Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
The following commentary covers Psalms 38 and 39.
Psalms 38 and 39 have, as I have said, a distinct and peculiar character. The deliverance has been sought and looked for by the upright, and forgiveness of sins granted for blessing. But in these psalms the governmental rebuking for sins lies on the remnant; there is the sense of why they suffer from the divine hand. In Psalm 6 the chastening in anger was deprecated as a part of the sorrow that might belong to their position; but here they are under full chastening for sin: the rod has reached the flock outwardly, their soul inwardly. When I say they, it is individual, but still the remnant. Friends shrank from such a case; enemies, without compassion, plot against his life. Still he is before Jehovah, and all his desire and groaning. He is true in heart with God, and owns Him is silent with man. The sorrows are, for his soul, Jehovah's; and to Jehovah he turns. This is all right (see Psa 38:13-16). He will bow under it. His enemies are busy and strong. But though Jehovah smites, he trusts Him; because the smiting is owned by the humble soul to be righteous. But he can look to deliverance from his enemies. They were glad he slipped and rejoiced over him. But he declares and owns his sin: no excuse no hiding in his soul from God. His cry is to Him for speedy help.
It is a beautiful psalm as to the state of soul; for the Spirit provides for every case the failure of the upright, which may call down severe chastening, and cause joy to the wicked. But he accepts the punishment of his iniquity, and places himself openly before God, owning his sin, but looking to Him against the wicked. However sad such a case may be, nothing more shows truth before God and confidence in Him. How confess one's sin, and look for help from God, when one has been unfaithful, He dishonored, and the enemy triumphing in it? No excuse, no attempt to hidenone: he owns all, and casts himself on God. The picture of the remnant would not have been complete without this, nor the gracious instruction for every soul at every time.
The question then arises, How far does the Spirit of Christ enter into it? Fully, I believe; though of course He never could have been personally there. No doubt it arose from some deep chastening of the writera chastening which was openly manifested. Such cases may in the full extent arise among the remnant. The principle is of universal application. Christ of course could have nothing to be chastened for; but, having the full bearing of sin before Him, and meeting in His path all the sorrow which will beset the people, He can enter, though the green tree, into the judgment which will come upon the dry. [See Note #1] He could not say what is said here, but He can perfectly sympathise with those who have to say it. He has provided the words which will express it by His Spirit in their hearts. Had He not suffered the full anger for these very iniquities which press on their consciences, and from which in its full extent as wrath they escape, it would not have been merely needed chastening in which they plead with Jehovah. Hence He can more than feel it when it has that character. And in all the sorrow of the circumstances He has born the largest part.
In Psalm 39, the godly man is still under the stroke of God; but there is more the sense of the emptiness of all flesh under the hand of God than disgrace and shame and fear. He bows before God rather than let his spirit rise and speak foolishly with his tongue. He might have retorted been fretted to do evil; but, restraint, when under the hand of God, was his fitting place. It is ever so. He refrains even from good; and sorrow is stirred up in him. In beautiful language he shows this. At last his heart bursts forth; but it is to present to God the nothingness of which the sense was thus matured. He desires to know his days. How little he is! He sees all is vanity; but he sees his own transgression and sin in the presence of One whose rebuke consumes the beauty of man as a moth. To Jehovah he looks for deliverance. His stroke is what he cares for. He trusts Him not to make him the reproach of the foolish. There is great beauty in vanity finding its level in self-annihilation, and then God trusted in to deliver from the pride of men. He has to say to our transgressions.
Here the moral history of the remnant closes, as in connection on covenant ground with Jehovah (that is, as employing His name, as connected with Him). Hence we have much of Christ personally in the psalms of this first book. His taking the place in which He should be associated with them, according to the counsels of God, is stated in the next psalm. The understanding of this place is then shown to be the really blessed one.
Although the dry tree be in the full sense lifeless Israel, yet, as the remnant, so long rejecters of Jesus being the Messiah, are mixed up with the nation, they go through the sorrows in heart and spirit which come upon the nation, though not its final judgment from God. For them Christ had done that; He died for the nation. But all short of that they go through, and feel in bitter sorrow and anguish, in some sort, more than before the judgment comes, because they feel the sin that is bringing it. Hence it was that Christ, who did know the cause and looked forward to the judgment which He did go through (undergoing the oppression without apparent deliverance, for His hour was come to be reckoned with the transgressors), could enter fully into their case. Though He entered into it in love, yet the righteousness which threatened Israel was before Him.