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This is a psalm of David to call to remembrance his past life, and, no doubt, has especial reference to his sin with Bathsheba. It calls up to the view of his memory the sins of the past, the afflictions of the past, the enemies of the past, and the mercies of the past. It is well to have times of remembrance in life, like milestones on the road, to remind of the journey we have travelled, and to inspire us onward to the future. The past is not entirely to be forgotten; it is to be called up as evidence of our own depravity, of the Divine faithfulness, and as a profitable moral reflection for the soul.
A CONSCIENCE AWAKENED BY A SENSE OF THE DIVINE CHASTISEMENT
I. That the Divine chastisement is greatly afflictive to men. This is evident throughout the entire psalm; in fact, it would appear as though the writer were unable to find similitude by which to liken, or language in which to express, his moral pain occasioned by the Divine chastisement.
1. The Divine chastisement makes men apprehensive of the wrath of God (Psalms 38:1). David, no doubt, felt that he justly merited the Divine rebuke in its mood of strong displeasure. He had sinned, and sin always leads men to regard God as offended. It changes the Divine favour into disapprobation. The soul is certain to view God through its own moral experiences, and hence, according to its consciousness of innocence or guilt, He appears as a Father or as a Judge. The Divine anger is the bitterest element in the sorrow of the good.
2. The Divine chastisement is keen in its penetration into the soul of man (Psalms 38:2). The Divine chastisements are keen, swift, and penetrating as barbed arrows. They are shot unseen; they come unexpected; they make little noise; they are abiding in their injury. Thus it is with those who are convinced of sin. The arrow of the Holy Spirit penetrates to their innermost soul, and causes terrible pain of conscience. God’s arrows always his their mark, and are intended to remind of the bitterness of sin.
3. The Divine chastisement makes men morally loathsome to themselves (Psalms 38:3; Psalms 38:5). Here we see the view which an awakened conscience takes of its moral condition. When the soul is wounded by sin it becomes offensive to its own inner gaze. The sinner, when under conviction by the Spirit of God, sees all his life as one festering sore, and loathes it with penitential grief.
4. The Divine chastisement leads men to an overwhelming consciousness of sin (Psalms 38:4). A man, when under the rebuke of God, feels himself to be overwhelmed in the sea of his sins. There is no human refuge for him. No light reaches him. The number of man’s sins are an index to the woe of the Divine chastisements. If the sins were not deep the rebuke would not be so loud. Sin is a heavy burden, and if not cast upon the Lord, will sink the sinner into perdition.
5. The Divine chastisement leads men into grievous unrest (Psalms 38:3-8). The Divine chastisement penetrates to the inner being of man, even to the bones, and causes unrest. The good in this condition are like a ship in the storm. There can be no quietude of soul where there is sin. An awakened conscience can only obtain peace in Christ, who is the Prince of peace.
6. The Divine chastisement divests life of all human joy (Psalms 38:10).
II. That the Divine chastisement often tests the sincerity and worth of human friendship. “My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore, and my kinsmen stand afar off (Psalms 38:11).
1. The Divine chastisement tests the sincerity of human friendship. Friends, who are thick as eagles on a carcase while the feast lasts, are scarce in that neighbourhood when the repast is over. When the devil divested Job of his property, he also relieved him of his imagined friends. When men are undergoing the Divine chastisement they are generally left in loneliness. Then companions fear lest they should share the woe of their afflicted comrade. They stand aghast at the reversed condition of things. At such times relatives are false to the natural affection they ought to bear toward their brother in adversity. Our Lord was forsaken by His disciples. Only true friendship survives the test of adversity.
2. The Divine chastisement generally stimulates the cunning policy of the wicked (Psalms 38:12). And thus it often happens that in the hour of Divine chastisement inward grief of soul is combined with outward exigencies. When wicked men see the good in trouble then they consider it a favourable time for executing their hellish schemes. They are unmerciful; they are cowardly; their strength is in stealth; they are malicious; they are ever active; they promote slander; they delight in lies. God only can defeat their cunning devices.
3. The Divine chastisement leads men to examine the moral tendency of their lives (Psalms 38:17-18). Here the Psalmist acknowledges the moral weakness of his life, in that he is ready to halt in despair. He also confesses his sin without reservation of thought or language. Thus the Divine chastisement revealed him to himself in no pleasing light. David reviews his life in its inner meaning and in its public bearing, and intimates that his enemies accuse him falsely. Sorrow makes men review all their social and moral relationships.
III. The Divine chastisements call into requisition the self-restraint of the good. “But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth” (Psalms 38:13-14). David was silent, notwithstanding the strong provocations of his enemies. He probably knew that it would be but little use to contend with them by words, and that if he did, he would only arouse them to fiercer anger. Hence he manifests the wisdom of silence. It is generally wise to treat angry and slanderous men with silence. Silence is the language of dignified innocence. It is a token of noble self-control. Man has the ability to subdue his natural feelings when they are unduly excited by cruel enemies. Christ answered his accusers not a word. It is the token of a strong soul that it can bear slander and persecution in silence, only seeking the Divine vindication and protection.
IV. That the Divine chastisements awaken the repentant soul to importunate prayer. “Forsake me not, O Lord. O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation” (Psalms 38:21-22). Thus, if David was silent toward men, he was not silent toward God, and in trouble it is far better to pray to God than to talk to men. Prayer enables men to be self-contained. David said that, if Heaven forsook him, he would indeed be friendless. The Divine Companionship is the protection of the good from all the plottings of wicked men. Adverse circumstances awaken men to earnest prayer—to prayer which is soon triumphant in its experience of the salvation of God.
1. How many are afflicted by the chastisements of Heaven.
2. How many are left companionless by the sorrows of life.
3. How many are driven to devotion by anguish of heart.
4. How the mischief of the wicked may be turned by God to the good of the prayerful.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 38". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25