God Delivers the Considerate One
HAVE you noticed that people frequently flock around wealthy persons and those who have prominent positions in social structures? On the other hand, they often avoid the impoverished, the sickly and those otherwise lacking power.
An experience of this type is related in Psalm 41. This psalm may be divided into three parts. First comes mention of the blessings that God extends to individuals who treat ‘lowly ones’ with consideration. (Ps 41 Vss. 1-3) Next are described a severe illness and treachery from friends suffered by the psalmist himself. (Ps 41 Vss. 4-9) Finally, there is a prayer for divine help and an expression of firm confidence that the prayer would receive a favorable hearing. (Ps 41 Vss. 10-12) The final Ps 41 verse (13) is understood to be a conclusion to the first of the five smaller “books” into which the book of Psalms is divided.
The superscription to Psalm 41 states that it is “a melody of David.” The circumstances described in this psalm fit well the turbulent years of David’s life that followed his sin with Bath-sheba. (2 Sam. chaps. 11-18) However, it relates experiences like those that devoted servants of God have undergone at all periods of history.
The psalm begins: “Happy is anyone acting with consideration toward the lowly one.” (Ps. 41:1a) The Hebrew word for “lowly one” literally means “thin,” “lean,” “slender.” It indicates one who is weak due to poverty, disease or depressing circumstances, and who is in need of help. The individual “acting with consideration” discerns the need of such a lowly one. Rather than disinterestedly passing by, he cares for and attends to the needy one, displaying tender fellow feeling. Such a considerate one is truly “happy,” both from enjoying the special state of well-being that comes to one who is generous and from having the favor of Almighty God, whose generosity he imitates.—Acts 20:35; Jas. 1:17.
The psalmist goes on to say of the considerate one: “In the day of calamity Jehovah will provide escape for him. Jehovah himself will guard him and preserve him alive. He will be pronounced happy in the earth; and you cannot possibly give him over to the soul of his enemies.”—Ps. 41:1b, 2.
“The day of calamity” can refer to any calamitous occasion or even to an extended period of hardship. Ps 41 Verse 3 indicates that the psalmist had in mind particularly illness that had reduced the one giving consideration to the lowly one to a severely weakened state. Such one expressed confidence that Jehovah would guard him during the infirmity and see him through it alive. When others would observe the evidence of God’s deliverance from such an apparently hopeless situation, they would ‘pronounce him happy in the earth’ by spreading abroad the news of God’s merciful dealings with that one.
The psalmist goes on to say: “Jehovah himself will sustain [the considerate one] upon a divan of illness; all his bed you will certainly change during his sickness. As for me, I said: ‘O Jehovah, show me favor. Do heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.’”—Ps. 41:3, 4.
The psalmist’s experience “upon a divan of illness” may have occurred while his son Absalom was scheming to seize the throne. The Bible indicates that affairs of state were in disorder during that period of David’s rule. This may have been because the king’s sickness prevented him from handling matters properly. (2 Sam. 15:1-6) Absalom’s rebellion and other calamitous developments in David’s household fulfilled God’s judgment against the king for his adultery with Bath-sheba and his maneuvering of matters to get her husband killed. (2 Sam. 11:1–12:12) David knew that God had forgiven him for this shameful conduct. (2 Sam. 12:13) But, in a weakened physical state, he would naturally call to mind that he had sinned so seriously.
However, the psalmist felt that if he had been one pursuing a general course of considerateness toward lowly ones, God would “sustain” him, giving him support and strength while lying helpless on a sickbed. (Compare Psalm 18:24-26.) Though dangerously ill, the Bible writer had confidence that God would ‘change his bed,’ not by removing the sickness miraculously, but by strengthening the sufferer with comforting thoughts that engender hope of recovery. It would be as if God were transforming his bed from one of sickness into one of recuperation. His acknowledging that he had “sinned against” God put David in a position to receive his favor once again. Hence, he could ask God to ‘heal his soul,’ or help in his recovery from illness.—Compare Psalm 32:1-5.
The psalmist goes on to tell of treachery that he experienced from associates while in a weakened condition: “As for my enemies, they say what is bad concerning me: ‘When will he die and his name actually perish?’ And if one does come to see me, untruth is what his heart will speak; he will gather up for himself something hurtful; he will go out; on the outside he will speak of it.”—Ps. 41:5, 6.
