Theme: A Good Man Badly Treated
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
The last section of this psalm (vv. 16-20), before the final prayer, concerns David’s unjust treatment by his enemies, picking up on a theme he introduced earlier in verse 12. In this respect the psalm moves from: 1) his wretched physical condition; to 2) his abandonment by his friends; to 3) his treatment by his enemies. But this is only part of what we find in this last section. Actually, everything found here has been mentioned or suggested earlier and is brought in again, in my judgment, as an argument why God should hear his prayer. In two cases the reasons are actually introduced by the word “for,” meaning “for this reason.”
I see five arguments, one in each verse:
1. It is not right that his enemies should be allowed to gloat over his misfortune or boast when his foot slips (v. 16). They may be his enemies, but their conduct toward him is nevertheless not right. They should sympathize with him, rather than gloat, and pray for him rather than boast over his sins and missteps.
2. His condition is desperate. He has already slipped, and now he is about to fall (v. 17). It would be bad enough if David had merely slipped for a moment. But the situation is worse than this. David is about to fall completely. If Psalm 6 was written at this time, as I suggested above, “fall” means die (cf. Psalm 6:5). So this is a prayer in extremis. He is in danger of death. It is help now or never.
3. He has confessed (and is confessing) his sin. He is troubled by it (v. 18). The purpose of discipline is to bring confession and a corresponding change of life. That purpose has been accomplished. David has confessed his sin. Therefore, it is time for the chastisement to be lifted.
4. His enemies are numerous, and he is just one person (v. 19). What hope does one person have in such circumstances, if God abandons him? Enemies will overwhelm him. His only hope is if God is by his side.
5. He has been good to his enemies, even though they are now being evil to him. Therefore, their words about him are slanderous (v. 20). At first glance it may seem strange that David claims to have done good in a psalm containing a confession of his sin. But it is not strange. In fact, it is an accurate description of all who are God’s people. God’s people sin, but if they are truly God’s people, their real (or renewed) natures are nevertheless set on doing good. Therefore, it is not right that those committed to evil should triumph over them ultimately.
With all this description and pleading behind him, David now makes his final prayer (vv. 21, 22), and it is that God will not abandon him or be far from him in his sickness, as his friends and companions have been, but rather come to him quickly and help him.
Will God do it? Of course, he will, for God is his Savior. This last line, like similar statements elsewhere, is the very theme of the Bible. We can never stress it enough: “Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), or, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Nobody else brings salvation. We cannot achieve it for ourselves. But it exists, and it is provided for all who, like David, confess their sins and wait upon God for his sure help and deliverance.
Study Questions:

What arguments does David give for why God should hear his prayer? How can you use them when you go through suffering?
Why does David claim to be pursuing what is good (v. 20) when he is suffering because of his own sin?

Key Point: Nobody else brings salvation. We cannot achieve it for ourselves. But it exists, and it is provided for all who, like David, confess their sins and wait upon God for his sure help and deliverance.

Study Questions
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