This Psalms is full of grief and complaint from the beginning to the end. David’s sins and his afflictions are the cause of his grief and the matter of his complaints. It seems that now he is sick and in pain, which reminded him of his sins and humbles him. At the same time, he was deserted by his friends and persecuted by his enemies. This Psalm teaches us that we ought to be deeply affected by our sins. Even if we do not have such troubles as are here described, we do not know how soon we may have them. A Repentant Sufferer’s Plea for Healing.
Psalm 38 – A Psalm of David
O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, or discipline me in Your wrath. For Your arrows have sunk into me, and Your hand has come 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 have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness; I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is known to You; my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbours stand far off. Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long. But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak.
Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort. But it is for You, O Lord, that I wait; it is You, O Lord my God, who will answer. For I pray, ‘Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.’ For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.
Bring sin to remembrance
Henry says – This Psalm teaches us that times of sickness are times to bring sin to remembrance. It awakens our consciences to set sin before us and deal faithfully and plainly with them. In a day of adversity consider. When we are in affliction we are to remember that God rebukes and disciplines us. We are to pray against escaping the wrath of God more than escaping any outward affliction. Whilst outward affliction comes, when it consists with the love of God, we are able to bear it.
He bitterly laments the feelings of God’s displeasure upon his soul (Ps. 38:2): Your arrows stick fast in me. By the arrows of the Almighty he means the terrors of God, which seem to set themselves against him. He was under a very frightful apprehension of the wrath of God against him for his sins. He thought he could expect nothing but judgment and fiery indignation to devour him. God’s arrows, are sure to hit the mark and stick where they hit until He is pleased to draw them out and bind up with His comforts. This will be the everlasting misery of the damned—the arrows of God’s wrath will stick fast in them and the wound will be incurable.
“Your hand, Your heavy hand, presses me, and I am ready to sink under it. Who knows the power of God’s anger and the weight of His hand?” Sometimes God shot His arrows, and stretched forth His hand for David (Ps. 18:4), but now it was against him. The continuation of Divine comforts is uncertain, yet His Divine grace is assured.
Keep ourselves in the love of God
David complains that God’s wrath is the cause of his current distress (Ps. 38:3): There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger. The bitterness of it, infused in his mind and affected his body. But worse than this, it caused anxiety in his heart which caused him to forget the courage of a soldier, the dignity of a prince, and the cheerfulness of the sweet psalmist of Israel. Nothing will affect the heart of a good man so much as the sense of God’s anger, which shows what a fearful thing it is to fall into His hands. The way to keep the heart quiet is to keep ourselves in the love of God and to do nothing to offend Him.
David acknowledges his sin to be cause of all his troubles, and groans under the load of guilt more than any other load, Ps. 38:3. He complains that his flesh had no strength and his bones had no rest, so great was the agitation that he was in. Yet he justifies God in it, and takes all the blame upon himself: “It is because of my sin. I have deserved it, and so have brought it upon myself. My own iniquities correct me.” Are we restless? It is sin that makes us so.
Sin is a heavy burden (Ps. 38:4): “My iniquities have gone over my head, as a heavy burden upon my head, pressing me down more than I am able to bear.” Sin is a burden. The power of sin dwelling in us is a weight, Heb. 12:1. We are all hampered by it. It keeps men from soaring upward and pressing forward.
A burden to God
All the saints complain of it as a body of death they are loaded with, Rom. 7:24. The guilt of sin committed by us is a heavy burden. It is a burden to God (He is pressed under it, Amos 2:13) and a burden to the whole creation, which groans under it, Rom. 8:21, 22. It will be a burden to the sinner himself. It will be either a burden of repentance when he is convicted for it or a burden of ruin when it sinks him to the lowest hell.
Sins are wounds and sinners bear them. (Ps. 38:5): “My wounds stink and are corrupt (as wounds in the body grow foul and are in need of being dressed) through our own foolishness.” Sins are painful mortal wounds (Gen. 4:23) which are often in a bad condition as a result of not confessing sin, Ps. 32:3, 4. A slight sore, neglected, may prove fatal and so may a slight sin if left unrepented of.
