Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Prayer for the Changing of Merited Wrath into Rescuing Love
The Penitential Psalm, 38, is placed immediately after Ps 37 on account of the similarity of its close to the ת strophe of that Psalm. It begins like Psa 6:1-10. If we regard David's adultery as the occasion of it (cf. more especially Sa2 12:14), then Psa 6:1-10; 38; 51; Psa 32:1-11 form a chronological series. David is distressed both in mind and body, forsaken by his friends, and regarded by his foes as one who is cast off for ever. The fire of divine anger burns within him like a fever, and the divine withdrawal as it were rests upon him like darkness. But he fights his way by prayer through this fire and this darkness to the bright confidence of faith. The Psalm, although it is the pouring forth of such elevated and depressed feelings, is nevertheless symmetrically and skilfully laid out. It consists of three main paragraphs, which divide into four (Psa 38:2), three (Psa 38:10), and four (Psa 38:16) tetrastichs. The way in which the names of God are brought in is well conceived. The first word of the first group or paragraph is יהוה, the first word of the second אדני, and in the third יהוה and אדני are used interchangeably twice. The Psalm, in common with Psa 70:1-5, bears the inscription להזכּיר. The chronicler, in Ch1 16:4, refers to these Hazkir Psalms together with the Hodu and Halleluja Psalms. In connection with the presentation of meat-offerings, מנחות, a portion of the meat-offering was cast into the altar fire, viz., a handful of the meal mixed with oil and the whole of the incense. This portion was called אזכּרה, ἀνάμνησις, and to offer it הזכּיר (a denominative), because the ascending smoke was intended to bring the owner of the offering into remembrance with God. In connection with the presentation of this memorial portion of the mincha, the two Psalms are appointed to be used as prayers; hence the inscription: at the presentation of the Azcara (the portion taken from the meal-offering). The lxx adds here περὶ (τοῦ) σαββάτου; perhaps equivalent to לשּׁבּת.
In this Psalm we find a repetition of a peculiarity of the penitential Psalms, viz., that the praying one has to complain not only of afflictions of body and soul, but also of outward enemies, who come forward as his accusers and take occasion from his sin to prepare the way for his ruin. This arises from the fact that the Old Testament believer, whose perception of sin was not as yet so spiritual and deep as that of the New Testament believer, almost always calls to mind some sinful act that has become openly known. The foes, who would then prepare for his ruin, are the instruments of the Satanic power of evil (cf. Psa 38:21, ישׂטנוּני), which, as becomes perceptible to the New Testament believer even without the intervention of outward foes, desires the death of the sinning one, whereas God wills that he should live.
(Heb.: 38:2-9) David begins, as in Psa 6:1-10, with the prayer that his punitive affliction may be changed into disciplinary. Bakius correctly paraphrases. Psa 38:2 : Corripe sane per legem, castiga per crucem, millies promerui, negare non possum, sed castiga, quaeso, me ex amore ut pater, non ex furore et fervore ut judex; ne punias justitiae rigore, sed misericordiae dulcore (cf. on Psa 6:2). The negative is to be repeated in Psa 38:2, as in Psa 1:5; Psa 9:19; Psa 75:6. In the description, which give the ground of the cry for pity, נחת, is not the Piel, as in Psa 18:35, but the Niphal of the Kal נחת immediately following (root נח). קצף is anger as a breaking forth, fragor (cf. Hos 10:7, lxx φρύγανον), with ĕ instead of ı̆ in the first syllable, vowels which alternate in this word; and חמה, as a glowing or burning. חצּים (in Homer, κῆλα), God's wrath-arrows, i.e., lightnings of wrath, are His judgments of wrath; and יד, as in Psa 32:4; Psa 39:11, God's punishing hand, which makes itself felt in dispensing punishment, hence תּנחת might be attached as a mood of sequence. In Psa 38:4 wrath is called זעם as a boiling up. Sin is the cause of this experiencing wrath, and the wrath is the cause of the bodily derangement; sin as an exciting cause of the wrath always manifests itself outwardly even on the body as a fatal power. In Psa 38:5 sin is compared to waters that threaten to drown one, as in Psa 38:5 to a burden that presses one down. ככבּדוּ ממּנּי, they are heavier than I, i.e., than my power of endurance, too heavy for me. In Psa 38:6 the effects of the operation of the divine hand (as punishing) are wounds, חבּוּרת (properly, suffused variegated marks from a blow or wheals, Isa 1:6; from חבר, Arab. ḥbr, to be or make striped, variegated), which הבאישׁוּ, send forth an offensive smell, and נמקּוּ, suppurate. Sin, which causes this, is called אוּלת, because, as it is at last manifest, it is always the destruction of itself. With emphasis does מפּני אוּלתּי form the second half of the verse. To take נעויתי out of Psa 38:7 and put it to this, as Meier and Thenius propose, is to destroy this its proper position. On the three מפּני, vid., Ewald, 217, l. Thus sick in soul and body, he is obliged to bow and bend himself in the extreme. נעוה is used of a convulsive drawing together of the body, Isa 21:3; שׁחח, of a bowed mien, Psa 35:14; הלּך, of a heavy, lagging gait. With כּי in Psa 38:8 the grounding of the petition begins for the third time. His כּסלים, i.e., internal muscles of the loins, which are usually the fattest parts, are full of נקלה, that which is burnt, i.e., parched. It is therefore as though the burning, starting from the central point of the bodily power, would spread itself over the whole body: the wrath of God works commotion in this latter as well as in the soul. Whilst all the energies of life thus yield, there comes over him a partial, almost total lifelessness. פּוּג is the proper word for the coldness and rigidity of a corpse; the Niphal means to be brought into this condition, just as נדכּא means to be crushed, or to be brought into a condition of crushing, i.e., of violent dissolution. The מן of מנּהמת is intended to imply that the loud wail is only the utterance of the pain that is raging in his heart, the outward expression of his ceaseless, deep inward groaning.
