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Bible Commentaries

Clarke's Commentary

Psalms 38

Verse 1

David prays God to have mercy upon him, and gives a most

affecting account of his miserable state, 1-10;

complains of his being forsaken by his friends, and cruelly

persecuted by his enemies, 11-16;

confesses his sin; and earnestly implores help, 17-22.


The title in the HEBREW states this to be A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance. The CHALDEE; "A Psalm of David for a good memorial to Israel." The VULGATE, SEPTUAGINT, and AETHIOPIC: "A Psalm of David, for a commemoration concerning the Sabbath." The ARABIC: "A Psalm in which mention is made of the Sabbath; besides, it is a thanksgiving and a prophecy." Never was a title more misplaced or less expressive of the contents. There is no mention of the Sabbath in it; there is no thanksgiving in it, for it is deeply penitential; and I do not see that it contains any prophecy. The SYRIAC: "A psalm of David, when they said to the Philistine king, Achish, This is David, who killed Goliath; we will not have him to go with us against Saul. Besides, it is a form of confession for us." It does not appear that, out of all the titles, we can gather the true intent of the Psalm.

Several conjectures have been made relative to the occasion on which this Psalm was composed; and the most likely is, that it was in reference to some severe affliction which David had after his illicit commerce with Bath-sheba; but of what nature we are left to conjecture from the third, fifth, and seventh verses. Whatever it was, he deeply repents for it, asks pardon, and earnestly entreats support from God.

Verse Psalms 38:1. O Lord, rebuke me not — He was sensible that he was suffering under the displeasure of God; and he prays that the chastisement may be in mercy, and not in judgment.

Verse 2

Verse Psalms 38:2. Thine arrows stick fast in me — This no doubt, refers to the acute pains which he endured; each appearing to his feeling as if an arrow were shot into his body.

Verse 3

Verse Psalms 38:3. No soundness in my flesh — This seems to refer to some disorder which so affected the muscles as to produce sores and ulcers; and so affected his bones as to leave him no peace nor rest. In short, he was completely and thoroughly diseased; and all this he attributes to his sin, either as being its natural consequence, or as being inflicted by the Lord as a punishment on its account.

Verse 4

Verse Psalms 38:4. Mine iniquities are gone over mine head — He represents himself as one sinking in deep waters, or as one oppressed by a burden to which his strength was unequal.

Verse 5

Verse Psalms 38:5. My wounds stink and are corrupt — Taking this in connection with the rest of the Psalm, I do not see that we can understand the word in any figurative or metaphorical way. I believe they refer to some disease with which he was at this time afflicted; but whether the leprosy, the small pox, or some other disorder that had attacked the whole system, and showed its virulence on different parts of the outer surface, cannot be absolutely determined.

Because of my foolishness. — This may either signify sin as the cause of his present affliction, or it may import an affliction which was the consequence of that foolish levity which prefers the momentary gratification of an irregular passion to health of body and peace of mind.

Verse 6

Verse Psalms 38:6. I am troubled — In mind. I am bowed down - in body. I am altogether afflicted, and full of distress.

Verse 7

Verse Psalms 38:7. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease] Or rather, a burning; נקלה nikleh, from קלה kalah, to fry, scorch, &c., hence נקלה nikleh, a burning, or strongly feverish disease.

There is no soundness in my flesh. — All without and all within bears evidence that the whole of my solids and fluids are corrupt.

Verse 8

Verse Psalms 38:8. I am feeble and sore broken — I am so exhausted with my disease that I feel as if on the brink of the grave, and unfit to appear before God; therefore "have I roared for the disquietness of my heart."

That David describes a natural disease here cannot reasonably be doubted; but what that disease was, who shall attempt to say? However, this is evident, that whatever it was, he most deeply deplored the cause of it; and as he worthily lamented it, so he found mercy at the hand of God. It would be easy to show a disease of which what he here enumerates are the very general symptoms; but I forbear, because in this I might attribute to one what, perhaps, in Judea would be more especially descriptive of another.

Verse 9

Verse Psalms 38:9. Lord, all my desire is before thee — I long for nothing so much as thy favour; and for this my heart is continually going out after thee. Instead of אדני Adonai, Lord, several of Dr. Kennicott's MSS. have יהוהYehovah.

