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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 38


Reading only the first part of this psalm (Psalms 38:1-11), we should positively assign it to some individual sufferer who had learnt the lesson which St. Jerome says is here taught: “if any sickness happens to the body, we are to seek for the medicine of the soul.” But, reading on, we find that the complaint of bodily suffering gives way to a description of active and deadly enemies, who, in the figure so common in the Psalms, beset the pious with snares. It is better, therefore, to think rather of the sufferings of the community of the faithful, who have learnt to attribute their troubles to their own sins, here described, after the manner of the prophets (Isaiah 1:6) but even more forcibly, under the figure of distressing forms of sickness.

Title.—Comp. title Psalms 70:0. In 1 Chronicles 16:4 we read, “And he appointed certain Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record, and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.” In the words thank and praise it is natural to see allusion to the Hodu and Hallelujah psalms, so called because beginning with those words, and as “to record” is in Hebrew the word used in this title and that to Psalms 70:0, it brings these two psalms also in connection with the Levitical duties. “The memorial” was a regular name for one part of the meat offering, and possibly the title is a direction to use these psalms at the moment it was made. The LXX. and Vulg. add, “about the Sabbath,” which is possibly a mistake for “for the Sabbath.”

Verse 1

(1) O Lord, rebuke.—See Note, Psalms 6:1, of which verse this is almost a repetition.

Verse 2

(2) For thine arrows . . .—The same figure is used of the disease from which Job suffered (elephantiasis? Job 6:4); of famine (Ezekiel 5:16); and generally of divine judgments (Deuteronomy 32:23). By itself it therefore decides nothing as to the particular cause of the Psalmist’s grief.

Stick fast.—Better, have sunk into, from a root meaning to descend. Presseth, in the next clause, is from the same verb. Translate, therefore,

For thine arrows have fallen deep into me,
And fallen upon me has thine hand.

Verse 3

(3) Rest . . .—Better, health. The Hebrew is from a root meaning to be whole. Peace (see margin), the reading of the LXX. and Vulg. is a derived meaning.

Verse 4

(4) Are gone over mine head.—Like waves or a flood. (Comp. Psalms 18:15; Psalms 69:2; Psalms 69:15. Comp.

“A sea of troubles.”—Hamlet, Acts 3:0, scene 1)

Verse 5

(5) Wounds.—Better, stripes, as in LXX.

Stink and are corrupt.—Both words denote suppuration; the first in reference to the offensive smell, the second of the discharge of matter; the whole passage recalls Isaiah 1:6, seq.

Foolishness.—Men are generally even more loth to confess their folly than their sins.

Verse 6

(6) I am troubled.—Better,

I am made to writhe (see margin),
I am bowed down exceedingly,
All day long I go about squalid.

(See Psalms 35:14, and comp. Isaiah 21:3.) The usual Oriental signs of mourning are alluded to in the last clause.

Verse 7

(7) Loathsome disease.—The Hebrew word is a passive participle of a verb meaning to scorch, and here means inflamed or inflammation. Ewald renders “ulcers.” The LXX. and Vulg., deriving from another root meaning to be light, or made light of, render “mockings.”

Verse 8

(8) I am feeble and sore broken.—Better, I am become deadly cold, and am quite worn out.

Disquietness.—Properly, roaring. Thus, of the sea (Isaiah 5:30), of lions (Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2). A very slight alteration once suggested by Hitzig, but since abandoned, would give here, “I roared more than the roaring of a lion.”

Verse 9

(9) All my desire.—Notice the clutch at the thought of divine justice, as the clutch of a drowning man amid that sea of trouble.

Verse 10

(10) Panteth.—Better, palpitates. The Hebrew word, like palpitate, expresses the beating of the heart, by its sound, secharchar.

Verse 11

(11) Sore is rather stroke, as in margin, or plague. His friends, looking on him as “one smitten of God,” and thinking “he must be wicked to deserve such pain,” abandon him as too vile for their society.

Kinsmen.—Render rather, as in margin, neighbours, or near ones.

Those who should have been near me stand aloof.

Verse 14

(14) Reproofs.—Better, replies or justifications, (For the whole passage comp. Isaiah 53:7.)

Verse 15

(15) Thou wilt hear.Thou is emphatic.

Verse 16

(16) Lest.—It is better to carry on the force of the particle of condition:

For I said, Lest they should rejoice over me:
Lest, when my foot slipped, they should vaunt themselves against me.

Verse 18

(18) Sorry.—The note of true penitence is here. The sorrow is for the sin itself, not for its miserable results.

Verse 19

(19) But mine enemies are lively.—See margin. But the parallelism and a comparison with Psalms 35:19 lead to the suspicion that the true reading is “without cause.”

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 38". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.