(Heb.: 38:10-15) Having thus bewailed his suffering before God, he goes on in a somewhat calmer tone: it is the calm of weariness, but also of the rescue which shows itself from afar. He has complained, but not as if it were necessary for him first of all to make God acquainted with his suffering; the Omniscient One is directly cognisant of (has directly before Him, נגד, like לנגד in Psa 18:25) every wish that his suffering extorts from him, and even his softer sighing does not escape His knowledge. The sufferer does not say this so much with the view of comforting himself with this thought, as of exciting God's compassion. Hence he even goes on to draw the piteous picture of his condition: his heart is in a state of violent rotary motion, or only of violent, quickly repeated contraction and expansion (Psychol. S. 252; tr. p. 297), that is to say, a state of violent palpitation (סחרחר, Pealal according to Ges. 55, 3). Strength of which the heart is the centre (Psa 40:13) has left him, and the light of his eyes, even of these (by attraction for גּם־הוּא, since the light of the eyes is not contrasted with anything else), is not with him, but has become lost to him by weeping, watching, and fever. Those who love him and are friendly towards him have placed themselves far from his stroke (nega`, the touch of God's hand of wrath), merely looking on (Oba 1:11), therefore, in a position hostile (Sa2 18:13) rather than friendly. מנּגד, far away, but within the range of vision, within sight, Gen 21:16; Deu 32:52. The words וּקרובי מרחק עמדוּ, which introduce a pentastich into a Psalm that is tetrastichic throughout, have the appearance of being a gloss or various reading: מנּגד = מרחק, Kg2 2:7. His enemies, however, endeavour to take advantage of his fall and helplessness, in order to give him his final death-blow. וינקּשׁוּ (with the ק dageshed)
(Note: The various reading וינקּשׁוּ in Norzi rests upon a misapprehended passage of Abulwald (Rikma, p. 166).)
describes what they have planned in consequence of the position he is in. The substance of their words is הוּות, utter destruction (vid., Psa 5:10); to this end it is מרמות, deceit upon deceit, malice upon malice, that they unceasingly hatch with heart and mouth. In the consciousness of his sin he is obliged to be silent, and, renouncing all self-help, to abandon his cause to God. Consciousness of guilt and resignation close his lips, so that he is not able, nor does he wish, to refute the false charges of his enemies; he has no תּוכחות, counter-evidence wherewith to vindicate himself. It is not to be rendered: "just as one dumb opens not his mouth;" כ is only a preposition, not a conjunction, and it is just here, in Psa 38:14, Psa 38:15, that the manifest proofs in support of this are found.
(Note: The passages brought forward by Hupfeld in support of the use of כ as a conjunction, viz., Psa 90:5; Psa 125:1; Isa 53:7; Isa 61:11, are invalid; the passage that seems most to favour it is Oba 1:16, but in this instance the expression is elliptical, כּלא being equivalent to כאשׁר לא, like ללא, Isa 65:1, = לאשׁר לא. It is only כּמו (Arab. kmâ) that can be used as a conjunction; but כ (Arab. k) is always a preposition in ancient Hebrew just as in Syriac and Arabic (vid., Fleischer in the Hallische Allgem. Lit. Zeitschr. 1843, Bd. iv. S. 117ff.). It is not until the mediaeval synagogal poetry (vid., Zunz, Synagogal-poesie des Mittelalters, S. 121, 381f.) that it is admissible to use it as a conjunction (e.g., כּמצא, when he had found), just as it also occurs in Himjaritic, according to Osiander's deciphering of the inscriptions. The verbal clause appended to the word to which this כ, instar, is prefixed is for the most part an attributive clause as above, but sometimes even a circumstantial clause (Arab. ḥâl), as in Psa 38:14; cf. Sur. lxii. 5: "as the likeness of an ass carrying books.")
