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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 38

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-22

Psalms 38:0

A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance

1          O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath:

Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

2     For thine arrows stick fast in me,

And thy hand presseth me sore.

3     There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger;

Neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.

4     For mine iniquities are gone over mine head:

As a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.

5     My wounds stink and are corrupt

Because of my foolishness.

6     I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly;

I go mourning all the day long.

7     For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease:

And there is no soundness in my flesh.

8     I am feeble and sore broken:

I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.

9     Lord, all my desire is before thee;

And my groaning is not hid from thee.

10     My heart panteth, my strength faileth me:

As for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me.

11     My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore;

And my kinsmen stand afar off.

12     They also that seek after my life lay snares for me;

And they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things,
And imagine deceits all the day long.

13     But I, as a deaf man, heard not;

And I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth.

14     Thus I was as a man that heareth not,

And in whose mouth are no reproofs.

15     For in thee, O Lord, do I hope:

Thou wilt hear O Lord my God.

16     For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me:

When my foot slippeth they magnify themselves against me.

17     For I am ready to halt,

And my sorrow is continually before me.

18     For I will declare mine iniquity;

I will be sorry for my sin.

19     But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong:

And they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied.

20     They also that render evil for good

Are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is.

21     Forsake me not, O Lord:

O my God, be not far from me.

22     Make haste to help me,

O Lord my salvation.


For the Title comp. Introduct., § 6, No. 3. The Psalm begins (Psalms 38:7) with the same petition as Psalms 6:0, that God will bring the sufferings, endured by the petitioner as a punishment for his sins, to an end, that He will cease from His judgment of wrath. This prayer is based upon the fact, that the sufferings, sent upon him by God (Psalms 38:2) and deserved by great sins (Psalms 38:3-4), have entirely worn him out in body and soul (Psalms 38:5-7), so that he can only sigh to God (Psalms 38:8) in the greatest anguish and abandonment (Psalms 38:9). For his friends have withdrawn from him (Psalms 38:10), and his enemies, who aspire after his life, regard him as lost (Psalms 38:11). But he does not heed them, or contradict them (Psalms 38:13-14), but has put his hope in God (Psalms 38:15-16). For he is now in the most extreme bodily weakness and anguish of heart, on account of his sins, the guilt of which he confesses (Psalms 38:17-18); and his enemies are active, numerous, and they hate him, although he has given them no reason, but rather has sought to do them good (Psalms 38:19-20), hence his sighing prayer for the help of Jehovah, whom his faith is still able to apprehend and confess as his God, and as his salvation (Psalms 38:21-22). Hengst supposes that this Psalm did not originate from the circumstances of an individual, but was uttered by the righteous personified, and that the peculiar sufferings are due to the enmity of the wicked, whose number and superiority is regarded as an evidence of Divine visitation, which thus considered, make him miserable and worn out in body and soul. Others suppose that the sufferings of the entire people, or the pious portion of them, occasioned by heathen oppressors or ungodly enemies, are described by a late prophet (Chald., Isaki, Rosenm. II.), perhaps by Jeremiah (De Wette), under the figure of a sickness. These views, however, are opposed by the contents and statements of the Psalm A real man laments, sighs, and implores, on account of plagues which severely afflict him personally; but the cause of his sufferings does not appear to be wicked enemies, who abuse him and wound him bodily (Hitzig with reference to Jeremiah 20:2, which however the strong self-accusations do not suit), or whose attacks and complaints had caused his sufferings, which are described partly under the figure of sickness, partly are brought under the idea of moral guilt (Hupfeld). The enemies are not mentioned until the second half of the Psalm, and then, it is true, as deadly enemies, yet not as those which have caused the bodily sufferings described fully at the beginning, but rather as those who have used these things as snares and accusations against him. The bodily sufferings are represented as a real sickness, although not exactly as leprosy (Ewald, Köster, Maurer); yet the sick man himself regards his miserable condition as sufferings sent by God as a punishment for his sins; and from this visitation is developed his consciousness of guilt, his continued moral pain, his confession of sin, and at the same time his correct behaviour towards his adversaries and his God, towards his adversaries, which without reason, yea, against all right, are at enmity with him, instead of thanking him for the benefits they have received, and recognizing his moral efforts; towards his God, on whom he ceases not to wait as his help, abandoning all self-help, and all excuses, and to whom as near to assist him, he exclusively directs his prayer. By this view the bond of unity between the two parts of this Psalm, often missed, may be shown, and its relationship with, as well as its difference fromPs. 6, be placed in a stronger light; so likewise its order among David’s penitential Psalms 5:0