Verse 10

Verse Psalms 38:10. My heart pantethסחרחר secharchar, flutters, palpitates, through fear and alarm.

My strength faileth — Not being able to take nourishment.

The light of mine eyes - is gone — I can scarcely discern any thing through the general decay of my health and vigour, particularly affecting my sight.

Verse 11

Verse Psalms 38:11. My lovers — Those who professed much affection for me; my friends, רעי reai, my companions, who never before left my company, stand aloof.

My kinsmenקרובי kerobai, my neighbours, stand afar off. I am deserted by all, and they stand off because of נגעי nigi, my plague. They considered me as suffering under a Divine judgment; and, thinking me an accursed being, they avoided me lest they should be infected by my disease.

Verse 12

Verse Psalms 38:12. They also that seek after my life — They act towards me as huntsmen after their prey; they lay snares to take away my life. Perhaps this means only that they wished for his death, and would have been glad to have had it in their power to end his days. Others spoke all manner of evil of him, and told falsities against him all the day long.

Verse 13

Verse Psalms 38:13. But I, as a deaf man] I was conscious of my guilt, I could not vindicate myself; and I was obliged in silence to bear their insults.

Verse 14

Verse Psalms 38:14. No reproofs.תוכחות tochachoth, arguments or vindications; a forensic term. I was as a man accused in open court, and I could make no defence.

Verse 15

Verse Psalms 38:15. In thee, O Lord, do I hope — I have no helper but thee.

Thou wilt hear, O Lord my God. — Thou art eternal in thy compassions, and wilt hear the prayer of a penitent soul. In the printed copies of the Hebrew text we have אדני אלהי Adonai Elohai, Lord my God; but, instead of אדני Adonai, one hundred and two of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS. read יהוה Yehovah. As this word is never pronounced by the Jews, and they consider it dreadfully sacred, in reading, wherever it occurs, they pronounce אדני Adonai; and we may well suppose that Jewish scribes, in writing out copies of the sacred Scriptures, would as naturally write Adonai for Yehovah, as they would in reading supply the former for the latter.

Verse 16

Verse Psalms 38:16. When my foot slippeth — They watched for my halting; and when my foot slipped, they rejoiced that I had fallen into sin!

Verse 17

Verse Psalms 38:17. For I am ready to halt — Literally, I am prepared to halt. So completely infirm is my soul, that it is impossible for me to take one right step in the way of righteousness, unless strengthened by thee.

Verse 18

Verse Psalms 38:18. I will declare mine iniquity — I will confess it with the deepest humiliation and self-abasement.

Verse 19

Verse Psalms 38:19. But mine enemies are lively — Instead of חיים chaiyim, lively, I would read חינם chinam, without cause; a change made by the half of one letter, נ nun for a י yod. See the parallel places, Psalms 35:19; Psalms 79:5. See also the Preliminary Dissertation to Dr. Lowth's Isaiah, p. 40: "But without cause my enemies have strengthened themselves; and they who wrongfully hate me are multiplied." Here the one member of the verse answers to the other.

Verse 20

Verse Psalms 38:20. Because l follow the thing that good is.] The translation is as bad as the sentence is awkward. תחת רדפי טוב tachath rodpi tob, because I follow goodness. There is a remarkable addition to this verse in the Arabic: "They have rejected me, the beloved one, as an abominable dead carcass; they have pierced my body with nails." I suppose the Arabic translator meant to refer this to Christ.

None of the other Versions have any thing like this addition; only the AEthiopic adds, "They rejected their brethren as an unclean carcass." St. Ambrose says this reading was found in some Greek and Latin copies in his time; and Theodoret has nearly the same reading with the Arabic: Και απερῥιψαν με τον αγαπητον, ῳς νεκρον εβδελυγμενον· "And they cast me, the beloved, out, as an abominable dead carcass." Whence this reading came I cannot conjecture.

Verse 21

Verse Psalms 38:21. Forsake me not, O Lord — Though all have forsaken me, do not thou.

Be not far from me — Though my friends keep aloof, be thou near to help me.

