Psalm 40:6-8 is quoted by the author of To the Hebrews 10:5-7 as referring to Jesus:

Heb 10:5 For this reason, the Scriptures say, when the Messiah was about to come into the world: "You did not want sacrifices and offerings, but you prepared a body for me. Heb 10:6 In burnt offerings and sin offerings you never took delight. Heb 10:7 Then I said, 'See, I have come to do your will, O God' In the volume of the scroll this is written about me."

The rest of the psalm also "works" as a messianic psalm except for verse 12:

Psa 40:12 Innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me so that I cannot see. They are more in number than the hair on my head, and my courage has forsaken me.

So was messiah predicted to be troubled by his many sins and become completely discouraged?

3 Answers 3


Does the Psalm attribute iniquity to the Messiah?

...My iniquities (עֲ֭וֹנֹתַי) have overtaken me... (Psalm 40:12 NKJV)

עֲ֭וֹנֹתַי is most commonly translated as iniquity, but there are instances, such as the first use, where the meaning is punishment:

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. (Genesis 4:13 JPS)

It is also used to described a person bearing the iniquity of something or someone else:

So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity (עֲוֹ֣ן) of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord. (Exodus 28:38 NKJV)

While David may be talking about his own iniquities, the prophetic element about the Messiah may reflect either the concept of punishment of bearing the iniquity of or for others:

This does not mean the iniquities were committed by the Messiah:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin... (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV)

  • As I understand it, that usage is idiomatic. The idiom is "bear+iniquity" = "bear the punishment of the iniquity". Absent that construct I don't think "punishment" is an option. Also he complains about the great number of his iniquities rather than the severity. I'll defer to those who know Hebrew to confirm or deny either reading though.
    – user10231
    Apr 20, 2016 at 6:03
  • Also, Jesus being punished for his sins does not change the conflict with "orthodoxy", does it?
    – user10231
    Apr 20, 2016 at 11:38
  • @Susan Might I trouble you to opine on whether or not the Hebrew supports Revelation Lad's answer?
    – user10231
    Apr 23, 2016 at 10:57
  • @WoundedEgo You can't just ping somebody like that if they haven't commented on or edited a post; I didn't get any notification but just happened to run across this. (In the future if you have questions I might be able to help with feel free to stop by Biblical Hermeneutics Chat where I am pretty much always pingable.) No, ʿāwôn does not require any particular verb to mean "punishment" (see, e.g., Gen 19:15). OTOH, the semantic range [iniquity - guilt - punishment] may not accommodate well punishment not arising from guilt, but this ventures beyond the lexical question.
    – Susan
    May 15, 2016 at 3:08

In short the verse Psalm 40:12 is not about the Messiah from a natural or plain exegesis. The first thing to keep in mind here is the nature of Messianic prophecies. In majority of cases, the prophecies are used as allusions to Christ. This Jewish exegesis is called Midrash which basically means comparison or allusion in application of a passage or verse.

In midrashic application, the author might apply one or two sentence from a chapter, which does not mean he interpreted or believed whole passage or chapter applied to the Messiah same way. If an allusion of a small part is made, we need not apply the whole the same way. The reason why the English translations use iniquities or sins in this verse shows they do not interpret vicarious punishment here. The word avon only means moral evil, perversity, sin or iniquity.

An example of midrashic interpretation from Talmud is this:

One day a fuller met him, and dubbed him: 'Vinegar, son of wine.' Said the Rabbi to himself, 'Since he is so insolent, he is certainly a culprit.' So he gave the order to his attendant: 'Arrest him! Arrest him!' When his anger cooled, he went after him in order to secure his release, but did not succeed. Thereupon he applied to him, [the fuller] the verse: Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles.16  Then they hanged him, and he [R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon] stood under the gallows and wept. Said they [his disciples] to him: 'Master, do not grieve; for he and his son seduced a betrothed maiden on the Day of Atonement.' [On hearing this,] he laid his hand upon his heart17  and exclaimed: 'Rejoice, my heart! If matters on which thou [sc. the heart] art doubtful are thus,18  how much more so those on which thou art certain! I am well assured that neither worms nor decay will have power over thee.' Yet in spite of this, his conscience disquieted him. Thereupon he was given a sleeping draught, taken into a marble chamber,19  and had his abdomen opened, and basketsful of fat removed from him and placed in the sun during Tammuz and Ab,20  and yet it did not putrefy.21  But no fat putrefies!22  — [True,] no fat putrefies; nevertheless, if it contains red streaks,23  it does. But here, though it contained red streaks, it did not. Thereupon he applied to himself the verse, My flesh too shall dwell in safety.

