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Psalm 38



Prayer of a Suffering Penitent Prayer In Time of Chastening Prayer For Healing in Sickness
(A Lament)
The Prayer of a Sufferer Prayer in Distress
MT Intro
"A Psalm of David for a memorial"
38:1-8  38:1-2 38:1-2 38:1-2 38:1-3
  38:3-5 38:3-4 38:3-4  
    38:5-6 38:5-8  
    38:7-8   38:7-8
38:9-12 38:9-10 38:9-11 38:9-12 38:9-10
  38:11-12     38:11-12
38:13-22 38:13-14 38:13-14 38:13-14 38:13-14
  38:15-20 38:15-16 38:15-17 38:15-16
    38:17-20   38:17-18
  38:21-22 38:21-22 38:21-22 38:21-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This Psalm has much in common with Psalms 32 and 51.


B. In Jewish thought sin and sickness were related. Confession of sin brought answered prayer and restoration of mind, spirit, and body.

When one looks at all the physical problems mentioned, there are too many to be characteristic of one disease. Probably they are figurative (cf. Isa. 1:5-6). If so, the focus of the Psalm is not physical healing but forgiveness of sin!

C. As in so many Psalms the connection between

1. the physical problems

2. the attack of enemies

3. the rejection of friends

is uncertain. They are all related but how is a mystery. Are they literal or figurative of sin's social consequences?


 1O Lord, rebuke me not in Your wrath,
 And chasten me not in Your burning anger.
 2For Your arrows have sunk deep into me,
 And Your hand has pressed down on me.
 3There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;
 There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
 4For my iniquities are gone over my head;
 As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
 5My wounds grow foul and fester
 Because of my folly.
 6I am bent over and greatly bowed down;
 I go mourning all day long.
 7For my loins are filled with burning, 
 And there is no soundness in my flesh.
 8I am benumbed and badly crushed;
 I groan because of the agitation of my heart.

38:1-8 Most other English translations have this section broken down into several strophes. Strophe division is not a textual issue. It is speculation not inspiration.

The psalmist describes his condition and feelings.

1. he senses YHWH's displeasure

a. do not rebuke me in Your wrath — BDB 406, KB 410, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Ps. 6:1

b. do not chasten me in Your burning anger — BDB 415, KB 418, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense; this verb often is used of covenant violations (cf. Lev. 26:18,28; Ps. 6:1; 39:11; 94:10; 118:18; Hos. 10:10)

2. he feels YHWH's punishment

a. Your arrows have sunk deep into me, cf. Deut. 32:23; Job 6:4; Ps. 7:12-13; 45:5

b. Your hand has pressed me down, cf. Ps. 32:4; 39:10 (note same verb in both lines but used in different senses, BDB 639, KB 692)

3. the physical result of YHWH's displeasure (because of sin, 38:3b,4,5b)

a. no soundness (BDB 1022, shalom) in my flesh

b. no health in my bones

c. wounds (lit. "stripes," BDB 289) grow foul (BDB 92, KB 107, Hiphil perfect) and fester (BDB 596, KB 583, Qal perfect)

d. bent over ("bent," BDB 730, KB 796, Niphal perfect; "bowed down," BDB 1005, KB 1458, Qal perfect, cf. Ps. 35:14) in mourning

e. loins are filled (BDB 569, KB 583, Qal perfect) with burning

f. repeat of a. above

g. benumbed (BDB 806, KB 916, Niphal perfect, lit. "spent")

h. crushed (BDB 194, KB 221, Niphal perfect, Piel in Ps. 51:8)

i. groan (BDB 980, KB 1367, Qal perfect, i.e., animal sounds)

Notice the string of perfect tense verbs. YHWH's "anger" (BDB 893) and "wrath" (BDB 409) have come (imperfects) and remain (perfects)! What a terrible condition of mind (38:4, 8b) and body!

38:4 "over my head" This verb (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal perfect) is used of water.

1. flood as war — Isa. 8:8; 23:10; Dan. 11:10,40; Nahum 1:8

2. waves — literal in Isa. 54:9

3. waves — figurative of problems and emotions — Ps. 42:8; 88:16-17; 124:4-5

The psalmist's guilt from sin has overwhelmed him!

38:5 "fester" This verb (BDB 596, KB 628, Niphal perfect) is used in Leviticus 26, the cursing and blessing passage parallel to Deuteronomy 27-28. It denoted a "rotten decay" (cf. Lev. 26:39 [twice]). Sin destroys! Often in horrible ways!

38:6 "mourning" This term is from the Hebrew root "to be dark" (BDB 871). It could mean

1. dressed in dark clothing as a sign of mourning

2. dirt placed on head and clothing as a sign of mourning

3. an idiom for the condition of the heart, soul, mind (here because of known sin)


▣ "I am bent over and greatly bowed down" There are two parallel verbs.

1. bent over — BDB 730, KB 796, Niphal perfect which can be viewed as

a. bewilderment — Isa. 21:3

b. perversion of mind — 1 Sam.20:30; Pro. 12:8

c. literal — which matches the parallel verb

2. bowed down — BDB 1005, KB 1458, Qal perfect which seems to denote a bent body as a figure of a bent heart


38:7 "loins" There are several terms that are used in the OT to represent the whole person.

1. soul — BDB 659, nephesh

2. spirit — BDB 924, ruah

3. heart — BDB 524, leb

4. kidneys — BDB 480

5. only here, loins — BDB 492

There are several more. Only context can determine when this concept is meant. One part of the body represents the whole person.

 9Lord, all my desire is before You;
 And my sighing is not hidden from You.
 10My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
 And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.
 11My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague;
 And my kinsmen stand afar off.
 12Those who seek my life lay snares for me;
 And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction,
 And they devise treachery all day long.

