What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I remember reading this poem by Langston Hughes, called, “A Dream Deferred” in high school. For some reason the imagery made me want to vomit, especially the word “fester.” My teacher made a point to explain in detail what festering meant. Sadly, I can’t even remember which teacher I studied this poem with (Dr. Nanny, junior year?), but I remember the lesson and I understand what a festering sore looks like.

I was reminded of festering sores tonight as I was studying Psalm 38. I am involved in a women’s Bible study through my church called “Sacred Rhythms in the Psalms.” We’re studying selected Psalms each week while reading a book called “Sacred Rhythms” by Ruth Haley Barton. This week’s selected Psalm is one in which David is crying out to God while drowning in sin. He spends about eight verses describing his physical state. It’s hard to say whether he had a literal disease or if he was speaking metaphorically, but I like to think that the vivid quality of the words implies that David was experiencing some terrible and very real pain. Regardless, he attributes this pain to his sin. It could have been after his affair with Bathsheba and after he had Uriah killed, but again, we can’t know that for sure.

Here’s what David says about his sores and the disease that is ravaging his body in verses 1-8 of Psalm 38:

O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, And chasten me not in Your burning anger.
For Your arrows have sunk deep into me, And Your hand has pressed down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester Because of my folly.
I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long.
For my loins are filled with burning, And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.

David goes on to describe how even his friends and family are avoiding his because of his plague. He can’t even defend himself, because he knows the accusations are true (v.14). He begs God not to forsake him and to be his help, calling Him, “Oh Lord, my salvation!” (v. 22). I encourage you to read the whole chapter to really get a feel for how low David is feeling here (http://www.studylight.org/desk/?query=ps+38&t=nsn&st=1&new=1&l=en). I entitled the chapter in my Bible, “Here I am Lord and I’m drowning.”

The part that I found most amazing, though, is in yet another chapter of Psalms. This was all just the lead up to explaining the incredible power of forgiveness of sin. Listen to David in Psalm 32:

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!
How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me [notice the connection to 38:2]; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

What a drastic turn-around in David’s life and mindset! He went from drowning in his sin, to acknowledging it to God and receiving forgiveness. Awesome.

Another part that I noticed and loved came to my attention because of a second Bible study that I’m involved in right now. We’re studying covenants throughout the Bible starting with God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15) and running throughout the Bible. It’s amazing to learn how much of a covenant God He is – it’s been about covenant from the beginning and all throughout the Hebrew Testament (the Old Testament) there is foreshadowing of the covenant we can have with Christ. One of the things I learned in studying the covenants that David and Jonathan made in 1 Samuel 18 and 1 Samuel 20, is that there is a word for “lovingkindness” in Hebrew that is often used when talking about honoring covenants. Jonathan uses it in 1 Samuel 20:14 as he asks of David, “You shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” It’s also the same word that David uses in 2 Samuel 9:1 when he’s asking, long after Jonathan’s death, if there is still a descendant of Jonathan who he can honor the covenant with: “Then David said, ‘Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul [Jonathan’s dad], that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’” The word for kindness here is the same as in 1 Samuel 20:14 AND the same as in Psalm 32:10! David is using covenant terminology in a Psalm talking about the forgiveness of God and the rejoicing that comes from being made righteous in God’s eyes! So cool.

Why is it so cool? Because it foreshadows the covenant that Christ made for the forgiveness of our sins. In Matthew 26:26-29, Jesus is having the Last Supper with His disciples where they shared the Passover meal together. He changed things up a little and started talking about the bread as his body and the cup as his blood. I have a feeling that the disciples were a little baffled by that, but I probably wouldn’t have spoken up or asked any questions in that moment either. Notice what Jesus says about the cup in verse 28: “…for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

I don’t think I could do justice to a blog about all the ways that Jesus’s death on the cross painted a picture of traditional covenant making. The traditions surrounding covenants are very pervasive in today’s society, like in wedding ceremonies, but we just don’t understand the history of it all anymore. The point that I wish to make, though, is that the deep joy that David experienced when he received forgiveness of sins is available to each of us because of what Christ did on the cross! 1 Corinthians 5:21 says that “He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 

And what’s our part in this covenant agreement? Just believing that it’s true! I know many find John 3:16 to be somewhat corny after seeing it on countless signs at sporting events, but it’s a very succinct verse describing what we must do, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Paul explains it this way in Romans 5:8-10, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood [blood is part of making a covenant!], we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life,” because he didn’t stay in His grave! That’s fantastic news! There’s no need for the sores caused by our sin to fester when Christ has died for the forgiveness of our sins.