Reading only the first part of this psalm (Psalm 38:1-11), we should positively assign it to some individual sufferer who had learnt the lesson which St. Jerome says is here taught: “if any sickness happens to the body, we are to seek for the medicine of the soul.” But, reading on, we find that the complaint of bodily suffering gives way to a description of active and deadly enemies, who, in the figure so common in the Psalms, beset the pious with snares. It is better, therefore, to think rather of the sufferings of the community of the faithful, who have learnt to attribute their troubles to their own sins, here described, after the manner of the prophets (Isaiah 1:6) but even more forcibly, under the figure of distressing forms of sickness.
Title.—Comp. title Psalms 70. In 1 Chronicles 16:4 we read, “And he appointed certain Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record, and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.” In the words thank and praise it is natural to see allusion to the Hodu and Hallelujah psalms, so called because beginning with those words, and as “to record” is in Hebrew the word used in this title and that to Psalms 70, it brings these two psalms also in connection with the Levitical duties. “The memorial” was a regular name for one part of the meat offering, and possibly the title is a direction to use these psalms at the moment it was made. The LXX. and Vulg. add, “about the Sabbath,” which is possibly a mistake for “for the Sabbath.”
Stick fast.—Better, have sunk into, from a root meaning to descend. Presseth, in the next clause, is from the same verb. Translate, therefore,
For thine arrows have fallen deep into me,
And fallen upon me has thine hand.
“A sea of troubles.”—Hamlet, Acts 3, scene 1)
Stink and are corrupt.—Both words denote suppuration; the first in reference to the offensive smell, the second of the discharge of matter; the whole passage recalls Isaiah 1:6, seq.
Foolishness.—Men are generally even more loth to confess their folly than their sins.
I am made to writhe (see margin),
I am bowed down exceedingly,
All day long I go about squalid.
(See Psalm 35:14, and comp. Isaiah 21:3.) The usual Oriental signs of mourning are alluded to in the last clause.
Disquietness.—Properly, roaring. Thus, of the sea (Isaiah 5:30), of lions (Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2). A very slight alteration once suggested by Hitzig, but since abandoned, would give here, “I roared more than the roaring of a lion.”
Kinsmen.—Render rather, as in margin, neighbours, or near ones.
Those who should have been near me stand aloof.
For I said, Lest they should rejoice over me:
Lest, when my foot slipped, they should vaunt themselves against me.