Psa. 38 A PSALM OF DAVID, FOR THE MEMORIAL OFFERING.
1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
Every few months a new vaccine or treatment is hailed as being an answer to some form of ailment. The cutting edge of medicine in our day seeks cures for cancer, AIDS, Hepatitis C, and other harmful if not lethal illnesses. Our modern day is not too far distant from that of our ancestors. They sought miracle cures, and we seek miracle drugs.
This is one Psalm of which some commentators believe to be part of what are psalms for healing. In medieval Judaism and Christianity this psalm was used by chaplains at many a sick-bed. David offers us plaintive prayer for healing with three main emphases:
1. Overbearing Burden
The Psalmist clearly faces an overwhelming burden of both the physical and spiritual nature. Physical Ill health is not directly linked in every occasion to spiritual ill heath. Often sickness and disease is simply the product of living in a world that has been thrown into cosmic disarray and often not of our own choosing. “For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,” (Rom. 8:20).
However, David in this Psalm believes his sickness to be rightly merited. “O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!” (v. 1). He is aware, as even our common sense will tell us, that actions have consequences. The psalm is penitential yet gives us no context. There is no descriptor like so many other David Psalms which give us a glimpse into the poetry behind each situation. But it seems to indicate that he has an external skin ailment that “stinks and festers” (v.5).
A pompous and pedantic theorist might argue that prayer detailing one’s sickness is superfluous in view of God’s omniscience(v.9); but our Lord points out that only faithless chatter is superfluous (Matt. 6:7ff.).
2. Outcast man
David’s physical ailment is in some sense a parable of his deep inner ailment.
The word plague is perhaps chosen for its associations with leprosy (e.g. four times in Lev. 13:3,), for this is how his friends were treating David. He is experiencing being a social outcast, a physical outcast and ultimately a spiritual outcast. David feels like an outcast not only from his human friends but from his ultimate friend, the God of Israel.
3. Only Hope
Hope is our patient awaiting for an expected outcome. David is outstanding in any company for his ability to wait (15) for God. His fugitive years, his Hebron period and his attitude to Absalom’s revolt, all proved the sincerity of his prayer in 15f., and of his advice in Psalm 37. His hopes have never been in military might, family success, or a nation’s acclaim. His hope is in YHWH the “The Lord who will answer”(v. 15)
This final plea, with its pathetic urgency, shows that David’s capacity to wait God’s time, mentioned at the start of this section, owed nothing to a placid disposition or to a situation well in hand, but everything to the God he knew by name (Yahweh, 21a) and by covenant (my God), and as Master and Saviour (22b).
Despite the feelings of pain and suffering and abandonment the Psalmist does not end with a hopeless cry such as “Do not rebuke me.” v.1 and “Do not forsake me.” v.21. His final cry and only hope is in the Lord, ‘[his] salvation. (v.22). He knows that God will never forsake him for the sake of the Forsaken, Crucified One.
David realizes that the deepest healing he needs is not physical healing – though nice – it is a deep inner spiritual healing: the Healing of Forgiveness.
May we walk in the healing of forgiveness.