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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 38

A.M. 2962. B.C. 1042.

Dr. Delaney, in the seventh chapter of the third book of his Life of David, has given it as his opinion that this Psalm, and the next three, were occasioned by a grievous distemper wherewith David was afflicted, and which he considered as the chastisement of God upon him for his sins. That this calamity fell upon him about the time that a dangerous and rebellious conspiracy was formed against him, he thinks, appears from the same Psalms. And, forasmuch as we hear of no more than one conspiracy of that kind formed against him, it follows, he says, that his sickness fell upon him about the time of that conspiracy. And that his distemper was that which is now known among us under the name of the small pox, he judges to be very probable. Theodoret, however, and many other commentators, think that David was not sick, but that in this Psalm he called to remembrance all the sad disasters which befell him; as the murder of his son Amnon, the rebellion of his son Absalom, and all the other calamities mentioned in his history. Be this as it may; whether this Psalm be understood in a literal or allegorical sense, David bewails his sins so pathetically in it, that it is reckoned among the penitential Psalms. He complains of God’s displeasure and of his sins, Psalms 38:1-5 . Of his affliction, Psalms 38:6-10 . Of the unkindness of his friends and the injuries of his enemies, Psalms 38:11-20 . Prays to God for help, Psalms 38:21 , Psalms 38:22 .

Title. To bring to remembrance Either to God, that by this humble and mournful prayer he might prevail with God to remember and pity him; or to himself, that by reviewing this Psalm afterward, he might call to mind his former danger and misery, and God’s wonderful mercy in delivering him; and that others also might remember what God had done for him.

Verses 1-2

Psalms 38:1-2. Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure I confess that I both deserve chastisement and need it, and therefore I do not desire that thou shouldest entirely remove it, but only moderate it: see Psalms 6:1. For thine arrows Thy judgments inflicted on my outward and inward man; stick fast in me Have entered deep into me, as נחיו בי , nichathu bi, is properly rendered; and thy hand presseth me sore תנחת עלי , tinchath gnali, is come down upon me; as when a strong man lifts up his hand and weapon, that it may fall down with the greater violence, and make a deeper wound.

Verses 3-6

Psalms 38:3-6 . There is no soundness, &c. My disease or grief hath seized upon all the parts of my body, my very bones not excepted, so that my bed can give me no rest; because of my sin Which hath provoked thee to deal thus severely with me. For my iniquities, &c. Or, the punishment of my iniquities, as this word is frequently used; are gone over my head Like deep waters, wherewith I am overwhelmed. My wounds are corrupt The bruises and sores, caused by my disease, are not only painful, but loathsome to myself and others; because of my foolishness As a just punishment of my folly; whereby, to satisfy my unreasonable desires, I have inconsiderately offended thee, 2 Samuel 11:2-4. I am troubled ינעוותי , nagnaveeti, I am distorted, or depressed; or, as it is expressed by another word, signifying the same thing, bowed down, namely, in my body, as diseased persons generally are, and withal dejected in my mind. I go mourning Hebrew, in black; the sign of mourning, which may here be taken figuratively. When I rise out of my bed, and walk, or rather creep about in my chamber, I do it with a sad heart and a dejected countenance. Or going may be here meant of his languishing, or going toward the grave, as this same word is used sometimes.

Verse 7

Psalms 38:7. With a loathsome disease Hebrew, נקלה , nikleh, with vileness, or with scorching heat. “The disease,” says Poole, “might be some burning fever, breaking forth outwardly in carbuncles, or biles. It is true, this and the other expressions may be taken figuratively; but we should not forsake the literal sense of the words without necessity.” Others, however, are of opinion, that “these are figurative expressions, signifying the excessive misery and extreme wretchedness of the psalmist’s condition. And it must be acknowledged that we find the same way of speaking, and almost the same words used in Scripture, by the prophets, for the same purpose. Thus the Lord says to Ezekiel, Ezekiel 21:6, Sigh therefore, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes, where the latter clause explains the former. So Isaiah 21:3, exclaims, upon a like occasion, Therefore are my loins filled with pain, &c.; I was bowed down at the hearing of it. Now no man ever imagined that Ezekiel’s loins were broken, or that Isaiah had a pain in his back like that of a woman in labour: but every one understands these expressions as only denoting the prophet’s great grief and concern. And why should we not conclude that the Prophet David used the like expressions in a like sense; especially as he almost begins this Psalm with bold figurative expressions, and describes his miserable condition by the arrows of God sticking in him, and his hand pressing him sore.” An anonymous writer quoted by Dodd.

