The Penitential Psalms as a Counter-Insurgency Field Manual

March 19, 2014

Psalm 38

Lord, do not in hot displeasure speak in stern reproof to me;
Let Your chast’ning be in measure, and Your stroke from anger free.
For Your hand upon me presses; deep Your arrows sink within.
Wrath my flesh and bones distresses; gives no rest because of sin.

For my manifold transgressions have gone up above my head;
Like a burden, their oppressions weigh me down with constant dread.
Loathsome are my wounds neglected; my own folly makes it so;
Bowed with pain, with grief dejected, all day long I mourning go.

For my loins are filled with burning; There’s no soundness in my flesh.
Feeble, crushed, I’m ever groaning in my spirit’s restlessness.
My desire and ceaseless wailing, Lord, unveiled before You lie;
My heart throbs; my strength is failing; All the light has left my eye.

Friends and loved ones whom I cherish from my plague now stand aloof.
My own kinsmen, though I perish, come no more beneath my roof.
They who for my life are seeking, for me snares in secret lay,
Hurtful things against me speaking, plots devising through the day.

I am like one deaf and speechless, I am mute, and never speak.
I’m as one their words not hearing, no defense my mouth will make.
You, O Lord, I have been trusting; Lord, my God, You’ll answer me,
Lest they gloat and start rejoicing, when my slipping feet they see.

For I am about to stumble; grief has ever with me been.
I iniquity acknowledge; deeply troubled by my sin.
Great in number, full of vigor, strong the foes who me withstood!
Evil they for kindness render, Hating me for doing good.

Lord, I pray, do not forsake me; O my God, stay near to me.
Hurry! Come at once to help me! O my Lord, my Savior be!


Do you remember those days in our recent national history when we thought the war in Iraq was over? President George W. Bush, dressed in fighter pilot garb, landed on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. After stepping out of the Navy S-3B fighter jet to great fanfare he gave a speech while standing in front of a massive banner which read. . . . you know what it read. . . Mission Accomplished.” In the sense that the sovereignty of Sadam Hussein’s rule of Iraq had been defeated and temporarily transferred into the hands of the United  States, yes, Mission Accomplished. Noone seemed to realize the real war hadn’t even started yet. The rule of Sadam had been cancelled and yet this cancelled rule retained a form of rogue power and presence. It became known as the “Insurgency.” The United States, in cooperation with Iraqi police, began a war of a completely different order, known as the “Counter Insurgency.” General David Petraus wrote what is now famously known as “The Counter-Insurgency Field Manuel.”

When we place our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior we are saved from the penalty of sin. In other words, any sin on the ledger of our lives, past, present and future, is cancelled. The debt is paid in full by the atoning work of Jesus through his life, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. The trouble is with cancelled sin. It retains a form of rogue power and presence. Recall a verse of Charles Wesley’s #1 most celebrated hymn: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin. He sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood availed for me.” 

Are you seeing the analogy? Justification by Grace through Faith is Mission Accomplished, in the sense that the sovereignty of Satan’s rule has been defeated and transferred into the hands of Jesus Christ. But the real war against the insurgency of sin is only getting started. What we need is a counter-insurgency field manual. And that’s precisely what Song #38, and others like it,  offer us. 

The great reformer, John Calvin, once said of the Psalms that they are an anatomy of all parts of the soul. Today’s Psalm, Song #38 offers us one of the seven songs we know as the “Penitential Psalms.” (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) They are songs designed to help us repent and believe the Gospel. The greatest impediment to our believing the Gospel beyond mere assent to its truth is the sin believers continue to carry within themselves. The penitential Psalms offer us a counter-insurgency field manual for the war against the insurgency of sin.

Can you in any way identify with Song #38 above? Do you have any sense of the power of cancelled sin in your life? If not, you better be on the lookout for roadside bombs. Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the reality of your inner life; not for condemnation but for the sake of deep change. Prepare yourself though, it will awaken in you a holy discontent for more of God than you presently know. Trust that. Obey the promptings. It’s the way that leads to Life.

And don’t forget to sing. Seriously.  CLICK HERE.

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at

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