Psalm 38


This is another psalm of repentance, Psalm 6 / Psalm 32 / Psalm 51 / Psalm 102 / Psalm 130 / Psalm 43, it was written by David. In it, he just simply pours his heart out to God in remorse. It’s clear his sin had become a great burden to him because of the guilt associated with his sin.

Although we are not told the background to this psalm, some commentators believe it’s relating to his sin with Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11-12.


‘A psalm of David. A petition.’

Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding of the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.

1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.

2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.

3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.

4. How it was used.

The heading simply tells us that this is a psalm of David, a petition, that is, a request. Some translations tell us it was ‘to bring to remembrance’, the same heading we find for Psalm 70.

‘LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.’ Psalm 38:1-8

Before we get into the text we must remind ourselves that generally, God doesn’t inflict sickness on someone because of their sin, Job 2:7-10. However, on some occasions, He has, 1 Chronicles 11:30 / James 5:15.

In this psalm David was feeling like God had disciplined him with an illness because of his sin and in the despair of his illness, his heart was turned to focus on his sin and God.

He begins by asking God not to rebuke him or discipline him, he feels God’s anger and wrath upon him and so he cries out to God and turned to God in his despair, Psalm 6:1.

Notice the language which David uses to describe why he felt was angry with him, he felt like God’s discipline was like arrows which pierced him, and he felt that God’s hand was pushing down on him, Job 6:4 / Psalm 45:5.

Although we don’t know what kind of illness David was suffering from, it’s clear he’s in real agony, his body is aching, inside and out. The consequences of his sin and the guilt he feels are too much for him, his conscience is condemning him of his sin.

As a result, his mind wrestles, and he has no peace of mind. David was feeling God’s anger and wrath not only spiritually but also physically, Judges 20:48 / Isaiah 1:6 / Psalm 41:8.

What’s interesting is that David knew exactly what was going on, he was feeling this way because of his own sin, his own iniquities and his own foolishness, Luke 13:1-5. He was a victim of his own doing and he knew that God was disciplining him.

He was feeling the heavy burden of his sin and hoped that God would show him compassion while he went about mourning, Psalm 32:3-4 / Isaiah 1:6 / Isaiah 53:5.

There appears to be no escape from the way David is feeling, he’s obviously feeling deeply depressed, weak and broken, Psalm 14:1 / Psalm 35:14 / Isaiah 21:3. He’s in great pain, he was bowed down very low, which speaks of his grief and sorrow, Psalm 10:10 / Isaiah 2:11.

David says his ‘back is filled with searing pain’, which a few commentators believe is speaking about his internal muscles which are near the kidneys. Whatever David is referring to isn’t really that important, what is important is that he was at an all-time low, physically and spiritually, he’s ‘feeling feeble’, that is, cold, Genesis 45:26, and he’s feeling ‘utterly crushed’, that is, broken to pieces, Isaiah 19:10 / Isaiah 57:15 / Isaiah 53:5.

He’s groaning or roaring, Psalm 22:1 / Isaiah 5:30, as some translations have it, before God and in total misery, Job 1:20 / Job 2:8 / Psalm 35:14.

‘All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbours stay far away. Those who want to kill me set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they scheme and lie. I am like the deaf, who cannot hear, like the mute, who cannot speak; I have become like one who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply.’ Psalm 38:9-14

The guilt of David’s sin made him feel vulnerable as his friends and family abandoned him. As a result of them leaving him, he felt like he was open to attack from his enemies, he couldn’t defend himself.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following concerning the word, ‘pounds’.

‘The word rendered ‘panteth’, in its original form, means properly to go about, to travel around and then, to travel around as a merchant or pedlar, or for purposes of traffic, Genesis 23:16 / Genesis 37:28 / Genesis 42:34. Applied to the heart, as it is here, it means to move about rapidly, to palpitate, to beat quick. It is an expression of pain and distress, indicated by a rapid beating of the heart.’

Not only was David’s heart-pounding, but his strength is going and his eyes were failing. He obviously saw himself as one who was approaching death, Psalm 13:3 / Psalm 6:7 / Psalm 31:9.

