I don’t think the lesson of Psalm 38 is meant to be a clear-cut “1. Bad things are happening to you because you sinned, 2. Confess your sins and the bad things will stop happening.” I say this because the psalm itself doesn’t have much clear-cut about it. The suffering the psalmist experiences is ambiguous in its source. It starts out as a result of God’s wrath toward sin but without announcing it, becomes stimulated by enemies who want to kill and harm without cause and the psalmist is once again seen as an innocent victim (verse 20). I think the lesson or point of this psalm is to once again guide us to run to God’s mercy and grace when we are experiencing suffering, even when the suffering continues. A unique feature of this psalm is its reminder to us that God’s wrath is real, so how much more should we 1. do our best not to sin, and 2. run to Jesus for his grace and forgiveness to cover our sin and satisfy God’s wrath. Once you are a Christian / believer, this is a once-and-for-all covering. Jesus’ work is finished. But it’s healing and freeing to remember what it is we deserve from God (apart from Jesus) so that we can so much better enjoy and experience his undeserved gifts of grace and mercy that he lavishes on us. When we start acting like God could never be wrathful because he’s just not like that (though Scripture says otherwise), we lose out on how big of a gift his mercy and grace to us really is.
The grass metaphor is the only thing close to a timeline that this psalm gives us on when the righteous reality will come into effect. When we go to God in our suffering, or go to God and ask “How long oh Lord?” like Psalm 13 cries out, we want a definitive answer. A definitive timeline of exactly how long until we see God’s justice. God doesn’t tell us this. But Psalm 37 assures us that it will happen. Psalm 37 tells us we are on the right side. Psalm 37 tells us that a day is coming when the wicked will be punished and they will regret being on the wrong side. It tells us that a day is coming when our past suffering will seem small in comparison with the present glory that we will experience within God’s blessing. The Old Testament Israelites were waiting to inherit the land, but we are waiting to inherit a kingdom, God’s kingdom. His rule and reign on earth both now and for all eternity, which the Lord Prayer tells us to pray for today (Matthew 6:10).
Meanwhile God isn’t trying to deprive people of delight, he’s trying to draw us toward real delight. He’s trying to draw us toward a solid foundation that doesn’t eventually evaporate. I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-29. Psalm 36 takes it up to an even more worshipful notch though. It lays out the path of the sand, the path that evaporates, and it lays out the path of the rock. The path that holds up when life’s trials come. The path that holds up for all of eternity. But then it uses these two paths to lead us into worship. It leads us to praise God for his love and faithfulness that reaches to the skies, his righteousness that’s like the highest mountain, and his justice that is deeper than the ocean. What imagery! What beauty. It leads us to his unfailing love. His priceless, unfailing love. There is no better picture than this in all of Scripture. God loves you so much. His love for you is worth more than all the money, gold, and treasure in the world. And his love for you never, ever fails.
We love these pretty red bows in our contemporary sermons and ideas of prayer. But the psalm does not stop here. The transition from verse 10 to 11 feels like taking a stick shift automobile from 5th gear to 2nd. One minute the psalmist is extolling God for rescuing the poor from their oppressor, the next he is writing about his ongoing, brutal oppression. Verses 1-10 paint the picture that God has throttled the oppressors and the poor (and the psalmist, written as one of the poor) are free. Verses 11 and following take us down the dark road of the real, daily, in-your-face oppression that the psalmist is still currently under.
Verse 18 tells us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. It’s important that we recognize how rare this claim is among world religions, both historical and contemporary. Our God cares for the broken. He cares for the oppressed. He cares for the abused. He cares for the impoverished. He cares! This is such a gift to each of us whom he cares for, and sets us on a path to embody his love to a crushed and brokenhearted world.
I wonder what examples a psalmist would use for our epitomes of power today that we look to to deliver us… No businessman is saved by the size of his portfolio; no politician escapes by his great following. Possessions and wealth are vain hopes for deliverance, despite all their momentary comfort, they cannot save. Just as kings, physical strength, and horses were not sinful in the ancient world, I’m not saying portfolios, politics, and possessions are sinful today. But am I saying that we look to these things to deliver us. They are the things we spend most of our worry, anxiety, and stress on.