1I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
2I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.
3My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
4LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
5Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
6Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
7And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.
8Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.
9I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
10Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.
11When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah.
12Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
13O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.
A Summary of Psalm 39: From Silence to Speech
- Psalm Category:
In Psalm 39, David moves from the pain of silence, to the power of speech, to a prayer for divine speech.
Selem (v. 6). Selem is translated as “phantom” in verse 6. It could also be translated as “shadow” or “image.” Selem is used in Genesis 1:26-27, where it refers to man being made in the “image” of God. This reminds us that when men and women deny the Creator and embrace only the creation, they deny the purpose for which they were created and become mere phantoms, hollow images, and a vain breath.
Have you ever been upset with God or confused by His actions? In Psalm 39, David is both upset and confused. He is experiencing God’s discipline and questioning the meaning of life—even life in the covenant.
The Pain of Silence (vv. 1-3): David begins this psalm in silence. He desires to talk, but is holding back. He is “muzzling” his mouth. The reason David is remaining silent is a noble one: He does not want to voice his thoughts before the “wicked” (v. 1). He fears that speaking will bring indignity to God’s name. Oftentimes silence is a wise course of action before both God (Hab. 2:20; Lev. 10:3) and men (Prov. 17:28; Job 2:13). However, silence can also be sinful (Ps. 32:3; Hab. 1:13), and, as Psalm 39 reveals, harmful. David’s silence only makes his anguish worse (v. 2). His soul is in turmoil, is boiling over, until he finally gives way to speech (v. 3). Like the prophet Jeremiah, David can no longer keep silent regarding the fire in his bones (Jer. 20:9).
The Power of Speech (vv. 4-11): When David opens his mouth he speaks directly to God: “Show me, O Lord” (v. 4). He begins to unfold what is troubling him so. In verses. 4-5 he reveals that he is troubled by the brevity of human life. Does this ever trouble you? In verse 6, he notes that he is also troubled by the seeming meaninglessness of life. Here David echoes Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Do such things ever trouble you? David is experiencing the severe discipline of God, and he is wondering about the meaning of life. He is particularly wondering if the believer is any better off than the unbeliever. Again David’s pathos is captured in a verse from Ecclesiastes, “For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!” (2:16). It is important for us to note that God does not chastise David for asking such questions. It is also crucial for us to realize that David’s lament is not an act of unfaithfulness, but rather an act of worship. One of the errors of the modern evangelical church is that it can conceive of worship as nothing other than bongos, guitars, and happy songs. In contrast, the Bible, particularly the Book of Psalms, reminds us that lament is worship as well. David is not directing his lament and his questions to a physician, therapist, or philosopher; he is directing them to Yahweh. David recognizes that the God who is disciplining him severely (vv. 9-11) is the very same God who is his only hope for deliverance (v. 7).
A Prayer for Divine Speech (vv. 12-13): David began this psalm in silence and then moved to speech. As he concludes this psalm, he asks God to break His silence as well. David’s explicit petition to God to “hear,” “listen,” and be “not deaf” is also an implied petition for divine speech. David asks God to be God, to distinguish Himself from the idols which have neither ears to hear nor lips with which to speak. David realizes if God remains silent then he will be an “alien,” a “stranger,” and will be “no more.” The good news for David, and for you, is that God does not remain silent like the idols (see Isa. 42:14-17). God addresses the issues of the nature and meaning of life as He addresses all other issues—in His Son. God broke His silence in Jesus Christ, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
A collection of 150 psalms, whose Hebrew name is “The Book of Praise.” Authors of individual psalms include David, Solomon, Moses, Asaph, and others who are anonymous. The variety and unity of Psalms have given this book a unique place in the devotional life of the individual and the Church. Almost every aspect of man’s relation to God is depicted in these poems: simple trust, the sense of sin, appeal to a higher power in time of trouble, and the conviction that the world is in the hands of a loving God.
“To him that presides over the music, to Jeduthun, a Psalm of David.
- I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep a check upon my mouth, while the wicked is before me.
- I was dumb with silence, I refrained from speaking even of good; my sorrow was stirred.
