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Lenten Reflections on Psalm 32

By Michael Roop

Earlier this week, many Christian traditions observed Ash Wednesday. This church holiday marks the beginning of a 40-day season (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. The number 40 is biblically significant, but two occurrences rise to the surface in helping us understand the historical purpose of the Lenten season.

First, the exodus generation of Israelites wandered in the Arabian desert for 40 years. As retribution for their constant, grumbling distrust in the LORD, this generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.  Instead, they were doomed to wander in a desolate place until the unbelieving generation died off (Numbers 14:20-38). While they still enjoyed God’s presence and provision in the midst of the arid desert, they never experienced the lavish blessing of a land flowing with milk and honey.

And of course, Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days prior to the start of his public ministry (Matthew 4:2). Unlike Israel, Jesus wasn’t provided miraculous food or water in the wilderness; He fasted for those 40 days. And, also unlike Israel, Jesus endured the relentless temptation of the wilderness without sinning. He was the faithful Israel that Israel never could be.

So Christians observe Lent, a 40-day reflection on these two biblical 40s. We, like the wilderness generation of Israel, should be doomed to wander a desolate place. We should be kept out of the glorious land where God’s presence dwells. And yet, because One has been faithful on our behalf, we can be set free from the desolation that should be ours.

For the weeks between now and Easter, I want to reflect together on the significance of Lent, and I want to do it through the lens of Psalm 32. In this Psalm, David reflects on his own personal experience of bearing the weight of sin, finding the freedom of forgiveness, and feeling the personal responsibility to call others into the same.

Like our yearly journey through Lent, the reflection will end in gladness. We will finish a dark and difficult journey in celebration by considering  the fact that our LORD has remedied our helpless estate. But to truly treasure the freedom of forgiveness offered in Christ, we must truly appreciate the depth of depravity from which we have been released.

Enter the Lenten season. Enter Psalm 32.