In verse 3, when he says

... nor any health in my bones because of my sin...

the hebrew word for "health", used there, is "shalom". Is he talking about peace in his spiritual (internal) being?

Secondly, in verse 4, he says

For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: As a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

Is he expressing a deep feeling of guilt here?

3 Answers 3


When confronted with your wrath, there is no soundness in my flesh; when confronted with my sin, no stability in my bones.

3b Shalom does not so much mean peace or health as such, but something closer to "[the satisfying surety that comes from] safety or integrity [bodily or otherwise]" such that in context, here, it refers to structural integrity when used in reference to the bones, the hardest structure in the human body. When the psalmist describes the hardest part of the body as "lacking structural stability" he is describing in a poetic way the gnawing, diminishing feeling that a weighed-down conscience brings on a person - the feeling that even the solid foundation on which you rest is effervescent or liquid and provides no strength or support.

3a The first clause supports this understanding, given that it says, "No soundness in my flesh," where "soundness" refers to lacking structural errors that may cause a structure to give way or crumble or otherwise destroyed.


The passage (Psalms 38:4 in the Hebrew):

אֵין־שָׁל֥וֹם בַּ֝עֲצָמַ֗י מִפְּנֵ֥י חַטָּאתִֽי

Your interpretation lines up closely with the traditional interpretation of this passage. Malbim quotes the psalm and explains that "my inner self is full of grief and despair because of sin" (my translation).

Malbim on Psalms:

אין שלום בעצמי מפני חטאתי, שעצמי הפנימיות מלא יגון ויאוש מפני החטא


Ps 38 is a penitential psalm where David begs God for forgiveness. For example:

  • V3 - there is no rest in my bones because of my sin.
  • V5 - My wounds are foul and festering because of my sinful folly.
  • V18 - Yes, I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.

In this psalm, David's sense of guilt overwhelms him to such an extent that he feels physical pain and discomfort and asks God for assurance and help.

In describing his physical discomfort, David uses a VERY common Hebrew metaphor of the "Bones" being either out of joint or broken or out of place. Many Hebrew writers employ this same metaphor when distressed such as, Ps 6:2, 22:14, 17, 31:10, 32:3, 35:10, 42:10, 102:3, 5, Jer 20:9, 23:9, Lam 1:13, 3:4, Hab 3:16, etc.

Thus, in Ps 38, David uses a common Herew idiom of "no rest/peace/shalom in my bones" for expressing his feelings of guilt.

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