Lord Do Not Rebuke Me in Your Anger: Psalm 38 (the Seven Penitential Psalms)

Psalm 38:title–22 (NIV)

A psalm of David. A petition.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger

or discipline me in your wrath.

Your arrows have pierced me,

and your hand has come down on me.

Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;

there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.

My guilt has overwhelmed me

like a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and are loathsome

because of my sinful folly.

I am bowed down and brought very low;

all day long I go about mourning.

My back is filled with searing pain;

there is no health in my body.

I am feeble and utterly crushed;

I groan in anguish of heart.

All my longings lie open before you, Lord;

my sighing is not hidden from you.

10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;

even the light has gone from my eyes.

11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;

my neighbors stay far away.

12 Those who want to kill me set their traps,

those who would harm me talk of my ruin;

all day long they scheme and lie.

13 I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,

like the mute, who cannot speak;

14 I have become like one who does not hear,

whose mouth can offer no reply.

15 Lord, I wait for you;

you will answer, Lord my God.

16 For I said, “Do not let them gloat

or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.”

17 For I am about to fall,

and my pain is ever with me.

18 I confess my iniquity;

I am troubled by my sin.

19 Many have become my enemies without cause;

those who hate me without reason are numerous.

20 Those who repay my good with evil

lodge accusations against me,

though I seek only to do what is good.

21 Lord, do not forsake me;

do not be far from me, my God.

22 Come quickly to help me,

my Lord and my Savior.

When we read Psalm 32 we explored the experience of having been forgiven and set free. Psalm 38 takes us back into the same territory that Psalm 6 put us in, even beginning with the same words. Repentance is cyclical. Sometimes we buckle under the weight of our sins, sometimes we know fully the joy of being forgiven.

But this Psalm speaks more explicitly about how sin stands behind his calamity. The psalmist knows that his peculiar suffering is caused by his sin [Note: Suffering doesn’t always have sin as a direct cause, other psalms explore the suffering of the righteous].  He speaks of God’s wrath, his guilt, his sinful folly, his sin and iniquity. His sin has caused him to suffer and his health to falter.  He longs for forgiveness, healing and restoration but he experiences none.  And he feels isolated and alone. Even the good that he offers others is repaid harshly.

David (presumably the author of this Psalm) suffered for his sin.  He knew that God was right to be angry with him. He had disobeyed God’s law and misused his power when he took Bathsheba and had Uriah the Hittite killed in battle (more about this when we discuss Psalm 51).  He sinned when he trusted in his army instead of God. At times his anger burned hot and he acted rashly. When he was older he failed to address the sins of his sons Amnon (who raped his half sister Tamar) and Absalom (who avenged Tamar and forcibly wrested the Kingdom from David’s hands for a time).  I think he had difficulty confronting his sons because he was guilty of the same sins. A little leniency from David meant that he reaped the whirlwind and many whom he called friends and allies betrayed him.

We do not know the occasion of this Psalm (or even if   the superscription ‘of David’ means that he  wrote this psalm). But we’ve experienced this. Have you held on to Sin in your heart and seen it poison everything in your life? Have you been bitter against someone who betrayed you and abused your trust?  You were justified in your anger but when bitterness grew in you, you were the one who suffered.  All your relationships were poisoned and you felt isolated and alone.

How about lust? Are you tempted to treat others as objects to be used for your own satisfaction? Or greed? Are you constantly reaching for just a little more and find yourself consumed by your own consumption? Does your pride prevent you from turning to God or others for the help you desperately need?And the list can go on. I know it because I am sinner too and in my own way have suffered what the Psalmist describes.

But the Psalmist knows more than the weight of his sin. He knows that hope for forgiveness and restoration are found in God. He lays his soul bare and cries, ” Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior.” His own actions may have caused his suffering and isolation. His health deteriorated because of anxiety and guilt over what he had done. But he knows that he can do nothing to aleviate his condition. If there is freedom and life and hope, it will come when the God of salvation draws near.

May we also look to the Savior of our souls to free us from the sin that entangles us.  Teach us Lord to turn our hearts to you.

Blessed is the One Whose Sins Are Forgiven: Psalm 32 (Seven Penitential Psalms)

The Seven Penitential Psalms were chosen because they teach us about confession; yet they do not all teach us in the same way. Our first psalm (Psalm 6) lamented personal suffering and sadness which comes from sin. The tone of Psalm 32 is different. It is not a lament at all. Instead this is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness.  At the end of Psalm 6, the psalmist feels heard and awaits the Lord’s sure deliverance. Here the psalmist sings of a lived reality.  His sorrows were swallowed up by the mercy of God. Here is Psalm:

Psalm 32 (NIV)

Of David. A maskil.

Blessed is the one

whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the one

whose sin the Lord does not count against them

and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,

my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

For day and night

your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was sapped

as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you

and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess

my transgressions to the Lord.”

And you forgave

the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you

while you may be found;

surely the rising of the mighty waters

will not reach them.

You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble

and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Do not be like the horse or the mule,

which have no understanding

but must be controlled by bit and bridle

or they will not come to you.

10 Many are the woes of the wicked,

but the Lord’s unfailing love

surrounds the one who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;

sing, all you who are upright in heart!

The psalmist is aware of the isolation and loneliness of being a sinner. He remembers how his bones ached and his spirit withered. He knew that he was the recipient of God’s wrath. But then he confessed his sins–did not hold back anything but declared them all. And then he experienced absolution, freedom, total forgiveness and joy. With confidence he exhorts us to shed our obstinance and petty pretense and seek forgiveness from the God of grace.

