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Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 39

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This psalm purports to be a Psalm of David, but the special occasion in his life when it was composed is not specified, and it cannot now be ascertained. It was evidently, like the previous psalm, in a time of affliction, but to what particular affliction it refers is unknown. It is, however, of so general a character, and expresses feelings which so often spring up in the mind of the afflicted, that it is adapted for general use in the world, and nothing would be gained, perhaps, if we could ascertain the particular trial in the life of the author of the psalm to which it had referred. On the meaning of the phrase in the title, “To the chief Musician,” see the notes at the title to Psalms 4:1-8. The addition to that in this place, “to Jeduthun,” implies, according to the rendering in our common version, that “Jeduthun,” at the time when the psalm was composed, occupied that position; and this is probable. The word Jeduthun means properly “praising, celebrating;” but here it is used evidently as a proper name, and designates someone who was placed over the music, or who had charge of it. The reference is to one of the choristers appointed by David. Jeduthun is expressly mentioned, among others, as having been appointed for this service, 1 Chronicles 16:41 : “And with them Heman and Jeduthun ... to give thanks to the Lord.” So, also, Psa 39:1-13 :42: “And with them Heman and Jeduthun, with trumpets and cymbals for those that should make a sound, and with musical instruments of God.” See, also, 1 Chronicles 25:6; 2 Chronicles 35:15. It would seem, also, from Nehemiah 11:17, that his descendants held the same office in his time.

The psalm was composed by one who was in trouble, and who had such thoughts in his affliction that he did not dare to express them for fear that they would do injury to the cause of religion. He was sad and dispirited. He could not understand the reason of the divine dealings. He did not know why he was thus afflicted. He did not see the justice, the propriety, or the benevolence of the divine arrangements by which the life of man was made so short and so vain, and by which he was called to suffer so much. There was, in his case, a conscious spirit of complaining against the divine arrangements; or there was so much that, in his view, was mysterious and apparently inconsistent with benevolence in the divine dealings, that he did not dare to express what was going on in his own mind, or to give vent to the secret thoughts of his soul; and he therefore resolved that he would keep silence, and would say nothing on the subject, especially when the wicked were before him. He bore this as long as he could, and then he gave vent to his suppressed emotions, and sought comfort in prayer.

The psalm, therefore, consists of two parts:

I. His purpose to keep silence; to say nothing; to suppress the emotions which were struggling in his bosom, or not to give utterance to what was passing in his mind, lest, by such an expression, he should strengthen and confirm the wicked in what they were thinking about, or in their views of God. So far did he carry this, that he says he resolved to hold his “peace even from good;” that is, he resolved that he would say nothing, lest he should be tempted to say something which would injure the cause of religion, and which he would have occasion to regret, Psalms 39:1-2.

II. The fact that he was constrained to speak; that he could not confine his thoughts to his own bosom; that he was in such anguish that he “must” find relief by giving utterance to what was passing in his soul. This occupies the remainder of the psalm, Psalms 39:3-13. This part of the psalm embraces the following points:

(1) The depth and anguish of his feeling; the fact that his feelings became so intense, like a pent-up fire in his bosom, that he could not but speak and make known his thoughts, Psalms 39:3.

(2) The utterance in words of the thoughts which he had been cherishing, which gave him so much trouble, and which he had been unwilling to express before the wicked, lest he should confirm them in their views about God and his dealings, Psalms 39:4-6. These thoughts pertained to his contemplation of human life - its brevity, its vanity, and its sorrows; to his doubts and perplexities about the purpose for which such a being as man was made; and to the darkness of his own mind concerning the reasons why God had made man thus, and why he dealt thus with him. Why was life so short? Why was it so vain? Why was it so full of sorrow?

(3) his calmest appeal to God in this state of mind, Psalms 39:7-13.

(a) He says that his only hope was in God, Psalms 39:7.

(b) He asks for deliverance from his transgressions - that is, here, from the calamities which had come upon him for his sins, Psalms 39:8.

(c) He says that he had been dumb before God, and had endeavored not to complain at his dealings, Psalms 39:9.

