PSALM 38 OVERVIEW
Title. A Psalm of David, to bring remembrance. David felt as if he had been forgotten of his God, and, therefore, he recounted his sorrows and cried mightily for help under them. The same title is given to Psalm 70, where in like manner the psalmist pours out his complaint before the Lord. It would be foolish to make a guess as to the point in David's history when this was written; it may be a commemoration of his own sickness and endurance of cruelty; it may, on the other hand, have been composed by him for the use of sick and slandered saints, without special reference to himself.
Divisions. The Psalm opens with a prayer, Psalms 38:1 ; continues in a long complaint, Ps 38:2-8; pauses to dart an eye to heaven, Psalms 38:9 ; proceeds with a second tale of sorrow, Psalms 38:10-14 ; interjects another word of hopeful address to God, Psalms 38:15 ; a third time pours out a flood of griefs, Psalms 38:16-20 ; and then closes as it opened, with renewed petitioning, Psalms 38:21-22 .
Verse 1. O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath. Rebuked I must be, for I am an erring child and thou a careful Father, but throw not too much anger into the tones of thy voice; deal gently although I have sinned grievously. The anger of others I can bear, but not thine. As thy love is most sweet to my heart, so thy displeasure is most cutting to my conscience. Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Chasten me if thou wilt, it is a Father's prerogative, and to endure it obediently is a child's duty; but, O turn not the rod into a sword, smite not so as to kill. True, my sins might well inflame thee, but let thy mercy and longsuffering quench the glowing coals of thy wrath. O let me not be treated as an enemy or dealt with as a rebel. Bring to remembrance thy covenant, thy fatherhood, and my feebleness, and spare the servant.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. The first word, MIZMOR, or Psalm, is the designation of forty-four sacred poems, thirty-two of which are ascribed to David. The English reader must observe, that this word is not the same in the original Hebrew as that which forms the general title of the book of Psalms; the latter expressing a Hymn of Praise. The word Psalm, however, as used both in the context and in the titles of the individual compositions, is uniformly Mizmor in the original; a term which accurately defines their poetical character. To explain its proper meaning I must have recourse to the beautiful and accurate definition of Bishop Lowth. "The word Mizmor signifies a composition, which in a peculiar manner is cut up into sentences, short, frequent, and measured by regular intervals." ... He adds that Zamar means to cut or prune, as applied to the removing superfluous branches from trees; and, after mentioning the secondary sense of the word, "to sing with a voice or instrument," gives it as his opinion, that Mizmar may be more properly referred to the primary sense of the root, so as to mean a poem cut up into short sentences, and pruned from all superfluity of words, which is the peculiar characteristic of the Hebrew poetry. John Jebb.
Title. The title that David gives this Psalm is worth your notice. A Psalm of David to bring to remembrance. David was on his deathbed as he thought, and he said it shall be a Psalm of remembrance, to bring sin to remembrance, to confess to God my uncleannesses with Bathsheba, to bring to my remembrance the evils of my life. Whenever God brings thee under affliction, thou art then in a fit plight to confess sin to God, and call to remembrance thy sins. Christopher Love.
Title. The Psalm is to bring to remembrance. This seems to teach us that good things need to be kept alive in our memories, that we should often sit down, look back, retrace, and turn over in our meditation things that are past, lest at any time we should let any good thing sink into oblivion. Among the things which David brought to his own remembrance, the first and foremost were,
- his past trials and his past deliverances. The great point, however, in David's Psalm is to bring to remembrance,
- the depravity of our nature. There is, perhaps, no Psalm which more fully than this describes human nature as seen in the light which God the Holy Ghost casts upon it in the time when he convinces us of sin. I am persuaded that the description here does not tally with any known disease of the body. It is very like leprosy, but it has about it certain features which cannot be found to meet in any leprosy described either by ancient or modern writers. The fact is, it is a spiritual leprosy, it is an inward disease which is here described, and David paints it to the very life, and he would have us to recollect this. A third thing the Psalm brings to our remembrance is,
- our many enemies. David says, that his enemies laid snares for him, and sought his hurt, and spoke mischievous things, and devised and imagined deceits all the day long. "Well," says one, "how was it that David had so many enemies?" How could he make so many? Must he not have been imprudent and rash, or perhaps morose? It does not appear so in his life. He rather made enemies by his being scrupulously holy. His enemies attacked him, not because he was wicked, but as he says, in this very Psalm, they were his enemies because he loved the thing which is good. The ultimate result of the religion of Christ is to make peace everywhere, but the first result is to cause strife. Further, the Psalm reminds us of,
- our gracious God. Anything which drives us to God is a blessing, and anything which weans us from leaning on the arm of flesh, and especially that weans us from trying to stand alone, is a boon to us. C. H. S
Whole Psalm. The most wonderful features in this Psalm, are the depth of misery into which the psalmist gradually plunges in his complaints in the first part of it, the sudden grasp at the arm of mercy and omnipotence that is made in Psalms 38:8 , and the extreme height of comfort and consolation that it reaches in the end. Benjamin Weiss.
