Today’s passage: Psalm 38
Today’s chocolate: Endangered Species dark chocolate with sea salt & almonds
So far, whenever there’s trouble in a Psalm of David, it’s usually come from his enemies. There’s some external threat, mocking David or doing violence to him or threatening his life, and he’s praying for God to rescue him. And the enemies are still hanging around in Psalm 38, but the primary source of disorientation here isn’t the liar or violent man who opposes David. This disorientation comes from God–and ultimately from David himself.
We’ve seen David appeal to God on the basis of his own righteousness, but today he’s appealing to God’s mercy. He opens with a prayer: “O Lord, rebuke me not in Your wrath…For Your arrows have sunk deep into me, and Your hand has pressed down on me” (1-2). These are no grazing blows, no mere flesh wounds, and the arrows of God’s fury are just the beginning of David’s suffering. He attributes his deteriorating health to his sin, and describes it as a “heavy burden” (4) over his head that he’s not strong enough to bear. “My wounds grow foul and fester because of my folly” (5), he confesses. Folly! David, who has in previous psalms censured the sins of the fool, is now admitting that he’s in the same boat. The opening segment of this passage is a litany of pain both physical and spiritual.
Compared to the burden of his sin, David’s external troubles seem trivial. “My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my kinsmen stand afar off” (11) he declares. Nobody knows the trouble he’s seen, because nobody’s seen inside him in the way that only he and God can. Moreover, his enemies are still on the hunt. He writes, “Those who seek my life lay snares for me” (12). But the presence of his enemies and absence of friends seem ancillary to his primary plight: his unrighteousness, and the furious response of a righteous God.
Curiously, David doesn’t see his enemies as instruments of God’s punishment. He describes them as hating him wrongfully, stating, “And those who repay evil for good, they oppose me, because I follow what is good” (19-20). Whatever sin David committed, it wasn’t against his pursuers. But he still admits that he’s sinned, and that his bodily and mental suffering is God’s just punishment; he prays, “I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin” (18). In the end, whatever good he’s done isn’t enough; all he can do is hope in God and plead for salvation.