Psalm 38: hope for a sinner
A psalm of David. A petition.
(1)LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
(2)Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me.
(3)Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
(4)My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.
(5)My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly.
(6)I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning.
(7)My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body.
(8)I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.
(9)All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.
(10)My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.
(11)My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away.
(12)Those who want to kill me set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they scheme and lie.
(13)I am like the deaf, who cannot hear, like the mute, who cannot speak;
(14)I have become like one who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply.
(15)LORD, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.
(16)For I said, "Do not let them gloat or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip."
(17)For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me.
(18)I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.
(19)Many have become my enemies without cause; those who hate me without reason are numerous.
(20)Those who repay my good with evil lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good.
(21)LORD, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God.
(22)Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior.
Don't you just feel the Psalmist's pain? What a beautiful little song of petition.
This is a one of the Penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), full of grief and pain. And it seems, David felt both physical and spiritual pain.
Here are different translations of the heading:
Do not forsake me, O LORD
A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.
A psalm of David, asking God to remember him.
A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.
"It is a song full of pain and dark with guilt, as David felt the sore effects (seeming both physical and spiritual) of his sin."
--Pastor David Guzik, www.enduringword.com
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
verse 1-2 ESV
David's feels God's wrath. That's a scary word, especially when tied to the Lord! The wrath of a man sounds scary, but the wrath of God? Sheesh, take cover!
Wrath: strong, stern, or fierce anger, deeply resentful; vengeance or punishment as a consequence of anger. (dictionary.com)
"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."
--Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Some would run from God's anger, but David ran to God.
He feels God's hand upon him; the weight of it is heavy and painful, like arrows in his flesh. But God's anger reminds David to draw near.
"Your arrows pierce me, your hand weighs me down."
Do these words sound familiar?
Jesus came not to bear the weight of His own sin, like David, but to bear the sin of the world. And when David cried to God for help, He was there. When Jesus cried to God, the Father had in fact turned His face away.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
The Father turned His back on Jesus. Did you know that for three hours the land was dark? When Jesus came into the world, He brought light. But on that day, the day of His death, the world was dark.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
The Bible says that God turned out the Light for three hours on that day. And by the way, eclipses are minutes long, not hours. This was different.
Because of Jesus's sacrifice, the Light will never be turned off again. God will never turn His back on you or me. He did not turn His back on David. He will not turn His back on us, even when we sin.
However...the weight of the Father's hand is heavy; His arrows hurt. Because He loves us.
David felt the weight of his sin; he may have even been physically sick as a result. This verse is a beautiful description of God's conviction. God's hand presses down until we admit our need for Him and our sin and let go of the evil that entangles us.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me--it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.
Psalm 38:3-8 NLT
Is David's body sick or is it his soul? Commentators say: both. Whatever sin David was struggling with had most certainly affected him physically. Was David's illness a direct consequence to his sin? It happens. Or was David so worked up and upset with himself that he made himself sick? That happens too.
God clearly shows us with the life of Job that illness/injury/disease are not always the result of sin like some would say. Job lost his fortune, his family, and his health through no fault of his own. His prayer and pleading with God sounded very different than this psalm of David.
David's sin had affected his health. Can you relate? I can.
I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.
Psalm 38:8 NLT
Benjamin Franklin, American "Founding Father" (1705-1790), grew up in a Christian home. Who knows where his heart was later in life (well, thankfully God knows!), but he said this,
Sin is not harmful because it is forbidden, but it is forbidden because it is harmful.
God doesn't want this for us. His Word and His expectations for His children are very clear. I refer to this verse as often as I can:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Not because our God wants us to suffer or miss out on living or experiencing the beautiful things of this world that He created, but because He knows what will ultimately hurt us.
David knew this.
You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh.
Psalm 38:9 NLT
What do you long for? Sin is momentary pleasure causing long term pain. The Lord knows what we need. And He knows what you don't need.
David's use of Hebrew words for God in this psalm are interesting. This "Lord" (verse 9 or wherever is lowercase) is the Hebrew word Adonai. Adonai is the plural form of the ancient word Adon, which translates "master" or "ruler," and was culturally used with masters who owned slaves. The word signified dominion and ownership, but also protection and guidance.
"Since God is the absolute ruler and owner, our response to this name comes through the surrender of submission. Submission is a powerful tool when coupled with an All-powerful Adonai God. Unfortunately too many Christians today have settled for Jehovah without experiencing the full power of Adonai. This is because to experience all that God as ruler, master and owner over your life can do for you, you have to knowingly, willingly surrender before Him. That means He gets to call the shots. He gets to have the final say in your decisions."
--Pastor Tony Evans
Here's the full explanation if you want to read more.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.
My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. Even my own family stands at a distance.
Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me. Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me. All day long they plan their treachery.
Psalm 38:10-12 NLT
How terrible is this? David's loved ones don't know how to help him either. They can't help him. He's pushed them all away. He knows what he needs--or I should say, who he needs.
David felt alone in his pain. Where does he turn? To the One who never left him, who never turned His back, who is always there when we need Him.
But I am deaf to all their threats. I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
I choose to hear nothing, and I make no reply.
For I am waiting for you, O LORD. You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
I prayed, "Don't let my enemies gloat over me or rejoice at my downfall."
Psalm 38:13-16 NLT
David calls upon the LORD (YHWH or Yahweh), Lord (Adonai), and God (Elohim). It's as if David was rededicating himself to the Lord. He called upon God as master and majesty and called upon His covenant love and faithfulness.
David had found his way back to God.
I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain.
But I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
I have many aggressive enemies; they hate me without reason.
They repay me evil for good and oppose me for pursuing good.
Do not abandon me, O LORD. Do not stand at a distance, my God.
Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior.
Psalm 38:17-22 NLT
You can just feel the pain and heartache as David jumps all over in this song. He can't go on; he's in constant pain; evil surrounds him; people hate him; he can do nothing right! It's as if the whole world is imploding around the poor guy. Yet, the thing that scares him the most is the thought that God will leave him.
Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
Psalm 38:21-22 ESV
"The poor pleader was far gone and ready to expire, only speedy help would serve his term. See how sorrow quickens the opportunity 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."
Here's the thing, my friends: God did not leave David. David is realizing that he left God. His sin separated him from the One who filled him with joy and peace. He felt lost, not because God had turned His back as He had with Jesus on the cross, but because David had sinned and turned his back on God.
But when we cry to God, "where are You?" "Why have You abandoned me?" We are in fact moving ourselves back to God, we are opening our hearts again to our Loving Father. He never moved. But He does wait there patiently.
May this Penitential Psalm and the following verses remind you of God's presence, of His faithfulness, His mercy, and His everlasting "hesed" love.
But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will not longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Father in Heaven, thank you for this psalm. Thank you for the reminder of your forgiveness and faithfulness. Help us to turn to you in our pain and our struggles; our good days and our bad. Help us to keep you and your commandments first in our hearts and in our homes. We love you. In your will heal our land, protect our loved ones, and strengthen your church. Amen.