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Commentary On Psalms Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 38:1-5

1. O Jehovah! rebuke me not in thy wrath, and chasten me not in thy anger.2. For thy arrows go down in me and thy hand has come down upon me.3. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy anger; nor any peace in my bones because of my sin.4. For my iniquities have passed over my head, and as a weighty burden they have become too heavy for me.5. My wounds have become putrid, they are corrupt, because of my foolishness.

1 O Jehovah! rebuke me not in thy wrath As I have already expounded this verse in the beginning of the sixth psalm, where it occurs, and that I may not prove tedious to the reader, I shall notice it more briefly here. David does not expressly ask that his afflictions should be removed, but only that God would moderate the severity of his chastisements. Hence we may infer, that David did not give loose reins to the desires of the flesh, but offered up his earnest prayer in a duly chastened spirit of devotion. All men would naturally desire that permission should be granted them to sin with impunity. But David lays a restraint upon his desires, and does not wish the favor and indulgence of God to be extended beyond measure, but is content with a mitigation of his affliction; as if he had said, Lord, I am not unwilling to be chastised by thee, but I entreat thee, meanwhile, not to afflict me beyond what I am able to bear, but to temper the fierceness of thy indignation according to the measure of my infirmity, lest the severity of the affliction should entirely overwhelm me. This prayer, as I have said, was framed according to the rule of godliness; for it contains nothing but what God promises to all his children. It should also be noticed, that David does not secretly indulge a fretful and repining spirit, but spreads his complaint before God; and this he does, not in the way of sinful complaining, but of humble prayer and unfeigned confession, accompanied with the hope of obtaining forgiveness. He has used anger and wrath as denoting extreme rigour, and has contrasted them with fatherly chastisement.

2. For thy arrows go down in me. He shows that he was constrained by dire necessity to ask an alleviation of his misery; for he was crushed under the weight of the burden which he sustained. This rule is always to be observed in our prayers -- to keep God's promises present to our view. But God has promised that he will chastise his servants, not according to their deserts, but as they are able to bear. This is the reason why the saints so often speak of their own weakness, when they are severely oppressed with affliction. David very properly describes the malady under which he labored, by the terms, the arrows and the hand, or the chastisement of God. Had he not been persuaded that it was God who thus afflicted him, he could never have been brought to seek from him deliverance from his affliction. We know that the great majority of men are blinded under the judgments of God, and imagine that they are entirely the events of chance; and scarcely one in a hundred discerns in them the hand of God. But, in his sickness, as in all his other adversities, David views the hand of God lifted up to punish him for his sins. And certainly, the man who estimates his affliction only by the feeling of pain which it produces, and views it in no other light, differs nothing from the beasts of the field. As every chastisement of God should remind us of his judgment, the true wisdom of the saints, as the prophet declares,

|to look to the hand of him who smiteth.| -- (Isaiah 9:13)

The pronoun thy is therefore emphatic. David's words are, as if he had said, I have not to do with a mortal man, who can shoot his arrows with a force only in proportion to his own strength, but I have to do with God, who can discharge the arrows that come from his hand with a force altogether overwhelming.

3. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy anger Others translate, There is no beauty; but this does not seem to be so suitable. In the clause which follows, David ascribes to God the praise of righteousness, without which, the acknowledgement which he formerly made would be of little avail; nay, instead of this, such an acknowledgement sometimes rather exasperates the minds of men, so that they provoke the wrath of God still more, by charging him with cruelty, and pouring forth horrible blasphemies against him. Nothing, therefore, can be more preposterous, than to imagine that there is in God a power so supreme and absolute, (as it is termed,) as to deprive him of his righteousness. David, as soon as he recognised his affliction as coming from God, turns to his own sin as the cause of the Divine displeasure; for he had already been fully satisfied in his own mind, that he is not like a tyrant who exercises cruelty needlessly and at random, but a righteous judge, who never manifests his displeasure by inflicting judgments but when he is grievously offended. If, then, we would render to God the praise which is due to him, let us learn by the example of David to connect our sins with his wrath.

