Theme: All Alone
From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.
Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22
Psychiatrists tell us that people do not like to be around those who are suffering because they imagine themselves being in the same condition and do not like to think along those lines. So they stay away. This is probably true and undoubtedly also explains why people make cruel jokes about retarded people, the handicapped and others who have suffered physical misfortunes. But even if people don’t go to that extreme, they usually prefer the company of those who are prospering and having a good time. This is what David experienced. This section of the psalm describes his sense of isolation (vv. 10-14).
I do not think it is necessary to elaborate on the attitude of David’s friends, companions, neighbors and enemies, each of which is described in turn. The neglect of the former and the taunts of the latter left David speechless. He could not defend himself. Who can? All he could do was leave his case with God. What I do need to say is that the sense of isolation and alienation experienced by those who are seriously sick should encourage Christians to behave toward them in exactly the opposite way. Instead of avoiding those who are suffering, we should go to them—help them, serve them, comfort them. And Christians do. In fact, this is the one mark distinguishing the sheep from the goats, according to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. Among other things, the sheep looked after the sick and were rewarded for it.
Here is a point of application. If even King David, with all his many friends and courtiers, felt abandoned in his sickness, certainly you and I know people who feel the same way, perhaps someone in a nursing home or hospital or recovering at home from an illness. Make it a point to visit that person and do so on a regular basis, daily or weekly. If you do, you will have a reward both here and in heaven.
The third time David looks up from his state of physical and emotional suffering he tells the Lord that he will wait patiently for the answer to his prayer for deliverance: “I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God” (v. 15). It is usually impossible to say why one psalm follows another in the psalter, but in this case verse 15 may be the reason why Psalm 38 follows Psalm 37. The whole message of Psalm 37 was to trust God and wait for his deliverance, even though the wicked seem to prosper for a time. In Psalm 37 “wait for the LORD” is advised (cf. v. 34). In Psalm 38 waiting is practiced, and by the very person who gave the advice in Psalm 37.
Waiting is hard to do, especially for us. We live in an impatient age. Someone has said that a hundred years ago, if someone was taking a trip and missed the stagecoach, well, that was all right. He’d get the stagecoach next month. Today we get impatient if we miss one turn of the revolving door.
We can learn what it is to wait upon God from David, for David was a master and model of waiting. When Samuel first approached him, when he was just a youth, he was told that he would be the king of Israel. Yet this did not happen for several decades, and during many of those years David was a fugitive hunted by his enemy King Saul. Even after Saul’s death in battle against the Philistines, David remained a king in Hebron for seven years before being asked to rule over the entire nation. And even later, when his son Absalom revolted against him, David was content to wait for God to rescue him and vindicate his cause. Derek Kidner says, “His fugitive years, his Hebron period and his attitude to Absalom’s revolt, all proved the sincerity of his prayer in 15f., and of his advice in Psalm 37.”4
David was not utterly inactive, of course. He was praying—and composing his prayers, which is why we have Psalms 6 and 38. But the very fact that he was praying meant that he was leaving the outcome of his sickness and trial with God.
Why do people often feel uncomfortable around others who are suffering in some way?
Read vv. 10-14. Have you experienced what David describes?
While waiting on God, what did David do? What can we learn from him?
Application: Do you know anyone who might feel a sense of isolation now? What will you do to reach out to them?
4Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 155.