Christian believers nonetheless might interpret any passage to the Messiah Jesus through such midrashic or simply homiletical interpretation. One such example of apologists applying Psalm 22:6 to Jesus that calls the Psalmist a "worm".

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. (Psalm 22:6 ESV)

This is an amazing prophecy, but to capture the fullness of it, we have to look at the Hebrew text behind it. The Hebrew word translated, “worm” in our Bible is ‘tolaath’ actually a name of a very specific worm in Israel. It is a worm that would first be dried out, and then crushed in order to extract a red dye from. This is significant. The same Hebrew word occurs 42 times in the Old Testament, and only 8 of those times is it translated “worm(s)”. The rest of the occurrences translate it as “scarlet” and once as “crimson”. Some of the references are the scarlet thread used in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1; 35:6), in the ritual for cleansing a leper (Leviticus 14.4), and in the ritual for the red heifer (Numbers 19.6).  It is also used in Isaiah 1.18 ‘Though your sins are red as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.’  The application is tremendous: Jesus the Messiah was dried out in intense suffering, and was crushed like a worm under the wrath of God in order to extract the precious bright red substance from Him, His sinless blood, which would be applied to men as a precious dye to cover their sin. [A Response To Asher Norman’s Book: ‘26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus’]

  • So would you say that the commentary at the end of your post was a "forced" interpretation?
    – user10231
    Dec 3, 2016 at 18:54
  • If it was used as an allusion like NT authors did then it was fine (as I explained) but the way here it is used as "amazing prophecy" fulfillment it is a forced and unnatural interpretation.
    – Michael16
    Dec 3, 2016 at 19:04

1. The original contexts of "messianic" passages

Many passages which are considered messianic have original contexts and meanings. Psalm 40 is foremostly written by David about himself. Were it not for it being quoted in Hebrews, I wouldn't have thought it very messianic at all. It is an aspirational Psalm which all faithful Israelites (and later, Christians) should try to emulate.

Even some of the most prominent messianic passages, such as the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7, also have original meanings which must be considered. 2 Samuel 7 is first about David's son Solomon, and then about his son and so on. That is the context which verse 2 Samuel 7:14 must be understood (which says that God will discipline him). Christians understand the final and fullest fulfilment to be about Jesus Christ and would say that verse does not apply to him.

2. Who is the messiah?

On this site we must be mindful that there is a large range of beliefs about who the messiah is, if it is anyone at all. Some believe it is the sinless Jesus Christ, but others believe it would be a regular sinful human, or is a symbolic way of talking about the whole Israelite nation. Some messianic passages will therefore not be incongruous at all for some interpreters.

3. What about Psalm 40:12?

I personally wouldn't consider the whole chapter to be very messianic. There is the additional complication that the "you prepared a body for me" line does not appear in the Hebrew text. And even if it were considered messianic, I'd consider verse 12 to be like 2 Samuel 7:14: applicable to David's line of shadow-messiah descendants, but not to Jesus.

I also have a poorly thought out speculation: could the author of Hebrews have seen a link between Psalm 40:5-7 and Hosea 6:6, which Jesus quotes in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7? Perhaps Jesus quoted from Psalm 40, though we have no record of that in the gospels. Perhaps the author of Hebrews knew that Jesus had a general "God does not desire sacrifices" way of thinking, and chose to pick Psalm 40 for his argument in Hebrews 10.

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