O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you (Ps. 38:9).
Comparing David’s Psalms 36, 37, and 38, we find a progression of thought. Psalm 36 defines and identifies the thoughts and actions of evildoers. Psalm 37 reiterates the exhortation to wait for God to repay evildoers with justice in due time. In Psalm 38, David practices his own advice from Psalm 37 – he waits. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer (v. 10). David was a model of patience. It was several decades from the time he was first called by the prophet Samuel until he became king of Israel. Consider his patience as he waited under the persecution of his predecessor, king Saul; and even after Saul’s death, it would take another seven years for him to become king over all of Israel. Later, when his son Absalom revolted against him, David waited for God to vindicate him. And amid an intense physical and emotional trial, Psalm 38 reveals that he is content to wait and trust God for the outcome of it.
Spurgeon divides the Psalm as follows: “The Psalm opens with a prayer (v. 1); continues in a long complaint (v. 2-8); pauses to dart an eye to Heaven (v. 9); proceeds with a second tale of sorrow (v. 10-14); interjects another word of hopeful address to God (v. 15); a third time pours out a flood of griefs (v. 16-20); then closes as it opened, with renewed petitioning (v. 21-22).” While the Psalm has traditionally been categorized as a penitential Psalm, it is more of a lamenting prayer. David is crying out with words and sighs for relief from his physical affliction, emotional anguish, and ensuant isolation. The penitential aspect of the Psalm is evident in how David understands his trial to be a consequence of personal sin. He refers to “my iniquities” (v. 4), “my foolishness” (v. 5), “my iniquity,” “my sin” (v. 18). Not every trial is the result of sin, however; this fact is clear in verse 20, where David prays: “Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good.”
Psalm 38 teaches us that we are not alone in our trials; our emotions under pain and suffering are important to God, even if we have brought things upon ourselves through our sin. God would never tell His child: “you made your bed, now lie in it.” Instead, He hears the prayers of sinners (contrary to the opinion of the Pharisees who announced: We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him – John 9:31).By the end of the Psalm, David is assured that God will not forsake him, but will draw near to, help, and save him.