- My heart was hot in the midst of me, in my moaning the fire kindled; I spoke with my tongue:
- Make known to me, O jehovah, my end, and the measure of my days what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
- Behold, you have made my days as a hand-breadth, and my age is as nothing before you; verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
- Surely man walks as a shadowy image, surely they are disquieted in vain; he heaps up riches and knows not who shall gather them.
- And now, O lord, what wait I for? My hope is in you.
- Deliver me from all my transgressions; make me not the reproach of the foolish.
- I will be dumb; I will open not my mouth; for you have done it.
- Remove your plague away from me; I am consumed by the stroke of your hand.
- With rebukes do you chastise man for iniquity; you make his beauty to waste away like a moth; surely every man is vanity. Selah.
- Hear my prayer, O jehovah, and give ear to my cry; be not silent at my tears; for I am a sojourner with you, a stranger as all my fathers were.
- Look upon me that I may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more.
The Internal Sense
The lord’s patience in a state of temptations, verses 1 to 3, 8 to 11; that he wishes the end of them, verses 4 to 7; a prayer to the father that he may not be deserted, verses 12, 13.
Verses 4, 5, Make known to me, O jehovah, my end, and the measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail I am. Behold, you have made my days as a hand-breadth, and mine age is as nothing before you. It appears as if by these words were meant only times of life, the end of which he is desirous to know, and that they quickly pass away: but in the spiritual sense, are not meant times, but instead of times, states of life, wherefore by make known to me, O jehovah, my end, the measure of my days, what it is, is signified that he may know the state of his life and its quality, thus what would continue to be the quality of his life; by behold, you have made my days as a hand-breadth, is signified that the quality of the state of his life is of little moment; and by my time being as nothing before you, is signified that the state of his life is of no avail: for time and days signify states of life as to truth and as to good, and hence as to intelligence and wisdom, consequently that the former and the latter, so far as they are from himself, are of no account: that this is the meaning of the words cannot be seen by those who only think naturally, because natural thought cannot be separated from the idea of time, but spiritual thought, such as angelic thought is, has nothing in common with time, nor with space, nor with person. AE 629.
Verse 10, Remove your plague away from me, I am consumed by the stroke of your hand. By plagues, in the Word, are signified such things as destroy spiritual life with men, and consequently the church, and of course things which induce death, understood in a spiritual sense, which in general, have reference to the cupidities arising from the loves of self and of the world; for these loves are the roots from which evils and falses of every genus and species bud forth and are born. AE 584.
In the Word in many passages it is said of jehovah, that he burns with anger, and is angry, and also that he consumes and destroys; but it is so expressed because it so appears to man, who turns himself away from the lord, as is the case when he does evil; and whereas on such occasions he is not heard, and is also punished, he believes that the lord is in anger with him, when yet the lord is in no case angry, and in no case consumes, for he is mercy itself, and good itself: hence it is evident what the quality of the Word is as to the letter, namely that it is according to appearance with man. In like manner, when it is said that, jehovah repents, as in what follows, when yet, jehovah in no case repents, for he foresees all things from eternity: hence also it may be manifest into how many errors they fall, who do not think beyond the sense of the letter, when they read the Word, thus who read it without doctrine from the Word, which doctrine teaches how the case is: for they who read the Word from doctrine, know that jehovah is mercy itself, and good itself, and that it cannot in any way be said of infinite mercy, and of infinite goodness, that it burns with anger and consumes; wherefore from that doctrine they know and see that it is so said according to the appearance presented to man. AC 10431.
Verse 12, For I am a sojourner, with you, a stranger as all my fathers were. By a sojourner are signified those who were instructed in the truths of the church, and who received those truths, but by a stranger are meant those who were not willing to be instructed in the truths of the church, because they were not willing to receive them. AC 8002.
The Translator’s Notes and Observations
Verse 12, Hear my prayer, O jehovah, give ear to my cry. A distinction is here made between prayers and a cry, also, between hearing and giving ear to: the distinction probably is grounded in what subsists between the will and the understanding, prayer having relation to the affection of the will in its application to the almighty, and cry having relation to the thought of the understanding on the same occasion. The almighty therefore is said to hear the former, and to give ear to the latter, to instruct us, that though he is attentive to both, yet his attention is more fixed on a devout desire of the heart, than on an enlightened application of the intellect.
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- Why Is Waiting on God So Difficult? a Biblical Perspective!! (verticalviewer.wordpress.com)
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