Psalm 38 – The Sick Sinner’s Only Hope
This psalm is titled A Psalm of David. To bring to remembrance. “Since with God to remember is to act, this word speaks of laying before Him a situation that cries out for His help.” (Derek Kidner)
It is a song full of pain and dark with guilt, as David felt the sore effects (seemingly both physical and spiritual) of his sin. Commentators guess at the occasion of this in David’s life, but there is no certain link to a specific time or event.
“The same title is given to Psalm 70, where in like manner the Psalmist pours out his complaint before the Lord.” (Charles Spurgeon)
This is one of those noted as the penitential psalms, along with Psalms 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
A. The depth of David’s trouble.
1. (1-2) Pierced by God’s displeasure.
O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
For Your arrows pierce me deeply,
And Your hand presses me down.
a. Do not rebuke me in Your wrath: Under a sense of God’s deep displeasure, David cried out to God. He followed a wise path, drawing near to the Lord though he sensed both God’s wrath and displeasure.
i. “The anger of others I can bear, but not thine. As thy love is most sweet to my heart, so thy displeasure is most cutting to my conscience.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The petition here preferred, as in the sixth Psalm, is, that Jehovah would not condemn as a judge, but chasten as a father, for the amendment and preservation of the offender.” (Horne)
b. Your arrows pierce me deeply, and Your hand presses me down: David used poetic pictures to describe how deeply he sensed the displeasure of God.
i. Your arrows pierce me: “This no doubt, refers to the acute pains which he endured; each appearing to his feeling as if an arrow were shot into his body.” (Clarke)
c. Your hand presses me down: We read of the deep distress and agony of David in the psalm and recognize that it was because of his own sin (as will be described). We then understand that on the cross Jesus was made the target of the same agony, but for our sins, not for His own. This hand pressed down upon Jesus, and in a greater way than David ever knew.
i. “The holy Jesus, at the time of his passion, received these arrows, and sustained this weight, for the sins of the whole world.” (Horne)
ii. Understanding the agony helps us to understand something of the greatness of the love that sent Him to the cross – for us.
2. (3-5) Overwhelmed by iniquity.
There is no soundness in my flesh
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds are foul and festering
Because of my foolishness.
a. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger: David not only sensed God’s displeasure spiritually, but also physically. This may have been because the chastening hand of God was evident in some kind of illness or injury, or it may have been because of the physical toll of stress in a season of deep spiritual depression.
i. “That David describes a natural disease here cannot reasonably be doubted; but what that disease was, who shall attempt to say? However, this is evident, that whatever it was, he most deeply deplored the cause of it; and as he worthily lamented it, so he found mercy at the hand of God.” (Clarke)
b. Nor any health in my bones because of my sin: David recognized the hand of God in his misery, but he did not think it was without cause. He knew that it was because of his sin, his iniquities, and his foolishness. David was miserable, but not a victim in the commonly understood sense – because his sins were the cause of the crisis.
i. “‘Thine anger…my sin.’ I, alas! am as an anvil under two hammers; one of thine anger, another of my sin; both of them beating incessantly upon me.” (Baker, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. Because of my sin: “For although David confesses that he is being judged for his sin – God has made this clear to him – he is nevertheless glorifying God in the way he deals with it. Primarily, he is not faulting God.” (Boice)
c. Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me: David felt oppressed under the weight of his sins. He hoped that an honest and heartfelt telling of his misery would move God’s compassion.
i. My wounds are foul and festering: “Sin is the wound of the soul, which must be washed with the tears of repentance, cleansed by the blood of Christ, and healed by the Spirit of the Holy One.” (Horne)
ii. “Am I addressing any, who think they are not saved because they have not known such terrors as some others have experienced? Let me remind you, dear friends, that there are many of the true children of God who have never known these horrors…. These horrors and terrors are not essential to salvation, or else they would have been commanded.” (Spurgeon)
3. (6-8) David’s trouble and turmoil.
I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly;
I go mourning all the day long.
For my loins are full of inflammation,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and severely broken;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
a. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly: The pain of David’s sin affected him in almost every way. He described a severe depression and melancholy as well as specific bodily afflictions (full of inflammation…no soundness in my fles). He was weak and severely broken.
i. “No fastidiousness keeps the psalmist from describing offensive details.” (Maclaren)
ii. Loins are full of inflammation: Barnes suggested that this might refer to a problem with the kidneys, such as painful kidney stones. “The word here used, according to Gesenius, properly denotes the internal muscles of the loins near the kidneys.” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Bowed down greatly: “As the body by pain, so the soul by guilt, is ‘distorted’ from its original uprightness; it is ‘bowed down’ to the earth, through shame and fear.” (Horne)
b. I groan because of the turmoil of my heart: David was known as the sweet psalmist of Israel (2 Samuel 23:1). Yet with great honesty, he could also groan before God and man, composing a bitter psalm describing his misery in the strongest of terms.
i. I groan: The King James Version may follow the Hebrew more accurately by translating, I have roared. “When our prayers appear to be rather animal than spiritual, they are none the less prevalent with the…Father of mercy.” (Spurgeon)
5. (9-10) Hiding nothing in his misery.
