Psalm 38:9
This has been called one of the penitential psalms. It may be called so without any severe strain of language; and yet its penitential tone is very far removed from that of either the thirty-second or the fifty-first psalm. There is little doubt that there is a sincere acknowledgment of the sin; but here the main stress of the grief seems to be attributable rather to the suffering consequent upon the sin, than to the guilt of the sin itself. And we cannot resist the conviction that an undue reticence (which, alas! often results in an infrequent and inadequate warning against sins of the flesh) has somewhat warped and fettered the remarks of many expositors. For the physical suffering which is here detailed with distressing precision, points to sin as the cause thereof - to that sin which is one of the seriously poisoning influences in our social fabric, and against which no pleadings can be too tender, and no warnings can be too loud. Let us first study the case, and then utilize it.

I. THE CASE STATED. Even before entering into detail, it is obvious that the case is one of intense suffering. The details, however, will show us but too clearly what the suffering was, and how it was accounted for.

1. There had been the commission of sin. Vers. 3-5 give us three terms - "sin," "foolishness," "iniquity. The sin was one which brought about a great deal of:

2. Bodily disorder. Note the following expressions:

(1) My flesh" (ver. 3).

(2) "My bones" (ver. 3).

(3) "My loins" (ver. 7).

(4) "No soundness" (ver. 3).

(5) "No health" (ver. 3).

(6) "Wounds" (ver. 5).

(7) "Ulcers" (ver. 5, Hebrew).

(8) "Offensive" (ver. 5).

(9) "Burning" (ver. 7).

(10) This alternating with deathly coldness (ver. 8).

(11) "Palpitation" (ver. 10).

(12) The frame bent and bowed with the suffering (ver. 6).

(13) "Failing strength" (ver. 10).

(14) "Dimness of sight" (ver. 10).

Surely this puts before us, in no obscure fashion, the terrible physical woe which the writer was enduring.

3. (treat mental anguish.

(1) God's arrows struck very deeply into his soul (ver. 2).

(2) God's hand pressed heavily upon him (ver. 2).

(3) He went abroad as a mourner ver. 6).

(4) He roared - groaned aloud - all the day long.

It may not be always possible to affirm that such and such suffering is the effect of this or that specific sin. But sometimes we can. And it is no wonder if sins of the flesh bring fleshly suffering. It is an ordained law of God that it should be so. Hence the sufferings are rightly regarded as "the arrows of God."

4. In his trouble, lovers and friends stand aloof from him. Even neighbours and kinsmen drew themselves afar off (ver. 11). Earthly friends are like swallows, who come near in fine weather, and fly away ere the weather turns foul.

5. He was laden with reproach, and even beset with snares. (Ver. 12.)

6. He did not and could not reply. To the charges laid at his door he had no justifications to offer, and therefore said nothing (cf. ver. 14, Hebrew). This was so far wise.

7. Though silent to man, he pours out his heart to God. He calls God his God; even though guilt lies heavily on the soul.

(1) He declares the whole case before the mercy-seat (ver. 9).

(2) He confesses the sin (ver. 18).

(3) He deprecates the Divine displeasure (ver. 1).

(4) He appeals for help (ver. 22).

Note: There is a great difference between men who "are overtaken in a fault," and those whose life is one perpetual sin of alienation from God. David lived in an age when lustfulness was scarcely recognized as wrong at all, save where the holy Law of God had gleamed on it with the searching light of Heaven. If David fell into this sin, it was because he was injured by the low conventional standard of his day. If he regarded it as sin, and mourned over it, it was because he was under the educating influence of that Word which was as "a lamp to his feet, and a light unto his path."

8. While David moans his sin as threatening him with destruction and ruin, he looks for salvation in God and God alone. (Ver. 22.) "O Lord my Salvation."