Str I. [Ver 1. This verse is the same as Psalms 38:1 of Psalms 6:0, with merely one verbal substitution of the synonym קֶצֶף for אַף Bakius has the following paraphrase: “Corripe sane per legem, castiga per crucem, millies promerui, negare non possum; sed castiga, quæso, me ex amore ut pater, non ex furore et fervore, ut judex; ne punias justitiæ rigore, sed misericordiæ dulcore.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 38:2. For Thine arrows have sunk into me.—This figurative expression is used not only of leprosy (Job 6:4), but likewise of hunger (Ezekiel 5:16), and generally of calamities of Divine visitation (Deuteronomy 32:23). Hence it follows from this various use of the figure, that it is inadmissible to limit this to a particular kind of visitation, yet not that the following description of sickness is to be regarded merely as figurative.

Str II Psa 38:3. Soundness.—The expressions in Isaiah 1:6, which are entirely similar, do not imply that they are figurative in this Psalm. For Isaiah refers to the body of the people. In such a connection he might very well look upon sins as abscesses, and moral ruin under the figure of phases of sickness, without danger of being misunderstood. But this explanation is inadmissible for this Psalm, although it has been promoted by the Vulgate after the Sept., which has in Psalms 38:3 b: non est pax ossibus meis, and in Psalms 38:7 a, with many ancient Psalters after the Cod. Vat. of the Sept., anima mea impleta est illusionibus, whilst the Cod. Alex., as likewise Symmach. has the reading ψύαι instead of ψυχή.—[No health in my bones.—Perowne: “Such is the proper and original meaning of the word שָׁלוֹם (shalom), integritas; “peace,” being the derived meaning, peace only there properly existing, where all is complete and entire, nothing wanting.” The same is true with the German Heil which is used here by most interpreters.—C. A. B.]

[Psalms 38:4. Gone over my head.—A usual figure of danger and trouble taken from a flood of water, comp. Psalms 18:16.—Too heavy for me.—They are conceived as a burden weighing upon the conscience, incapable of being borne any longer. Comp. Genesis 4:13, and Psalms 32:4, where the hand of God is felt in them—C. A. B.]

[Str. III. Psa 38:5. My bruises stink and run.—Alexander: “The two verbs both denote suppuration, the first in reference to the offensive smell, the second to the running or discharge of matter.”—Foolishness:—Perowne: “His sin, as seen now in its true light, showing itself to be folly, for all sin is self-destruction. This confession of his sin is in fact, at the same time, a confession of the justice of his punishment.”

Psalms 38:6. I am bent, I am bowed down exceedingly, all day long I go about squalid.—Delitzsch: “Being so deeply sick in soul and body, he must be greatly bent and bowed down. נַעֲוָה of the writhing contraction of the body, Isaiah 21:3, שָׁחַח of the bowed-down attitude, Psalms 35:14, הלֵּךְ of a clumsy, drawling walk.” קדֵר literally black with dirt, squalid, in allusion to the Oriental custom of putting ashes on the head, and going about with rent and soiled garments as a sign of mourning, vid.Psalms 35:14.—C. A. B.]

Str. IV. Psalms 38:7. For my loins are full of dryness.—נִקְלֶה is understood by Sept. and Symmach. [vid. Psalms 38:3] not of “blasted or kindled” (properly roasted, dried at the fire), but after another derivation (Isaiah 3:5), of disrespect and scorn. The loins are brought into view as the seat of strength, but are here designated not as dried out, dried up (Luther, Hengstenberg), which, so far as they had become weak, would be full of that which contempt heaped upon the sick man, full of scorn, which issues from the loins (Schegg); they are here described as full of dryness. It is doubtful whether we could understand by this “blasted” (Camph.). Burning sores (Ewald) would be better. The reference is certainly not to a burning fever (Chald., Calvin, Geier, et al.) in the bowels (many recent interpreters after Bochart); still less as a figurative expression of the withering, consuming power of sorrow (Hupf.). The construction demands a material object, leads rather to a special condition of sickness.

