Summary: David, realizing the harmful effects of his sins on his health and overall well-being, implores the Lord to bypass the discipline he fully knows he deserves.
For Sermon Central researchers: I have posted a series of 15 sermons on the Psalms. In recent personal studies I have found the psalms to be richer and more thought-provoking than I had fully appreciated. I had too often swept swiftly through psalms without slowing down to inquire as thoroughly as I might have into the depths of meaning and feeling that are expressed by the psalmists. Upon deeper examination and reflection, I find the psalms to be highly relevant to Christians in every age. My most recent foray into the psalms led me to present a series of studies of selected psalms in a class environment.
In my classes I did not examine every psalm, or every verse of the ones I did. Rather, I presented selected psalms that I believe to be representative of the collection in the book of Psalms. The studies were held in a class environment suitable for pauses for questions and discussion, and to pose “thought questions” where the meanings are not readily apparent, as is often the case in poetry. My notes include suggested points for such pauses, and I have not removed them in Sermon Central posts.
I developed the material with the view in mind that the series may be well used as sermons. There is an introductory sermon that describes what psalms are (whether they are in the 150-chapter book or elsewhere) and explains my approach to the series. The psalms I selected were presented in no particular order in the classes; however, I suggest that anyone using this material as a series begin with the introductory sermon and follow it with Psalms 1 and 2 in that order, as the first two psalms function as a pair. Beyond that, the selected psalms may be presented in any order.
To get as much enjoyment as we could from our study, I did some of the reading from the KJV, which I believe is the most beautiful of the English bible translations. For clarity we also used other versions, mainly ESV, which I have used for several years and the one I have come to prefer.
Read Psalm 38
The title ascribes the psalm to David. As we have done in the past, and in the absence of any reason to dispute it, we will proceed to study it under the assumption that David wrote it, although there’s no reason to adamantly insist on it.
As we discussed a class on Psalm 17, we identified various sins David committed, but the best known is his sin with Bathsheba and the sins he committed trying to cover it up. Given that the specific occasion of David’s suffering is not given in Psalm 38 – and therefore not knowable - we are in no position to be dogmatic about it.
But sin is sin, and we don’t need to know what specific sin gives occasion to this psalm.
In the absence of conclusive knowledge of the backstory, tell me in a sentence or two what this psalm is about.
My synopsis: The psalm describes temporal ill effects of sin on the quality of life, and David’s response to those effects.
The effects David describes – a combination of physical misery, enmity, anxiety, and guilt are the ordinary and predictable product of sin.
David had a consuming love for God, described in many ways but perhaps best in Psalm 42:1-2a:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
David knew – as clearly as any human who ever lived – that his sins put him at odds with God, who he adored, and in whom he delighted as passionately as any human who ever lived.
Sin set up an intolerable dynamic tension within David.
It is reminiscent of that described by Paul in Romans 7:14-25 (read).
Paul even goes so far as to describe the condition this way:
Rom 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
What a curious way of describing Paul’s condition: “the body of this death.”
What body is Paul referring to?
His mortal body (was Paul yearning to be released by death)?
The fleshly state, so subject to the temptations to which even the apostle succumbed?
Burton Coffman suggests:
There seems to be here an allusion to an ancient custom of some tyrants, who bound a dead body to a living man, and obliged him to carry it about, until the contagion from the putrid mass took away .his life!
Paul was a living, breathing civil war.
Psalm 38 shows us David was too.
In verse 1 of Psalm 38, David actually asks God to forego the punishment he fully knows he deserves!