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.
"The title that David gives this Psalm is worth your notice. A Psalm of David to bring to remembrance. David was on his deathbed as he thought, and he said it shall be a Psalm of remembrance, to bring sin to remembrance, to confess to God my uncleannesses with Bathsheba, to bring to my remembrance the evils of my life. Whenever God brings thee under affliction, thou art then in a fit plight to confess sin to God, and call to remembrance thy sins." - Christopher Love.
"to bring to remembrance. This seems to teach us that good things need to be kept alive in our memories, that we should often sit down, look back, retrace, and turn over in our meditation things that are past, lest at any time we should let any good thing sink into oblivion."- Spurgeon
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.
'Those who feel his sin-killing shafts in this life, shall not be slain with His hot thunderbolts in the next world. ...
Those who know by experience "the terrors of the Lord, "will be best able to vouch for the accuracy of such descriptions; they are true to the life.' - C. H. Spurgeon
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 are 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).
"God's anger is a fire that dries up the very marrow; it searches the secret parts of the belly. A man who has pain in his bones tosses to and fro in search of rest, but he finds none; he becomes worn out with agony, and in so many cases a sense of sin creates in the conscience a horrible unrest which cannot be exceeded in anguish except by hell itself. " - Spurgeon
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 what 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.
"It is well when sin is an intolerable load, and when the remembrance of our sins burdens us beyond endurance. This verse is the genuine cry of one who feels himself undone by his transgressions and as yet sees not the great sacrifice. " - Spurgeon
v5 - they're a mess - lit. they rot
Adultery is the most foolish of sins.(Mat 1:6b)
"Some of us know what it is to stink in our own nostrils, so as to loathe ourselves. Even the most filthy diseases cannot be so foul as sin. No ulcers, cancers, or putrifying sores, can match the unutterable vileness and pollution of iniquity. Our own perceptions have made us feel this. We write what we do know, and testify what we have seen; and even now we shudder to think that so much of evil should lie festering deep within our nature. " - Spurgeon
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.).
"Often relatives hinder seekers after Jesus, oftener still they look on with unconcern, seldom enough do they endeavour to lead the penitent to Jesus. " - Spurgeon
v12 - "This snaring business is a vile one, the devil's own poachers alone condescend to it; but prayer to God will deliver us, for the craft of the entire college of tempters can be met and overcome by those who are led of the Spirit. ...
Our comfort is, that our glorious Head knows the pertinacious malignity of our foes, and will in due season put an end to it, as he even now sets a bound about it." - Spurgeon
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
"A sacred indifference to the slanders of malevolence is true courage and wise policy. It is well to be as if we could not hear or see. Perhaps the psalmist means that this deafness on his part was unavoidable because he had no power to answer the taunts of the cruel, but felt much of the truth of their ungenerous accusations. ... To abstain from self defence is often most difficult, and frequently most wise. " - Spurgeon
v14 - "He repeats the fact of his silence that we may note it, admire it, and imitate it. We have an advocate, and need not therefore plead our own cause. The Lord will rebuke our foes, for vengeance belongs to him; we may therefore wait patiently and find it our strength to sit still. " - Spurgeon
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.
"Hope in God's intervention, and belief in the power of prayer, are two most blessed stays to the soul in time of adversity. Turning right away from the creature to the sovereign Lord of all, and to him as our own covenant God, we shall find the richest solace in waiting upon him. Reputation like a fair pearl may be cast into the mire, but in due time when the Lord makes up his jewels, the godly character shall shine with unclouded splendour. Rest then, O slandered one, and let not thy soul be tossed to and fro with anxiety. " - Spurgeon
v16 - "He feared lest either by his conduct or his condition, he should give occasion to the wicked to triumph. This fear his earnest desires used as an argument in prayer as well as an incentive to prayer.
.. The least flaw in a saint is sure to be noticed; long before it comes to a fall the enemy begins to rail, the merest trip of the foot sets all the dogs of hell barking. How careful ought we to be, and how importunate in prayer for upholding grace! We do not wish, like blind Samson, to make sport for our enemies; let us then beware of the treacherous Delilah of sin, by whose means our eyes may soon be put out. " - Spurgeon
v17 - Lit For I am ready to quit, and my pain is continually before me.
'"Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. (1Cor 10:12)" How small a thing will lame a Christian, how insignificant a stumbling block may cause him to fall! This passage refers to a weakness caused by pain and sorrow; the sufferer was ready to give up in despair; he was so depressed in spirit that he stumbled at a straw. Some of us painfully know what it is to be like dry tinder for the sparks of sorrow; ready to halt, ready to mourn, and sigh and cry upon any occasion, and for any cause.
... Until the Holy Ghost applies the precious blood of Jesus, a truly awakened sinner is covered with raw wounds which cannot be healed nor bound up, nor mollified with ointment. ' - Spurgeon
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
"It is well not so much to bewail our sorrows as to denounce the sins which lie at the root of them. To be sorry for sin is no atonement for it, but it is the right spirit in which to repair to Jesus, who is the reconciliation and the Saviour. A man is near to the end of his trouble when he comes to an end with his sins. " - Spurgeon
v19 - "Wrong as the cause of evil is, it is a popular one. More and more the kingdom of darkness grows. Oh, misery of miseries, that we see the professed friends of Jesus forsaking him, and the enemies of his cross and his cause mustering in increasing bands!" - Spurgeon
'Such would a wise man wish his enemies to be. Why should we seek to be beloved of such graceless souls? If men hate us for this reason we may rejoice to bear it.
... This verse is not inconsistent with the writer's previous confession; we may feel equally guilty before God, and yet be entirely innocent of any wrong to our fellow men. The Lord may smite me justly, and yet I may be able to say to my fellow man, "Why smitest thou me?" ' - Spurgeon
v21 - This and the next verse are the only requests in this psalm. Previously David just laid his situation before the Lord.
"Now is the time I need thee most. When sickness, slander, and sin, all beset a saint, he requires the especial aid of heaven, and he shall have it too. He is afraid of nothing while God is with him, and God is with him evermore.
Withhold not the light of thy near and dear love. Reveal thyself to me. Stand at my side. Let me feel that though friendless besides, I have a most gracious and all sufficient friend in thee. " - Spurgeon
"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
v22 - "Delay would prove destruction. See how sorrow quickens the importunity of prayer! Here is one of the sweet results of affliction, it gives new life to our pleading, and drives us with eagerness to our God.
Not my Saviour only, but my salvation. He who has the Lord on his side has salvation in present possession. Faith foresees the blessed issue of all her pleas, and in this verse begins to ascribe to God the glory of the expected mercy. We shall not be left of the Lord. His grace will succour us most opportunely, and in heaven we shall see that we had not one trial too many, or one pang too severe. A sense of sin shall melt into the joy of salvation; grief shall lead on to gratitude, and gratitude to joy unspeakable and full of glory." - Spurgeon
12/17/2017 copyright Steve Miller voiceInWilderness.info