Written by David Lamb
Monday, 28 October 2013 00:00
Currently I am on no prescription medicine. A year ago, however, I was on three separate meds and they seemed to make me feel worse. So my various medical professionals (at one point, I was seeing seven of them) kept switching my prescriptions to find the right cocktail. Eventually, God healed me, but it seemed to be in spite of the drugs.
Psalm 41 offers a different prescription for health. I’m going to look at just the first three verses.
- Psalm 41:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
- Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
- In the day of trouble
- the LORD delivers him;
- 2 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.
- 3 The LORD sustains him on his sickbed;
- in his illness you restore him to full health.
According to Psalm 41, people who consider the poor are blessed. What does it mean to consider the poor? The Hebrew verb here could be translated literally as “cause to prosper” (the Hebrew verb is a hiphil) which sounds more than just thinking about them, or even giving them a handout. Considering would involve cash, food, education, health care—anything they would need to prosper.
Notice, however, the text here does not command its readers to care for the poor (although Scripture does that repeatedly elsewhere: Exo. 22:25; 23:11; Lev. 19:10; Deut. 15:7, 11; Matt. 19:21; Luke 14:13; etc.). It is merely saying that those who consider the poor will be blessed. So, if you don’t feel a need for divine blessing, you can stop reading this blog post.
I, for one, am always looking for ways to get blessed. But perhaps some of you have too much blessing already?
How will the ones who consider the poor be blessed? Over the next few verses the psalm lists seven blessings for those who consider the poor.
- God delivers them during times of crisis.
- God protects them.
- God keeps them alive.
- They are called blessed in the land.
- God doesn’t give them up to their enemies.
- God sustains them on their sickbed.
- God restores them to full health.
- The seven blessings can be grouped into three categories.
First, blessing involves deliverance
God delivers, protects and keeps alive the ones who help the poor. What is the day of trouble? Financial? Spiritual? Emotional? From the end of verse 2 it sounds like it is military. Being given into the will of enemies. Notice, here that the pronoun switches from God as third person (“the LORD” = YHWH) to God as second person (“you”). A similar switch happens in Psalm 23:4. In the midst of this enemy related crisis God is being spoke to directly as a sign of his presence.
Second, blessing involves health
God sustains the consider-er of the poor on their sickbed and restores them to health fully. As someone who’s struggled a lot physically this past year, my ears perk up to this language. My doctors were quick to prescribe a litany of medications. I’d love to hear a doctor prescribe caring for the poor as part of a prescription for health. There is something wonderfully therapeutic and healing about caring for another person in need. I don’t fully understand it, but I believe it. As we bless others, God blesses us.
Third, blessing involves blessing
They are called blessed in the land. Yes, one of the blessings is blessing. I know that sounds circular. But the psalmist places this 4thblessing in the middle of the seven apparently for emphasis. Do you need a blessing? This listen to the words of this psalm.
Is this supposed to be like a magic formula for success?
Put your penny in the gumball machine (help the poor) and out comes your gumball (deliverance, healing, blessing). Not really.
Jesus considered the poor more than any other person on the planet and God gave him into the hands of his enemies. Just a few verses later in 41:9 the psalmist speaks of being betrayed in a way that foreshadows Jesus’ betrayal: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (see also John 13:18).
So, let’s not view this psalm in a mechanistic manner, but in general, God still promises that blessing does come to those who consider the poor. Bless the poor, and God will bless you.
My wife Shannon is better at considering the poor than I am. Several times a year, she signs up our family to prepare dinner for and sleep overnight with families who are temporary homeless at a nearby church. Usually, I finagle my way out of it. (“I won’t sleep well on those thin mattresses, and I need to be fresh to teach the Bible the next day” - hmm, that sounds suspiciously like the priest or Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:31-32). Last month, my finagle failed, so Shannon and I spent a delightful evening hanging out and telling stories with a young family and their two year-old daughter.
I didn't sleep well that night, but the Sunday school class I taught the next day still went fine. And God blessed me through the experience.
How have you been blessed by considering the poor?
(If you’d like me to write a blog post on a particular psalm tell me a comment or an email.)
David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.