Verse 22

Verse Psalms 38:22. Make haste to help me — I am dying; save, Lord, or I perish. Whoever carefully reads over this Psalm will see what a grievous and bitter thing it is to sin against the Lord, and especially to sin after having known his mercy, and after having escaped from the corruption that is in the world. Reader, be on thy guard; a life of righteousness may be lost by giving way to a moment's temptation, and a fair character sullied for ever! Let him that most assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall.

'Tis but a grain of sweet that one can sow,

To reap a harvest of wide-wasting wo.


This Psalm may be divided into two parts: - I. A deprecation; begun Psalms 38:1, and continued in Psalms 38:21-22.

II. A grievous complaint of sin, disease misery, God's anger, the ingratitude of his friends, coldness of his acquaintances, and cruelty of his enemies; all which he uses as arguments to induce God to help him; continued, Psalms 38:2-20.

I. In the first part he deprecates God's anger, and entreats a mitigation of it; though rebuked, let it not be in wrath; if corrected, let it not be in rigour: "O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath," c.

II. His complaint, on which he falls instantly, and amplifies in a variety of ways.

1. From the prime cause, GOD: "Thine arrows stick fast in me," c.

2. From the impulsive cause: "His sin, his iniquities," Psalms 38:4 "His foolishness," Psalms 38:5.

3. From the weight of his afflictions, which were, in general, "the arrows of God which stuck in him the hand of God, by which he was pressed;" which were so grievous "that there was no soundness in his flesh - no rest in his bones."

4. By an induction of particulars, where he declares many effects of the disease: -

1. Putrefaction of his flesh: "My wounds stink, and are corrupt."

2. The uncomfortable posture of his body: "I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly."

3. Torment in his bowels, c.: "My loins are filled with a loathsome disease."

4. Diseases through the whole system: "There is no soundness in my flesh."

5. Debility and grievous plague: "I am feeble," c.

6. Anguish that forced him to cry out: "I have roared," &c.

7. His heart was disquieted: "The disquietness of my heart." But that it might appear that he had not lost his hold of his hope and his confidence in God, he directs his speech to him, and says: "Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hidden from thee."

8. He had a palpitation or trembling of heart: "My heart pants."

9. His strength decayed: "My strength fails."

10. A defect of sight: "The sight of my eyes is gone from me."

All these calamities David suffered from within. He was tormented in body and mind but had he any comfort from without? Not any.

1. None from his friends: "My lovers and my friends stand aloof." 2. As for his enemies, they even then added to his affliction: "They also that seek after my life lay snares for me." In purpose, word, and deed, they sought to undo him.

He next shows his behaviour in these sufferings he murmured not, but was silent and patient. "I was as a deaf man; - I was as a dumb man." He made no defence.

This he uses as an argument to induce the Lord to mitigate his sufferings; and of his patience he gives the following reasons: -

1. His reliance on God for audience and redress: "For in thee, O Lord, do I hope; thou wilt hear me."

2. For this he petitions; for to God he was not silent, though deaf and dumb to man. For I said, Hear me! and the assurance that he should be heard made him patient; for if not heard, his enemies would triumph: "Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me."

3. He was thus patient when his grief was extreme: "For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me." I am under a bitter cross; and I know that if I be thy servant, I must bear my cross; therefore, I take it up, and suffer patiently.

4. This cross I have deserved to bear; it comes on account of mine iniquity, and I will not conceal it: "I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin." I suffer justly, and therefore have reason to be patient.

He complains again of his enemies. Though he suffered justly, yet this was no excuse for their cruelty; he complains of their strength, their number, and their hatred. My enemies are living, while I am at death's door; they are multiplied while I am minished; they render me evil for the good I have done them.

Then he concludes with a petition to God, in which he begs three things: -

1. God's presence: forsake me not, O Lord; my God, be not far from me."

2. He begs for help: "Help me, O Lord."

3. And prays that this help may come speedily: "Make haste to help me."

And these three petitions are directed to the Most High, as the God of his salvation: "O Lord, my salvation;" my deliverer from sin, guilt, pain, death, and hell.

In this Psalm, deeply descriptive of the anguish of a penitent soul, most persons, who feel distress on account of sin, may meet with something suitable to their case.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 38". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/psalms-38.html. 1832.