Psalm 39 – Wisdom to Speak Under God’s Correction
This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.
The Chief Musician is thought by some to be the Lord God Himself, and others suppose him to be a leader of choirs or musicians in David’s time, such as Heman the singer or Asaph (1 Chronicles 6:33, 16:5-7, and 25:6).
Jeduthun (mentioned also in the titles of Psalm 62 and 77) was one of the musicians appointed by David to lead Israel’s public worship (1 Chronicles 16:41; 25:1-3).
This is a Psalm of David, though it cannot be connected to any specific point in his life. It is possible that it was from his last few years of life.
A. David finds the words to pray a prayer of wisdom.
1. (1-3) David’s silent agony.
I said, “I will guard my ways,
Lest I sin with my tongue;
I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle,
While the wicked are before me.”
I was mute with silence,
I held my peace even from good;
And my sorrow was stirred up.
My heart was hot within me;
While I was musing, the fire burned.
Then I spoke with my tongue:
a. I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue: David began this psalm by recounting his prayer – asking God’s help in not speaking foolishly or sinfully when the wicked are before me.
i. “David’s feelings were running high enough to be taken for disloyalty if he had vented them in the wrong company.” (Kidner)
ii. “He knew how his words would be misunderstood and misused by such persons. To them his words would seem to be a criticism of God and his ways.” (Boice)
iii. “The firmest believers are exercised with unbelief, and it would be doing the devil’s work with a vengeance if they were to publish abroad all their questionings and suspicions.” (Spurgeon)
b. I was mute with silence, I held my peace even from good: David found it easier to speak nothing than to speak wisely. He soon felt the pressure that one feels when intense feelings are kept silent.
i. In the previous psalm David showed his godliness by his silence before his accusers (I am like a mute who does not open his mouth, Psalm 38:13). In Psalm 38 the idea was that David did well to not defend himself. Here he did well to not speak his doubts and fears while the wicked are before me.
ii. “Perhaps he feared that if he began to talk at all, he would be sure to speak amiss, and, therefore, he totally abstained. It was an easy, safe, and effectual way of avoiding sin, if it did not involve a neglect of the duty which he owed to God to speak well of his name.” (Spurgeon)
c. My heart was hot within me: In this instance silence was not golden for David. It brought him sorrow and inner turmoil (the fire burned).
i. “The metaphors ‘my heart grew hot’ and ‘the fire burned’ express anger (cf. Deuteronomy 19:6; Jeremiah 51:39; Ezekiel 36:5). The more he reflected on his situation, the more he became exasperated.” (VanGemeren)
2. (4-6) David’s wise words.
“Lord, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.” Selah
“Surely every man walks about like a shadow;
Surely they busy themselves in vain;
He heaps up riches,
And does not know who will gather them.”
a. Lord, make me to know my end: David’s silence was broken in the best way – by humble prayer to God. He would not speak his fears and doubts before the wicked, but he would pour them out before His God. Here David asked God for wisdom – specifically, the wisdom to know the shortness and the frailty of his life (that I may know how frail I am).
i. We might have expected David to break his silence by telling off his enemies or by defending his own righteousness. He did neither; he sought God for wisdom. “It is well that the vent of his soul was Godward and not towards man. Oh! if my swelling heart must speak, Lord let it speak with thee.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Make me to know my end: “This was not a prayer inspired by a desire to know when life would end; it was not a request to be told the date of death. It was a prayer for an accurate apprehension of the fact that life quantitatively – that is, as to the number of its days – is as nothing.” (Morgan)
iii. You have made my days as handbreadths: “He compares it to a ‘handbreadth,’ one of the smallest units of measurement in ancient Israel. It is equivalent to ‘a couple of inches.’” (VanGemeren)
iv. “Life is very short, but a great deal may be done. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in three years, saved the world. Some of his followers in three years have been the means of saving many and many a soul.” (Spurgeon)
b. Certainly every man at his best state is but a vapor: David was a champion, an accomplished Special Forces warrior, a leader, a celebrity, a skilled poet, a musical genius, a survivor, and a king. If anyone might have thought more highly of himself, David had the right to. Yet he understood that he, like every man is – at his best state – merely a vapor, a puff of steam or smoke.
i. “He learns that, since life is short, the only real meaning of a man or woman’s existence must be in his relationship to God, for God is eternal.” (Boice)
c. Selah: The idea in the Hebrew for this word (occurring 74 times in the Old Testament) is for a pause. Most people think it speaks of a reflective pause, a pause to meditate on the words just spoken. It may also be a musical instruction, for a musical interlude of some kind.
i. This Selah is an appropriate call for each one to pause and think of the shortness and frailty of his life. It should drive us to great dependence upon God and great earnestness about life and doing good in the short time we do have.
d. Surely they busy themselves in vain: Sounding very much like the later Book of Ecclesiastes, David thought about the mass of humanity who lived ignoring the shortness and frailty of life.
· Each of them walks about, but like a shadow, living a life with no substance.
· They are busy, but in vain, being blind to eternal things.
