Psalm 38 My Sins are Too Heavy for Me
I think David wrote this psalm at the time of Adonijah's rebellion, when he was old and sick unto death (1Ki 1:1-5). This is the same timeframe when I think he wrote Psalm 41.
At first I thought this psalm was the experience of Romans 7, but it is different. In Rom. 7, Paul laments his sinful nature and guilty conscience. Here David laments his past sins which are the cause of his present suffering. It is more like Hebrews 12, the chastening of the Lord.
This psalm has a straightforward narrative-like structure which makes it easy to memorize:
v1 - Plea not to deal with me in anger
vv 2-8 - physical complaints
vv9-10 - turning point. All my heart is poured out before You.
v11 - alone
v12 - ensnared and verbally attacked
vv13-14 - my reaction to the attacks
v15 - why I react that way. Because I hope in You.
vv16-20 - why You will answer
vv21-22 - final plea
Psalm heading - to bring to remembrance - "To be taught to all people as a prayer to be used when beset by misfortune." - Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235)
I think Rabbi Kimchi's (aka RaDaK) explanation is good. I have a hard time relating to much of this psalm because the suffering is way beyond my experience. If we have this psalm stored in our memory, it could be very helpful in the future.
This psalm starts almost identically to Psalm 6 and repeats some of it. I think David wrote Psalm 6 when he was younger. Now he remembers that prayer in his old age.
There is only 1 other "to bring to remembrance" psalm, Ps 70. Psalm 70, which is also through David, is a very short psalm of only 5 verses which repeats the non-messianic parts of Psalm 40, similar to how this psalm repeats parts of Psalm 6.
This psalm is also similar to the book of Job and seems to quote from it (vv2, 3, 11).
v1 - "Although I deserve punishment, do not send upon me the full intensity of Your rage." -Stone Tanach
"The anger and wrath of God are rightly a reality to the writer as they are throughout the whole Old Testament. It has remained for our age to make light of the terrible reality of God's wrath as being a delusion." - H. C. Leupold
v2 - Lit. For Your arrows came down on me, and your hand comes down on me.
David may have gotten the 1st half of this verse from Job 6:4. David is suffering like Job, so he may have gotten help from Job's book. Job however was not being chastened for his sins, but David is.
The 2nd half of the verse repeats Psalm 32:4, also by David. That psalm is about the blessed state of having our sins forgiven. Here, even though David's sins are forgiven, there are still the consequences of sin.
v3 - Lit. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation, no peace in my bones because of my sin.
David says that the extreme sickness and suffering he is experiencing in this psalm is due to his sin. I think this refers to David's horrible sin against Uriah the Hittite, because of which the Lord told him he would suffer the rest of his life (2Sam 12:10).
There are many instances in the Bible where suffering is caused by sin (i.e. Ps 32,38, 41), and many where it is not (i.e. Job, Ps 13). We should not assume either is the case. It is right to ask the Lord if my suffering is due to my sin and accept the answer.
Martin Luther was a great servant of the Lord. In his old age he was extremely afflicted with physical ailments. His ear ailments made him mentally ill (Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas). Had he asked the Lord if this extreme suffering was due to his sin, and waited on the Lord for an answer, he may have been spared making the horrible defamatory statements he did against the Jewish people and Christians who disagreed with him late in his life. His biographers have said that it would have been better if Luther had died before he made those defamations (Meet Martin Luther by Anthony T. Selvaggio).(2Chron 16:7-12).
v4 - Lit. For my iniquities are gone over my head. As a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
This was my state before I was saved. I considered my sins and good deeds on opposite sides of a balance. There was no comparison between the sins' side of the balance to the good deeds' side, as the sins dwarfed the good deeds. And every year the sins grew much more than the good deeds. When I read a gospel tract that quoted Matt 9:6, I was amazed and asked and received forgiveness of sins.
Would we still say this to the Lord in some situation after having our sins forgiven? David experienced the blessedness of having his sins forgiven in Ps 32, which I believe was before he wrote this Psalm. I think David means here is that the consequence of his earlier sins are too heavy for him as he describes his suffering in this psalm.
This is my favorite verse in this psalm, and the one I used for the title.
Adultery is the most foolish of sins.
v6 - Lit. ... all the day I go in darkness.
The Hebrew phrase, ad meod, which I translated as "to the max" here and in v8, means literally "until very", which I understand to mean "to the uttermost". The phrase is used 17 times in the Old Testament. It is used to describe Isaac's and Esau's reactions when they realize that Isaac gave Esau's blessing to Jacob (Gen 27:33-34), and the greatness of Alexander the Great (Dan 8:8).
v7 - Lit. For my loins are full of burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
v8 - Lit. ... I roar from the moaning of my heart.
v9 - This is the first verse of this psalm which is not negative. We should always make all our desires known to the Lord. Then we can pray this in time of extreme trouble.
This is my second favorite verse in this psalm.
One can imagine the LORD reacting, "No, they are certainly not hidden!" - John Goldingay
v10 - Lit. ... and the light of my eyes, they also are no more with me.
The Hebrew word sachar, which I translated as "deals" means to trade like a merchant. Most translate it as "throbs", which meaning it never has. I think it means his heart is trying to work out deals with God and/or itself.
v11 - lit. ... stand aloof from my plague.
Previous to this verse, it was about physical suffering, no soundness in my flesh. vv 11-14 are psychological pain of bearing your suffering alone, without your fellow human beings as comforters. Even when God comforts, there is still a large part of comfort that can only be filled by human beings (2Cor 2:7; etc.).
v13 - Lit. ... and as a dumb man that opens not his mouth.
"It is well to be deaf to calumny (slander), and dumb in self-vindication. Let God undertake your cause (v15)." - F. B. Meyer
v15 - The second positive verse. This is more positive than v9.
This verse starts with "for", giving the reason why David does not justify himself to men in the previous verse.
"Waiting is not a vague hanging on to see if something will happen, but a keen anticipation of what we know will happen." - John Goldingay
This is one of my favorite verses. I enjoy the faith that is in this verse.
v17 - Lit For I am ready to quit, and my pain is continually before me.
v18 - Lit. For I will declare my iniquity. I am grieved for my sin.
Verses 16-18 all start with "for", each giving reasons why God will answer David's hope in v15.
1. Because I said, Lest they boast over me
2. Because I can't take any more
3. Because I confess my sin
4. They are too strong for me
5. They repay evil for good
6. I am pursuing what is good
v21 - This and the next verse are the only requests in this psalm. Previously David just laid his situation before the Lord.
"Lord, righteous and merciful God, do not punish us in Your hot displeasure, as we so richly deserve, but be gracious to us according to Your mercies, for we are poor and miserable. Do not remember the guilt of our many sins, but remember the bloody merits of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Strengthen our hearts with the comforting ministrations of Your Spirit, and preserve us in faith and hope unto our end. Amen." - Martin Luther
12/17/2017 copyright Steve Miller voiceInWilderness.info