Psalms 38:8. [I am benumbed, cold, chilly, torpid, in contrast with the warmth and energy of life. It is used of the disappearing of the warmth of life, and at the same time of the stopping of the pulse and even life itself. Perowne thinks that it refers to the alternations of a fever fit, and refers to the burning inflammation in the preceding verse. But it is better with our author not to think of a fever, but of a state of feebleness, in connection with the real loathsome disease which was upon him.—C. A. B.]—I roar from the moaning of my heart.—Hitzig proposed the reading לְבי or לָביא instead of לִבִּי (Begriff der Kritik, S. 120 sq.). and to translate “I cry more than the roaring of the lion.” Afterwards he rejected this conjecture, and contended against it, to the regret of Olsh. The words are not at all tautological, but express that the sighing of the mouth originates from the moaning of the heart.

[Str. V. Psalms 38:10. My heart palpitates—Alexander: The palpitation of the heart, denoting violent agitation, is combined with loss of strength and dimness of the eyes, so often mentioned as a sign of extreme weakness. See above on Psalms 13:3 and compare Psalms 6:7; Psalms 31:9; Psalms 40:12”—C. A. B]

Str VI. Psalms 38:11-12. Away from the presence of my plague—The translation of Luther originates from the Vulgate, amici mei—adversum me appropinquaverunt. It has likewise in the following line; vim faciebant (ἐξεβιάζοντο), in stead of: have laid snares. The Sept. has read נגש instead of נקש or confounded the two. But the latter is rendered evident here by a play upon the words in the Hebrew.

[Str. VII. Psalms 38:13. Deaf—dumb.—Alexander: “The same two words for deaf and dumb are used together in Exodus 4:11. Not only the idea, but the form of expression in this sentence, is copied by Isaiah in his prophetical description of Christ’s sufferings (Isaiah 53:7), and seems to have been present to our Saviour’s own mind when He ‘held his peace’ before the High Priest (Matthew 26:62-63), and ‘gave no answer’ to the Roman Governor (John 19:9).”

Psalms 38:14. In whose mouth there are no replies.—Delitzsch: “The consciousness of guilt and resignation stop his mouth, so that he may not and cannot refute the false accusations of his enemies; he has no counter evidence to justify himself.”—C. A. B.]6

Str. VIII. [Psalms 38:15. Thou wilt hear.—The thou is emphatic, and is thus contrasted strongly with the enemies before whom the Psalmist was dumb, making no replies, but pleading alone before God. Riehm: “This expectation is based upon reasons adduced by three כִּי following one another, yet co-ordinate; Psalms 38:16, upon the wish which he has expressed, and to which God is to respond by hearing it; Psalms 38:17, upon the greatness of his misery; Psalms 38:18, upon his penitence.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 38:17. The Vulgate after the Sept. differs from the Hebrew text, and has: in flagella paratus sum. [The Hebrew text is, however, correct, and the translation I am ready to halt or fall down sufficiently assured.—C. A. B ]

Str. IX. Psalms 38:19. But mine enemies are lively, are numerous.—The reading maintained by the ancient translations חַיִּים may be interpreted after 1 Samuel 25:6. Most recent interpreters suppose after Houbigant that this reading is a corruption from חִנָּם, that is, without cause, Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4.

Psalms 38:20. After this verse many Greek and Latin, all the Æthiopic, and some of the Arabic, and one of the Syriac Psalters, have the additional clause: et projecerunt me dilectum tanquam mortuum abominatum (comp. Isaiah 14:19), explained by Theodoret of Absalom’s behaviour towards David.

[Str. X. Psalms 38:21-22. These petitions are frequent in the Psalms. Comp. Psalms 10:1; Psalms 13:1; Psalms 22:1; Psalms 22:19; Psalms 35:22. Delitzsch: “He closes with sighs for help. He does not gain that the darkness of wrath should be lighted up. The fides supplex does not become fides triumphans. But the closing words, ‘Lord, my salvation,’ show the difference between Cain’s penitence and David’s. True penitence has faith in itself, it doubts of self, but not of God.”—C. A. B.]


