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Psalms 38 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Tortured by pain of body and anguish of mind, deserted by his friends, mocked and menaced by his enemies, the Psalmist lays his cause before God. In his sufferings he recognises the merited punishment of his sins: he submits to the insults of his enemies with a meek resignation which is a distinguishing feature of the Psalm. For the most part he simply pleads the extremity of his plight as an argument to move God’s compassion: only at the opening and close does he directly ask for relief ( Psa 38:1 ; Psa 38:21-22), and at the beginning of each division ( Psa 38:9 ; Psa 38:15), addresses God with words of faith and hope.

The Psalm is closely related to Psalms 6 and Psalms 39. Delitzsch regards Psalms 6, 38, 51, 32, as a chronological series, the occasion of which was David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Others suppose that it was written by Jeremiah, at the time when he was scourged and put in the stocks by Pashhur (Jeremiah 20). Others find in it the utterance, not of an individual, but of the nation. It is suffering Israel which confesses its sin, acknowledges the justice of its punishment, and appeals to the mercy of Jehovah.

The remarks already made on Psalms 6 apply here. The allusions are not sufficiently definite to enable us to refer the Psalm to any particular author or occasion. The application of it, in liturgical use, to the nation, was easy and natural, but there is no hint that the speaker is other than an individual, who relates his own experience. The best illustration of the Psalm is to be found in Job’s description of his sufferings [15] , though the Psalmist’s temper of mind differs absolutely from his: and the portraiture of Job, even if ideal, must have been intended to be, in the main, true to life. The striking parallels, and not less striking points of difference, between the Psalm and the portrait of the suffering servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 should also be studied.

[15] See e.g. Job’s description of his sickness, ch. Job 7:5, Job 9:17; God has attacked him, Job 16:12 ff.; and esp. cp. Job 6:4; Job 7:20; Job 16:12-13, with Psa 38:2 of the Ps.; he is deserted by friends, Job 16:20, Job 19:13 ff.; insulted and even assaulted by enemies, Job 16:10 f., Job 17:2; Job 17:6, Job 30:9 ff., Job 30:12 ff.; he connects his sufferings with sin, though he knows of no special sin which can account for the severity of the punishment, Job 7:21, Job 10:6; Job 10:14, Job 13:23; Job 13:26, Job 14:16-17.

This is the third of the ‘Penitential Psalms,’ in use on Ash-Wednesday.

The Psalm falls into three divisions, each beginning with an address to God; and the verses are generally arranged in pairs. The use of the divine names should be noted: first Jehovah ( Psa 38:1); then Adonai ( Psa 38:9); then both combined with the addition of my God ( Psa 38:15), and the three repeated ( Psa 38:21-22).

i. The Psalmist’s bodily and mental sufferings described (Psa 38:1-8).

ii. The desertion of friends, and the threats of enemies (Psa 38:9-14).

iii. Pleadings for deliverance (Psa 38:15-22).

The title to bring to remembrance, prefixed also to Psalms 70, has commonly been explained to refer to the contents of the Psalm, as a record of suffering, or as a prayer intended to bring the suppliant to God’s remembrance. But more probably it should be rendered, to make memorial (R.V. marg.), or, for making the memorial, and explained as a note of the liturgical use of the Psalm either in connexion with the offering of incense, or at the offering of the Azkara. Comp. the phrase to make a memorial of incense (Isa 66:3, marg.), and for the connexion of prayer and offering of incense see Num 16:46 ff.: Luk 1:9-10. The Azkara or Memorial was a technical term in the Levitical ritual (1) for the portion of the’ meal-offering’ mixed with oil and burnt with incense on the altar (Lev 2:2); (2) for the incense placed on the shewbread and afterwards burnt (Lev 24:7). Though probably the term originally meant only ‘a fragrant offering’ (see Dillmann on Lev 2:2) it was interpreted to mean ‘a memorial’ (LXX. μνημόσυνον , Vulg. memoriale) as bringing the offerer to God’s remembrance. There may be an allusion to the use of Psalms in connexion with the Azkara in 1Ch 16:4, where to celebrate (R.V.) is the same word as that used here.

The LXX has “For a memorial for the Sabbath,” an addition which confirms the liturgical explanation. The liturgical use must have arisen in days of national distress and persecution, such as the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1): and implies the application of the Psalm to the nation.

Consult other comments:

Psalms 38:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 38:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 38:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 38:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 38:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 38:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 38:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 38:0 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Psalms 38:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 38:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges