The Righteous One’s Abhorence of the Leprosy of Sin

a brief study of Psalm 38, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 1 Mar 2007

Psalm 38 is a penitential Psalm of one who is sick. David in all probability wrote this psalm at a time when he was very ill.

But, this psalm, as someone insists, is no doubt, “a prophetic prayer of Christ.” And as the church Father, Augustine puts it: “It would be hard not to apply to Christ a Psalm that as graphically describes His passion as if we were reading it out of the gospels.”

But what about the confession of sin, iniquities and foolishness (v. 3-5 & 18)? Well, if these statements are to be taken as indicators that this is not a Messianic Psalm, then Psalm 40 should not be a Messianic Psalm, for we read in verse 12—“mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head” (Ps 40:12).

And yet, the New Testament very clearly indicates that Psalm 40 prophetically contains the words of the Messiah, and hardly any evangelical commentator will challenge that conclusion.

How do we explain these penitential statements then? Well, it really should not be difficult for those who believe in the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. For Christ did not take our guilt upon Himself in a theoretical way. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities (Isa 53:5).

Though our Lord had no sin, He experienced all the effects of sin upon Himself. We do not know if the Lord ever fell ill. Some believe that He never fell sick because He had no actual sin; but that is to misunderstand the relationship between sin and sickness altogether. In the first place, God does not generally send particular illnesses to punish us for particular sins. Sicknesses are the effects of sin. There are illnesses in this world because we are all experiencing the effects of the Fall. In the second place, all sinners must face the effects of the Fall, and Christ our Lord was a sinner by imputation of our sin upon Him.

Christ had no sin, but He was bearing our iniquities. He felt pain, He felt thirst, He bled and He experienced death because He was bearing our sin. I see no reason why He should be immune to illnesses.

Nevertheless, whether the Lord is speaking in the context of bodily illness, or spiritual pains, we can agree with Bonar that this Psalm shows us, “He was weary of wearing that poisoned garment of our sins; he was weary of having our leprosy appearing on his spotless person; he was weary and woe-begone, and longed for the time when he should, ‘appear without sin,’ (Heb 9:28).”

Christ our Lord suffered much because of our sin. He was longing for deliverance. But make no mistake. Our Lord never did fret nor grumble at His lot. He had a human will, no doubt, and so He felt grief as we all do. But His will and attitude were entirely sanctified. He had joy in the midst of the most challenging circumstances.

So even in such a psalm as Psalm 38, we must not think that our Lord was praying in desperation and hopelessness. No, no; He was, no doubt, pouring out His heart to the Father and at the same time submitted to His will.

Let look at this prayer. Since it is a prayer, we may not expect a very distinct structure, but we can roughly divide it into 4 parts.

· From verses 1-5, we see the Lord acknowledging the cause of His affliction or illness.

· From verses 6-10, we have a description of the affliction.

· From verses 11-14, we have the aggravation of the affliction.

· From verses 15-22, we have our Lord’s petitions.

1. Confession of Affliction 
(v. 1-5)

Our psalm begins with a plea to the Father to withhold His hand of chastisement.

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. 2 For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore.

By this plea, our Lord is making it very clear that the afflictions that He was experiencing did not come by chance. They are the sovereign and wise appointment of God.

Why did our Lord have to suffer? He had to suffer because of our sin (v. 3) and our foolishness (v. 5). Our Lord was the embodiment of wisdom and righteousness. There was neither foolishness nor sin in Him.

He did not need to suffer. But He did. He took our chastisement upon Himself. God treated Him as He would treat a sinner. Indeed, the nearer He approached the Cross, the heavier the burden was upon His shoulders and the more He experienced the wrath of the Father. The shadow of the wrath of God was lengthening upon His soul.

As David experienced a waxing of His bones (Ps 32:3) so our Lord found no rest in His bones (v. 3) and He felt the heavy burden pressing upon Him.

Verse 6-10 contains a more complete description of the affliction He was facing.

2. Description of Affliction 
(v. 6-10)

He was troubled in His heart, so much so that He was, as it were bowed down as He walked (v. 6).

He felt a loathsome disease or a searing pain down His lower back (v. 7). He felt weak and broken. There was grief in His eyes.

When did our Lord experience all these? Well, he might have experienced an illness that might be described in these terms, but we have no records in the Gospel. What is recorded in the Gospel is, however, our Lord’s sorrow and affliction as He headed to the Cross.

He was troubled. He was bowed down. He was feeling a lot of pain in His heart and on His body. Remember how He was whipped and forced to wear the crown of thorns. He was deprived of sleep as well as food and water. He was feeble and sore broken. Like a sheep before her shearers He was like a dumb man that opened not His mouth (v. 13).

But there was no doubt a roaring in His heart, or perhaps even in His ears since He was slapped and punched by His tormentors.

But though our Lord’s eyes were weakened and dimmed (v. 10), He never lost sight of His Father, verse 9—

9 Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.

He knew that the Father was aware of His sufferings. So He was submitted to His Father’s will.

But He had to drink the bitter cup to its dregs so that He could fill it with the blessing of God. The cup of blessing was also the cup of God’s wrath.

So our Lord suffered pain upon pain or more precisely, insult upon injury.

Consider the aggravation to His affliction that He experienced.…

3. Aggravation of Affliction 
(v. 11-14)

11 My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off. 12 They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long.

Did not our Lord experience all these things? Do we not read of how the Scribes and Pharisee and even the Herodians all sought His life. They made many attempts to trap Him (v. 12).

How did they get Him crucified in the end? It was through deceit. Even Pilate knew that.

But His enemies were not the only ones adding salt to His wounds. His friends and kinsmen did the same. He was betrayed by a trusted disciple and friend. He was betrayed with a kiss.

And when He was betrayed, all His friend who had moments earlier pledged to stick with Him even unto death, abandoned Him. Every one of them! His most trusted disciple even denied Him three times.

And where were His kinsmen? They were standing at a distance watching Him even as He hung on the cross.

Our Lord did not complain.

13 But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. 14 Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.

Did not the prophet Isaiah say the same thing of Him?

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).

But make no mistake: Silence before man does not mean silence before God. Our Lord was not silent before the Father, and neither must we ever be.

He cried for deliverance…

4. Deliverance from Affliction 
(v. 15-25)

15 For in thee, O LORD, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God. 16 For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me. 17 For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. 18 For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. 19 But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. 20 They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is. 21 Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. 22 Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.

Our Lord confessed His hope in the Father (v. 15).

He committed Himself to the vindication and protection of His Father (v. 16).

He poured out His sorrow and confessed His weakness (v. 17).

acknowledged that God was just in dealing with Him as He did because He was bearing the sin of His people (v. 18).

Nevertheless, He appealed for justice because His enemies, who were tormenting Him, hated Him wrongfully and were rendering evil for good (v. 19-20).

And so He pleaded with His Father not to forsake Him, but to deliver Him.

Thank God that He heard our Lord’s prayer. He did not take away the bitter cup. Our Lord had to drink it. But as soon as the cup was empty, so soon was the Lord raised and exalted on high.


What is this Psalm to you beloved brethren and children? I trust that this Psalm has given you yet another glimpse of our Lord’s suffering for your sin.

I trust you are not tired of hearing it again for this is the heart of the Christian Faith. I trust that your heart is once again filled with loved and gratitude to the Lord as you consider what has gone through for your sake.

Let us therefore sing this psalm with gratitude in our hearts as we think about our Lord’s suffering for us.

But let us also sing it prayerfully as a people united to Christ when we experience illness or afflictions because of sin. As the Father heard the cry of His Son, so He will hear us when we cry unto Him with the words of His Son.

Have you been afflicted because of sin, beloved brethren and children? Make this psalm your own. Cry unto the Father with melody in your heart. The Father will not forsake you, nor will He be far from you. He will not fail to make haste to help you—for Christ your Saviour’s sake. Amen.

—JJ Lim