(Heb.: 38:16-23) Become utterly useless in himself, he renounces all self-help, for (כּי) he hopes in Jahve, who alone can help him. He waits for His answer, for (כי) he says, etc. - he waits for an answer, for the hearing of this his petition which is directed towards the glory of God, that God would not suffer his foes to triumph over him, nor strengthen them in their mercilessness and injustice. Psa 38:18 appears also to stand under the government of the פּן;
(Note: The following are the constructions of פן when a clause of ore than one member follows it: (1) fut. and perf., the latter with the tone of the perf. consec., e.g., Exo 34:15., or without it, e.g., Psa 28:1 (which see); (2) fut. and fut. as in Psa 2:12, Jer 51:46. This construction is indispensable where it is intended to give special prominence to the subject notion or a secondary notion of the clause, e.g., Deu 20:6. In one instance פן is even followed (3) by the perf. and fut. consec., viz., Kg2 2:10.)
but, since in this case one would look for a Waw relat. and a different order of the words, Psa 38:18 is to be regarded as a subject clause: "who, when my foot totters, i.e., when my affliction changes to entire downfall, would magnify themselves against me." In Psa 38:18, כּי connects what follows with בּמוט רגלי by way of confirmation: he is נכון לצלע, ready for falling (Psa 35:15), he will, if God does not graciously interpose, assuredly fall headlong. The fourth כּי in Psa 38:19 is attached confirmatorily to Psa 38:18: his intense pain or sorrow is ever present to him, for he is obliged to confess his guilt, and this feeling of guilt is just the very sting of his pain. And whilst he in the consciousness of well-deserved punishment is sick unto death, his foes are numerous and withal vigorous and full of life. Instead of חיּים, probably חנּם, as in Psa 35:19; Psa 69:5, is to be read (Houbigant, Hitzig, Kster, Hupfeld, Ewald, and Olshausen). But even the lxx read חיים; and the reading which is so old, although it does not very well suit עצמוּ (instead of which one would look for ועצוּמים), is still not without meaning: he looks upon himself, according to Psa 38:9, more as one dead than living; his foes, however, are חיּים, living, i.e., vigorous. The verb frequently ash this pregnant meaning, and the adjective can also have it. Just as the accentuation of the form סבּוּ varies elsewhere out of pause, ורבּוּ here has the tone on the ultima, although it is not perf. consec.
(Note: As perf. consec. the following have the accent on the ultima: - וחתּוּ, Isa 20:5, Oba 1:9, and ורבּוּ, Isa 66:16; perhaps also וחדּוּ, וקלּוּ, Hab 1:8, and ורבּוּ (perf. hypoth.), Job 32:15. But there is no special reason for the ultima-accentuation of רכּוּ, Psa 55:22; רבּוּ, Psa 69:5; דּלּוּ, Isa 38:14; קלּוּ, Jer 4:13; שׁחוּ, Pro 14:19; Hab 3:6; חתּוּ, Job 32:15; זכּוּ, צחוּ, Lam 4:7.)
Psa 38:21 is an apposition of the subject, which remains the same as in Psa 38:20. Instead of רדופי (Ges. 61, rem. 2) the Ker is רדפי, rādephî (without any Makkeph following), or רדפי, rādophî; cf. on this pronunciation, Psa 86:2; Psa 16:1, and with the Chethb רדופי, the Chethb צרופה, Psa 26:2, also מיורדי, Psa 30:4. By the "following of that which is good" David means more particularly that which is brought into exercise in relation to his present foes.
(Note: In the Greek and Latin texts, likewise in all the Aethiopic and several Arabic texts, and in the Syriac Psalterium Medilanense, the following addition is found after Psa 38:21 : Ce aperripsan me ton agapeton osi necron ebdelygmenon, Et projecerunt me dilectum tanquam mortuum abominatum (so the Psalt. Veronense). Theodoret refers it to Absalom's relation to David. The words ὡσεὶ νεκρὸν ἐβδελυγμένον are taken from Isa 14:19.)
He closes in Psa 38:22 with sighs for help. No lighting up of the darkness of wrath takes place. The fides supplex is not changed into fides triumphans. But the closing words, "O Lord, my salvation" (cf. Psa 51:16), show where the repentance of Cain and that of David differ. True repentance has faith within itself, it despairs of itself, but not of God.