4. For my iniquities have passed over my head. Here he complains that he is overwhelmed by his sins as by a heavy burden, so that he utterly faints under their weight; and yet he again confirms the doctrine which we have already stated, that he deservedly suffered the wrath of God, which had been inflicted on him in a manner so severe and dreadful. The word vn, avon, which we have translated iniquities, no doubt often signifies punishment, but this is only in a secondary and metaphorical sense. I am also willing to admit, that David assigns to the effect what is proper to the cause, when he describes by the appellation iniquities, the punishment which he had procured by his own sin; and yet his object at the same time is plainly and distinctly to confess, that all the afflictions which he suffered were to be imputed to his sins. He quarrels not with God for the extreme severity of his punishment, as Cain did, who said,

|My punishment is greater than I can bear,| (Genesis 4:13.)

It is true, indeed, that Moses uses the same word vn, avon, in that passage, so that there is some similarity between the language of David and Cain. But David's meaning is very different. When such temptations as these were insinuating themselves into his mind, Could God afflict thee more severely than he does? certainly, since he is doing nothing to relieve thee, it is a sure sign that he wishes thee destroyed and brought to nought; he not only despises thy sighs and groanings, but the more he seeth thee cast down and forsaken, he pursueth thee the more fiercely and with the greater rigour; -- to preclude the entrance of such evil thoughts and surmisings, he defended himself as with a shield by this consideration, that he was afflicted by the just judgment of God. He has here attributed to his own sins as the cause the weight of the wrath of God which he felt; and, as we shall find in the following verse, he again acknowledges, that what he is now suffering was procured by his own foolishness. Although, then, in bewailing his own miseries, he may seem in some measure to quarrel with God, yet he still cherishes the humble conviction, (for God afflicteth not beyond measure,) that there is no rest for him but in imploring the Divine compassion and forgiveness; whereas the ungodly, although convicted by their own consciences of guilt, murmur against God, like the wild beasts, which, in their rage, gnaw the chains with which they are bound.

5 My wounds have become putrid In this verse, he pleads the long continuance of his disease as an argument for obtaining some alleviation. When the Lord declares, concerning his Church,

|that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins,| (Isaiah 40:2)

his meaning is, that when he has sufficiently chastised his people, he is quickly pacified towards them; nay, more, that if he continue to manifest his displeasure for too long a time, he becomes through his mercy, as it were, weary of it, so that he hastens to give deliverance, as he says in another place,

|For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.| -- (Isaiah 48:9, 10)

The object, therefore, which David has in view, in complaining of the long continuance of his misery is, that when he had endured the punishment which he had merited, he might at length obtain deliverance. It was certainly no slight trial to this servant of God to be thus kept in continual languishing, and, as it were, to putrify and be dissolved into corruption in his miseries. In this his constancy is the more to be admired, for it neither broke down from the long period of delay, nor failed under the immense load of suffering. By using the term foolishness instead of sin, he does not seek in this way to extenuate his faults, as hypocrites do when they are unable to escape the charge of guilt; for in order to excuse themselves in part, they allege the false pretense of ignorance, pleading, and wishing it to be believed, that they erred through imprudence and inadvertence. But, according to a common mode of expression in the Hebrew language, by the use of the term foolishness, he acknowledges that he had been out of his right mind, when he obeyed the lusts of the flesh in opposition to God. The Spirit, by employing this term in so many places to designate crimes the most atrocious, does not certainly mean to extenuate the criminality of men, as if they were guilty merely of some slight offenses, but rather charges them with maniacal fury, because, blinded by unhallowed desires, they wilfully fly in the face of their Maker. Accordingly, sin is always conjoined with folly or, madness. It is in this sense that David speaks of his own foolishness; as if he had said, that he was void of reason and transported with madness, like the infatuated rage of wild beasts, when he neglected God and followed his own lusts.

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