Verse 1. O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath. But is it not an absurd request, to require God not to rebuke me in his anger; as though I thought he would rebuke me if he were not angry? Is it not a senseless suit to pray to God not to chasten me in his displeasure, as though he would chasten me if he were not displeased? The most froward natures that are, will yet be quiet as long as they be pleased: and shall I have such a thought of the great yet gracious God, that he should be pleased and yet not be quiet? But, O my soul, is it all one, to rebuke in his anger and to rebuke when he is angry? He may rebuke when he is angry, and yet restrain and bridle in his anger; but to rebuke in his anger is to let loose the reins to his anger; and what is it to give the reins to his anger, but to make it outrun his mercy? And then what a miserable case should I be in, to have his anger to assault me, and not his mercy ready to relieve me? To have his indignation fall upon me when his lovingkindness were not by to take it off! Oh, therefore, rebuke me not in thine anger, O God, but let thy rebuking stay for thy mercy; chasten me not in thy displeasure, but let thy lovingkindness have the keeping of thy rod. Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 1. Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure, etc. Both these words, which we translate to chasten, and hot displeasure, are words of a heavy and of a vehement signification. They extend both to express the eternity of God's indignation, even to the binding of the soul and body in eternal chains of darkness. For the first, jasar, signifies in the Scriptures, vincire, to bind, often with ropes, often with chains; to fetter, or manacle, or pinion men that are to be executed; so that it imports a slavery, a bondage all the way, and a destruction at last. And so the word is used by Rehoboam, "My father chastised you with whips, but I will chasten you with scorpions." 1 Kings 12:11 . And then, the other word, chamath, doth not only signify hot displeasure, but that effect of God's hot displeasure which is intended by the prophet Esay: "Therefore hath he poured forth his fierce wrath, and the strength of battle, and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew it not, and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart." These be the fearful conditions of God's hot displeasure, to be in a furnace, and not to feel it; to be in a habit of sin, and not know what leads us into temptation; to be burnt to ashes, and so not only without all moisture, all holy tears, but, as ashes, without any possibility that any good thing can grow in us. And yet this word, chamath, hath a heavier signification than this; for it signifies poison itself, destruction itself, for so it is twice taken in one verse: "Their poison is like the poison of a serpent" Psalms 58:4 ; so that this hot displeasure is that poison of the soul, obduration here, and that extension of that obduration, a final impenitence in this life, and an infinite impenitableness in the next, to die without any actual penitence here, and live without all possibility of future penitence for ever hereafter. David therefore foresees, that if God rebuke in anger, it will come to a chastening in hot displeasure. For what should stop him? For, "if a man sin against the Lord, who will plead for him?" says Eli. "Plead thou my cause," says David; it is only the Lord that can be of counsel with him, and plead for him and that Lord is both the judge and angry too. John Donne.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Title. The art of memory. Holy memorabilia. The usefulness of sacred remembrance.
Verse 1. The rebuke of God's wrath.
- Richly deserved.
- Reasonably dreaded.
- Earnestly deprecated.
Verse 1. The evil consequences of sin in this world. J. J. Blunt.
Verse 1. The bitterest of bitters, thy wrath; why deprecated; and how escaped.
WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE THIRTY-EIGHTH PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY
"A Sacred Septenarie," etc., by ARCHIBALD SYMSON, 1638, contains an Exposition of this Psalm. See Vol. I, p. 74.
"Meditations and Disquisitions upon the Seven Psalmes of David, commonly called the Penitential Psalmes." By Sir RICHARD BAKER, Knight: London: 1639, (4to.) contains "Meditations upon the