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Do Not Forsake Me, Oh Lord | Psalm 38

As preached by John Keller.

"What are we to do when we find ourselves before God in the crosshairs of sin?"

1) God disciples sinners.

2) Sin destroys sinners.

3) God delivers sinners.

1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,

nor discipline me in your wrath!

2 For your arrows have sunk into me,

and your hand has come down on me.

3 There is no soundness in my flesh

because of your indignation;

there is no health in my bones

because of my sin.

4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;

like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

5 My wounds stink and fester

because of my foolishness,

6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;

all the day I go about mourning.

7 For my sides are filled with burning,

and there is no soundness in my flesh.

8 I am feeble and crushed;

I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;

my sighing is not hidden from you.

10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,

and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,

and my nearest kin stand far off.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;

those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,

like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

14 I have become like a man who does not hear,

and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;

it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,

who boast against me when my foot slips!”

17 For I am ready to fall,

and my pain is ever before me.

18 I confess my iniquity;

I am sorry for my sin.

19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,

and many are those who hate me wrongfully.

20 Those who render me evil for good

accuse me because I follow after good.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!

O my God, be not far from me!

22 Make haste to help me,

O Lord, my salvation!

Let’s pray. Father, you are good. You see all things. You see our mistakes, our failures, our sin. When we run away because of what we have done, you are there. When we hide in the dirt and grime of the mundane, hoping to forget and move on, you are there. Please bring us to your light, bring us to repentance. Jesus, it is only through you that we can repent. It is only through your blood that we can have atonement for our transgressions. Bring us to the cross, where you paid for our sins. Holy Spirit, convict us of our sin. Lead us to be obedient sons and daughters of God. Give us comfort and rest as we run away from our shame and our sin. Lead us in our sanctification. We pray this in the name of Jesus our savior, amen.


I am going to ask you a deeply personal question. What are you hiding? What are you hiding? What is it that you want no one to know about you? What secret would ruin your friendships if it was revealed? What have you buried so deep that unearthing it would devastate you? To help with this question, let us consider if you have ever decided to keep hidden a mistake you made? Was it something you broke? A chore or task you failed to do? An indulgence that went too far? In a moment, you switch from thinking, “oh no,” to “oh well,” because you realize that no one saw what happened. If no one knows about it, was it really that big of a deal? However, keeping this matter hidden has a cost. Not only do you face the immediate consequences of your mistake, you now have the added weight of keeping it a secret. The pressure of keeping this burden within eats you alive, but the fear of being exposed, of having to face more consequences, that scares you to death. You are now trapped in a prison of your own doing. I ask again, what are you hiding? For the thing you keep withdrawn keeps you withdrawn. What you cover and hide, covers and hides you, making you less known and less loved.

Sin is the master of secret keeping. When Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, they hid themselves when they heard God, leading God to ask “where are you?” When my children realize they have hurt their sibling or have broken something, I sometimes find myself playing an impromptu game of hide and seek because the culprit is nowhere to be found. I even sometimes have to quote God and ask aloud “where are you?” You see, sin invites you away into darkness and isolation. It leads to behaviors and attitudes that withdraw and conceal for fear of retribution.

In Psalm 37, the Psalm previous to ours this morning, it is clear that God saves and rewards the righteous. He blesses them and provides them with all their needs. But the wicked will surely be punished, they will reap justice for all their evil deeds. While Psalm 37 is given as a comfort to us, it makes Psalm 38 sting all the more. What happens when you are not part of the righteous? What happens when the Lord is disciplining you for your wickedness? What happens when your foolishness has led you into destruction? These are the questions that Psalm 38 answers for us. What are we to do when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of God for our sin and rebellion? What are we to do?

I believe David teaches us three lessons about sin in Psalm 38. First, God Disciplines Sinners. God does not let us hide in the comforts of our sin. God confronts our sin. Second, Sin Destroys Sinners. Sin consumes like fire. It bends a person into a spiral of destruction. Inward and inward it twists until all of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are directed towards oneself. Third, God Delivers Sinners. God saves those who repent and run to him. He delivers even the wicked and unrighteous because, through Christ, they are now righteous and holy. God saves his children, even from their sin.