II. THE CASE UTILIZED. Here is evidently a psalm which is one of a number that contain a rehearsal of the writer's private experience. They profess to be that, and therefore, unless some good reason to the contrary is shown, we rightly assume that they are that. The expositor who desires to deal faithfully with all the psalms, and with the whole of each psalm, will often find himself between two opposite schools. On one side, there are those who would enclose every psalm within the limits of a naturalistic psychology; while there are others who seem to regard every psalm as referring directly or indirectly to Christ. But while the second and forty-fifth psalm. can by no means be accounted for by a rationalistic psychology, so this thirty-eighth psalm can by no means be applied to the Messiah directly or indirectly. Let us not select facts to fit a theory; but study all the facts, and frame the theory accordingly. In this personal moan and groan we have:

1. Suffering following on sin. Of what kind the sin was there can be little question. And if we wonder that David could fall into such sin, we may well ask - What can be expected of a man who had six wives (2 Samuel 3:2-5)? The Law of God might, indeed, be the rule of his life, but he was injured and corrupted by falling into the conventionalisms of his day; and hence in his private life he came far short of his own professed ideal. Is not the like incongruity between the ideal and the actual often seen even now?

2. If it was owing to "conformity to the world that David thus sinned, it was because he had before him God's revelation of the evil of sin that he was so bowed down under a sense of the guilt thereof. The revealed Law of God stood high above the level to which he had attained; hence a shame and self-loathing on account of sin, which would nowhere else have been known.

3. Smarting under the sense of guilt, David yet tells God all. He knew God to be one pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin;" and hence the burdens of sin and guilt, as well as of care, were laid before the mercy-seat (Psalm 32:5).

4. At times, however, words fail; then the desire and the groaning are perfectly understood. (Ver. 9.) Who does not understand something of this that knows anything of the "energies of prayer"? There are "groanings which cannot be uttered." As there are "songs without words," so are there "prayers without words." For the grief consequent upon sin may be, and often is, aggravated by the desertion of those friends who will smile on us when we are prosperous, and will turn their backs on us when adversity comes. But, even so, it is an infinite mercy to be shut up to God, and to let the heart lie "naked and opened" before One who will never misunderstand, and who will never forsake us.

5. For our God is "Jehovah our Salvation. That is his revealed name, and to it he will ever be true. See how gloriously the sure mercies of David" are set forth in Psalm 89:26-33. God is "a just God, and a Saviour" (Isaiah 45:21). Hence we should never let our consciousness of guilt drive us from him; rather should it always make us "flee unto" him "to hide us."

6. Hence only those who have the light of God's revelation can possibly have any gospel for men smarting under the guilt of sin. We do not know any one passage in Scripture in which the combination is more remarkable of a man whose sin has brought deepest shame and agony upon him, and who yet is laying hold of God under that beautiful, that matchless name, "my Salvation" (ver. 22). Very often, indeed, the word "salvation" in the Old Testament means mainly, if not exclusively, temporal deliverance. Here, at any rate, it cannot be so limited; for the salvation required to meet the case of woe thus laid before God must be one which includes cancelling guilt, purifying from corruption, and healing disease. And that revelation of God as our Salvation which was made in germ to the Hebrews, is disclosed more fully to us under Christ. He is "made wisdom from God unto us, even righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; that (according as it is written) he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31). In the very volume where sin is dealt with most seriously, it is also treated most hopefully; and the very revelation which cries with trumpet-power, "All have sinned," also cries, "Look unto me, and be ye saved." - C.

Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my groaning is not hid from Thee.
I. We have here A FACT THAT IS WITHOUT EXCEPTION. The Lord knows all our desires. How great, then, must God be, and how near such knowledge brings us to God.

II. THE PERFORMANCE OF AS IMPORTANT DUTY. David was in the habit of prayer. He does not speak of his prayer as an unusual thing, or that should make men talk of him as eminently religious. Now, such habitual prayer is our duty. Do not restrain prayer, and remember, the groaning that is directed to God is very often effectual fervent prayer.

