Psalms 38 Commentary

Psalms 38-39 The cries of the sick

The psalmist David felt that sometimes punishment for his sins took the form of sickness (e.g. Ps 6) or opposition from those who envied or hated him (e.g. Ps 25). Both elements appear again in the prayer of Psalm 38, which, being a confession of sin, was suitable to be offered with certain sacrifices.

As the suffering David cries to God for mercy, he admits that, because of his sin, he deserves what he has got (38:1-4). He vividly describes the sickness, sores and pain that he has to endure (5-7), but his inner suffering is much greater. It leaves him crushed and repentant before God (8-10). Friends forsake him and enemies plot against him (11-12), but he bears their slanders as if he cannot hear them and cannot reply to them (13-14). He can only leave the matter in God’s hands and trust that his downfall will give his enemies no cause to gloat over him or dishonour God (15-17). Although he has confessed his sins, his enemies still persecute him. He prays that God will not leave him alone in his hour of grief (18- 22).

Psalm 39 views sickness in a different context from the previous psalm. As the psalmist looks back on his sickness, he asserts that he did not want to complain, in case he gave the wicked an excuse for dishonouring God. In the end, he could restrain himself no longer (39:1-3). His illness made him see how short and uncertain life is (4-6). He now sees this as all the more reason why he should trust in God and seek his forgiveness. He does not want to be mocked as one whose faith leaves him with fear and uncertainty in the face of death (7-8).

In view of all he has been through, the psalmist now asks for relief from his sufferings. The lesson God has taught him is that he should not place too high a value on the temporary things of life (9-11). He sees himself as a traveller, as a passing guest, and prays that his divine host will treat him with fitting kindness in the few days of life that remain (12-13).

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