God Disciplines Sinners

In verse 2 we see the Lord’s discipline is already upon the psalmist, “your arrows have sunk into me and your hand has come down on me.” At the very beginning of Psalm 38, we see that the Lord is actively working discipline against sinners. This discipline hurts. It is felt just as arrows are felt. Unlike with previous psalms, it is not the arrows of the enemy but the Lord’s arrows that have caused David to cry out. The Lord is pressing upon David with His own hand. This is not a Job situation where other entities and enemies are involved here, it is the Lord himself who is attacking David with His arrows.

Where else do we see the Lord using arrows? The key passage here comes from Deuteronomy 32:15-25 where Moses retells of Israel turning away from the Lord and worshiping other gods in the wilderness. In verses 23-25, the Lord proclaimed what he annouced for their punishment

““‘And I will heap disasters upon them; // I will spend my arrows on them; // they shall be wasted with hunger, // and devoured by plague // and poisonous pestilence; //I will send the teeth of beasts against them, // with the venom of things that crawl in the dust. // Outdoors the sword shall bereave, // and indoors terror, // for young man and woman alike, // the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.

In this passage from Deuteronomy, we see hunger, disease, sickness, threats of violence, and terror as following sin and rebellion against God. These are disciplines from the Lord. In Psalm 38, we also see sickness and threats from one’s enemies. We do not know the prompting of David when writing this Psalm, but it seems that he is connecting his rebellious heart with that of Israel in Deuteronomy 32. Just as Israel rebelled and looked to other things for comfort, identity, and worship, David did the same. Because of this sin, the Lord is disciplining David with his arrows.

Additionally, this idea of sickness and discipline being connected to rebellion is also seen later in Scripture. The psalmist in Psalm 38:3 has no soundness in his flesh because of the Lord’s indignation. The only other parallel imagery we have of this language comes from Isaiah 1:5-6. Here again we have God’s people in rebellion and sin. The Lord declares to them:

Why will you still be struck down? // Why will you continue to rebel? // The whole head is sick, // and the whole heart faint. // From the sole of the foot even to the head, // there is no soundness in it, // but bruises and sores // and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up // or softened with oil.

The Lord punishes those who rebel against him. At times, that discipline is sickness. An illness that leaves no peace, no rest, and offers only misery and pain. This is why James tells us in James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

Just as with Israel, the reason for the Lord sending his arrows upon the psalmist and pouring out his indignation on him is because of sin. We see in verses 3-4 in Psalm 38 that there is no health in his bones because of his sin. His iniquities have piled up over his head and are too heavy to carry. It is important to note that not all illness and affliction are due to sin, but at times it is the way the Lord disciplines and leads people to repentance.

The weight of David’s sin recalls the story in Pilgrim’s Progress. In Pilgrim’s Progress, the protagonist, a man named Christian, has a heavy burden on his back. It slows him and bothers him greatly. No one, not even himself, is able to remove this burden from him. People offer him ways to distract himself from it, to keep himself busy so that he no longer thinks about it. But no one can remove it. It is only when he passes through the narrow gate and visits the cross that the burden falls off of his back. In many ways, it was because of how Christian felt about his burden that he went to the cross. Because he felt his sin and its negative effects, he sought the path of repentance.

This is why the Bible teaches us that God disciplines those he loves. Hebrews 12 gives a lengthy discussion on how God is like a loving earthly father who disciplines his children.In verse 7, it says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” He quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 which say, “11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

God delights in those whom he disciplines! They are blessed! In fact Psalm 94:12, it says “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.” Discipline from the Lord comes from His word. Seeking the Lord and mediating on His word is formative. It shapes your heart, your mind, and your attitude. That is a form of discipline, but we think of it as something positive because it is something we do. It is not something God does to us, right? No, but it is something he does with us. The Holy Spirit indwell within us, to teach, to guide, to pray. Even now Jesus is interceding with the Father on our behalf as our great high priest. God doesn’t just discipline us and leave us on our own to become disciplined sons and daughters, he walks that path with us. He does not leave us in our sin because of what sin does to sinners.

