Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 38

Wracked by pain and guilt

If God disciplines us for sinning carelessly, does he then leave us to stew in our pain and loss, shunned by all around us? Not David’s God. He disciplines us only to drive us into his open embrace.

A David psalm. For remembrance.

Don’t rebuke me in your anger, YHWH
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 For your arrows have sunk into me
and your hand has come down hard on me.
3 There’s not a single part of my body
your anger has left unscathed
my sin having ravaged me to the bone.
4 My sins have piled up over my head
weighing me down like an unbearable burden.
5 Thanks to my folly
my sores have become putrid and reek.
6 I’m twisted, doubled over
as I mope my way through each long day.
7 My gut is a raging inferno
leaving my entire body a mess.
8 Numb and utterly crushed
I howl because of my groaning heart.
9 All my longings lie open to you, Lord
and you hear my every moan.
10 With my heart blown apart
my strength fails me
and the light of my eyes has gone out.
11 My friends and relatives
want nothing to do with me or my plight.
My neighbors all give me a wide berth too.
12 Those who seek my life lay snares
those who wish me ill threaten destruction
and spend every waking hour
planning their betrayal.
13 But like the deaf
I hear nothing
and like the mute
I say nothing.
14 I’m like someone who
hearing nothing that’s been said
has not a word to reply.
15 I wait for you, YHWH.
It’s you who will answer them
O Lord, my God.
16 Because I’ve prayed
that those who preen and puff
when my foot slips
won’t have the joy of seeing me fall.
17 Because, fighting constant pain
I’m about to collapse.
18 I acknowledge my guilt
and grieve over my sin.
19 My enemies are alive and well
those who hate me for no reason multiply.
20 Those who pay back my good with evil
denounce me for doing good.
21 Don’t forsake me, YHWH—
don’t avoid me, my God.
22 Come quickly and help me
O Lord, my deliverance!


Scripture rejects the notion that all sickness is caused by sin. However, God sometimes uses sickness to discipline us. And here David is clear that his sin is the cause of his illness, which has left him in agony, a physical wreck. Not knowing the specific situation behind this psalm, we wonder what in David’s descriptions is literal and what figurative. But given the poem’s richly evocative nature, we’re best to resist that impulse to nail its meaning down and embrace its open-endedness instead.

Not only has David’s sickness left him a physical wreck. It’s also led to his being shunned by those who should offer support—friends and family who distance themselves from him as a loser who has heaped God’s wrath onto himself. He’s also targeted by his many unscrupulous enemies, keen to take advantage of his weakness. Devastated and depressed, he stares through vacant eyes, unable to see any good around him.

Like a deaf mute, David doesn’t answer his enemies and accusers, but waits for God to answer instead. Despite his pain, he’s comforted to know that God knows all his longings and hears all his moaning.

Overwhelmed by his sins, David owns them all, tells God he’s sorry for them, and asks for help. He begs God not to turn him over to his enemies. Thus, even though he’s guilty and suffering God’s discipline, David knows God’s judgment is unlike that of others looking on. Because God’s judgment leads to his grace, and David knows God’s grace will yet have the last word.

Lord, when you discipline me for choosing my way over yours, help me to know you’re still my gracious deliverer, ready to forgive. Help me to humbly acknowledge my sin, forsake my rebellion, and trust your grace to give me a fresh start and restore me to your friendship. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

Come quickly and help me
O Lord, my deliverance!

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.