The psalmist's care and watchfulness over his thoughts, tongue, and actions, 1-3. He considers the brevity and uncertainty of human life, 4-7; prays for deliverance from sin, 8-11; and that he may be protected and spared till he is fitted for another world, 12,13.
NOTES ON PSALM XXXIX
The title says, To the chief Musician, Jeduthun himself, A Psalm of David. It is supposed that this Jeduthun is the same with Ethan, 1 Chronicles 6:44, compared with ; 16:41; and is there numbered among the sons of Merari. And he is supposed to have been one of the four masters of music, or leaders of bands, belonging to the temple. And it is thought that David, having composed this Psalm, gave it to Jeduthun and his company to sing. But several have supposed that Jeduthun himself was the author. It is very likely that this Psalm was written on the same occasion with the preceding. It relates to a grievous malady by which David was afflicted after his transgression with Bath-sheba. See what has been said on the foregoing Psalm.
I said, I will take heed to my ways
I must be cautious because of my enemies; I must be patient because of my afflictions; I must be watchful over my tongue, lest I offend my GOD, or give my adversaries any cause to speak evil of me.
I held any peace, even from good
"I ceased from the words of the law," says the Chaldee. I spoke nothing, either good or bad. I did not even defend myself.
My sorrow was stirred.
My afflictions increased, and I had an exacerbation of pain. It is a hard thing to be denied the benefit of complaint in sufferings, as it has a tendency to relieve the mind, and indeed, in some sort, to call off the attention from the place of actual suffering: and yet undue and extravagant complaining enervates the mind, so that it becomes a double prey to its sufferings. On both sides there are extremes: David seems to have steered clear of them on the right hand and on the left.
My heart was hot within me
A natural feeling of repressed grief.
While I was musing
What was at first a simple sensation of heat produced a flame; the fire broke out that had long been smothered. It is a metaphor taken from vegetables, which, being heaped together, begin to heat and ferment, if not scattered and exposed to the air; and will soon produce a flame, and consume themselves and every thing within their reach.
Lord, make me to know mine end
I am weary of life; I wish to know the measure of my days, that I may see how long I have to suffer, and how frail I am. I wish to know what is wanting to make up the number of the days I have to live.
My days as a handbreadth
My life is but a span; σπιθαμητουβιου.
And mine age is as nothing
keein, as if at were not before thee. All time is swallowed up in thy eternity.
Verily every man at his best state
col adam nitstab, "every man that exists, is vanity." All his projects, plans, schemes, the dust, and shortly passes both from the sight and remembrance of men.
Walketh in a vain show
betselem, in a shadow. He is but the semblance of being: he appears for a while, and then vanisheth away. Some of the fathers read, "Although every man walketh in the image of God, yet they are disquieted in vain."
He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
He raketh together. This is a metaphor taken from agriculture: the husbandman rakes the corn, uncertain is life, that he knows not who shall gather them into the granary!
And now, Lord, what wait I for?
Have I any object of pursuit in life, but to regain thy favour and thine image.
Deliver one from all my transgressions
I seek the pardon of my sins; I expect it from thy mercy. Grant it, "that I be not the reproach of the foolish," (the godless and the profane,) who deride my expectation, and say no such blessings can be had. Let them know, by thy saving me, that there is a God who heareth prayer, and giveth his Holy Spirit to all them that ask him.
Remove thy stroke away from me
This seems to be a figure taken from gladiators, or persons contending in single combat. One is wounded so as to be able to maintain the fight no longer: he therefore gives in, and prays his adversary to spare his life. I am conquered; I can hold the contest no longer: thou art too powerful for me. He cries what our ancestors used to term craven; the word spoken by him who was conquered in the battle ordeal, or trial by combat.
When thou with rebukes dost correct man
tochachoth signifies a vindication of proceedings in a court of law, a legal defence. When God comes to maintain the credit and authority of his law against a sinner, he "causes his beauty to consume away:" a metaphor taken from the case of a culprit, who, by the arguments of counsel, and the unimpeachable evidence of witnesses, has the facts all proved against him, grows pale, looks terrified; his fortitude forsakes him, and he faints in court.
Surely every man is vanity.
He is incapable of resistance; he falls before his Maker; and none can deliver him but his Sovereign and Judge, against whom he has offended.
This is a true saying, an everlasting truth.
Hear my prayer
Therefore, O Lord, show that mercy upon me which I so much need, and without which I must perish everlastingly.
