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Bible Commentaries

Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 38

Verses 1-22

Psalms 38:1-22. Title. Either the Psalmist, under his affliction, composed this psalm to assist him in recollecting his sins, or in calling upon God to remember his distress ; or he desired to remember as long as he lived, and wished to remind others, how he had suffered for his sins, and what his sentiments and sensations had been whilst enduring correction. It is the third of those which

are called penitential psalms ; and describes among the Psalmist’s other trials some grievous diseases, with which he was visited for his sins ; or, as some think, his inward trials were represented by language, taken from enfeebling and loathsome sickness. It is probable, that the calamities which befell David, after his sin in respect of Bathsheba and Uriah, gave occasion to the doleful complaints contained in it.

V. 1, 2. Arrows. (2) Acute pains, anguish of spirit, and sharp sufferings of any kind, are spoken of under the figure of barbed arrows, which fasten and rankle in the flesh, and cannot be extracted without the most exquisite torture. (Marg. Ref.)

V. 3. Soundness.] Some understand this clause to mean, that disease had so altered the Psalmist, as scarcely to leave him the form or appearance of a human being.

(Note, Psalms 30:2. Psalms 41:4-8. Job 2:7-8; Job 19:5-22; Job 30:15-19. Isaiah 1:5-6.) Whatever allusion may be made, in this passage, either to the depravity of human nature, or to the prevalence of sin, or to the anguish of the soul under a sense of divine wrath ; it seems evident, that the writer was visited with some dire malady, which affected his whole frame in the most distressing manner ; and that he considered this as the chastisement of God, for some particular sins of which his conscience accused him.

V. 4. David’s iniquities, like the numberless drops of rain, which form a deluge, had been so multiplied, that they overwhelmed him ; as waters which rise above a man’s head, so that he can no longer stand against or escape them. And as he felt, that the temporal consequences of his crimes were so distressing, and oppressed him beyond endurance: so he seems to have been convinced, that the burden or guilt of them was far too heavy for him to endure, without finally sinking under it. What then was that load of guilt and punishment, which Christ sustained, when " the LORD caused to meet on " him the iniquities of us all;" and when "he bare our " sins, in his own body on the tree!" Yet he, as Emmanuel, was able to endure the burden, and to remove it

lor ever from his people! (Notes, Psalms 40:11-12. Isaiah 53:4-12.)

V. 5. Some accommodate this verse to the case of those, who, having been wounded in their conflict with sin and Satan, foolishly delay submission, repentance, and application to the atoning blood of Christ, through pride, and unbelief; while their souls are growing more and more diseased and wretched, and their case more and more deplorable and disgraceful. (Notes, Psalms 32:3-5. Jeremiah 8:21-22.)

6-10. (Notes,Psalms 3:5; Psalms 6:6-7. Psalms 22:1-2. Psalms 31:10-13; Psalms 88:1-9. Psalms 102:3-11. Psalms 107:17-22. Is. 38: 9- 15. Matthew 26:36-39.) But why do I... make such a particular enumeration of my sufferings ? Thou, Lord, undentandest, what I want and what I would have.’ Though I should say never a word, all my miseries, and’ the sighs they have cost me, are not unknown to thee.

’ Thou seest the great agitation of my mind, which wanders up and down in restless thought, but all to no purpose ; for my strength hath forsaken me : the light of my eyes is so weak, that I can scarce make any use of them.’ Bp. Patrick. (Notes,Psalms 69:1-3. Psalms 119:81-82.)

V. 11, 12. Cowardice, pride, and selfishness, caused David’s friends arid acquaintance to keep at a distance, during his afflictions ; lest they should share his disgrace sad danger, or be put to expense or inconvenience: but liis enemies were emboldened in forming plans to accomplish his destruction. These particulars were still more emphatically verified, in the suffering of the Son of David. (Marg. Ref. Notes, Psalms 41:9; Psalms 69:8-9; Psalms 88:6-9. Job 6:15-23. Luke 10:30-37. John 16:31-33.)

V. 13, 14. David, in the patience and meekness, with which he endured his complicated sufferings, was a type of him, who, " when he was reviled, reviled not again : but David’s troubles were the chastisement, and part of them seem to have been the consequences, of his transgressions ; whereas Christ suffered for our sins, and ours alone.

(Notes, Isaiah 53:4-7. Matthew 27:11-18. 1 Peter 2:18-25.)

V. 15. The translation of the last clause of this verse, in the book of common prayer, contains an important instruction : " Thou shall answer for me, O Lord, my " God." (Marg.) Thus Christ was silent before his false accusers, and unjust judges, and "committed himself to " Him that judgeth righteously."

V. 16- 18. It was evident, that the enemies of David were ungodly men, who would rejoice in his falls and calamities, from dislike, not to his sins, but to his religion : the honour of God was therefore concerned to confound and silence them ; and consequently to uphold his servant, notwithstanding that he was conscious of his weakness and unworthiness.

(Notes, Psalms 13:1-4. Psalms 35:15-16. Jeremiah 20:10-13.) This consciousness and fear of the consequences, not only to himself, but especially to the cause of true religion, presented a most gloomy prospect before his eyes : except as he trusted in God to keep him from falling, for the honour of his own name ; and as he ingenuously confessed his past sins, and was grieved and distressed on

account of them. (Notes, Psalms 32:3-5; Psalms 51:3-4. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.) My Sorrow. (17) Notes,Psalms 77:2-12. Isaiah 53:2-3.