Sin Destroys Sinners

Sin destroys. It not only destroys relationships, health, and wellbeing, it destroys character and your soul. Just as God actively disciplines his children, God also allows the natural consequences of sin to take effect on his image bearers. Consider Romans 1:28-32

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Sin has a corrupting effect on a person, and we see hear that it is God who gives people up to that end. When you rebel against God, you do not stop there. You press forward to increasingly harmful decisions and habits. And oftentimes, God does not restrain you. God lets people walk deeper and deeper in sin and its consequences. Even when the consequences lead to pain, suffering, and despair. Sin whispers more and more as you devour in its pleasure, all the while the thing you are consuming is yourself. Let us look at how Psalm 38 describes the consequences of sin.

First, sin has physical effects. In verse 3 we see sickness, “no health in my bones.” To refer to illness in one’s bones is to speak of something deep and not easily gotten rid off. The bones of a person are their structure, the framework on which everything else hangs and thrives upon. They are the hardest part of your body and yet sin can eat away at them. Just as a cavity can destroy a tooth, sin can destroy your body.

In verse 5 we see wounds and injuries. David sees a direct connection between his sin, that is, his foolishness, and his current plight. Whether it is a broken bone or a severe illness, there are times we do things we know we shouldn’t and the unexpected happens. The same applies to sin. Not every sin leads to open wounds and infected injuries, but some do. The effects and consequences of sin are not limited to spiritual realms.

In verse 7 we see chronic pain, with David’s sides filled with burning. This ailment is not something that goes away, but persistently gnaws against him. Have you ever experienced pain like this? Have you ever had a pain that just will not go away? This burning sensation David feels is a shadow of the spiritual reality that all sinners are in. All sinners at the final judgment will be cast into the lake of fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Sin at times gives sinners a taste of what is to come. It is pronouncing to sinners what is their fate.

In verse 10 we see David losing both his strength and his sight. He is too weak to stand and too weak to stare. We take so much of our day-to-day lives for granted. Our ability to walk, to talk, to look, and to live all come from God. When we rebel against him, we are risking everything. If not for God’s providence, sin would already consume all humanity.

But why does not everyone face these consequences? Why do some people sin and face no hardship and others sin and face all these ailments like David did? It is because of God’s patience and kindness in willing men to repentance. Consider Romans 2:4 where Paul says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Sin does not completely destroy a person all at once because God is patient and kind. He could be like Thanos and in a flash make all sinners become dust, but he doesn’t. In Exodus, when Moses successfully intercedes for the Israelites after they rebelled against God in the wilderness, he asks God to show his glory. Here is the Lord’s response in Exodus 33:19, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

We serve a God who shows mercy, that is why those who sin do not always immediately take on these physical effects. But Psalm 38 reminds us that sin can and does show itself in our bodies.

Sin has taken its toll on David. He is sick, injured, weak, blind, and in constant pain. When we think of sin taking its toll on a person, is this what we think of? I think the answer is no, we don’t think of sick people as being sick because of their sin. If we are not careful, we may even believe that sickness is random, not truly under God’s sovereign control. What Psalm 38 presents before us is that there is a category of illness and sickness that comes from sin. This does not mean all illnesses come from sin or that all sick people are being judged by God. But it should give us pause to invite the Holy Spirit to inspect our hearts. If you are sick and have a clear conscience, remember Paul’s affliction that he prayed to the Lord about. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 he writes,

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

You are strong not in your health, but in Christ.

Second, sin has emotional effects. In verse 4, David mentions feeling shame and being overwhelmed. There is an emotional and mental weight to sin. You carry these feelings with you. Like a parasite that feeds on its host, so does your sin feed on your heart and mind, draining you of all joy and peace. You may find yourself replaying scenarios over and over in your mind trying to steal your heart from ever facing that pain again. But all this does is batter you down until you only feel numb.

