essens here, doesn’t it? We know this is the direction of the psalmist because he tells us in verse 3 where he has in fact been getting his water from: his tears. His tears have been his food day and night, with God nowhere in sight. God’s absence is noticeable even to those around him as people taunt him, asking him where his God is, in the midst of his pain.
Psalm 40 shows us that we can confidently approach God in our time of need, and that we can continue to worship and rejoice in him, even when our circumstances would indicate otherwise. It also sets a clear pattern that God doesn’t always tie things up in a perfect, red bow at the end. It doesn’t promise that “all who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion.” That prayer is prayed, but as far as we know, those attempted murderers are still on the prowl. What it does promise is we can go to God as our refuge and strength in the midst of this.
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.