Reading: Psalms 37-38
Click on the link for the reading to read the Psalms for this week. As we read, let us not do so in haste. Take time to read each Psalm at least three times: once to understand the content, once as a poem or song to feel the meaning, and once as a prayer to appropriate the Psalm into your life. There will often be a hymn attached at the bottom of the page that helps bring meaning to one of the Psalms for the week.
PSALM 37: The Meek Shall Inherit the Land
This is a pastoral psalm. It offers counsel about a perennial question. Is God a God of salvation—is God one who can help? The righteous suffer while the wicked prosper: this has been a dilemma that has puzzled Christians from the beginning. And should our response be to emulate the ways of the wicked in order to prosper or to live for God? The choice is between the pressures of the present and the promise of the future. The choice is between faith and no faith. Psalm 37 is emphatic: salvation is from the Lord…. The Lord helps them…and saves them (verses 39-40). Jesus’ life shows us that trusting God and doing good brings opposition and we can see that opposition to the righteous in Psalm 37 (esp. vv. 14, 32). But as Jesus’ life and death and resurrection demonstrated, and as Psalm 37 proclaims, God “rescues them from the wicked” (v. 40) and creates a future “for the peaceable” (v. 37). There is no way to prove these promises to the wicked, except as we embody them in our lives. The only proof we can offer that God rules the world is the tangible existence of a community that is shaped by the character of God and God’s claim. We prove that God rules the world when we trust in God (vv. 3, 5), “do good” (vv. 3,27), “commit our way to God” (v.5), “give generously” (v.21). “speak justice” (v. 30), open ourselves to God’s instruction (v. 31), and “take refuge in” God (v. 40). Such humble dependence on God is, in effect, to “inherit the land”—it is life as God intends it, abundant and eternal.
PSALM 38: No Soundness in My Flesh
Psalm 38 was composed as a prayer for help by those who are sick. It states the ancient belief that sin causes sickness. Although we find that belief problematic because of New Testament teaching, there is some truth we can take from it. Sin is the failure to follow God. The failure to honor God and the way God has ordered human life and the world has destructive consequences. For instance, abuse of one’s body, including overwork and stress, can literally make one sick.
While Psalm 38 has some implications for understanding our own suffering, it is especially instructive in terms of how we are called to respond to the suffering of others. The “friends,” “companions,” and “neighbors of verse 11 are clearly a negative example. It is not proper to treat those who are suffering as if they deserve their suffering even if they might deserve it. As the psalmist suggests of himself or herself. Rather, we are called to be forgiving and compassionate, as God is forgiving and compassionate. The inclination of many individual Christians and congregations is to blame those who suffer. We often conclude that if people are poor or homeless or carriers of HIV, they must have done something to deserve it. This is a convenient excuse for allowing ourselves to “stay far away” (v. 11). 0ur response is not only not compassionate, it is proudly self-deceptive since it involves our condemnation of others and our congratulation of ourselves.
This is the Psalm in hymn form. Read or sing it through with melody to give the Psalm another dimension.
Here is a video clip of Psalm 37.
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