1. When a man perceives the chastening hand of God in his severe sufferings, and tastes the righteousness of the Lord therein, his sufferings may be very painful, yet if he values his communion with God, the experience of the Divine wrath and his grief on account of his personal guilt will be still more painful. Therefore he will pray first, not for the cessation of his bodily sufferings, his external plague, his temporal affliction, although he may be laid upon a bed of painful sickness and worried even to the exhaustion of his strength; he prays, first of all, for the removal of the angry judgment of God and the anxiety of heart on account of his sins.

2. In severe sickness and other visitations of God, we learn, often for the first time, the crushing weight of the chastening hand of God, the depth of guilt which exceeds all human thought and imagination, the deadly power of sin which destroys soul and body. But this most tormenting experience helps the sinner to permanent health, if he does not complain, in his cries over his misery or the treatment he has received, but charges himself with folly and sin, and if he does not despair, but confesses his guilt with penitence.

3. He has to undergo a severe conflict if his friends withdraw from him in the days of his necessity and anguish, when Divine chastisement has come upon him, and his enemies approach him with charges and accusations, especially if he is entitled to a very different treatment on account of his previous relations with them. Thus the genuineness of his repentance is tested. The decision with reference to salvation takes place, when the afflicted man earnestly withstands every temptation to self-justification, renounces all attempts to help himself, and resigns himself with sincere self-abnegation to God with confession and prayer, and waits on God with the hope that his prayer will be heard.

4. The virtue of this patient, devout and trusting waiting upon God, consists in the faith of the penitent, by which, in all his ill desert, he yet apprehends God as his God, and trusts in Him as the God of his help notwithstanding the superiority of his enemies and the strong feeling of his own weakness. He leaves the manner and the means of help to God. But he may pray most pressingly that God will draw near; for this is a token to the penitent of His mercy and a sign of His readiness to grant his supplication; for although he is forsaken by all the world and despairs of himself, yet he does not doubt, but knows and apprehends his salvation in God the Lord. Psalms 22:19; Psalms 35:3.


Sin prepares wrath, and the wrath of God has sharp weapons; but God may be sought by the penitent.—Sin involves the visitation of Divine wrath, but repentance implores and obtains forbearance.—Sin ruins people; but those who are converted to God will not be lost.—Fire in the conscience is worse than fire in the bones.—The fire of the Divine wrath should excite not only grief on account of the punishment of sin, but likewise sincere repentance in the heart of the sinner.—Stricken by the hand of God, accused by his own conscience, forsaken by his best friends, attacked by his worst enemies, the sinner is yet not ruined, but delivered, if he is converted to God in his misery by his sins.—Whom God visits with chastisement He will take to Himself, but it is necessary that He should rescue him from the way of ruin.—It is not enough to taste the consequences of sin, you must confess their punishableness, their folly, their guilt, if you would obtain deliverance.—He who totters under the hand of God may be saved from falling, if he grasps the hand which smites him.—God chastises sinners earnestly, but not in order to kill them, but to give life, if they will only observe and learn to seek Him.—True repentance does not despair; although abandoned by all the world, it seeks salvation in God.—The sick-bed may become a bed of victory, 1) by humiliation under the strong hand of God; 2) by penitent confession of sin; 3) by believing apprehension of God as the God of help and salvation.

Starke: God can seldom bring us to repentance without chastisement, and He chastens us in order that we may not regard ourselves as guiltless.—No one knows what the anguish of conscience is, who has not experienced it, and been obliged to struggle with sin and the wrath of God, there is no grief in the world to be compared with it.—The hearts of many are like a rock from which the arrows rebound. Blessed are those whose souls are wounded unto salvation by God’s arrows.—Sin wounds a man unto death, not only in his soul, but often it seizes upon his body and makes him utterly miserable.—It is lamentable, that whilst every animal helps his fellow, man alone causes all kinds of sufferings and mishaps to his fellows.—It is not necessary for you to hear and speak when God has taken this upon Himself for you. You may be entirely still.—The ungodly and hypocritical seek to deny and conceal their sins as far as possible, but the pious confess that they are guilty before God and man.—The pious have their faults, but this is not the reason why they are persecuted by the world, it is because they will not live as the world would have them.—If it is your desire not to be forsaken by God, take care that you do not depart from Him by a wicked life and conformity to the world.