David gives ease to his grief by venting and pouring out his complaint before the Lord. He was troubled in mind and conscience and had no rest in his spirit and a wounded spirit who can bear? He was troubled and bowed down greatly, and went mourning all day long, Ps. 38:6. He was always melancholy, which made him a burden and terror to himself. His spirit was feeble and sorely broken, and his heart agitated, Ps. 38:8. Here David, in his sufferings, was a type of Christ, who, being in His agony, cried out, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful. This is a worse affliction than any other in this world. Whatever God is pleased to lay upon us, we have no reason to complain as long as He preserves to us the use of our reason and the peace of our conscience.
Do not let the strongman glory in his strength
He was sick and weak in body and had some kind of loathsome disease. Our bodies are very liable to grievous diseases. The bodies of the greatest and best of men have in them the same potential for diseases that the bodies of others have. David himself, though so great a prince and so great a saint, was not exempt from the most grievous diseases. This may have been following his sin in the matter of Uriah, and so he suffered in his flesh for his fleshly lusts.
When we are aggravated in our bodies, we ought to remember how God has been dishonoured in and by our bodies. He was feeble and sorely broken, Ps. 38:8. His heart panted, and was in a continual palpitation, Ps. 38:10. His strength and limbs failed him. As for the light of his eyes, that had gone from him, either with much weeping or through much fainting. Sickness will tame the strongest body and the stoutest spirit. David was famous for his courage and great exploits. Yet when God contended with him by a feeling of His wrath upon him he becomes weak as water. Therefore do not let the strongman glory in his strength.
All my desire is before You
David’s friends were unkind to him (Ps. 38:11): My lovers (such as had been merry with him in the day of his mirth) now stand aloof from my sore. They would not sympathise with him in his griefs, nor come close to hear his complaints, but, like the priest and Levite (Luke 10:31), passed on the other side. Even his kinsmen, that were bound to him by blood stood afar off. See what little reason we have to trust in man. Adversity tries friendship, and separates between the precious and the vile. It is our wisdom to make sure we have a friend in heaven from whose love no tribulation nor distress shall be able to separate us. David, in his troubles, was a type of Christ in his agony, Christ, on His cross, feeble and sorely broken, and then deserted by His friends.
In the midst of his complaints, he comforts himself with the attention God graciously took of his griefs and of his prayers (Ps. 38:9): “Lord, all my desire is before You. You know what I want and what I would have: My groaning is not hidden from You. You know the burdens I groan under and the blessings I groan after.” The groanings which cannot be uttered are not hidden from Him who searches the heart and knows what is in the Spirit, Rom. 8:26, 27.
For my love they are my foes
David complains of the power and malice of his enemies, who took the occasion to take advantage of him. He has allot to say against them, which he offers as a reason why God should appear for him, as in Ps. 25:19; Consider my enemies. “They are very spiteful and cruel: They seek my hurt and my life,” Ps. 38:12. Such is the enmity of the serpent’s seed against the seed of the woman. It is the blood of the saints that it thirsts after. “They are very subtle, they lay snares, and imagine deceits all the day long.
“They are very insolent and abusive: When my foot slips, when I fall into any trouble, or when I make any mistake, misplace a word, or take a false step, they magnify themselves against me. If I slip they are pleased with it, and promise that I shall certainly fall and be undone.” “They are not only unjust, but very ungrateful. They hate me wrongfully, Ps. 38:19. I never did any of them any ill nor gave them any provocation. They render evil for good, Ps. 38:20. Many a kindness I have done to them, for which I might have expected a return of kindness. But for my love they are my adversaries,” Ps. 109:4.
To all who bear His image
There is such a rooted enmity in the hearts of wicked men to goodness that they hate it. Even when they themselves have the benefit of it. They hate prayer even in those who pray for them, and hate peace even in those who would be at peace with them. Very ill-natured indeed are they to whom no courtesy will oblige, but who are rather exasperated by it. “They are very impious and devilish: They are my adversaries merely because I follow the thing that good is.” They hated him, not only for his kindness to them, but for his devotion and obedience to God. They hated him because they hated God and all who bear His image.