III. A STATE OF HALLOWED PRIVILEGE. If the text be true of us, then there is no need for anxiety. God will surely do what is best for me.

IV. A LARGE PROVISION OF REST FOR THE SOUL. How quiet a man may be, and ought to be, who can speak thus to God. It is the childlike converse of a man with his God.

V. A COMFORTABLE THOUGHT FOR SEASONS OF WEAKNESS and discouragement. What a comfort it is to feel that God knows all, that He will accept as real prayer the utterance of a mere groan.

VI. It is also A PLEA IS PRAYER. "I have told Thee all, now do as Thou hast said."

(Samuel Martin.)

We would not pamper weakness till we seem to offer a premium to unbelief; but yet we would feed the feeble in the king's meadows till they become strong in the Lord. If great efforts are put forth to build or endow a hospital, you do not say, "Sickness is a desirable thing, for all this money is spent upon comforting and helping those who feel it." Your feelings are quite the contrary: though these sick folk become the object of care, it is not as a reward to them, but as an act of compassion towards them. Let none, therefore, say that the preacher encourages a low state of grace: he encourages it no more than the physician encourages disease when he tries by his care and skill to heal the sick.


1. Because our whole life ought to be transparent before God. What secrets can there be between a soul convinced of sin and a pardoning God.? Tell Him your fears for the past, your anxieties for the present, and your dreads for the future; tell Him your suspicions of yourself, and your trembling lest you should be deceived. Make all your heart known unto God, and keep back nothing, for much benefit will come to you from being honest with your best Friend.

2. Because it is commanded of God that, we should make our desires known to him. He says that "men ought always to pray and not to faint"; and again, "in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God." Jesus said, "Watch and pray," and His apostle said, "I will that men pray everywhere." And what is this but to make your desires known to God?

3. It is a great benefit to a man to be able to express his desires, and this is an argument for making them known to God. A glance at some desires would seal their doom, for we should feel them to be unworthy to be presented before the Lord. ]Jut when it is a holy and pure desire, tell it, for it will relieve your heart, it will heighten your estimate of the blessing sought, it will bring you to think over the promises made to such desires, it will thereby strengthen your hope that your desire will be fulfilled, and enable you by faith to obtain it. The prayerful expression of one desire will often quicken further desires, and make a thousand of them where there was but one.

4. A gracious expression of desire before God will often be to you a proof that those desires are right. Thy desire must be a good thing, or thou wouldst not dare to make it known to God; and seeing that it is a good thing, take care thou nurture it well, and cause it to grow by expressing it with thy whole heart before God.

II. DESIRES TOWARDS GOD ARE GRACIOUS THINGS. Intense groaning desires towards God are in themselves works of grace.

1. For certainly they are associated with other graces. When a man can say, "All my desire is towards God, and my heart groans after Him, and yet I find little in myself but these desires," I think we can point to some other good things which are in his heart. Surely humility is apparent enough. Thou takes, a right view of thyself, O man of desires! A lowly esteem hast thou of thyself, and this is well. Aye, and there is faith in thee, for no man heartily desires to believe unless he doth in some measure already believe. There is a measure of believing in every true desire after believing. And thou hast love, too; I am sure of it. Did ever a man desire to love that which he did not love already? Thou hast already some drawings of thy heart Christwards, or else thou wouldst not cry to be more filled with it. He who loves most is the very man who most passionately desires to love more. I am sure, also, that thou hast some hope; for a man does not continue to groan out before his God, and to make his desire known, unless he has some hope that his desire will be satisfied, and that his grief will be assuaged. David lets out the secret of his own hope, for he says in the fifteenth verse, "In Thee, O Lord, do I hope." You do not hope anywhere else, do you?

2. Another proof that they are gracious is that they come from God. Now, as God can say of all that He creates, "It is very good," I come to the conclusion that these groaning desires after God are very good. They are not great, nor strong, but they are gracious. There is water in a drop as well as in the sea, there is life in a gnat as well as in an elephant, there is light in a beam as well as in the sun, and so is there grace in a desire as truly as in complete sanctification.