Lord, all my desire is before You;
And my sighing is not hidden from You.
My heart pants, my strength fails me;
As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me.
a. Lord, all my desire is before You: Speaking to God as his master (Lord, Adonai), David appealed to God with complete transparency. His misery was not hidden from God or from any who would hear this psalm.
i. Our instinct is to follow the pattern of Adam and Eve and hide our sin and hide from God. David here is an example of the kind of unconcealed communication that is important for the one who truly desires God.
ii. All my desire: “Intense groaning desires towards God are in themselves works of grace.” (Spurgeon)
b. As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me: David felt so low that life and light were leaving him.
i. My heart pants: “The heart’s action is described by a rare word, which in its root means to go round and round, and is here in an intensive form expressive of violent motion.” (Maclaren)
6. (11-14) Forsaken by friends, hunted by enemies.
My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague,
And my relatives stand afar off.
Those also who seek my life lay snares for me;
Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction,
And plan deception all the day long.
But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth.
Thus I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth is no response.
a. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague: David’s misery was unrelieved by either friends or relatives. His loved ones either did not care or could not help David.
i. “Relief may come in the form of the little pleasures of life and in the moments of shared experiences with friends, but the psalmist had none of these.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “The word plague is perhaps chosen for its associations with leprosy (e.g., four times in Leviticus 13:3, Hebrew), for this is how his friends were treating David.” (Kidner)
b. Those also who seek my life lay snares for me: David endured worse than the lack of support from friends and relatives. He also faced determined enemies who constantly plotted his destruction.
c. I am like a man who does not hear: David was so depressed and afflicted that he felt powerless to respond to these attacks. His inability to defend himself meant that he needed God more than ever.
i. In whose mouth is no response: “Like David, when he let Shimei shriek his curses at him from the hillside and answered not, the psalmist is deaf and dumb to malicious tongues. He will speak to God, but to man he is silent, in utter submission of will.” (Maclaren)
ii. “David was bravely silent, and herein was eminently typical of our Lord Jesus, whose marvellous silence before Pilate was far more eloquent than words.” (Spurgeon)
B. The glimmer of hope in the Lord.
1. (15-16) Hope in the God who will hear.
For in You, O Lord, I hope;
You will hear, O Lord my God.
For I said, “Hear me, lest they rejoice over me,
Lest, when my foot slips, they exalt themselves against me.”
a. For in You, O Lord, I hope: Despite his spiritual depression, David clung to hope in the Lord. Though he did not feel it, in faith he said, You will hear. David chose to allow his affliction to press him towards God instead of away from the God who was his only hope.
b. Lord…Lord…God: Psalm 38:15 is an example of the use of the three Hebrew words most commonly used to refer to God in one verse.
· Lord, translated Yahweh, referring to the covenant God of Israel.
· Lord, translated Adonai, referring to God as Master or person of respect.
· God, translated Elohim, the plural of the word for God in the generic sense.
c. Hear me, lest they rejoice over me: David appealed to God not only because he was miserable, but also because he did not want his adversaries to rejoice over him.
2. (17-20) Ready to fall before strong enemies.
For I am ready to fall,
And my sorrow is continually before me.
For I will declare my iniquity;
I will be in anguish over my sin.
But my enemies are vigorous, and they are strong;
And those who hate me wrongfully have multiplied.
Those also who render evil for good,
They are my adversaries, because I follow what is good.
a. For I will declare my iniquity: David again thought about his own sin that was the cause of his misery. In many other psalms David declared his innocence, especially in comparison to his enemies – but not in this psalm. This psalm came out of David’s anguish over his sin.
i. “To be sorry for sin is no atonement for it, but it is the right spirit in which to [turn] to Jesus, who is the reconciliation and the Saviour.” (Spurgeon)
b. My enemies are vigorous, and they are strong: David appealed to God for help in light of the energy and strength of his enemies, and because they were against him for no good reason (I follow what is good).
i. They are my adversaries: The Hebrew word translated adversaries is the root for the title Satan. “They Satanically hate me, as if they were transformed into so many breathing devils.” (Trapp)
3. (21-22) The urgent plea unto God.
Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
a. Do not forsake me, O Lord: The psalm closes without eloquence, only with a heartfelt cry. More than anything, David wanted the sense of God’s presence (be not far from me). It is likely that the absence of that sense was David’s greatest trial in this dark season.
i. “Whoever carefully reads over this psalm will see what a grievous and bitter thing it is to sin against the Lord, and especially to sin after having known his mercy, and after having escaped from the corruption that is in the world. Reader, be on thy guard; a life of righteousness may be lost by giving way to a moment’s temptation, and a fair character sullied for ever!” (Clarke)
b. Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation: David pressed his need before God with urgency and looked to the Lord as his only salvation. The psalm ends without a change in circumstances but with continued faith in God.
i. In these last two verses, David again used the three most common Hebrew references to Deity. “The God he knew by name (Yahweh, 21a) and by covenant (my God), and as Master and Saviour (22b).” (Kidner)
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org