The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition meaning “to”) is commonly thought to denote “to the musical director” or “leader.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads pro victoria (“for victory”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” This indicates that there is considerable uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew expression.
Psalm 41(40) is attributed to David. Verse 9(10) appears to refer to the treachery of David’s counselor Ahithophel, which circumstance would fit the period of Absalom’s endeavors to seize the throne. (2 Samuel 15:31; 16:23)
Blessed, happy, fortunate, or in an enviable state is the person who has consideration for the poor or lowly, responding compassionately to their needs. After “poor,” the Septuagint adds, “and needy.” In a day of calamity or distress, YHWH will not forget the compassionate person but come to his rescue, delivering him.
Evidently because YHWH protects him and keeps him alive, the compassionate person is called “blessed,” “happy,” or “fortunate” in the land (by those residing in the God-given land). He would not be delivered up to the “soul” of his enemies. In this case, the “soul of his enemies” could denote their desire, which would have been to harm him. The Septuagint, however, says “hands” or power “of his enemy.”
YHWH would sustain or “help” (LXX) him while lying on a “couch of sickness” or “pain” (LXX). The Most High would “turn” or change his whole bed in his sickness. This could mean that the bed of sickness would be transformed into a bed of recuperation.
In his own case, David pleaded for YHWH to be gracious to him or show him favor or “mercy” (LXX) and heal him (his “soul”). He apparently regarded his affliction as a consequence of sin, for he acknowledged, “I have sinned against you.”
His enemies spoke bad or evil against him, hoping for the worst possible outcome from his sickness. They looked forward to his death, saying, “When will he die and his name perish?” In their view, the sooner he would die the better it would be. The words about the “name” perishing could refer to the name totally disappearing from memory or the psalmist’s being forgotten.
Seemingly some of these enemies pretended to be interested in his welfare. On coming in to see him, a foe would speak “emptiness,” “vanity,” or “worthlessness,” evidently meaning falsehood. His “heart” (probably his mind) would gather “trouble” or “iniquity” (“lawlessness,” LXX) to itself. Apparently the hateful visitor would look for evidence of decline in David’s health and then, in malice, make a mental note of everything that he could use against him. Upon going out or leaving David’s presence, he would gleefully tell about his observations.
All who hated him (his “enemies,” LXX) would unitedly whisper about him, apparently finding malicious pleasure in speaking about David’s affliction. They “thought” bad for him. As suggested by the words that follow, this probably means that they anticipated the worst for him respecting his affliction.
They would say, “A thing of ruin has been poured out upon him.” This “thing of ruin” apparently designated the affliction, and it is portrayed as having taken hold of the psalmist as completely as molten metal “poured” over an image. In the estimation of the foes, now that he did lie on his sickbed he would never again get up.
Even a man with whom he was at peace, one whom he trusted and with whom he ate bread, became a traitor. This trusted friend with whom he had no quarrel and with whom he ate at the same table likely was his wise counselor Ahithophel. Also in the case of the Messiah, an intimate associate, Judas, chose to be a traitor or betrayer. (John 13:18) The “magnifying” or “lifting up” of the heel is evidently an expression denoting base treachery, the figure apparently being of a raised foot that is ready to kick. (Also see the Notes section on verse 9.)
David prayed that YHWH would be gracious to him or show him favor (“mercy,” LXX), raising him up from his sickbed. His recovery would enable him to repay his foes, taking action against the conspirators. David’s requital apparently is to be regarded as the meting out of justice in his role as YHWH’s anointed one and not as an expression of personal vindictiveness.
For the psalmist, the fact that his enemy would not triumph (“rejoice,” LXX) over him proved that YHWH was pleased or delighted with him. Because he had proved himself to be a man of integrity (because of his “innocence,” LXX), YHWH had sustained or supported him and placed him before his “face” or presence for time without any limits (“into the age,” or forever, LXX).
Having been granted help and favor, David concluded with words of praise, “Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from eternity to eternity [from age into the age, LXX]. Amen and Amen.” The Hebrew expression “Amen” denotes “surely” or “so be it.” In the Septuagint, the term is here rendered génoito (“may it be”).
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
The quotation in John 13:18 from verse 9(10) of Psalm 41(40) conveys the basic thought of the Septuagint rendering (“the one eating my bread has magnified [his] treachery against me”), but the words are not identical. In the Septuagint, the Greek word for “treachery” is pternismós, a term incorporating the word ptérna, meaning “heel.” The related verb pternízo basically denotes “to bite someone’s heel,” go behind someone’s back, to deceive, or to outwit. The quotation in John 13:18, however, says “heel,” contains a different Greek word for “eat,” and uses a term for “lifted up,” not “magnified.”