In verse 6, David notes feeling sadness and depression. As sin takes its toll on your thoughts and emotions, you begin to feel sad, low, and despondent. You feel a deep sense of loss and act as one who grieves. This is what depression is like. You feel a constant sadness that will not fade. We live in a world where depression is rampant. With it being so common it can feel odd or cruel to say that it is coming from sin as if to blame them for it. Just as with physical illnesses, not all depression comes from sin, but again, we need to keep in mind that sin destroys sinners and part of that destruction can include their will to thrive and live.

In high school and in college I experienced suicidal thoughts. Thoughts of self-harm are not normal, but when you are depressed, they can pop up without warning. When that happened to me I knew I needed help, that something wasn’t right. It turned out that I was depressed and didn’t realize it. Looking back at those times, I can easily point to unrepentant sins in my life that were giving my heart deep anxiety. I was living a lie and my heart couldn’t take it.

In verse 8, David writes how he feels worthless and crushed. Here is God’s anointed, his chosen king over his people, getting crushed and discarded. When you sin, sin can become your identity. Your worth boils down to a singular moment where you messed up. Your life was a house of cards and you just knocked the bottom completely out.

In verse 8 we see David’s restless heart. David’s heart is like the raging sea in a storm. It gives him no rest or pause. It is constantly churning out different thoughts and feelings about how he got into this mess. That is what sin does to your mind and to your heart. It places so much weight on you that you cannot function emotionally.

Just as with physical effects, these emotional effects do not always happen immediately when we sin. There are times when sinners may never have these emotions about their sin just as there are times when sinners never get sick for their sin. However, if these emotions describe you and your heart, this is a great opportunity to invite the Holy Spirit or another believer to inspect your heart. Is there unrepentant sin that is lingering within you? And just as with physical ailments, there are times when the Lord’s answer is that his grace is sufficient and that his power is made perfect in weakness.

Third, sin has social effects. In verse 11, we see friends and family stay away from David. David knew this truth first hand. He was not perfectly righteous. He was a murderer, adulterer, and an absent father. Many of his sins pushed people away. Some of his sins cost him the lives of multiple children. People can often tell when something is wrong with us. Like a repugnant odor, our specific sins may be secret, but their stench can be noticed by those closest to us.

In verses 13-14, we see that he is unable to communicate with either his enemies or his friends. “I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth.” It is as if David is on death’s door, unable to move, unable to see, and unable to speak. Sin can beat us down into such weariness that simple human interaction seems impossible.

When we consider all these effects of sin and how they try to destroy sinners, we can look to cross and see how Jesus bore all these things on our behalf. Jesus took on many bodily wounds. 39 whips to the back, nails in his hands and feet, a crown of thorns and spear piercing his flesh. On the cross Jesus is not a calm, stoic figure. He cries out to God “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is the cry of a man in distress. There is tumult in his heart. Even socially, Jesus was abandoned by those whom he loved at his arrest. At the cross Luke 23:49 tells us “And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.” Who does he have as company instead? Matthew 27:44 tells us that the people closest to Jesus at his death were two criminals who reviled him.

Jesus took on all of sin’s destructive power on the cross, and bore willingly. He died so that sinners might live. This takes us to our final point.

God Delivers Sinners

Our Psalm begins and ends with a plea to the Lord for salvation and mercy. We see in verse 1 an appeal against the Lord’s discipline. This is an appeal for mercy, a call for God to relent. We see it again at the end of the Psalm in verses 21-22, “Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” It is God who saves, even from sin. Even from the midst of his own discipline and punishment, God delivers those who cry out to Him.

