Psalms 38


David prays God to have mercy upon him, and gives a most

affecting account of his miserable state, 1-10;

complains of his being forsaken by his friends, and cruelly

persecuted by his enemies, 11-16;

confesses his sin; and earnestly implores help, 17-22.


The title in the HEBREW states this to be A Psalm of David, to

bring to remembrance. The CHALDEE; "A Psalm of David for a good

memorial to Israel." The VULGATE, SEPTUAGINT, and AETHIOPIC: "A

Psalm of David, for a commemoration concerning the Sabbath." The

ARABIC: "A Psalm in which mention is made of the Sabbath; besides,

it is a thanksgiving and a prophecy." Never was a title more

misplaced or less expressive of the contents. There is no mention

of the Sabbath in it; there is no thanksgiving in it, for it is

deeply penitential; and I do not see that it contains any

prophecy. The SYRIAC: "A psalm of David, when they said to the

Philistine king, Achish, This is David, who killed Goliath; we

will not have him to go with us against Saul. Besides, it is a

form of confession for us." It does not appear that, out of all

the titles, we can gather the true intent of the Psalm.

Several conjectures have been made relative to the occasion on

which this Psalm was composed; and the most likely is, that it was

in reference to some severe affliction which David had after his

illicit commerce with Bath-sheba; but of what nature we are left

to conjecture from the third, fifth, and seventh verses. Whatever

it was, he deeply repents for it, asks pardon, and earnestly

entreats support from God.

Verse 1. O Lord, rebuke me not] He was sensible that he was

suffering under the displeasure of God; and he prays that the

chastisement may be in mercy, and not in judgment.

Verse 2. Thine arrows stick fast in 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.

Verse 3. No soundness in my flesh] This seems to refer to some

disorder which so affected the muscles as to produce sores and

ulcers; and so affected his bones as to leave him no peace nor

rest. In short, he was completely and thoroughly diseased; and

all this he attributes to his sin, either as being its natural

consequence, or as being inflicted by the Lord as a punishment on

its account.

Verse 4. Mine iniquities are gone over mine head] He represents

himself as one sinking in deep waters, or as one oppressed by a

burden to which his strength was unequal.

Verse 5. My wounds stink and are corrupt] Taking this in

connection with the rest of the Psalm, I do not see that we can

understand the word in any figurative or metaphorical way. I

believe they refer to some disease with which he was at this time

afflicted; but whether the leprosy, the small pox, or some other

disorder that had attacked the whole system, and showed its

virulence on different parts of the outer surface, cannot be

absolutely determined.

Because of my foolishness.] This may either signify sin as the

cause of his present affliction, or it may import an affliction

which was the consequence of that foolish levity which prefers the

momentary gratification of an irregular passion to health of body

and peace of mind.

Verse 6. I am troubled] In mind. I am bowed down-in body. I am

altogether afflicted, and full of distress.

Verse 7. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease] Or

rather, a burning; nikleh, from kalah, to fry,

scorch, &c., hence nikleh, a burning, or strongly feverish


There is no soundness in my flesh.] All without and all within

bears evidence that the whole of my solids and fluids are corrupt.

Verse 8. I am feeble and sore broken] I am so exhausted with my

disease that I feel as if on the brink of the grave, and unfit to

appear before God; therefore "have I roared for the disquietness

of my heart."

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. It would be easy to show a disease

of which what he here enumerates are the very general symptoms;

but I forbear, because in this I might attribute to one what,

perhaps, in Judea would be more especially descriptive of another.

Verse 9. Lord, all my desire is before thee] I long for nothing

so much as thy favour; and for this my heart is continually going

out after thee. Instead of Adonai, Lord, several of Dr.

Kennicott's MSS. have Yehovah.

Verse 10. My heart panteth] secharchar, flutters,

palpitates, through fear and alarm.

My strength faileth] Not being able to take nourishment.

The light of mine eyes-is gone] I can scarcely discern any thing

through the general decay of my health and vigour, particularly

affecting my sight.

Verse 11. My lovers] Those who professed much affection for me;

my friends, reai, my companions, who never before left my

company, stand aloof.

My kinsmen] kerobai, my neighbours, stand afar off.

I am deserted by all, and they stand off because of nigi, my

plague. They considered me as suffering under a Divine judgment;

and, thinking me an accursed being, they avoided me lest they

should be infected by my disease.

Verse 12. They also that seek after my life] They act towards me

as huntsmen after their prey; they lay snares to take away my

life. Perhaps this means only that they wished for his death,

and would have been glad to have had it in their power to end his

days. Others spoke all manner of evil of him, and told falsities

against him all the day long.

Verse 13. But I, as a deaf man] I was conscious of my guilt, I

could not vindicate myself; and I was obliged in silence to bear

their insults.

Verse 14. No reproofs.] tochachoth, arguments or

vindications; a forensic term. I was as a man accused in open

court, and I could make no defence.

Verse 15. In thee, O Lord, do I hope] I have no helper but thee.

Thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.] Thou art eternal in thy

compassions, and wilt hear the prayer of a penitent soul. In the

printed copies of the Hebrew text we have Adonai Elohai,

Lord my God; but, instead of Adonai, one hundred and two of

Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS. read Yehovah. As this

word is never pronounced by the Jews, and they consider it

dreadfully sacred, in reading, wherever it occurs, they pronounce

Adonai; and we may well suppose that Jewish scribes, in

writing out copies of the sacred Scriptures, would as naturally

write Adonai for Yehovah, as they would in reading supply the

former for the latter.

Verse 16. When my foot slippeth] They watched for my halting;

and when my foot slipped, they rejoiced that I had fallen into


Verse 17. For I am ready to halt] Literally, I am prepared to

halt. So completely infirm is my soul, that it is impossible for

me to take one right step in the way of righteousness, unless

strengthened by thee.

