account of that time:

“These ten years were very weary and sad. There is no more joyous activity, no more conquering energy, no more consciousness of his people’s love. Disasters thicken round him, and may all be traced to his great sin. His children learned the lesson it had taught them, and lust and fratricide desolated his family. A parent can have no sharper pang than the sight of his own sins reappearing in his child. David saw the ghastly reflection of his unbridled passion in his eldest son’s foul crime (and even a gleam of it in his unhappy daughter), and of his murderous craft in his second son’s bloody revenge. Whilst all this hell of crime is boiling round him, a strange passiveness seems to have crept over the king, and to have continued till his flight before Absalom.”

David’s passiveness may have been due, in part, to an illness. We can see this in Psalm 41, if it indeed comes from this time period.

In it, we see David still conscious of his former sin and restoration. He is also aware that people are talking about him behind his back, expecting him to die soon. Visitors are saying nice things to his face, but he knows they are “empty words.”

Psalm 41:9 talks about someone in particular: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

Maclaren had a theory about who this friend was.

When Absolam led his revolt and usurped the throne, one of the men who joined him was one of David’s close advisors, Ahithophel.

Ahithophel was known for his wisdom, but he made a foolish move when he took sides with Absalom. He had an emotional reason. He was the grandfather of Bathsheba, the woman David had gotten pregnant, the woman whose husband David had had killed.

So maybe David wasn’t surprised by Ahithophel’s betrayal. Maybe he saw it coming.

So why did he do nothing about it? Why did he sit back and let it all happen?

Maybe because he was sick. Maybe because these things had been foretold by Nathan the prophet. Maybe his resolve was weak because of his former sin.

Below is Psalm 41. It shows David suffering an illness.

After that is Psalm 39. It might be from the same time period. It shows the depths of David’s inner turmoil.

After that is Psalm 55, which Maclaren also put in the same time period. Verses 12-14 may also refer to Ahithophel: “But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.”

Psalm 55 also contains some real-life foreshadowing. In verses 6-7, David expresses his desire to head into the wilderness and get away from it all. He got his wish, but it was because his son had taken his throne and he had to run for his life:

“And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander  far away; I would lodge in the wilderness.”

Psalm 41 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;
in his illness you restore him to full health.

As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you!”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
while his heart gathers iniquity;
when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.

They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them!

By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.

Psalm 39 (ESV)

To the choirmaster: to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

I said, “I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

“O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.
Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
Remove your stroke from me;
I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
When you discipline a man
with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah

“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
a guest, like all my fathers.
Look away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!”

Psalm 55 (ESV)

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its marketplace.

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Let death steal over them;
let them go down to Sheol alive;
for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

But I call to God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
and do not fear God.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

But you, O God, will cast them down
into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.

A Biography Written in Prayer

Alexander Maclaren’s The Life of David as Reflected in His Psalms


Psalms 19 and 8 – David’s Early Works?

Psalm 22 – David Grows as a Prophet

Psalm 110 in Historical Context

Psalms 41, 39, and 55 – A Sick and Weary King Observes the Gathering Storm

Psalms 3, 4, and 63 – How David Got His Kingdom Back