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Psalms 38:0 might be designated “The Penitent’s Plea.” It is the cry of a man who is distressed and broken-hearted because of his sin, and who comes to God acknowledging his guilt and looking to Him for forgiveness.
Over the first four verses we might write the word “Conviction.” We have the expression here of a convicted soul, of a man who is not trying to make excuses for his sins. As long as you find a person endeavoring to excuse his sins and failures, you will know that the plowshare of conviction has never gone in deep enough. When King Saul was faced about his sin by Samuel he said, “I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray Thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel” (1 Samuel 15:30). In other words, Oh yes, I have done wrong, but make something of me in the eyes of the people. There is no evidence there of real conviction. When a man is truly convicted he stops making excuses and stops seeking honor for himself. And so in these four verses we listen to the Psalmist pouring out the feelings of his heart which is broken because of his sin.
“Oh Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure. For Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thy hand presseth me sore.” What a mercy it is when one falls into sin-and such sin as David fell into-that God does undertake to deal with him, that the sharp arrows of the Almighty do pierce his soul, and that the hand of God is heavy upon him, making him feel the weight of his guilt. He continues, “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.” He realizes he is righteously exposed to the anger of God. Sin demands punishment We may try to excuse it, but God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). God is never going to save one sinner and leave that sinner’s sin unpunished. If He does not punish it on the sinner, it must be punished on the sinner’s Substitute. And that is what took place on Calvary. At the Cross the Lord Jesus bore the judgment. The old hymn says,
“He bore on the tree the sentence jot me,
And now both the surety and sinner are free.”
“For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” It is the voice of a convicted sinner.
Over verses 5 to 14 we may write the word, “Humiliation.” As he continues looking into his own heart, as he continues dwelling upon the sin that has crushed his life, he is bowed down before God in a sense of deepest humiliation. “My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.” Although feeling in his body and in his spirit the effects of his sin and knowing that God is dealing with him because of that sin, he realizes that there is no one else to whom he can turn for deliverance but to the very God that is afflicting him.
“Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my groaning is not hid from Thee. My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me. My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off.” There is a sense in which the Lord Jesus entered into that. Though He was the absolutely holy One, when He took the sinner’s place He could use such language as this. He could say, “My lovers and My friends stand aloof from My sore; and My kinsmen stand afar off. 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.” But now David, because he knew that he deserved what he was receiving, and Jesus, because He was taking our place and was accepting the judgment due to our sins as though He had deserved it, could use the words of the next two verses, “But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.” It is a great thing to come to the place where you have no fault to find with anybody but yourself. Many of us spend so much of our time finding fault with other people. We can see other people’s faults and can magnify their sins, but we are so unconscious of our own faults and sins. When people accuse us we get so indignant and forget that if our worst enemies knew all that we know about our own hearts and the sins of our own lives, they would say far worse than they do say. David here bows his head before God and has nothing to say because his own conscience is accusing him worse than any of them.
From the 15th to the 20th verse we have his confession. “For in Thee, O Lord, do I hope: Thou wilt hear, O Lord my God. For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me. For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.” And you know what God says elsewhere, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). David says he will not try to cover it up, “I will declare my iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is.” Once they blamed him for his sin; now they blame him for turning to God and professing to find in Him forgiveness.
In the last two verses he expresses his confidence, “Forsake me not, O Lord: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Psalms 38". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25