As we have already noted, Jesus died on the cross and took on the full penalty of sin. This was always part of God’s redemption plan. Consider the passage in Micah, where he tells how he will look to the Lord for his salvation. In Micah 7:8-10 he writes,

8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; // when I fall, I shall rise; // when I sit in darkness, // the Lord will be a light to me. // 9 I will bear the indignation of the Lord // because I have sinned against him, // until he pleads my cause // and executes judgment for me. // He will bring me out to the light; // I shall look upon his vindication. 10 Then my enemy will see, // and shame will cover her who said to me, // “Where is the Lord your God?” // My eyes will look upon her; // now she will be trampled down // like the mire of the streets.

While Micah’s enemies mock and rejoice over him as they do in Psalm 38, Micah knows that he can bear the indignation of the Lord. What?! How is this possible? Is this not the same indignation that David was under? It is because God pleads Micah’s case for him and executes judgment on Micah’s behalf. It is God who brings Micah to the light and gives him vindication. Just as David waited on the Lord and knew he would answer in verse 15, Micah knows the Lord will deliver him. This is why the book of Micah ends by saying in Micah 7:18-19,

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity // and passing over transgression // for the remnant of his inheritance? // He does not retain his anger forever, //because he delights in steadfast love. // 19 He will again have compassion on us; // he will tread our iniquities underfoot. // You will cast all our sins // into the depths of the sea.”

It was always God’s plan to save his people from their sin. He did so through his son. It is through Christ we can be delivered from our sins. And the way we see this is through confession.

Turning to God means confessing your sin to him. We already quoted James 5:19 which called believers to confess their sins. We find a similar exhortation in 1 John 1:9 tells us that “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confessing your sins is something we find in Psalm 38, where David says in verse 18, “ I confess my iniquity; // I am sorry for my sin.” It is one thing to acknowledge your sin, as David does in the beginning of the Psalm, but another to confess it. We can acknowledge our foolishness, our mistakes, and even our sin, but not confess them to God. We can take our hidden burden every which way hoping that we can find a way to justify, exonate, and atone for ourselves. We do this by denying that we did anything wrong. We justify our behavior and actions because we become a standard unto ourselves. If we go to God, those standards are destroyed and our hypocrisy is exposed. Consider John’s warning 1 John 1:8 and 10, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

We must confess our sins. When I first struggled with depression, I did not know how to talk about it. When I had thoughts of self-harm, I grew scared and ashamed. It was not until I was at a youth accountability group where I felt a sharp prompting to speak up. My heart ached and would not let me have any peace. The Holy Spirit was moving my heart to speak, and I found myself vomiting up words. I was emotional and difficult to understand, but the Lord moved me to share how I had tried so hard to earn my worth and identity through my own efforts and discipline. As I failed in these efforts, and so I blamed and ridiculed myself, and put all my worth in my works. In seeking to please God, I had replaced God in my heart. I don’t why this sin led me to this tumultuous path and other sins did not, but it did. And it was not until I confessed it that these feelings went away. God delivered me from my sin, and while melancholy is something I still deal with, the Lord is strong in my weakness.


In conclusion, Psalm 38 is a Psalm of repentance. It is a Psalm to sing when you are well past the point of temptation and have journeyed into sin. It is a Psalm to teach us and others how God deals with sin and sinners. It is a Psalm to point us to our universal need to be rescued from sin. It is a Psalm to rejoice in because it gives us a picture of how God saves sinners through the cross.

Let us remember Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:19-20 where he says to the church at Laodicea, “ Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

If you do not know Christ, he is standing at the door, knocking. Will you repent? Will you recognize that the Lord has been patient and kind to you in keeping the effects of your sin back? Will you see that your sin is actively destroying you? There is only one way out. Through Jesus who took on every aspect of sin on the cross. Will you repent and put your faith in him?

If you do know Christ, know that we are disciplined by a loving Father. For our God disciplines sinners. Remember that sin is not a light matter. Sin destroys sinners, and it will destroy everything you hold dear, including your life. If you know Christ and love Christ, you know that God delivers sinners. He saves them time and time again. Part of faith in Jesus is giving everything to him, no secrets, no hidden mistakes, no buried sins. We must confess our sins, and when we do, he is faithful and just to cleanse us and restore us.

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