Psalm 38 opens with a curious title in the NET: “written to get God’s attention.” Other major translations are divided on how to translate the word lehazekiyr, which literally means “to cause to remember.” The ESV and NASB consider it some kind of “memorial (offering).” The KJV calls it “a remembrance”; the NLT presents David as “asking God to remember him”; and the NIV records it simply as “a petition.”
All of these try to address the issue at hand: David had been suffering God’s judgment for sins unknown to us, and he wanted God “to remember” him, that is, to lift the judgment and return David to a place of grace and mercy, so he wrote this psalm “to cause God to remember” him.
Unless these were emphatic word pictures, it seems that God’s judgment on David was physical illness. He described his condition as “sick…deprived of health” (Psalm 38:3). He may have had putrid sores that became “infected…starting to smell” (Psalm 38:5). He felt “numb with pain and severely battered” (Psalm 38:8) and had lost his strength (Psalm 38:10).
He quickly admitted that this was because of his sins (Psalm 38:3, 5) and was ready to confess them (Psalm 38:18) and get out from under his shame and guilt (Psalm 38:4, 7). David was also concerned about the way he was being treated by his friends (Psalm 38:11), and, as in other psalms before this one, he asked for God’s deliverance from his enemies as well (Psalm 38:19-22).
This psalm is a good example of a godly person returning to God, knowing that he or she has sinned, rather than hardening under God’s discipline. God never forgets us, and he is always ready to give his attention to us when we confess our sin to him.