They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long. But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs. — Psalm 38:12-14
It is not easy to keep silent when others speak ill of us. William Booth (1829–1912), the British Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army, was a man who endured vicious assaults by both the government and religious leaders of his day. Described publically at various times as being dishonest, sanctimonious, and evil, Booth was labeled as a “hypocritical scoundrel,” a “brazen-faced charlatan,” a “pious rogue,” an “impossible dreamer,” and even as the Antichrist! His efforts in the fields of evangelism and social reform were blasted as being “prostitution of the mind,” and as nothing more than a ruse to herd sheep into his “narrow theological fold.” He was scorned frequently in newspapers, ridiculed in magazine articles, and criticized by public speakers. One professor, a staunch proponent of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, wrote twelve brusque letters blasting Booth that were published in the London Times, giving detailed reasons why the author found everything about William Booth and his Salvation Army so detestable.
The attacks and controversy were difficult for Booth’s wife and children to bear. Many times Bramwell, Booth’s oldest son, would burst into his father’s office with an offensive newspaper or magazine article in hand. Protesting the libelous assaults, he would tell his father, “You really must respond to this! You need to do something to combat this awful gossip.” William Booth always gave him the same answer: “Bramwell, fifty years from now it will matter very little indeed how these people treated us. It will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.”(1)
In our focus verses, the psalmist David exhibited a similar response to those who rejected him and verbally assailed him. Unlike William Booth, David knew that he was guilty of sin and was suffering as a result of his misdeeds. Still, he refused to respond to his attackers, but rather brought the matter before God alone.
In our super-charged, high-stress society, hasty and unkind speech is something that can catch us unawares. At some point, we likely all will be on the receiving end of false accusations, gossip, or lies. We learn from experience that words can hurt. While accepting such attacks meekly and refusing to retaliate is a challenge, we want others to see the beauty of Christ shining through us. How carefully we need to monitor our responses! Consistent control of the tongue may not be easy, but it is possible with the Lord’s help, and it is an effort that pays real spiritual dividends.
Psalm 38 bears the superscription, “A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.” It is classified as a penitential psalm, and has the form of an individual lament; it chronicles the physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings David endured as a result of committing a sin. The sin is not named, but most likely it was the killing of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11). Psalms 6, 32, and 51 also are traditionally associated with that event.
Of all the penitential psalms, commentators agree that this one expresses David’s anguished state most graphically. His vivid descriptions reveal a man who was sick in soul and body, forsaken by his friends, beset by his enemies, and overwhelmed by a sense of guilt. In his distress, he cried out to God.
David’s assertion that “thine arrows stick fast in me” was a metaphorical way of refering to God’s chastisement; the symbolism of arrows as representations of God’s wrath also occurs in other places in Scripture. The images of no “soundness” in his flesh, wounds that “stink” and “are corrupt,” and loins that are filled with a “loathsome disease” all express in vivid metaphor the corruption of sin. The psalmist’s statement that he “roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart” meant that he groaned aloud because of his burden of guilt.
As David agonized over his terrible state, he presented his condition fully to God, holding nothing back. The psalm concludes with three final petitions: David pleaded with God not to forsake him, not to be far from him, and to quickly help him.
Some commentators consider Psalm 39 to be a sequel to Psalm 38, although it is not penitential in nature. It is dedicated to Jeduthun, one of the chief musicians who served under David. This is the first of four psalms which identify Jeduthun. (He is also named in the titles of Psalm 62 and 77, and in Psalm 88, where he is identified as Heman the Ezrahite; his name was changed after the appointments at Gibeon which are described in 1 Chronicles 16.)
Psalm 39 is classified as an individual lament, and includes both direct prayer and meditation. Within its thirteen verses, a range of emotions and moods are reflected: faith, rebellion, despair, repentance, resignation, and trust.
In verses 8-11, with his health gone, the psalmist associates forgiveness of sin with the removal of physical affliction. (In the Old Testament, sickness was often viewed as a sign of God’s judgment.) The psalm concludes with a prayer that reflected David’s awareness that life here is temporal and fleeting, and he would soon “be no more.”
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. Book I (1:1 — 41:13)
II. Book II (42:1 — 72:20)
III. Book III (73:1 — 89:52)
IV. Book IV (90:1 — 106:48)
V. Book V (107:1 — 150:6)
When we suffer from the words of others, we can leave our case in God’s hands. It is best to focus on Him, rather than on responding to those who speak against us.
1. Janet and Geoff Benge, William Booth: Soup, Soap, and Salvation, (Esperance, Washington: YWAM Publishing, 2002), p165.