Psalm 38


Wouldn’t it be grand to have such a relationship with God that we’d dare be so bold as David:  to remind God to be more gentle with us in God’s discipline; to remind God of God’s promise to not abandon us in times of distress and to even prevail on God to not take God’s own good time to come to our aid.

Psalm 38

1  When you are angry, LORD, please don’t punish me
or even correct me.
2  You shot me with your arrows,
and you struck me with your hand.

3  My body hurts all over because of your anger.
Even my bones are in pain,
and my sins 4are so heavy that I am crushed.

5  Because of my foolishness, I am covered with sores
that stink and spread.
6  My body is twisted and bent, and I groan all day long.
7  Fever has my back in flames, and I hurt all over.
8  I am worn out and weak, moaning and in distress.

9  You, LORD, know every one of my deepest desires,
and my noisy groans are no secret to you.
10 My heart is beating fast.
I feel weak all over, and my eyes are red.

11 Because of my sickness,
no friends or neighbors will come near me.
12 All who want me dead set traps to catch me,
and those who want to harm and destroy me
plan and plot all day.

13 I am not able to hear or speak a word;
14 I am completely deaf and can’t make a sound.

15 I trust you, LORD God, and you will do something.
16 I said, “Don’t let them laugh or brag because I slip.”

17 I am about to collapse from constant pain.
18 I told you my sins, and I am sorry for them.
19 Many deadly and powerful enemies hate me,
20 and they repay evil for good because I try to do right.

21 You are the LORD God!
Stay nearby and don’t desert me.
22 You are the one who saves me. Please hurry and help.

You will find in some translations the line “for the memorial offering” or “the Psalm of Remembrance” in the preface of Psalm 38.  Others will identify it as a “Psalm in time of trouble”. It certainly is that. I  couldn’t help wonder what the remembrance appellate was about.

It has been said that among all the psalms which address the author’s distress Psalm 38 “is marked by the deepest gloom.”  And while to some degree I can identify with some of the challenges faced by the Psalmist, this litany of complaints reminds me just how blessed I am. 

One commentator suggests that the person upon whose prayer we are eavesdropping and who stands before us in such misery and torment is one of those pariahs of society who, in their miserable condition, are avoided by friends and family alike, and who are so beaten down that they do not speak up. This is one of those very sad souls who are recalled in the Beatles’ song: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? ” This is a close look at those who are often not noticed at all, the people from whom we turn our eyes and look away or look past.  It reminds us to be aware of those who are less blessed than are we.

Seeing human suffering and distress as God’s retribution for sin can cause us to discount the struggles of others. We can decided that their condition is just deserts for bad choices and sinful living.   We can make God the author of the pain and source of the troubles of others.

The Psalmist does mention his sin a couple of times, in the fourth and eighteenth verses.  He says: “my sins are so heavy that I am crushed” and “I told you my sins, and I am sorry for them.”  That suggests that at least some of what the Psalmist is experiencing are consequences of his own choices, not punishments visited on him by God.  He hasn’t hidden his sins rather he acknowledges them and expresses contrition for them.  He has confessed his sin.

That brings us back to the very first line of this Psalm where the question raised is: About what does God have to be angry?  It boggled my mind that the Psalmist would simply ask that he would prefer God to discipline him when God isn’t angry about something. He goes on to say that part of his plight is a result of God’s intemperate darts. The Psalmist says “My body hurts all over because of your anger. Even my bones are in pain….”  It’s kinda’ gutsy of the Psalmist that in his prayer he reminds God that when God is angry God’s own behavior can seem arbitrary and capricious and result in human suffering.

The psalm’s concluding two lines are its only request. And, at that, the request is vague and remarkably mild.  There is no specific reference to healing, or changing the behavior of others. When one has abandoned hope of overcoming their physical ailments or of changing the world for the better, what we want most of all is that the ones nearest to us be simply close by. The speaker fears God’s absence, and seeks God’s final presence. This Psalm is not simply the rantings of one who sees him or herself as hopeless. The psalmist may be overwhelmed.  He has shut his mouth and raised his arms in surrender because he lacks a remedy for all his ills. He has no excuses and can make no self-defense. And so he turns to the only place he can: to the merciful God to whom he can plead in confidence, “Do not forsake me… help me, my Lord and my salvation!”  Through the voice of Psalmist you can hear the voice of Christ, crying out the fourth of the seven last words from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) 

That’s the genius of the psalms. It is in our deepest despair that we come to God in prayer. It calls to my mind a verse from an old Stamps-Baxter song that went: “Living below in this old sinful world, Hardly a comfort can afford; Striving alone to face temptations sore, Where could I go but to the Lord?” The goodness of God shines all the brighter when our brokenness and frailty is not hidden but openly admitted. The Psalmist reminds God to live up to God’s own best character.  He reminds God that “You are the LORD God!”  His petition is that God will “Stay nearby and don’t desert me.”.  He reminds God that “ You are the one who saves me.”  I love how this Psalm ends.  David says: “Please hurry and help.”

What do you think about how this Psalm reminds us that others who suffer aren’t really any different than us and at any time could be us and that their distress, while possibly being expected consequences from poor choices or unacceptable behavior, are not God retribution.

Wouldn’t it be grand to have such a relationship with God that we’d dare be so bold as David:  to remind God to be more gentle with us in God’s discipline; to remind God of God’s promise to not abandon us in times of distress and to even prevail on God to not take God’s own good time to come to our aid.

Philippians 4:6-7 says,Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.



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