I am a stranger with thee
I have not made this earth my home; I have not trusted in any arm but thine. Though I have sinned, I have never denied thee, and never cast thy words behind my back. I knew that here I had no continuing city. Like my fathers, I looked for a city that has permanent foundations, in a better state of being.
O spare me
Take me not from this state of probation till I have a thorough preparation for a state of blessedness. This he terms recovering his strength-being restored to the favour and image of God, from which he had fallen. This should be the daily cry of every human spirit: Restore me to thine image, guide me by thy counsel, and then receive me to thy glory!
ANALYSIS OF THE THIRTY-NINTH PSALM
This Psalm was apparently written on the same occasion as the preceding. The psalmist is still suffering as before, yet is silent and patient; but the suffering at last becoming very sharp, he could hold his peace no longer: then he spoke. And we have reason to be thankful that he broke silence, as whoever considers the weighty truths which he spoke must allow.
There are three parts in this Psalm:-
I. His own account of his resolution to keep silence, Psalms 39:1, and the consequences of it, Psalms 39:2,3.
II. His expostulation with God on the shortness, uncertainty, and frailty of life, Psalms 39:4-6.
III. His petition to have his sin pardoned, Psalms 39:8; to be saved from punishment, Psalms 39:10; and for farther grace and respite, Psalms 39:12,13.
I. David acquaints us with his resolution: I said-I fully purposed to keep silence.
1. "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue."
2. This resolution he kept for a while: "I was dumb; I held my peace even from good," even from making a just defence.
3. But in this I found great difficulty, nay, impossibility.
1. For all the time "my sorrow was stirred." My pain was increased by silence.
2. "My heart was hot." I was strongly incited to utter my mind.
3. "And, while thus musing, the fire burned;" what was within I saw should not be longer concealed: "Then spake I with my tongue."
II. He expostulates with God: and, being greatly oppressed both in body and mind, prays to know how long he is to live; or, rather, how soon he may get rid of his maladies, false friends, and deceitful enemies. Many considerations render his life uncomfortable.
1. It is very brittle and frail: "Make me to know how frail I am."
2. It is very short: "Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth."
3. Yea, when carefully considered, it was even less, of no consideration: "Mine age is as nothing before thee."
4. It was full of vanity: "Verily, every man at his best estate (in his strength, riches, power) is altogether vanity." His labours promise much, perform little.
5. It is unstable and uncertain, as a shadow. "Surely, every man walketh in a vain shadow."
6. It is full of trouble and inquietude: "Surely, they are disquieted in vain."
7. Man labours for he knows not whom: "He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them."
Notwithstanding all this, he finds that even here God is a sufficient Portion for them that trust in him. Let others toil for riches; admire dignities, empires, pleasures; let them be proud of these, and complain that their life is too short to enjoy them; I have a stronger hold; I am persuaded that the Lord will have mercy upon me, and be my Support in all the troubles and uncertainties of life: "And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee."
III. On this confidence he again begins to pray,-
1. For remission of sin: "Deliver me from all my transgressions."
2. For defence against malicious tongues: "Make me not a reproach to the foolish."
3. For submission under Divine chastisement: "I was dumb, because thou didst it."
4. For a removal of his punishment: "Take away thy plague from me."
1. And he adds the cause;-either remove thy hand, or I must needs perish: "I am even consumed by the blow of thy hand."
2. This he amplifies by the similitude of a moth; and adds a second reason: "When thou with rebukes dost correct man, thou makest his beauty to consume away like the moth," which frets and destroys a garment. And, for confirmation, delivers his former opinion, which is to be considered as an incontrovertible maxim: "Surely, every man is vanity. Selah." Mark that!
3. To which he adds a third-the consideration of our present condition in this life. We and all our fathers are but pilgrims in this life: "I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." Therefore, spare me.
Faith has always to struggle with difficulties. Though he was confident, Psalms 39:7, that God was his hope; yet his calamities, his sickness, his enemies, the brevity, fugacity, and troubles of life, come ever into his memory; and, therefore, he prays again for them. And this rises by a climax or gradation:-
1. He prays for audience: "Hear my prayer, O Lord!"
2. That his cry, for such it was, be heard: "Give ear unto my cry."
3. For admission of his tears: "Hold not thy peace at my tears. The reason, as a stranger. Thy grace, thy favour.
4. For some relaxation and ease: "O spare me, that I may recover strength;" which he urges with this motive, "before I go hence, and be no more." Restore me to thy favour in this life. Hereafter, it will be too late to expect it. Let me not die unsaved!