Question: "What does it mean that He brought me out of the miry clay (Psalm 40:2)?"
Answer: King David discovered a key to experiencing joy amid the most challenging times of life by remembering God’s past deliverance from trouble. We don’t know the exact details of David’s ordeal in Psalm 40, but he compares it to being stuck in a horrifying pit filled with mud and mire:
“I waited patiently for the LORD;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps” (Psalm 40:1–2, NKJV).
If you’ve ever been stuck in quicksand or stood on the soft ocean shore as your feet sank deeper into the sand with each wave, you know the feeling of being caught in the staggering helplessness of miry clay. Mire is deep, soft mud in water or slush, like wet loam or potter’s clay. The Hebrew term in Psalm 40:2 is translated as “miry bog” (ESV), “mud and mire” (NIV), and “muddy clay” (CSB).
David wants to convey the idea of being desperately trapped in abysmally dark circumstances. David’s metaphor reminds us of Jeremiah’s actual imprisonment in a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:7–13) and Joseph’s entrapment by his brothers in a pit (Genesis 37:18–22). On his own, David is powerless to escape. The only thing he can do is wait patiently for the Lord to rescue him. David may have been speaking of the same excruciating episode in Psalm 69:2: “Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me” (NLT).
David’s pit of miry clay could be symbolic of any number of distressing times he endured. Perhaps it was the crater of depression and rejection he experienced due to King Saul’s murderous jealously and hatred (1 Samuel 18:10–17; 23:15–29). Maybe it was the time his son Absolom led a conspiracy and rebellion against him (2 Samuel 15:1—18:33). It might have been the pit David dug for himself through his sinful affair with Bethsheba and then the slaying of her husband (2 Samuel 11:1–27).
Whatever the pit may have been, David has learned in times of trouble to cry out to the Lord: “Rescue me from the miry mud; don’t let me sink. Let me be rescued from those who hate me and from the deep water” (Psalm 69:14, CSB). As he trusts in the Lord and calls on God for help, David’s Redeemer hears and answers (Psalm 56:9–11; 121:1–2).
“He brought me out of the miry clay,” testifies David. The Lord delivers him by pulling him up and out of his horrible ordeal. “You brought me up from the grave, O LORD,” utters David in Psalm 30:3, “You kept me from falling into the pit of death” (NLT). “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me,” declares David in Psalm 18:19. What David cannot do for himself, the Lord accomplishes (see Ephesians 3:20; Luke 18:27). God sets David’s feet on a solid, secure rock and establishes his steps (Psalm 27:5; 37:23; 62:2).
He brought me out of the miry clay is also a picture of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection and the resulting salvation believers experience through Him. When Jesus Christ died, He was buried in the grave. Crucifixion was a truly “horrible pit” as the spotless Lamb of God took all the transgressions of humankind on His sinless body (Isaiah 53:4–5; 1 John 3:5).
But, thanks be to God, our Savior did not stay in the pit. “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24; see also Hebrews 5:7). He was brought “out of the miry clay.” Christ is alive now and lives forever. The apostle Peter explains, “He suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT).
Jesus Christ was raised to life, never to die again. His work of redemption is complete. We were destined to die, but through His marvelous salvation, He brought us out of the miry clay. He set our feet upon a rock, and like David, He put a new song of praise to God in our mouths (Psalm 96:1; 149:1).