If we suffer ill for doing well, we must not think it strange. It has been so from the beginning (Cain slew Abel, because his works were righteous). It will not be always so, for so much more will our reward be. “They are many and mighty: They are lively, strong and multiplied, Ps. 38:19. Lord, how are those increased who trouble me?” Ps. 3:1. Holy David was weak and faint. His heart panted and his strength failed. Let us not judge a man’s character by his outward condition, we do not know what the Lord is doing in him.
It is our prudence to be silent
It this, as in other complaints David is like Christ, whose persecutors were such as are here described, lost to all honour and virtue. He reflects, with comfort, upon his own peaceable and pious behaviour under all the injuries that were done him. Our enemies do us the greatest trouble when they provoke us to sin (Neh. 6:13). When we become beside ourselves and are driven from God and our duty. If by Divine grace we are kept from this trouble, we quench their fiery darts, and are saved from harm. If we hold fast to our integrity and our peace, who can hurt us?
David held his temper, and was not ruffled by any of the slights that were done against him (Ps. 38:13, 14): “I, as a deaf man, did not hear. I took no notice of them and even less did I plan revenge on them.” The less notice we take of the unkindness and injuries that are done to us the more we keep peace in our minds. Being deaf, he was dumb, as a man in whose mouth there are no reproofs. He was silent as if he had nothing to say for himself. He would not even vindicate himself, lest his defence should be construed as his offence. Though they sought after his life, and his silence might be taken for a confession of his guilt, yet he was as a dumb man who does not open his mouth.
Do not render railing for railing
When our enemies are the loudest it is generally our prudence to be silent, or to say little, lest we make matters worse. David conducted himself meekly towards them, that he might prevent his own sin and might have the comfort of it on reflection. Here again David was a type of Christ, who was as a sheep, dumb before the shearer, and when He was reviled, did not revile in return. Both are examples to us not to render railing for railing.
David kept close to his God by faith and prayer, and so supported himself under these injuries and silenced his own resentments of them. He trusted in God (Ps. 38:15): “I was as a man who does not open his mouth, for in You, O Lord! do I hope. I depend upon You to plead my cause and clear my innocence, and to put my enemies to silence and shame.” His lovers and friends, who should have stood by him withdrew from Him, Ps. 38:10. But God is a friend who will never fail us if we hope in Him. “I was as a man who does not hear, for You will hear. Why do I need to hear and God hear also?” He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7), and why do you need to care and God care too? “You will answer” “and therefore I will say nothing.”
He will be a witness for us
It is a good reason why we should bear reproach with silence and patience, because God is a witness to all the wrong that is done to us. In due time He will be a witness for us and against those who do us wrong. Therefore let us be silent, because if we are, then we may expect that God will come through for us. For this is an evidence that we trust in Him. But, if we undertake ourselves, we take God’s work out of His hands and forfeit the benefit of His appearing for us.
Our Lord Jesus, when He suffered, did not threaten, because He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23). We shall lose nothing by doing so. You will answer, Lord, for me. He called upon God (Ps. 38:16): For I said, “Hear me, in You do I hope, for You will hear, lest they should rejoice over me. It is a great support to us, when men are unkind, that we have a God to go to whom we may be free with and who will be faithful to us.
David now bewails his own foolishness and infirmities. He was very aware of the present workings of corruption in him. He was now ready to mourn at the loss of God’s providence and to be inflamed by the injuries men did to him: I am ready to halt, Ps. 38:17, almost ready to halt between religion and irreligion. The fear of this drove him to his God: “In You do I hope, not only that You will plead my cause, but that You will prevent my falling into sin.” Good men, by setting their sorrow continually before them, have been ready to quit, who, by setting God always before them, have kept their standing.