38:9-12 This strophe also describes the author's terrible condition.

1. his condition

a. his desire (i.e. prayer) is before YHWH (i.e., for forgiveness and restoration of fellowship)

b. his sighing is known to YHWH, cf. Ps. 31:10

2. his physical condition

a. heart throbs — BDB 695, KB 749, Niphal perfect

b. strength fails — BDB 736, KB 806, Qal perfect

c. eyes fail — no verbs; this is not referring to blindness but is an idiom for the lack of health, joy, peace, cf. Ps. 13:3; 1 Sam.14:29; Ezra 9:8

3. interpersonal issues

a. loved ones stand aloof

b. friends stand aloof

c. kinsmen stand far off

d. enemies seek his death

(1) lay snares

(2) threaten destruction

(3) devise treachery all day long; the verb BDB 211, KB 237, is lit. "groan." The psalmist "groans" (BDB 980, Ps. 38:8) but the wicked "devise" (cf. Pro. 24:2).



NASB, NKJV"plague"
NRSV, JPSOA"affliction"

The word (BDB 619) means "stroke/wound," "plague," or "mark."

1. plague — cf. Gen. 12:17; Exod. 11:1; 1 Kgs. 8:37-38; 2 Chr. 6:28-29; Ps. 39:10; 91:10

2. leprosy (OT sense) — Leviticus 13-14; Deut. 24:8

3. wound — Deut. 17:8; 21:5; Isa. 53:8

4. discipline (for children) — 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:33; Pro. 6:23

Most words have multiple usages or else human vocabulary would be impossible to know and use. When an interpreter comes to a context, they seek the meaning intended by the original author and understandable to the hearers/readers of that day. This context is a divinely given physical manifestation of His displeasure over human sin. The punishment is meant to restore the person to faith. In this verse the parallelism suggests that the physical punishment frightened those who saw it, even close friends and relatives.

Therefore, in coming to a choice, several items are in play.

1. What physical manifestation?

2. Why the manifestation?

3. Why the response from others close by?

4. Is it figurative or literal?


 13But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
 And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
 14Yes, I am like a man who does not hear,
 And in whose mouth are no arguments.
 15For I hope in You, O Lord;
 You will answer, O Lord my God.
 16For I said, "May they not rejoice over me,
 Who, when my foot slips, would magnify themselves against me."
 17For I am ready to fall,
 And my sorrow is continually before me.
 18For I confess my iniquity;
 I am full of anxiety because of my sin.
 19But my enemies are vigorous and strong,
 And many are those who hate me wrongfully.
 20And those who repay evil for good,
 They oppose me, because I follow what is good.
 21Do not forsake me, O Lord;
 O my God, do not be far from me!
 22Make haste to help me,
 O Lord, my salvation!

38:13-22 This strophe has a mixture of current conditions (sickness, pain, injury) and future hope in YHWH's mercy.

1. current physical problems

a. does not hear (i.e., pretends he does not hear their slander), Ps. 38:13; Ps. 39:2,4

b. does not speak (i.e., respond to his accusers, cf. Isa. 53:7), Ps. 38:13b

c. ready to stumble, Ps. 38:16b-17a; metaphor for trouble, cf. Deut. 32:35; God's path was straight, level, and clear of obstacles

d. sorrow continually before him (his sin weighs heavily on him), Ps. 38:17b; Ps. 51:3

e. full of anxiety, Ps. 38:18

2. his enemies attack, Ps. 38:16,19-20

a. they grow strong and numerous, Ps. 38:19a

b. they hate him wrongfully, Ps. 38:19b

c. they repay evil for good, Ps. 38:20; Ps. 35:12; 109:5

d. they oppose him because he does what is good, Ps. 38:20b

3. confidence in YHWH's love, mercy, and forgiveness

a. hope (lit. "wait," BDB 403, KB 407, Hiphil perfect) in YHWH, Ps. 38:15a, cf. Job 13:15; Ps. 31:24; 33:22; 39:7; 42:5,11; 43:5

b. confident YHWH will answer his prayer, Ps. 38:15b

c. confident his enemies will not succeed and gloat over his fall, Ps. 38:16

d. he prays (two jussives, one imperative)

(1) do not forsake me — BDB 736, KB 806, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Ps. 9:11; 71:9,18; 94:14; 119:8; Isa. 49:14

(2) do not be far from me — BDB 934, KB 1221, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Ps. 22:11,19; 35:22; 71:12

(3) make haste to help me — BDB 301, KB 300, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 22:19b; 40:13; 70:1,5; 71:12; 141:1


38:18 This is the theological key to this Psalm (cf. Ps. 32:5). Confession brings

1. forgiveness from YHWH (cf. Psalm 51; note 1 John 1:9-2:1)

2. forgiveness for self

3. a sense of restoration of fellowship

Confession recognizes

1. human guilt for breaking YHWH's laws

2. YHWH's character of forgiveness and mercy



NASB, NKJV"vigorous"
NRSV"without cause"
NJB, REB"without cause"
NET Bible"for no reason"

The MT has "living" (חיים, BDB 313), but several English translations emend the root to חנם, BDB 336, cf. Ps. 35:19; 69:4. This fits the parallelism of the next line, "who hate me wrongfully" (BDB 1055).

38:20 "adversaries" This is the Hebrew root (BDB 966) from which we get the term "satan."



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Does YHWH punish His sinful followers in this life (Ps. 38:2-3)?

2. Is verse 4 a confession of many sins or a literary way of asserting the sinfulness of all humans?

3. List the physical problems associated with unconfessed sin.

4. Define the word "plague" in verse 11. Does your definition explain others' reactions to him?

5. How is the imagery of "foot slip" related to a life of sin?

6. Why is verse 18 so important?


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