In these verses,
I. David complains of the power and malice of his enemies, who, it should seem, not only took occasion from the weakness of his body and the trouble of his mind to insult over him, but took advantage thence to do him a mischief. He has a great deal to say against them, which he humbly offers as a reason why God should appear for him, as Ps. 25:19; Consider my enemies. 1. “They are very spiteful and cruel: They seek my hurt; nay, they seek after my life,” Ps. 38:12. That life which was so precious in the sight of the Lord and all good men was aimed at, as if it had been forfeited, or a public nuisance. Such is the enmity of the serpent’s seed against the seed of the woman; it would wound the head, though it can but reach the heel. It is the blood of the saints that is thirsted after. 2. “They are very subtle and politic. They lay snares, they imagine deceits, and herein they are restless and unwearied: they do it all the day long. They speak mischievous things one to another; every one has something or other to propose that may be a mischief to me.” Mischief, covered and carried on by deceit, may well be called a snare. 3. “They are very insolent and abusive: When my foot slips, when I fall into any trouble, or when I make any mistake, misplace a word, or take a false step, they magnify themselves against me; they are pleased with it, and promise themselves that it will ruin my interest, and that if I slip I shall certainly fall and be undone.” 4. “They are not only unjust, but very ungrateful: They hate me wrongfully, Ps. 38:19. I never did them any ill turn, nor so much as bore them any ill-will, nor ever gave them any provocation; nay, they render evil for good, Ps. 38:20. Many a kindness I have done them, for which I might have expected a return of kindness; but for my love they are my adversaries,” Ps. 109:4. Such a rooted enmity there is in the hearts of wicked men to goodness for its own sake that they hate it, even when they themselves have the benefit of it; they hate prayer even in those that pray for them, and hate peace even in those that would be at peace with them. Very ill-natured indeed those are whom no courtesy will oblige, but who are rather exasperated by it. 5. “They are very impious and devilish: They are my adversaries merely because I follow the thing that good is.” They hated him, not only for his kindness to them, but for his devotion and obedience to God; they hated him because they hated God and all that bear his image. If we suffer ill for doing well, we must not think it strange; from the beginning it was so (Cain slew Abel, because his works were righteous); nor must we think it hard, because it will not be always so; for so much the greater will our reward be. 6. “They are many and mighty: They are lively; they are strong; they are multiplied, Ps. 38:19. Lord, how are those increased that trouble me?” Ps. 3:1. Holy David was weak and faint; his heart panted, and his strength failed; he was melancholy and of a sorrowful spirit, and persecuted by his friends; but at the same time his wicked enemies were strong and lively, and their number increased. Let us not therefore pretend to judge of men’s characters by their outward condition; none knows love or hatred by all that is before him. It should seem that David in this, as in other complaints he makes of his enemies, has an eye to Christ, whose persecutors were such as are here described, perfectly lost to all honour and virtue. None hate Christianity but such as have first divested themselves of the first principles of humanity and broken through its most sacred bonds.
II. He reflects, with comfort, upon his own peaceable and pious behaviour under all the injuries and indignities that were done him. It is then only that our enemies do us a real mischief when they provoke us to sin (Neh. 6:13), when they prevail to put us out of the possession of our own souls, and drive us from God and our duty. If by divine grace we are enabled to prevent this mischief, we quench their fiery darts, and are saved from harm. If still we hold fast our integrity and our peace, who can hurt us? This David did here. 1. He kept his temper, and was not ruffled nor discomposed by any of the slights that were put upon him or the mischievous things that were said or done against him (Ps. 38:13, 14): “I, as a deaf man, heard not; I took no notice of the affronts put upon me, did not resent them, nor was put into disorder by them, much less did I meditate revenge, or study to return the injury.” Note, The less notice we take of the unkindness and injuries that are done us the more we consult the quiet of our own minds. Being deaf, he was dumb, as a man in whose mouth there are no reproofs; he was as silent as if he had nothing to say for himself, for fear of putting himself into a heat and incensing his enemies yet more against him; he would not only not recriminate upon them, but not so much as vindicate himself, lest his necessary defence should be construed his offence. Though they sought after his life, and his silence might be taken for a confession of his guilt, yet he was as a dumb man that opens not his mouth. Note, When our enemies are most clamorous it is generally our prudence to be silent, or to say little, lest we make bad worse. David could not hope by his mildness to win upon his enemies, nor by his soft answers to turn away their wrath; for they were men of such base spirits that they rendered him evil for good; and yet he conducted himself thus meekly towards them, that he might prevent his own sin and might have the comfort of it in the reflection. Herein David was a type of Christ, who was as a sheep dumb before the shearer, and, when he was reviled, reviled not again; and both are examples to us not to render railing for railing. 