For the Love of God, Volume 1/April 27
From Gospel Translations
Numbers 4; Psalm 38; Song of Songs 2; Hebrews 2
ONE OF THE MOST ATTRACTIVE FEATURES of David is his candor. At his best he is transparently honest. That means, among other things, that when there is an array of things going wrong in his life he does not collapse them into a single problem. Nothing could be clearer from Psalm 38. Commentators sometimes try to squeeze the diverse elements in this psalm into a single situation, but most such re-creations seem a trifle forced. It is worth identifying some of the most striking components of David’s misery.
(1) He is facing God’s wrath (38:1), and (2) suffering from an array of physical ailments (38:3-8). (3) As a result he is full of frustrated sighing and has sunk into depression (38:9-10). (4) His friends have abandoned him (38:11). (5) Meanwhile he still faces the plots and deception of his standard (political) enemies (38:12). (6) He is so enfeebled that he is like a deaf mute (38:13-14), unable to speak, for his enemies are numerous and vigorous (38:19). (7) Meanwhile he is painfully troubled by his own iniquity (38:18).
One can imagine various ways to tie these points together, but a fair bit of speculation is necessary. What stands out in this psalm is that even while David is asking for vindication against his enemies, he does so in the context of confessing his own sin, of facing, himself, the wrath of God. It is quite possible that he understands both his physical suffering and even the loss of his friends and the opposition of evil opponents to be expressions of God’s wrath—which intrinsically he admits to deserving. In this psalm David does not ask for vindication grounded in his own covenantal fidelity. He frankly confesses his sin (38:18), waits for the Lord (38:15), begs God not to forsake him (38:21), entreats God to help him (38:22) and not to rebuke him in anger and wrath (38:1). In short, David appeals for mercy.
This is another face of the vindication theme (see the meditation for April 24). Yes, we want God to display his justice. In circumstances where we have been frankly wronged, it is comforting to recall that God’s justice will ultimately triumph. But what about the times when we are guilty ourselves? Will justice alone suffice? If all we want from God is justice, what human being will survive the divine holocaust?
While pleading for vindication, it is urgently important that we confess our own sin, and entreat God for mercy. For the God of justice is also the God of grace. If this be not so, there is no hope for any of us.