V. 19, 20. The humble spirit of a penitent pleading guilty before God ; and the consciousness, at the same time, of being wrongfully hated, and ungratefully and basely used, by men, not for the sins into which he had fallen in particular instances, but for the general tenor of a holy and useful life ; are strongly marked in this passage. This shews, that the most decided rejoicing in the testimony of a man’s conscience, respecting his conduct towards men, in those things of which he has been unjustly condemned, is perfectly consistent with the deepest humiliation as a sinner in the sight of God. (Notes, Psalms 7:3-5. Psalms 35:11-12; Psalms 69:4. Jeremiah 18:18-20. John 15:22-25. 2 Corinthians 1:12-14.)

V. 21, 22. ’ I am persuaded, and confident thou wilt deliver me ; but do not longer delay.’ (Marg. Rej. Note,Psalms 71:12.)


Under the temporal effects of the Lord’s abhorrence of sin, and the anguish of his correcting rod, the believer is most troubled with the apprehension of his vindictive wrath, and lest he should share the doom of the ungodly ; and he can bear any thing when assured that this shall never be his case. Yet God often sees good, in order to warn others, to silence the reproaches of scoffers, to vindicate the honour of religion, and for his own glory, to make the afflictions of his offending children very sharp, complicated, and permanent ; and to extort from them many doleful groans and lamentations. In such circumstances, when the correction begins to produce its salutary effects, they readily trace their sorrows to the fatherly displeasure of the Lord, whose " arrows stick fast in them, " and whose hand presseth them sore ; " and they humbly acknowledge their sins to be the cause of his anger. Their own iniquities form that deluge which goes over their

heads ; and their sense of guilt is the heaviest burden which is laid upon them : " it is indeed too heavy for them " to bear ; ’’ and would sink them into despair and ruin, unless removed by the pardoning mercy of God. The prevalence of sin, and the successful force of temptations, form their worst diseases, and their most offensive and dangerous wounds : and while " there is no soundness in " their flesh," and no rest in their bones, they are led to consider their souls, in which ’ there is no health.’ For pride, covetousness, envy, malice, and lust, are diseases of the soul of far greater malignity than fevers, dropsies, palsies, gout, or stone, are of the body yet numbers feel not their sickness, till it be too late to apply the remedy. But, when we perceive our true condition, the good Physician is valued, resorted to, and obeyed : (Note, Matthew 9:10-13:) though even they, who are in this sure way of an effectual cure, often retard it, and experience grievous relapses, through their foolishness and their wounds rankle and corrupt, because they delay to go to their merciful Friend, and to apply the healing balm which he has prepared. Would we not prolong our own miseries, when we are conscious of having offended, we should immediately approach the mercy-scat with penitent confessions and believing prayers ; that without delay our sins may be pardoned, our strength renewed, and our enemy prevailed from rejoicing over us Yet the feeling and effects of the divine displeasure must needs trouble him who loves God, and " bow him down greatly and make him to go mourn" ing all the day long ; " and even enfeeble him, and cause him to " roar for the very disquietness of his heart : " for " a wounded spirit who can bear ? " (Note, Proverbs 18:14:) and this uneasiness will be in proportion to the degree in which he values the favour of God, and delights in communion with him. But, while the hypocrite takes encouragement from David’s sins to transgress, lie is a perfect stranger to David’s ingenuous anguish of spirit under the consciousness of his guilt. In the true believer’s case, however, all this trouble will be useful : he will wait for and on his God, and not seek relief from the world, or from himself: he will bring his whole desire before his heavenly Father, and be encouraged, because " his groaning is not hid from him even though, like one expiring, " his heart panteth, his strength faileth, and the sight of " his eyes is gone from him," and he knows not what to say or do. Nay, should all this be attended with the unkindness and inconstancy of lovers, friends, and relatives, who stand aloof from his affliction ; while treacherous and cruel foes are " laying snares for his life and seeking his " hurt, and speaking mischievous things, and imagining " deceits all the day long ; " still that consciousness of guilt which forms his heaviest load, will keep down indignation, silence murmurs and reproaches, and produce meek and quiet submission. For if the holy Jesus bore all this, without a complaint or a reproof; what reason can a humble sinner think he has to yield to impatience of anger, when mercifully corrected for his sins, whatever rod the Lord is pleased to employ? He will therefore lie as one deaf and dumb, respecting the calumnies and scoffs of the wicked, when he feels himself to be under the divine rebuke for his sins ; (Note, Ezekiel 16:60-63 ;) he will commit himself unto him that judgeth righteously; " and be thankful that he may yet hope, and pray to him with the prospect of being heard and helped. When the wicked are ready to rejoice at our calamities, or to magnify themselves against us ; when our feet slip ; when we feel ourselves feeble, and ready to halt or stumble, and are grieved continually, that we have given them, or lest we should give them, cause to triumph over us ; we have good arguments to urge in prayer, why the Lord should help and uphold us. Let us then declare before him our iniquity, and be sorry for our sins ; and seek earnestly the destruction of our inward foes, which are so lively and so strong. And if, notwithstanding our offences against God, our enemies hate us, not for our sins, but because we follow the thing that is good ; let us not be discouraged by their wrongful and ungrateful enmity; seeing we are in this conformed to our Saviour : but after his example, let us still persevere in endeavouring to " overcome evil with "good." (Note, Romans 12:17-21.) Let us also continue in prayer, that the Lord may pardon and subdue our iniquities : then will he never forsake us, or be far from us; for he will surely hasten to the help of all those, who trust in him as their Salvation.

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Bibliographical Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 38". Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. 1804.