Psalm 38

Read: Psalm 38:1 – 3; Psalm 119:67; Hebrews 12:5 – 11

Psalm 38 is the third of the seven penitential psalms, so named in Cassiodorus’s commentary of the 6th century A.D., and similarly recognized by rabbinical commentators, the others being Psalms 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143.  In rabbinical tradition, Psalms 38 – 41 were believed to have been written by David during an illness he suffered as discipline for his sin with Bathsheba. The Bible mentions no such illness, but does mention David’s fasting and prayer during the illness of the infant born of his union with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:15 – 23), which might well have given rise to these psalms. The 16th century commentator Rabbi Moshe Alshich observed that any writer other than David might have labeled this psalm a “lament” and grieved for his sufferings; David called it instead a “song of remembrance” because he wanted to remember the purifying effect of suffering as a consequence of sin.   Anyone who has ever done anything for which they have cause to regret would do well to remember Psalm 38.

Think About It:  How does Psalm 38:1 – 3 relate to Hebrews 12:11? Does God’s forgiveness of sin mean there are no consequences for sin (cf. 2 Samuel 12:12 – 13)? Have I ever suffered temporal consequences because of some sin I committed?  What does God intend to be the positive consequences of the discipline of affliction?

Prayer: Praise God for His love expressed in discipline.


Read: Psalm 38:3, 4, 5, 18; Ezra 9:6; Ecclesiastes 10:3; Isaiah 1:6; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23

David’s cry in Psalm 38 was that of a sinner feeling the consequences of his sin and expressing genuine sorrow for his sin.  David used three words in Psalm 38 to refer to his sin. In vv. 3 he used chataah, the word always translated as “sin” and used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. Chataah involves missing the mark, deviating from the goal of God’s righteous and just requirements, and therefore being in a state of alienation from God and at enmity with God.  In v. 4 David used the term avon, translated “iniquity” which involves deliberate perversion or twisting, intentional wrongdoing and its consequent guilt.  Iniquity represents a greater degree of corruption than simple sin because it involves deliberate violation of God’s standard.  In v. 5 David used another term, not always related to sin or iniquity, to describe his wrongdoing, or perhaps to explain it: ivveleth, translated “foolishness.

Think About It:  How are sin and iniquity related to foolishness? Have I ever felt overwhelmed by iniquities, as David described himself in Psalm 138:5? How does Romans 7:18 – 20 relate to Psalm 38:4? What is the answer to the plight of the sinner drowning in sin (Romans 7:24 – 8:2)?

Prayer: Thanks be to God, who gives me the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Read: Psalm 38:7 – 11; Psalm 31:11; Psalm 88:18

David experienced intensely negative consequences as the result of his sin, and he described them vividly in Psalm 38:7 – 11.  Physical, emotional, and social consequences are mentioned by David in these verses. It is possible that the alienation David experienced (v. 11) may have been a matter of perception; he may have been blaming others for a situation he created by his sin.

Think About It: What physical consequences did David mention? What emotional consequences did he experience? What social consequences did he mention?  How does sinfulness foster isolation and alienation?  

Prayer: Lord please help me to remember, when I am tempted, the devastating consequences of sin.


Read: Psalm 38:12, 19, 20; Psalm 79:4;  Micah 3:12; Romans 2:24; 2 Peter 2:2

David’s sin had consequences beyond himself. David’s enemies used the occasion of his sin to lay snares for him, to make threats, and to devise treachery.  David was doubly grieved because his sin had provided an occasion for wicked men to blaspheme.  Even to this day some wicked men use David’s sin with Bathsheba as an excuse to do wicked things.

Think About It: Do some people rejoice when a prominent Christian is caught in sin? What motivates this unrighteous glee in someone else’s sin?  

Prayer: Lord, may Your holy name never be blasphemed by unbelievers because of something I said or did.


Read: Psalm 38:2,  6; Job 6:4; Psalm 145:14; Psalm 146:8; 1 Peter 5:6 – 7; 2 Corinthians 7:9 – 10

David’s sin had spiritual consequences as well as physical, emotional, and social consequences. As a result of his sin, David experienced conviction of sin, which he described as arrows piercing him and God’s hand pressing down on him. As a result of this painful conviction, David said (v. 6) that he was bowed down and prostrate, and he went about mourning. This consequence of his sin was the beginning of his redemption.  God doesn’t require us to punish ourselves for our sin, but He does look for a godly sorrow for sin as a sign of true repentance.

Think About It: According to Psalm 145:14; Psalm 146:8; 1 Peter 5:6 – 7; 2 Corinthians 7:9 – 10, why was David’s being bowed down and his sorrow for sin a hopeful turning point?   How can I demonstrate genuine sorrow for sin?

Prayer: “More holiness give me, more strivings within. More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin”  (from the hymn “My Prayer” by Philip P. Bliss).


Read: Psalm 38:9, 15; Psalm 10:17; Psalm 17:6; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 139:11 – 12; Jeremiah 12:3; Romans 8:27

David’s hope in Psalm 38 was based on his knowledge of God. In v. 9 he recognized that God knew the desires of his heart and his deepest longings.   In saying this, David was not reminding God of David’s goodness, rather he was reminding himself that God knew all about him and he was comforting himself in God’s knowledge of him.  In v. 15, David confirmed, as he often did, that God would answer his prayer; he consoled himself to wait patiently for God’s answer.

Think About It: Do I know from experience, like David did, that God answers prayer? What are some examples I have experienced of answers to prayer? Psalm 139:1 – 12 is a more complete exploration of David’s concept of God’s knowledge of him than Psalm 38:9. According to Psalm 139, what was comforting about God’s complete understanding of David? What do I find especially comforting in the thought that God knows me and understands me (Hebrews 4:15)?

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that You know me and understand me.


Read: Psalm 38:16 – 22; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 32:5; Psalm 35:22; 71:12; Psalm 119:8

David made specific requests regarding his sin.  In vv. 16, 19, and 20 David prayed that wickedness not be allowed to increase because his foot had slipped.  In v. 18 David confessed the intentional wrong he had done and acknowledged his sorrow for having fallen short of God’s standard. He was very careful to accept responsibility for his actions: he referred to “my iniquity” and  “my sin”.  In vv. 21 – 22 he prayed for God not to forsake him and not to be distant from him; he prayed for God’s help to come quickly.

Think About It: According to Isaiah 59:2 and Psalm 66:18 what creates a sense of separation from God? What does David’s prayer of confession teach me about repentance and confession? How can I be sure that God will hear my prayer and forgive my sins (1 John 1:5 – 10)?

Prayer: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.