2. He kept close to his God by faith and prayer, and so both supported himself under these injuries and silenced his own resentments of them. (1.) He trusted in God (Ps. 38:15): “I was as a man that opens not his mouth, for in thee, O Lord! do I hope. I depend upon thee to plead my cause and clear my innocency, and, some way or other, to put my enemies to silence and shame.” His lovers and friends, that should have owned him, and stood by him, and appeared as witnesses for him, withdrew from him, Ps. 38:10. But God is a friend that will never fail us if we hope in him. “I was as a man that heareth not, for thou wilt hear. Why need I hear, and God hear too?” He careth for you (1 Pet. 5:7), and why need you care and God care too? “Thou wilt answer” (so some) “and therefore I will say nothing.” Note, It is a good reason why we should bear reproach and calumny with silence and patience, because God is a witness to all the wrong that is done us, and, in due time, will be a witness for us and against those that do us wrong; therefore let us be silent, because, if we be, then we may expect that God will appear for us, for this is an evidence that we trust in him; but, if we undertake to manage for ourselves, we take God’s work out of his hands and forfeit the benefit of his appearing for us. Our Lord Jesus, when he suffered, threatened not, because he committed himself to him that judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23); and we shall lose nothing, at last, by doing so. Thou shalt answer, Lord, for me. (2.) He called upon God (Ps. 38:16): For I said, Hear me (that is supplied); “I said so” (as Ps. 38:15); “in thee do I hope, for thou wilt hear, lest they should rejoice over me. I comforted myself with that when I was apprehensive that they would overwhelm me.” It is a great support to us, when men are false and unkind, that we have a God to go to whom we may be free with and who will be faithful to us.
III. He here bewails his own follies and infirmities. 1. He was very sensible of the present workings of corruption in him, and that he was now ready to repine at the providence of God and to be put into a passion by the injuries men did him: I am ready to halt, Ps. 38:17. This will best be explained by a reflection like this which the psalmist made upon himself in a similar case (Ps. 73:2): My feet were almost gone, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. So here: I was ready to halt, ready to say, I have cleansed my hands in vain. His sorrow was continual: All the day long have I been plagued. (Ps. 73:13, 14), and it was continually before him; he could not forbear poring upon it, and that made him almost ready to halt between religion and irreligion. The fear of this drove him to his God: “In thee do I hope, not only that thou wilt plead my cause, but that thou wilt prevent my falling into sin.” Good men, by setting their sorrow continually before them, have been ready to halt, who, by setting God always before them, have kept their standing. 2. He remembered against himself his former transgressions, acknowledging that by them he had brought these troubles upon himself and forfeited the divine protection. Though before men he could justify himself, before God he will judge and condemn himself (Ps. 38:18): “I will declare my iniquity, and not cover it; I will be sorry for my sin, and not make a light matter of it;” and this helped to make him silent under the rebukes of Providence and the reproaches of men. Note, If we be truly penitent for sin, that will make us patient under affliction, and particularly under unjust censures. Two things are required in repentance:—(1.) Confession of sin: “I will declare my iniquity; I will not only in general own myself a sinner, but I will make a particular acknowledgment of what I have done amiss.” We must declare our sins before God freely and fully, and with their aggravating circumstances, that we may give glory to God and take shame to ourselves. (2.) Contrition for sin: I will be sorry for it. Sin will have sorrow; every true penitent grieves for the dishonour he has done to God and the wrong he has done to himself. “I will be in care or fear about my sin” (so some), “in fear lest it ruin me and in care to get it pardoned.”
IV. He concludes with very earnest prayers to God for his gracious presence with him and seasonable powerful succour in his distress (Ps. 38:21, 22): “Forsake me not, O Lord! though my friends forsake me, and though I deserve to be forsaken by thee. Be not far from me, as my unbelieving heart is ready to fear thou art.” Nothing goes nearer to the heart of a good man in affliction than to be unde 79b r the apprehension of God’s deserting him in wrath; nor does any thing therefore come more feelingly from his heart than this prayer: “Lord, be not thou far from me; make haste for my help; for I am ready to perish, and in danger of being lost if relief do not come quickly.” God gives us leave, not only to call upon him when we are in trouble, but to hasten him. He pleads, “Thou art my God, whom I serve, and on whom I depend to bear me out; and my salvation, who alone art able to save me, who hast engaged thyself by promise to save me, and from whom alone I expect salvation.” Isa. any afflicted? let him thus pray, let him thus plead, let him thus hope, in singing this psalm.