David’s enemies had nothing good to say about him. Maliciously they spoke of him as a wicked man. Impatiently they yearned for him to die and be remembered no more. Even when one would “come to see” him on the sickbed, that one’s words of sympathy would be “untruth,” prompted by a heart that really desired the ailing one to die. Rather than trying to dispense comfort, the hypocritical sympathizer would be ‘gathering up for himself something hurtful,’ looking for something in the words, bearing or physical condition of the sufferer that could be used in a hurtful way against him. As soon as the visitor would get “outside” of the infirm king’s residence, he would “speak of it,” that is, spread abroad whatever news detrimental to the king that he had gathered during the visit.
Indicating how quickly such malicious gossip would spread, the psalmist goes on to say: “Unitedly against me all those hating me whisper to one another; against me they keep scheming something bad for me: ‘A good-for-nothing thing is poured out upon him; now that he has lain down, he will not get up again.’”—Ps. 41:7, 8.
Conspirators against David would get together and “whisper,” or discuss in hushed tones, their common stock of rumors, to the king’s detriment. They kept “scheming” something bad for the psalmist by spreading vicious talk to the effect that “a good-for-nothing thing,” namely, the disease, had such a hold on the king that it was as if “poured out upon him.” This illness seemed like something from which he could never escape or “get up again.” This would add considerable fuel to the fire of rebellion against David’s kingship.
But David suffered even worse treachery. He writes: “Also the man at peace with me, in whom I trusted, who was eating my bread, has magnified his heel against me.”—Ps. 41:9.
Even a confidential friend, one who ‘was eating bread’ as a frequent recipient of David’s hospitality, turned against him. The traitor “magnified his heel” against the king just as a horse might turn and kick the one feeding him. This is understood to be a reference to David’s personal adviser Ahithophel, whose counsel was esteemed as if it were the direct word of Jehovah. (2 Sam. 15:12; 16:23) Ahithophel turned traitor and joined Absalom in a coup against the king. (2 Sam. 15:31; 16:15)* So not one of such men scheming against David proved himself to be the “happy” one “acting with consideration toward the lowly one,” as mentioned in Ps 41 verse one of this psalm.
The psalmist continues: “As for you, O Jehovah, show me favor and cause me to get up, that I may pay them back.”—Ps. 41:10.
The weakened king now addresses God. Since David’s companions had claimed that “he will not get up again” (Ps 41 vs. 8), the psalmist asked that God would ‘cause him to get up,’ that is, assist him back to health and vigor. The desire to ‘pay back’ his enemies was not in the spirit of personal vengeance. Rather, the king, as the nation’s highest magistrate, knew that such treacherous conspirators should be punished by due process of law for the good of all.—See Deuteronomy 19:15-21.
Next, David expresses confidence that God would hear his prayer, saying: “By this I do know that you have found delight in me, because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me. As for me, because of my integrity you have upheld me, and you will set me before your face to time indefinite.”—Ps. 41:11, 12.
That God had taken delight in the psalmist was evident “by this,” namely, by the fact that God gave him internal assurance that his enemies would not “shout in triumph” over him as victorious fighters in war. During David’s sickness, God directed his thoughts to the firm conviction that he would be upheld ‘because of his integrity.’ The psalmist does not thereby deny his own sinfulness and unrighteous acts but lays claim to a general life course of wholehearted devotion to God. Instead of succumbing to an untimely death, the psalmist anticipated continuing for a long time (“to time indefinite”) ‘before God’s face,’ that is, in friendly relations with the Creator and as the recipient of his protection.
The final Ps 41 verse 13 of this psalm states: “Blessed be Jehovah the God of Israel from time indefinite even to time indefinite. Amen and Amen.” (Ps. 41:13) With this, the first of the five books of the Psalms ends, the 13th verse being a doxology or form of words ascribing praise to Jehovah God and corresponding to the doxology with which each of the other four books ends, namely, Psalms 72, 89, 106 and 150.
While conversing with his 12 apostles during the Last Supper, Jesus drew on these words of David. In pointing to the fact that one of the 12 would betray him, Jesus said: “I know the ones I have chosen. But it is in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled. ‘He that used to feed on my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’” (John 13:18) God knew that Jesus would undergo ill treatment from a close associate in a way that resembled what happened to David.