The Bible


Psalms 38



1 O LORD, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

2 For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore.

3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.

4 For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.

5 My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness.

6 I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.

7 For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh.

8 I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.

9 Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.

10 My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me.

11 My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off.

12 They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long.

13 But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth.

14 Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.

15 For in thee, O LORD, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O LORD my God.

16 For I said, Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me.

17 For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me.

18 For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.

19 But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied.

20 They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is.

21 Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me.

22 Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.




Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 38

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 38 is an interesting one, because its overall theme is of feeling chastened by the Lord. To be ‘chastened’ means to be corrected by going through suffering. The speaker does not rail against God at all; he understands the purpose God must have in needing to correct him and bring him to task. He declares his own wrongness and his wretchedness. His trust in the Lord is sure and strong, and we get the sense that he fully understands that all this is the Lord’s way of salvation for him. The opening and closing verses talk about the Lord urgently and with conviction.

Spiritually, this psalm describes our need to understand and accept our frail and broken human nature. By "accepting" I don't mean being satisfied with our spiritual state, or resigned to it. We need even to be practising repentance daily in some way (see The New Jerusalem 163). Repentance involves examining ourselves and seeing our true state and bringing ourselves to the Lord for his aid, protection and illumination. This is an ongoing need. We keep learning to understand more about how the Lord works with us and how we are to manage our spiritual states.

This psalm also describes the Lord’s own deep temptations during his human life. Verses 1 to 10 describe these temptations, such as, “My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness” (verse 5). Verses 11 and 12 speak of even those ‘friends’ and ‘companions’ who love good and truth turning from the Lord, wanting his death. Verses 13 and 14 tell us that the Lord bears all this with patience, and verses 15 to 22 (and also verse 9) are about the Lord’s confidence that the hells will not prevail against him.

The psalm begins with the plea not to be punished by the Lord’s anger or his wrath. During our temptations, this is the appearance, yet it is essential that we appreciate that the Lord never punishes but only seek to save us. The Lord’s ‘anger’ is his resolve to free us from evils; the Lord’s ‘wrath’ is his determination to free us from false beliefs. (Arcana Caelestia 3614)

‘Arrows pierce me deeply’ means the way in which the Lord’s truths penetrate our spirit, speaking to it and challenging it and often bringing us pain. (Arcana Caelestia 2686).

The Lord’s hand ‘presses me down’ stands for the Lord’s opposition to our evils (not to us!) because ‘hands’ represent Divine power. (Heaven and Hell 232).

The speaker uses the various organs in our body to describe our various spiritual ailments: flesh, bones, head, wounds, loins, heart and eyes… quite a comprehensive list. ‘Bones’ stand for the truths which support our spiritual frame; ‘loins’ stand for our spiritual loves but also our passions. Each of these organs is defective in the psalm. (Arcana Caelestia 8364)

Verses 11 and 12 talk about the aloofness of friends and relatives, and the deceit of those who want to destroy. Spiritually, this describes the influences that come into our minds during temptation. The heavenly influence seems far off and unable to help us, the hellish influences seem close and condemning. (Arcana Caelestia 9348)

This is immediately followed by words talking about not hearing and not speaking out. In a general way, spiritually, this stands for us not being swayed by the influences – the “voices” – which come into our thought, whatever kind these may be, because we cannot determine their true quality. In a more specific way, it means the refusal to judge and condemn others for their actions. This would be most true of the Lord. (Apocalypse Explained 409)

Then comes the real reason and purpose for us during every temptation, that we are to put our trust in the Lord who hears and knows everything. Only this can be our full confidence.

The final two verses of the psalm are worded as a prayerful request to not be forsaken and to be helped by the Lord. The meaning is right on the surface here. We need to ask the Lord for help, and we also need to understand that the Lord never forsakes us or is unwilling to help.