His so-called friends and his companions were avoiding him, Job 2:11 / Job 19:21 / Psalm 31:11. They just let him suffer alone and don’t want to come to his aid.

The word, ‘wounds’, Deuteronomy 17:8 / Deuteronomy 21:5, implies that his friends and companions saw David as someone who was inflicted with some contagious disease, someone who was being judged by God, Genesis 12:17 / Exodus 11:1.

David was feeling the pressure, his friends and companions offered him no support and his enemies were continually tried to ruin him. With David feeling the way he does, he is vulnerable to attack, he knows his enemies are trying to take advantage of the way he’s feeling, hence why they set traps for him, Psalm 9:15 and spread lies about him all day long, Psalm 35:20.

Like someone who can’t hear or speak, 2 Samuel 16:10 / Isaiah 53:7 / Matthew 26:63 / Matthew 27:12 / Matthew 27:14 / 1 Peter 2:23, he felt powerless to defend himself.

‘LORD, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God. For I said, “Do not let them gloat or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.” For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. Many have become my enemies without cause; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good. LORD, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour.’ Psalm 38:15-22

Although David is clearly going through ‘the mill’, as we say, we must admire his patience to endure all the wrongs he had suffered, Psalms 9:7 / Matthew 10:22 / Hebrews 12:20 / 2 Timothy 3:11. At this moment in time, he needs God more than ever, therefore he waits and places his hope in God.

Notice within these verses David uses the three words which are commonly used to refer to God, ‘LORD’, that is Yahweh, ‘Lord’, that is, Adonai, and ‘God’, that is Elohim.

Because David was feeling deeply depressed and because of his enemies wanting to kill him, he believed that God will answer his prayer, take care of him and defend him, Psalm 37:5-6 / 1 Peter 2:23.

His enemies were ‘exalting themselves’, that is, because David was feeling the way he was feeling, they would feel great about themselves because of it, Psalm 35:26.

Notice it was when David is about to fall and the pain he was feeling was too much, that he finally repents and confesses his iniquity. There are times when a person needs to hit rock bottom before they will repent and confess their sins to God, Matthew 5:1-12 / Luke 15:11–32.

David could no longer carry the guilt and shame of his sin, he had to confess his iniquity because his sin was troubling him. This shows David’s humility, there’s no blaming others for his sin, there are no long-winded excuses for his sins, and he admits that he is a sinner, Leviticus 26:41.

His enemies have no cause to be his enemies and he is hated without any cause. Despite David doing only good to his enemies, they repay him with evil accusations, Psalm 35:11-18 / Matthew 22:35-40 / Luke 6:27-36.

Because David was feeling the way he felt, he didn’t feel God’s presence with him, he asks God not to forsake him, not to be far from him and to come quickly to help him, Psalm 10:1 / Psalm 13:1 / Psalm 35:22.

David ends his psalm with nothing changed, he’s still feeling the way he feels about his sin and his enemies, but the good news is that he never lost his faith in God. He calls upon his Lord, that is his master and his Saviour, Psalm 27:1, to help him in his time of need.


In this psalm, we see that David never tried to run and hide from his sin as Adam and Eve did, Genesis 3:8. He openly confessed his sin, his iniquity and his foolishness before God, just as Christians should do today.

We must remember that God is a holy God, 1 Peter 1:16, and he doesn’t tolerate sin, Isaiah 59:2, we can’t ignore our sin or try to cover up by blaming others for our sins, Genesis 3:12-13 / Proverbs 28:13 / Ezekiel 18:20-24.

David felt the consequences of his sin physically, confessing our sins to each other is one way God has provided for us, in order that we may be healed from the physical consequences of our sin, James 5:16.

But God is in His grace recognises we also need healing spiritually, these are the time when we don’t feel God’s presence because of our guilt. For that to happen, we must confess our sins to Him, in order to restore our fellowship with Him once again, 1 John 1:9.

Go To Psalm 39


"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."