3. Holy desires are a great test of character: a test of eminent value. You inquire, "Can you judge a man's character by his desires?" 1 answer, yes. I will give you the other side of the question that you may see our own side all the more clearly. You may certainly judge a bad man by his desires. Here is a man who desires to be a thief. Well, he is a thief in heart and spirit. Who would trust him in his house now that he knows that he groans to rob and steal? Let us, then, measure out justice in our own case by the rule which we allow towards others. If you have an earnest, agonizing desire towards that which is right, even though through the infirmity of the flesh and the corruption of your nature you do not reach to the height of your desire, yet that desire is a test of your character. The main set of the current determines its direction: the main bent of the desire is the test of the life.

III. DESIRES TOWARDS GOD ARE CAREFULLY OBSERVED BY HIM. God has a quick eye to spy out anything that is good in His people; if there is but one speck of soundness, if there is a single mark of grace, if there is any remaining token of spiritual life, though it be only a faint desire, though it be only a dolorous groan, the Father sees it, and records it, casting the evil behind His back, and refusing to behold it.


1. These desires are of God's creation, and you cannot imagine that God would create desires in us which He will not satisfy. Why, look even in nature, if He gives the beast hunger and thirst He provides for it the grass upon the mountains and the streams that flow among the valleys. If, then, He Himself has put in you a desire after Himself, He will give you Himself. If He has made you long after pardon, purity, eternal salvation, He means to give you these.

2. Remember, O desiring man, that already you have a blessing. When our Divine Master was on the mountain-side the benedictions which He pronounced were no word blessings, but they were full of weight and meaning, and among the rest of them is this — "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness." Blessed while they hunger, blessed while they thirst. Yes, they are already blessed, and there is this at the back of it, "for they shall be filled."

3. And we may be sure that God will hear the desires which He has Himself created, because He loves to gratify right desires. It is said of Him in nature, "Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." Doth God care for sparrows in the bush, for minnows in the brook, for midges in the air, for tiny things in a drop of stagnant water, and will He fail to satisfy the longings of His own children?

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

The wistful look of a dumb creature, or a moan of pain, is a prayer to a merciful man. Man deals tenderly with those who are robbed of the organs of expression. He watches with sedulous earnestness each faint indication of pain or need, that he may be ready with his ministry. Is the ear of God more dull, think you, than man's, to these unutterable groanings; or is this human pity and sympathy the faint and finite image of an infinite pity and sympathy which are waiting to respond to us there? Pity which, great as may be the power of prayer which words can frame, finds in the longing that is too deep for words, the groaning that is too sad for tears, an appeal which is irresistible, and would even endure the sharpness of death rather than that such a suppliant should be sent empty away.


1. It cleans and purifies the desires. The effort to utter them before God in prayer is a purification. Many a mixed desire which lies confusedly in the mind, filling it with distress, gets purified by the effort. The bringing it into God's presence is like bringing a mass of rank vegetation into the sunlight. Leave it there awhile. The pure fire of God's presence kills all that is noxious in the desire, all that is born of worldliness and lust.

II. The second clause opens a yet deeper depth. There are groanings which cannot become prayers, and "MY GROANING IS NOT HID FROM THEY." Would that I could pray! is the language, in moments of deep religious feeling, of many a vain, selfish, worldly, or lustful heart; I should feel then that the battle was really gained. There are times when the effort to pray seems almost impious. A kind of dull despair weighs on the spirit, and crushes down all its energies. "When I would do good, evil is present with me," "O miserable man that I am." What help can there be, what hope, for such an one as I? "Brethren, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." But there is a mightier thing still; something that lodges a more resistless appeal in the very heart of the Divine compassion: it is the pain that cannot tell its misery in a prayer. It is a blessed thing for me that God heareth and answereth prayer; more blessed still, that "My groaning is not hid from Thee."

(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)

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