Luther: Truly to feel sin and tremble on account of a wicked conscience, is torture above all other torture. External persecutors boldly help to this; for they hunt a man in his conscience, boast against the righteous, that God is with them.—And because He withholds consolation, such terror of heart must ensue, as if God were angry on account of sin. But yet David teaches us to hold fast and not despair, and defends himself against their boasting with prayers, and rises upon Divine promises, and lays hold of his cause by the true handle. …. Thus we should pray and not despair in any anxiety of soul, although we are sinners and feel deeply the burden of sin and its tempest.——Osiander: We should not pray that our Heavenly Father should not chastise us at all (comp. Hebrews 12:5), but that He should chastise us with the rod of the parent and not punish us with the sword of justice.—Selnekker: I am well satisfied with my cross, for my sinful nature needs it well.—Frisch: If God has shot His arrows from heaven into you, you must send the arrows of prayer to heaven, and implore His grace; if He has laid His heavy chastening hand upon your neck, you must lay your hand of faith on your heart; thus will He bind up your wounds and quicken you after the affliction.—Rieger: At first David depends on the mercy of God; then he invokes the searching omniscience of God; finally he supplicates the speedy help of God.—Tholuck: We acquire a deeper knowledge of the state of our hearts, by our behaviour when afflicted (impatient complaints, faint-heartedness, disinclination to prayer), than we ever could in good days.—If the tempter can convince the soul, when sufferings are long continued, that God does not trouble Himself at all about it, that is the hottest affliction.—Diedrich: God sends afflictions upon us that we may thereby be brought to a more thorough knowledge of ourselves.—Taube: In time of trouble we see how soon our own strength fails, and the humble knowledge of this is one of the blessings of repentance.—Thym: We are comforted under the severest pains. 1) By the word about Christ, 2) by prayer to Christ, 3) by strength from Christ.—The sufferings of earth: 1) their nature; 2) their origin; 3) our behaviour under them.

[Matt. Henry: Our wounds, by sin, are oftentimes in a bad condition, no care taken of them, no application made to them, and it is owing to the sinner’s foolishness, in not confessing sin. Psalms 32:3-4. A slight sore neglected may prove of fatal consequences, and so may a slight sin, slighted and left unrepented of.—The less notice we take of the unkindness and injuries that are done us, the more we consult the quiet of our own minds.—When our enemies are most clamorous, ordinarily it is our prudence to be silent, or to say little, lest we make ill worse.—If we are truly penitent for sin, that will make us patient under affliction, and particularly under unjust censures.—Barnes: Trouble never accomplishes its proper effect unless it leads us to God; and anything that will lead us to Him is a gain in the end.—No Christian, when he comes to die, ever feels that he has been too much afflicted, or that any trial has come upon him for which there was not occasion, and which was not designed and adapted to do him good.—Spurgeon: It seems strange that the Lord should shoot at His own beloved ones, but in truth He shoots at their sins rather than them, and those who feel his sin-killing shafts in this life, shall not be slain with His hot thunderbolts in the next world.—It is well when sin is an intolerable load, and when the remembrance of our sins burdens us beyond endurance.—None more lonely than the broken-hearted sinner, yet hath he the Lord for his companion.—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.—We shall not be left of the Lord. His grace will succor us most opportunely, and in heaven we shall see that we had not one trial too many or one pang too severe.—C. A. B.]


[5][Delitzsch: “In this Psalm a peculiarity of the penitential Psalms is repeated, namely, that the petitioner has to lament not only that his soul and body are worn out, but likewise over external enemies, who come forth as his adversaries and make his sins an occasion of preparing ruin for him. This is owing to the fact that the Old Testament believer, whose consciousness of sin was not so spiritual and deep as in the believer of the New Testament, almost always was sensible of the external act of sin. The enemies which then would prepare for him ruin, are the instruments of the Satanic power of evil, who desire his death, whilst God desires his life, as is likewise felt by the New Testament believer even without external enemies.”—C. A. B.]

[6][Calvin sees two reasons for his silence; (1) his enemies would not suffer him to speak; (2) his own patient submission to the will of God. Perowne thinks that only the last is prominent here, but it seems better with Delitzsch to think of his own consciousness of guilt, under the severity of the Divine chastisement stopping his mouth with reference to the slanders of his enemies as he appeals to God to hear him as in Psalms 38:15 sq.—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 38". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-38.html. 1857-84.
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