Psalm 38 Buke, Buke, Re-Buke

Questions: Does God rebuke us? In anger? Should He? Why or why not? Dare we face our ultimate accountability to God? How? And if so, then what happens next?

“Read More” to pursue answers in the Psalms.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Psalms 38:1-22

O LORD, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

Ouch. David seems pretty sure God is ticked off at him, for he’s living in a world of hurt:

a. For thine arrows stick fast in me;

b. thy hand presseth me sore.

c. [There is] no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger;

d. neither [is there any] rest in my bones because of my sin.

e. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head:

f. as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.

g. My wounds stink [and] are corrupt because of my foolishness.

h. I am troubled;

i. I am bowed down greatly;

j. I go mourning all the day long.

k. For my loins are filled with a loathsome [disease]:

l. and [there is] no soundness in my flesh.

m. I am feeble and sore broken:

n. I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.

What’s most striking is that David isn’t protesting his innocence, or questioning the justice of God’s anger. David is well aware that it is his “sin, iniquities, and foolishness” that brought this upon him, and that God’s rebuke is the natural counterpart of that, as he mentioned in verse 3:

There is] no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither [is there any] rest in my bones because of my sin.

The thoroughness of his suffering leads to complete brokenness, and what we might call transparency:

Lord, all my desire [is] before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.

His body, friends, and enemies are all sources of grief:

* My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me.

* My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off.

* They also that seek after my life lay snares [for me]: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long.

Though at this point he seems beyond caring:

But I, as a deaf [man], heard not; and [I was] as a dumb man [that] openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth [are] no reproofs

I gotta say, that certainly qualifies as a bad day! Two things strike me. First, David doesn’t shy away from the fact that it is his “own damn fault.” Second, he sees God’s wrath as the natural, inevitable, and fitting consequence for those sins. He doesn’t have any righteous indignation — or even self-pity! — to stand behind.

I must confess, I rarely let myself get so emotionally naked, even just with myself. Worse, there are probably times I needed to, but I turned (and still turn) to a variety of coping strategies and defenses mechanisms to avoid facing that utter, damning, accountability.

Ouch. Where does David get the strength to face such bleakness? And is there any way out?

Two questions, one answer:

For in thee, O LORD, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.

To me, this is the crucial difference between theism and deism. It is easy to look at the world and imagine a God of justice, even one of generosity. But when the rubber hits the road, and we know we’ve failed, where can we turn for mercy? What hope do we have that God will hear us? What assurance do we have that anything we might do will make any difference at all?

Well, if nothing else, we have the example of people like David, who bet their lives — and their souls — that God would hear them:

For I said, [Hear me], lest [otherwise] they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify [themselves] against me. For I [am] ready to halt, and my sorrow [is] continually before me.

And the crucial task seems to be fully facing the awfulness of our sin:

For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.

Even if it merely aggravates his external tensions:

But mine enemies [are] lively, [and] they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow [the thing that] good [is].

Moreover, we don’t always get to see the final salvation. Not even in this Psalm, which merely ends with a petition (or two):

Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me.

Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation

Yet, somehow, that is enough. I’m no David, but I’ve walked this path before, even if I haven’t worn it as deeply as he did. I too know the just torture of a burned conscience, and feared the holy wrath of a living God. And I’ve seen that my only possible salvation was that very God who was the source of all my fears. Whom is nonetheless ready to hear and heal me, if I open myself up and submit to him. No matter the cost. Especially to my pride.


Father, thank you! Thank you for not leaving me to decay in my sins, but that you spark me toward repentance by bringing them to remembrance. Forgive me for all the time I’ve wasted running from your chastening, living in denial or wallowing in self-pity and self-condemnation. Grant me the grace to follow in David’s footsteps, facing up to the awful horror of what I’ve done, and the stern rebuke I so richly deserve. Help me to trust in your overwhelming, abounding mercy, and confess myself before thee. That I may see your salvation in the land of the living. Through Jesus our Savior, and my Lord. Amen.