Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Psalm 38 is a fairly penitent Psalm. David is feeling guilty over something and is pleading with God for mercy. The first verse reads, “O Lord, Do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath” (Psalms 38:1). Of course, though, it wouldn’t be a David Psalm without his usual flair for the dramatic:
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 (Psalms 38:5-8).
It’s not clear what he’s talking about, though, since there is no Bible story about David sinning and getting sick because of it. In fact, there are only two stories of him sinning at all; once with adultery and murder (which is prayed about in Psalm 51) and once when he takes a census and condemns many people to death because of it. Scripture records of that time,
David was conscious-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing” (2 Samuel 24:10).
I suspect that Psalm 38 connects to this sin, as David was probably feeling pretty guilty about the whole thing; after all, he caused a plague to fall on Israel. History records,
David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”
So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died (2 Samuel 24:14-15).
While I was reading Psalm 38 the Holy Spirit lit up a couple of verses because the show a lot about David’s faith. As he seeks mercy, David throws this in:
I wait for you, O Lord;
You will answer, O Lord my God.
For I said, “Do not let them gloat
Or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips” (Psalms 38:15-16).
David was still depending on God to maintain his honor, even after sinning, based solely on something he had prayed some other time.
Asking the Lord to maintain his image after sinning is a pretty ballsy move from King Dave, right? Actually, it’s not. He’s totally justified in his prayer and is acting in faith. Jesus taught, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). David trusts that God is faithful to his word, and so he prays in faith; knowing that what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 was true:
Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
We will also live with him;
If we endure,
We will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
He will also disown us;
If we are faithless,
He will remain faithful,
For he cannot disown himself.
Now, Paul hadn’t even been born yet; but David understood that even when he was a mess of sin and unfaithfulness; the Lord is steadfast and faithful to his followers (because he can’t stop being God). I love that passage from Paul because it sounds great in English. But the fact that it translates so well shows that in all languages the Lord’s faithfulness is indistinguishable from his existence; this is something that both David and Paul understood and we would be remiss to forget.
Ok, well how about how selfish David’s prayer is? After all, James wrote, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). That’s true, selfishness shouldn’t be a part of our prayers, but Acts 13:22 tells us about David’s motivations: “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him; ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” The Lord testified that David was a man after his own heart. Therefore, although David asking to keep his reputation intact may seem selfish; he probably wanted to protect his image in order to protect the Lord’s image. After all, he was the dude designing the Temple and trying to get everyone to worship God exclusively. Besides, David didn’t even pray the most selfish prayer; Jabez did. Check out what this guy prayed:
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request (1 Chronicles 4:10).
God honored this guy’s prayer for an easy life because he had the guts to ask. Suddenly, David’s prayer seems less selfish.
The Lord should always be the first thing on your mind, whether you do good or bad. When we focus on God, he takes care of what we need. Jesus himself said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). The Lord wants us to depend on him for everything; because it shows that we trust him, no matter what our actual condition might be. Paul wrote to believers, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). The Lord God will give you everything that you need, and it is important to remember that he loves his children. In your relationship with Christ, expect and anticipate your prayers being answered; for he said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14). So pray…a lot. Actually, the Bible recommends that too. We read, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Really give this a try, keep talking to God all the time; have a non-stop conversation going in your head with him as you carry on with your daily life. I can assure you that you’ll notice changes in how things go. The Bible also tells us, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Take a page from David’s book: pray about anything and have faith that the Lord will answer you (even if that answer is “no”). Be bold in your prayer life, and enjoy the results thereof.