Verse 18. I will declare mine iniquity] I will confess it with

the deepest humiliation and self-abasement.

Verse 19. But mine enemies are lively] Instead of

chaiyim, lively, I would read chinam, without cause; a

change made by the half of one letter, nun for a yod.

See the parallel places, Ps 35:19; 79:5. See also the Preliminary

Dissertation to Dr. Lowth's Isaiah, p. 40: "But without cause my

enemies have strengthened themselves; and they who wrongfully hate

me are multiplied." Here the one member of the verse answers to

the other.

Verse 20. Because l follow the thing that good is.] The

translation is as bad as the sentence is awkward.

tachath rodpi tob, because I follow goodness. There is a

remarkable addition to this verse in the Arabic: "They have

rejected me, the beloved one, as an abominable dead carcass; they

have pierced my body with nails." I suppose the Arabic translator

meant to refer this to Christ.

None of the other Versions have any thing like this addition;

only the AEthiopic adds, "They rejected their brethren as an

unclean carcass." St. Ambrose says this reading was found in some

Greek and Latin copies in his time; and Theodoret has nearly the

same reading with the Arabic: καιαπερριψανμετοναγαπητονως

νεκρονεβδελυγμενον "And they cast me, the beloved, out, as an

abominable dead carcass." Whence this reading came I cannot


Verse 21. Forsake me not, O Lord] Though all have forsaken me,

do not thou.

Be not far from me] Though my friends keep aloof, be thou near

to help me.

Verse 22. Make haste to help me] I am dying; save, Lord, or I

perish. 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! Let

him that most assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall.

'Tis but a grain of sweet that one can sow,

To reap a harvest of wide-wasting wo.


This Psalm may be divided into two parts:- I. A deprecation;

begun Ps 38:1, and continued in Ps 38:21, 22.

II. A grievous complaint of sin, disease misery, God's anger,

the ingratitude of his friends, coldness of his acquaintances, and

cruelty of his enemies; all which he uses as arguments to induce

God to help him; continued, Ps 38:2-20.

I. In the first part he deprecates God's anger, and entreats a

mitigation of it; though rebuked, let it not be in wrath; if

corrected, let it not be in rigour: "O Lord, rebuke me not in thy

wrath," &c.

II. His complaint, on which he falls instantly, and amplifies in

a variety of ways.

1. From the prime cause, GOD: "Thine arrows stick fast in me,"


2. From the impulsive cause: "His sin, his iniquities,"

Ps 38:4; "His

foolishness," Ps 38:5.

3. From the weight of his afflictions, which were, in general,

"the arrows of God which stuck in him; the hand of God, by which

he was pressed;" which were so grievous "that there was no

soundness in his flesh-no rest in his bones."

4. By an induction of particulars, where he declares many

effects of the disease:-

1. Putrefaction of his flesh: "My wounds stink, and are


2. The uncomfortable posture of his body: "I am troubled, I am

bowed down greatly."

3. Torment in his bowels, &c.: "My loins are filled with a

loathsome disease."

4. Diseases through the whole system: "There is no soundness in

my flesh."

5. Debility and grievous plague: "I am feeble," &c.

6. Anguish that forced him to cry out: "I have roared," &c.

7. His heart was disquieted: "The disquietness of my heart." But

that it might appear that he had not lost his hold of his hope and

his confidence in God, he directs his speech to him, and says:

"Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hidden

from thee."

8. He had a palpitation or trembling of heart: "My heart pants."

9. His strength decayed: "My strength fails."

10. A defect of sight: "The sight of my eyes is gone from me."

All these calamities David suffered from within. He was

tormented in body and mind; but had he any comfort from without?

Not any.

1. None from his friends: "My lovers and my friends stand

aloof." 2. As for his enemies, they even then added to his

affliction: "They also that seek after my life lay snares for me."

In purpose, word, and deed, they sought to undo him.

He next shows his behaviour in these sufferings; he murmured

not, but was silent and patient. "I was as a deaf man;-I was as a

dumb man." He made no defence.

This he uses as an argument to induce the Lord to mitigate his

sufferings; and of his patience he gives the following reasons:-

1. His reliance on God for audience and redress: "For in thee, O

Lord, do I hope; thou wilt hear me."

2. For this he petitions; for to God he was not silent, though

deaf and dumb to man. For I said, Hear me! and the assurance that

he should be heard made him patient; for if not heard, his enemies

would triumph: "Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over


3. He was thus patient when his grief was extreme: "For I am

ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me." I am under

a bitter cross; and I know that if I be thy servant, I must bear

my cross; therefore, I take it up, and suffer patiently.

4. This cross I have deserved to bear; it comes on account of

mine iniquity, and I will not conceal it: "I will declare mine

iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin." I suffer justly, and

therefore have reason to be patient.

He complains again of his enemies. Though he suffered justly,

yet this was no excuse for their cruelty; he complains of their

strength, their number, and their hatred. My enemies are living,

while I am at death's door; they are multiplied while I am

minished; they render me evil for the good I have done them.

Then he concludes with a petition to God, in which he begs three


1. God's presence: forsake me not, O Lord; my God, be not far

from me."

2. He begs for help: "Help me, O Lord."

3. And prays that this help may come speedily: "Make haste to

help me."

And these three petitions are directed to the Most High, as the

God of his salvation: "O Lord, my salvation;" my deliverer from

sin, guilt, pain, death, and hell.

In this Psalm, deeply descriptive of the anguish of a penitent

soul, most persons, who feel distress on account of sin, may meet

with something suitable to their case.

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