Have you experienced what the Psalmist describes? There was a time when I felt the weight of my sin and resented God’s goodness (if God weren’t so good, he wouldn’t demand so much would He?). But then I experienced God’s goodness afresh–His Grace abounding to my sin-sick-soul. And in that moment I felt loved by God and the freedom of forgiveness. But I am from a people of unclean lips and I have unclean lips. I don’t do confession well. I bet you don’t either.

I feel like our gut response to sin in our lives is to pretend it isn’t there. Sure we aren’t perfect but we really aren’t that bad either, right? So we excuse our faults and make sure that we do more good than bad. We hide from the ugly parts of ourselves and we hide from one another too. And God. When God and others see us for who we truly are we feel exposed. We are naked and ashamed so we run and hide.

What this Psalm suggests to me is that another way is possible. To the extent that I have bared my soul to God in confession I am able to latch on to the forgiveness He offers through Christ.  It is when confess our sins that we know the freedom of forgiveness.  What we hold back from God, God will not bless. What we give to Him is transformed in His hands. I pray for myself that I would be bold in my confession and honest with myself about where my thoughts, words and deeds hurt the ones I love. In better moments I pray that for you too. Join me in confession and let us experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness together!

Lord Do Not Rebuke Me In Anger: Psalm 6 (Seven Penitential Psalms)


Psalm 6

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?

4 Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?

6 I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.

8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the LORD has heard my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

 

This is the first of the so-called Penitential Psalms. Psalm 6 is a personal lament Psalm a petition for relief from suffering. Bible commentator Peter Craigie calls it “A Prayer of Sickness.” But is this Penitential Psalm about Sin?  With the exception of the opening verse where the psalmist cries, “Do not rebuke me in your anger/ do not chastise me in your wrath” there is no hint of wrong doing by the author. Instead this psalm lays bare personal anguish. The psalmist is feeble–physically suffering and disturbed in the depths of his soul. He longs for salvation and the lovingkindness (covenant love) of God. And yet the psalmist is overwhelmed with thoughts of death, with sickness, with crying and grief. At the heart of his suffering he feels abandoned by God.

I’ve heard many a preacher say, “If you feel distant from God, guess who moved?” This phrase is to warn us of the dangers of our ever wandering heart. But the writer of Psalm 6 doesn’t feel like he’s moving. If anything, he feels stuck. But he longs for God, for restoration and life.  This psalm gives words to the experience of sadness, grief, sickness, abandonment and physical anguish. This is why Christians through the ages have associated this Psalm with our response to personal sin. Ought we not feel broken and sad when we know what our sin cost God?  This psalm names the appropriate response to our wickedness.

When I think about this I wonder: when the last time I felt anguish for the state of my soul?  I tend to think of myself as not too bad. Sometimes I feel bad about something I’ve said or did but this doesn’t occupy my thoughts for too long. In a consumer culture I always have something at my finger tips which promises relief from personal anxiety. I can escape my problems by reading a good book or watching a bad movie. I can gorge myself on copious amounts of chocolate or with a good glass (bottle) of wine.  I seldom consider the depths of my sin, and if I do, I do not do it very long.   Yet Lent is a time for taking an honest look at yourself. So I am a sinner, but I do not know personal suffering of the magnitude that the Psalmist describes. I have had my share of  hard times and personal anxiety. I long for more joy, peace and contentment in my life.  I have felt grief and a myriad of little aches and pains, but this Psalm invites me deeper: to a place of total brokenness for my sin.

The brokenness of the Psalmist does not end in brokenness. The Lord hears his cries  and the anguishing, “How Long?” I think the lesson in praying this Psalm is that God is the God who hears. You do not need to deny your sorry estate. You do not need to repress personal disappointment and anguish of the soul. You do not need to numb your perceptions with sensual pleasures. When you turn to God with your Sin and suffering, He will bring healing and restoration.

This Psalm is good news for my sin-sick-soul.  When I read it, I ask God to feel more fully the weight of my sins. But I am no masochist. God in Christ has paid for my sins and will restore to life and health the parts of me that are marred by sinfulness. The God who hears will not leave me to suffer but will surround me with His mercy and Grace.

 

Confession is Good for the Soul: an Introduction to the Seven Penitential Psalms

During last year’s Lent, I had a series of posts on the Seven Deadly Sins. Those posts were  a way for me to examine my heart, repent and explore alternative practices. This year I will look at the Seven Penitential Psalms.  These psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 142) were designated the Penitential Psalms in the 7th Century (though four of them were known as such much earlier). because of how suitably they expressed repentance.  In the Middle Ages they were recited after Lauds (Morning Prayer) on Fridays through Lent and were used in Medieval confessions.

These psalms help us pay attention to the way sin feels in us. When I looked at the Seven Deadly Sins, I was exploring how habitual sin affects us.  These reflections are somewhat different. The Psalms name the reality of sin in our lives and express sorrow for it. They also talk about what sin does to our heart, our minds, our bodies and our soul. So I invite you to read these Psalms along with me and trust that through Christ Jesus the grace of God extends to our sin-sick-souls.

The Penitentials  are an invitation to be clean, to be whole, and fully restored. When I compose my reflections on each of these Psalms I will not ask you to do anything. Instead I want to hold out the mercy of God. The Psalms utter our longings for wholeness and freedom. They also instruct us in way of freedom.

But I want to be honest with you. Confession is good for the soul but it is also hard. It is much easier to ignore your sin, shrug it off as no big deal than to take a long hard look at the way Sin stains our best efforts. I am a sinner but a poor penitent.  Absolution comes to those who confess but first we have to take a hard look at ourselves.   I do not know where these reflections will take me (us?) but I hope we will have the courage to repent and turn our hearts to God.