Psalm 38

The Word Made Fresh

(A psalm of David, to serve as a memorial.)

1LORD, please don’t scold me when you are angry,
or punish me when you’re upset.
2Your arrows have wounded me,
and your hand is pressing me down.
3My body is weak because of your outrage,
and even my bones are weak because of my sin.
4The mistakes I have made have washed over me
and are too heavy for me to carry.
5My wounds have festered and become foul,
all because of my foolishness.
6I am completely weighed down and can hardly stand.
I go around moaning all day long.
7My insides are burning with a hot fever
and my body is weakened.
8I am completely spent and crushed
and all day I groan because my heart is astir.
9You know what I long for, LORD –
my situation is not hidden from you.
10My heart beats wildly; I am so weak –
my eyes are dimmed, the light has left me.
11My friends and acquaintances stay away because of my sickness.
My neighbors keep their distance, too.
12There are people who want me dead
and make plans to hasten my doom.
All day long they think of ways to finish me off.
13But I’m like a deaf person who can’t hear –
like a deaf mute who can’t speak.
14I’m like a person who can’t hear
and has nothing to say about it.
15And so I wait for you, LORD.
I know that you, LORD my God, will answer me.
16This is my prayer: “Don’t let them delight over my plight
or boast among themselves when I fall.”
17I am ready to fall, that is true, and I’m always in pain.
18I confess my sins and I am sorry for them.
19My enemies are strong,
even though they have no reason to be my enemies.
There are many who hate me without cause.
20Those who repay good with evil are my enemies
simply because I try to be good.
21Don’t leave me, LORD!
Stay near me, my God!
22Come quickly to rescue me,
for you are my LORD and my salvation.


Superscription: it is supposed that David wrote this psalm, the 34th ascribed to him, to accompany a “memorial offering.” The memorial offering (of grain) is described in Leviticus 5:12 and 6:15. Also Numbers 5:26. However, it is possible that the intended reference here is to David’s offering of gold and other resources for the building of the temple in Jerusalem even though there is no record of his having presented it as an offering, but see the example of such a memorial offering in Numbers 31:54. The problem is that the psalm itself does not even remotely suggest such a scenario. In Christian tradition the psalm has been included in the “7 Penitential Psalms”, along with 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143. David is confessing that he has sinned, but never mentions what the sin may be.

1-8: The situation described in the psalm is one of dire suffering. The arrow wounds mentioned in verse 2 may be intended literally or figuratively. The opening verses of the psalm read like a plea raised by an injured soldier who accepts his wounds as God’s judgment for his sins. On the other hand, the body of the psalm makes it clear that there are others out to get him and this makes us wonder if the wounds may be the result not of literal arrows but figurative ones.

9-14: In his predicament he calls out to God for help. His friends don’t want to get involved, his neighbors stay away, and his enemies are waiting to pounce. He is helpless and can only wait for God to act on his behalf.

17-22: Again, he repents, fearful that he has done something to deserve his lot, and now he begs God for rescue from powerful enemies.


Many of the psalms have to do with affairs of state and with a national leader dealing with threats from without and from within. The remarkable thing about this psalm is that David (or whoever is the author) admits that their suffering is deserved! Honest confession and contrition are always the first steps toward repairing our relationship with God, or with anyone we may have wronged.