Psalm 38

Psalm 38
The Remnant Under the Chastening Hand of Jehovah
Psalm 38. This Psalm and the one following are a pair. This is also a penitential Psalm, meaning it has to do with the confession of sin. The inscription reads, “A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.” This Psalm may well have been written when David was fleeing from Absalom, when he was feeling the governmental consequences for his sin in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah. J.G. Bellet said of this Psalm, “It suits David’s suffering from Absalom because of his sin against God in the matter of Uriah. He speaks as like a leper outside the camp. And such is the figure of a convicted sinner, or of a saint under discipline. He is separated as one defiled and defiling; but Jesus can meet us in that place, though none else can.”1 Another possibility is that this Psalm could have been composed during the time of David’s fasting while his child was dying; “David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth” (2 Sam. 12:16). Prophetically, this Psalm speaks of the deepening work of repentance in the faithful remnant. In summary, we see a wonderful example of a good spirit in times of chastening; the remnant submitting the discipline, bowing under the smiting hand of Jehovah, while trusting Him. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11). We see the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” in Psalm 40, where David (prophetic of Christ) has a new song in his mouth! There is a helpful comparison between this Psalm and the Book of Job. In both the righteous fall under the chastening hand of God, but in this Psalm they vindicate God through it all, while in Job he charges God with unrighteousness. There are no excuses made for the sin, they simply acknowledge it, and bare the consequences while trusting in the Lord. There is a sense in which the Spirit of Christ enters into the expressions of this Psalm, not as suffering for His own sin, but bearing our sin as His own.2
A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.
1 Jehovah, rebuke me not in thy wrath; neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
v.1 The Chastening of Jehovah. The remnant seems to acknowledge that the “chastening” or “rebuke” is from Jehovah Himself. But they ask Him not to administer the discipline in “wrath” or “hot displeasure”. This is a helpful lesson for parents when disciplining their children. We should never discipline out of anger, but rather out of love.
2 For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand cometh down upon me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine indignation; no peace in my bones, because of my sin.
4 For mine iniquities are gone over my head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds stink, they are corrupt, because of my foolishness.
6 I am depressed; I am bowed down beyond measure; I go mourning all the day.
7 For my loins are full of burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am faint and broken beyond measure; I roar by reason of the agitation of my heart.
vv.2-8 The Chastening Felt. In these verses the remnant describes the discipline as they feel it, and it is deeply painful. They also acknowledge their guilt, and their sin, without any reservation. They call it “my sin”, “my iniquity”, “my foolishness”. They speak of the deep pain that they feel, and an inward turmoil called “roaring”. The expressions that are used in this Psalm are in many ways similar to those in Psalm 22, although there it was Christ being made sin for us. Here it is the saints suffering because of their own sin. Perhaps v.7 would speak of some realization of the untrustworthiness of the flesh; the depravity of the fallen human nature.
9 Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my sighing is not hid from thee.
10 My heart throbbeth, my strength hath left me; and the light of mine eyes, it also is no more with me.
11 My lovers and mine associates stand aloof from my stroke; and my kinsmen stand afar off.
12 And they that seek after my life lay snares for me; and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and meditate deceits all the day long.
vv.9-12 Reproach from Enemies Added. In vv.9-10 the extremity of suffering is expressed. But then in vv.11-12 there is an added to a level of suffering. The lovers and associates “stand aloof” when the stroke of discipline falls. They do not want to be close to those who are suffering, lest they should also become a target for the arrows of the Lord. How different the exhortation in Galatians 6 to bear one another’s burdens! Even kinsmen, those who by family ties ought to be faithful, have disappeared. Enemies also have seen the chastening, and have taken advantage of it by laying traps, speaking lies, etc. Historically, this would align with the cursing of Shimei in 2 Sam. 16.
13 But I, as a deaf man, hear not; and am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth.
14 Yea, I am as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.
15 For in thee, Jehovah, do I hope: “thou” wilt answer, O Lord my God.
16 For I said, Let them not rejoice over me! When my foot slipped, they magnified themselves against me.
17 For I am ready to halt, and my pain is continually before me.
18 For I will declare mine iniquity, I am grieved for my sin.
19 But mine enemies are lively, they are strong; and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied:
20 And they that render evil for good are adversaries unto me; because I pursue what is good.
21 Forsake me not, Jehovah; O my God, be not far from me.
22 Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation. 
vv.13-22 Trust in and Submission to Jehovah. Concerning the reproaches of enemies, the faithful choose not to hear, and they certainly do not reply (vv.13-14). All of their hope is in Jehovah, that He will answer their prayer. Then in vv.16-17, the faithful speak of their foot slipping, the enemies rejoicing over them, and the fact that they are almost ready to “halt”, or fall down in the path because of weakness (2 Sam. 16:8). And then in v.18, there is a brave determination to confess iniquity and sin. In v.19 again the enemies come before their soul; the enemies, haters, evildoers, and adversaries. It is acknowledged in v.20 that the remnant is facing opposition because they “pursue what is good”. So here we have a twofold reason for suffering: (1) they are suffering under the chastening hand of Jehovah, and (2) they are suffering from their enemies because they are pursuing what is good. Nobody ever said repentance would be easy! In the closing verses, the remnant call out to Jehovah their God to not be a far away from them, to help them, and save them from tribulation. How similar some of these verses are to those in Psalm 22, uttered by Christ, as He called out to His God to hear Him in His hour of greatest need. The great difference being that in Psalm 22 it was Christ suffering for the sin of others, and here it is the saints under the chastening hand of God because of their own sin. But the Psalm can still end with a note of confidence; “O Lord, my salvation”.
  1. Bellet, J.G. Short Meditations on the Psalms.
  2. The question then arises, How far does the Spirit of Christ enter into it? Fully, I believe; though of course He never could have been personally there. No doubt it arose from some deep chastening of the writer — a chastening which was openly manifested. Such cases may in the full extent arise among the remnant. The principle is of universal application. Christ of course could have nothing to be chastened for; but, having the full bearing of sin before Him, and meeting in His path all the sorrow which will beset the people, He can enter, though the green tree, into the judgment which will come upon the dry. He could not say what is said here, but He can perfectly sympathise with those who have to say it. He has provided the words which will express it by His Spirit in their hearts. Had He not suffered the full anger for these very iniquities which press on their consciences, and from which in its full extent as wrath they escape, it would not have been merely needed chastening in which they plead with Jehovah. Hence He can more than feel it when it has that character. And in all the sorrow of the circumstances He has borne the largest part. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.