I will be sorry for it
David acknowledged that his transgressions had brought these troubles and so he had forfeited Divine protection. Though before men he could justify himself, before God he will condemn himself (Ps. 38:18): “I will declare my iniquity, and not cover it; I will be sorry for my sin, and not make light of it.” This helped keep him silent under the rebukes of Providence and the reproaches of men. If we be truly repentant for sin, it will make us patient under affliction.
There are two things required in repentance, one is confession of sin: “I will declare my iniquity; I will not only in general own that I am a sinner, but I will acknowledge what I have done wrong in particular.” We must declare our sins before God freely and fully that we may give glory to God and take shame to ourselves. We must also have remorse for sin: I will be sorry for it. Sin will have sorrow. Every true penitent grieves for the dishonour he has done to God and the wrong he has done to himself. “I will be in fear over my sin”, “in fear lest it ruin me and to take care to get it forgiven.”
Do not be far from me
David concludes with very earnest prayers to God for His gracious presence with him and for relief in his distress (Ps. 38:21, 22): “Do not forsake me, O Lord! though my friends forsake me, and though I deserve to be forsaken by You. Do not be far from me, as my unbelieving heart is ready to fear that You are.” Nothing strikes the heart of a good man more than to be under the apprehension of God deserting him. “Lord, do not be far from me; come quickly to my aid; for I am ready to perish, and in danger of being lost if relief does not come quickly.”
God may distance Himself to cause us not only to call upon Him when we are in trouble, but to run to Him. He pleads, “You are my God, whom I serve, and on whom I depend. You are my salvation, who alone are able to save me. You have promised to save me, and from You alone I expect salvation.” This Psalm teaches us that whatever burden lies upon our spirits, we can by faith cast it upon God and so be at ease. Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
I will Help You To know God in the close relationship of ‘our Father’ Is one thing, but beyond that an ever open door Is to know Him as God the Father eternal Now that is something more. We have to learn that nothing can hinder God Nor can anything help Him in any way He provides us abundantly with the gifts of His grace If our hands are empty and our tongues have nothing to say. After He has done this they are full Our hearts are filled with praise but we understand That when God reaches out His arms Then we must be able to offer Him an empty hand. The question is, do we have one? What of the gifts we’ve received from Him? Have we been nursing them to ourselves Allowing our minds to become increasingly dim. Can we just let go of everything Allow our Helper to charter our course We have been the recipients of so much Have we forgotten that God is our true source? By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer for the Day
Father, I come to You. May I always bring unconfessed sin to remembrance. That my conscience be awakened and that I will deal faithfully and plainly with them. Thank you for the assurance of the continuation of Your Divine grace. May my heart be kept quiet in Your love and may I strive to do nothing to offend You.
Cause me to hold fast to my integrity and peace. Teach me to hold my temper, and not be ruffled by any slight that is done against me. May I take no notice of them and even less plan revenge for them. For I know that the less notice I will take of unkindness and injuries, the more I will keep peace in my mind. May I be as one who is silent and not even seek to vindicate myself, lest my defence be taken as an offence.
May I walk in meekness, that I might prevent my own sin and have the comfort of it on reflection. Cause me to keep close to You by faith and prayer, for You are a friend who will never fail me for I hope in You. Why do I need to hear, if You hear also? and why do I need to care, when You care too?
May I bear all reproach with silence and patience for I know that You will be a witness for me and against those who do me wrong. Cause me never to manage things for myself and so take Your work out of Your hands and forfeit the benefit of You coming through for me. Thank You that when men are false and unkind, I have You to go to with whom I may be free and who will be faithful to me.
If I am ever tempted to walk away from You, may the fear of this drive me back to You. Cause me to be truly repentant for sin and patient under affliction. May I declare my sins before You freely and fully that I may give glory to You and take the shame to myself. May I also have remorse for sin and be in fear over my sin lest it ruin me. And may I always take care to get my sins forgiven.
You have promised to save me, and from You alone I expect salvation. Whatever burden lies upon my spirit may I by faith cast it upon You and so be at ease. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.