· Each of them works hard and heaps up riches, yet does not think beyond his own short and frail life.
i. This is the land of shadows. Heaven is the land of reality, of true high definition.
ii. “Every man that exists, is vanity. All his projects, plans, schemes, etc., soon come to nothing. His body also moulders with the dust, and shortly passes both from the sight and remembrance of men.” (Clarke)
B. The cause revealed, the cure requested.
1. (7-11) Trusting God in a season of correction for sin.
“And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.
Deliver me from all my transgressions;
Do not make me the reproach of the foolish.
I was mute, I did not open my mouth,
Because it was You who did it.
Remove Your plague from me;
I am consumed by the blow of Your hand.
When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity,
You make his beauty melt away like a moth;
Surely every man is vapor.” Selah
a. And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You: Perceiving the shortness and frailty of life made David put his expectation and hope upon God and not upon himself. In right standing and friendship with the Living God, David could understand and prepare for life beyond this life.
i. “Here the psalmist steps off the sand, and puts his foot on the rock. Happy is the man who can say to the Lord, ‘My hope is in thee.’” (Spurgeon)
ii. My hope is in You: “That is life, in which desire and expectation are centered in God. Such life is of an entirely different quality from that in which desire and expectation are centered in self, in circumstances, or in men.” (Morgan)
b. Deliver me from all my transgressions: David looked to God and not to himself for deliverance from sin. He knew – as the Apostle Paul would later declare – that the focus should be on God and not self (Romans 7:24-8:4).
i. Deliver me from all my transgressions: “That I may not be disappointed of my hopes of enjoying thee and thy favour, which is the only thing that I desire, pardon all my sins, which stand like a thick cloud between thee and me, and fill me with fears about my condition both here and hereafter.” (Poole)
c. Remove Your plague from me; I am consumed by the blow of Your hand: We learn that David prayed this prayer from a season of great weakness and the sense that he was under the painful correction of God. He successfully avoided speaking words of self-justification; as he poured out his heart to God, he also prayed for relief from his affliction.
i. “It is bold for a sufferer to say to God, ‘Hold! enough!’ but all depends on the tone in which it is said. It may be presumption, or it may be a child’s free speech, not in the least trenching on a Father’s authority.” (Maclaren)
ii. Because it was You who did it: “He does not understand everything; but at least he knows that a personal God, instead of an impersonal force, is in charge over his life.” (VanGemeren)
d. When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity, You make his beauty melt away like a moth: We learn that David’s great sense of the shortness and frailty of life came under a deep and painful sense of the correction of God. We can suppose that this was one of the reasons God sent His correction to David: to give him the hunger for, the prayer for, and the blessing of this wisdom.
i. “The metaphor of a moth suggests the brevity of man’s life or the destructive power of a moth.” (VanGemeren)
2. (12-13) A humble prayer for restored favor and regained strength.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
And give ear to my cry;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner, as all my fathers were.
Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength,
Before I go away and am no more.”
a. Do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You: David appealed to Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, asking that He answer with mercy upon him in his sense of separation from God.
i. My tears: “His prayer swells into crying, and that again melts into tears, which go straight to the great Father’s heart. Weeping eyes are never turned to heaven in vain; the gates of mercy open wide when the hot drops touch them.” (Maclaren)
b. I am a stranger with You, a sojourner, as all my fathers were: David was not only a native Israeli, but the king of Israel. If anyone had a claim to citizenship it was he; yet he understood that his real home was in heaven and not upon this earth.
i. Significantly, David did not say that he was a stranger from God, but a stranger with God. He was a stranger, but not alone. They were strangers together in a hostile world. “Here is a man still undergoing trial and acutely conscious of it, but he has found the secret place of communion and this conditions his attitudes.” (Morgan)
ii. “Abraham first described himself as a stranger and a sojourner…. All his children, those who inherit a like faith, must say the same. Faith cannot find a home on this side of the stars. It has caught a glimpse of the Infinite, and it can never be content with anything else.” (Meyer)
iii. “If an Englishman goes to the Continent, and tries to pass himself off as a German or a Frenchman he is soon detected; and, in a similar fashion, a true Christian reveals the, fact that he is an alien in this world, his ways and manners and customs are not those of the men of the world, who have their portion in this life.” (Spurgeon)
iv. If we are indeed strangers and sojourners, then it follows that:
· It is sure we have a home somewhere.
· It is not surprising that we sometimes long to get home.
· If we are strangers, then we should treat each other well.
· It sould be a comfort to the Christian in death.
c. Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength: Knowing that his weakness was due to the heavy hand of God upon him, David humbly asked God to look at him no longer with the eyes of correction. The psalm ends without resolution, but David appeals to and shows trust in the Lord.
i. “Yet for the moment, like Job or Jeremiah, he can see no more than death, and ask no more than respite…. The very presence of such prayers in Scripture is a witness to His understanding. He knows how men speak when they are desperate.” (Kidner)
ii. Before I go away and am no more: “Hebrew before I go, to wit, unto the grave, as this phrase is used, Genesis 15:2,25:32; or the way of all the earth, as the phrase is completed, Joshua 23:14; or whence I shall not return, as it is Job 10:21.” (Poole)
iii. “This Psalm is, with the utmost propriety, appointed by the church to be used at the burial of the dead, as a funeral is indeed the best comment upon it.” (Horne)
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org