Verses 8-10

Psalms 38:8-10. I have roared Hebrew, שׁאגתי , sha-agti, roared like a lion, or a bear, namely, through extreme misery; by reason of the disquietness of my heart For the great anxiety and torment of my mind, caused by the deep sense of my sins, and of God’s wrath, and of the sad issue of both. My groaning is not hid from thee I do not utter all these complaints, nor roar out that thou mayest hear and know them, for thou hearest and knowest my lowest words, yea, the desires of my heart, and all my necessities. And, therefore, I pray thee, pity and deliver me, as I trust thou wilt. My heart panteth סחרחר , secharchar, circumit, palpitat, goeth round, palpitates, through fear and grief; or, it is perplexed and tossed with many and various thoughts, not knowing what to do, nor whither to go. The light of mine eyes Mine eyes are grown dim; either through grief and tears, or through weakness.

Verses 11-13

Psalms 38:11-13. My lovers and friends stand aloof Either through neglect and contempt, or disdain of me. They that seek my life lay snares for me That if my affliction or trouble do not kill me, they may destroy me some other way; and imagine deceits all the day long They design mischief, but cover it with fair pretences. But I, as a deaf man, heard it not I carried myself toward them as if I had no ears to hear what they said, either to me or of me, nor a tongue to answer or reprove them for their reproaches and calumnies. And he was thus silent, not for want of just answers to them, but to testify his humiliation for his sins, and his acceptation of the punishment which he had brought upon himself.

Verses 14-16

Psalms 38:14-16. In whose mouth are no reproofs Or arguments, to convince or confute them, or to defend myself. For in thee do I hope I bore their behaviour silently and patiently, because I hoped that thou wouldest answer for me, and plead my cause better than I could myself; which I would not prevent by my impatience, or by avenging myself. Or, But in thee do I hope Though my friends forsake me, and my enemies plot and practise against me, yet I do not despair, because I have thee on my side. For I said, Hear me, &c. In my heart and prayers I used this argument, which I knew was prevalent. Lest otherwise they should rejoice over me Namely, in my destruction, which would also reflect dishonour upon thee, who hast undertaken to defend and save me, and for whose sake I suffer so much from these wicked men, Psalms 38:20. When my foot slippeth When I fall, either into any gross sin, or into any misery, as I have now done; they magnify themselves against me They triumph in the accomplishment of their designs or desires.

Verses 17-18

Psalms 38:17-18. For I am ready to halt To fall into destruction, Jeremiah 20:10. And, therefore, if thou dost not help me speedily it will be too late. My sorrow is continually before me I am deeply and constantly sensible of thy justice in my chastisement, and I shall be overwhelmed with sorrow if thou dost not prevent it. For I will declare mine iniquity I will confess it to thee as the cause of my sufferings. I will be sorry for my sin Hebrew, אדאג , edag, I will be, or am solicitous, or anxious; full of grief for what is past, and of cares and fears for the future; therefore pity, pardon, and save me.

Verses 19-20

Psalms 38:19-20. Mine enemies are lively Hebrew, living; that is, thriving, flourishing, and prosperous. They that render evil for good That hate and persecute me, not only without any injury or provocation on my part, but, as it were, in requital of the good I have done to them. Because I follow the thing that good is Because I love and diligently practise justice and piety, which they hate, and which I exercised, as I had opportunity, in the punishment of such as they are.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 38". Benson's Commentary. 1857.