(d) He refers to the fact that when God undertakes to rebuke man for his iniquity, man cannot stand before him - that his beauty is made to consume away like a moth, Psalms 39:10-11.

(e) He earnestly cries, therefore, to God, and prays that he would deliver him, Psalms 39:12-13. He asks for strength in these struggles and trials, before he should go forth and be no more.

The psalm will be found to express feelings which often pass through the minds of even good men in regard to the mysteries of our condition here, and will be found to be adapted to calm down those feelings which often arise in the soul, and which could not be expressed without doing injury by paining the hearts of the good, and by confirming the wicked in their notions; to silence the complaints of the heart; and to bring the soul into a state of humble acquiescence before God under a recognition that all the events of life are controlled by his hand.

Verse 1

I said - This refers to a resolution which he had formed. He does not say, however, at what time of his life the resolution was adopted, or how long a period had elapsed from the time when he formed the resolution to the time when he thus made a record of it. He had formed the resolution on some occasion when he was greatly troubled with anxious thoughts; when, as the subsequent verses show, his mind was deeply perplexed about the divine administration, or the dealings of God with mankind. It would seem that this train of thought was suggested by his own particular trials Psalms 39:9-10, from which he was led to reflect on the mysteries of the divine administration in general, and on the fact that man had been subjected by his Creator to so much trouble and sorrow - and that, under the divine decree, human life was so short and so vain.

I will take heed to my ways - To wit, in respect to this matter. I will be cautious, circumspect, prudent. I will not offend or pain the heart of others. The particular thing here referred to was, the resolution not to give utterance to the thoughts which were passing in his mind in regard to the divine administration. He felt that he was in danger, if he stated what he thought on the subject, of saying things which would do injury, or which he would have occasion to regret, and he therefore resolved to keep silent.

That I sin not with my tongue - That I do not utter sentiments which will be wrong, and which I shall have occasion to repent; sentiments which would do injury to those who are already disposed to find ground of complaint against God, and who would thus be furnished with arguments to confirm them in their views. Good men often have such thoughts passing through their minds; thoughts reflecting on the government of God as unequal and severe; thoughts which, if they were suggested, would tend to confirm the wicked and the skeptical in their views; thoughts which they hope, in respect to themselves, to be able to calm down by meditation and prayer, but which would do only unmitigated harm if they were communicated to other men, especially to wicked people.

I will keep my mouth with a bridle - The word used here means rather a “muzzle,” or something placed “over” the mouth. The bridle is to restrain or check or guide the horse; the muzzle was something to bind or fasten the mouth so as to prevent biting or eating. Deuteronomy 25:4 : “thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” See the notes at 1 Corinthians 9:9. The meaning here is, that he would restrain himself from uttering what was passing in his mind.

While the wicked is before me - In their presence. He resolved to do this, as suggested above, lest if he should utter what was passing in his own mind - if he should state the difficulties in regard to the divine administration which he saw and felt - if he should give expression to the skeptical or hard thoughts which occurred to him at such times, it would serve only to confirm them in their wickedness, and strengthen them in their alienation from God. A similar state of feeling, and on this very subject, is referred to by the psalmist Psalms 73:15, where he says that if he should utter what was really passing in his mind, it would greatly pain and offend those who were the true children of God; would fill their minds with doubts and difficulties which might never occur to themselves: “If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I shall offend against the generation of thy children.” As illustrations of this state of feeling in the minds of good men, and as evidence of the fact that, as in the case of the psalmist, their existence in the mind, even in the severest and the most torturing form, is not proof that the man in whose bosom they arise is not a truly pious man, I make the following extracts as expressing the feelings of two of the most sincere and devoted Christian men that ever lived - both eminently useful, both in an eminent degree ornaments to the Church, Cecil and Payson: “I have read all the most acute, and learned, and serious infidel writers, and have been really surprised at their poverty. The process of my mind has been such on the subject of revelation, that I have often thought Satan has done more for me than the best of them, for I have had, and could have produced, arguments that appeared to me far more weighty than any I ever found in them against revelation.” - Cecil. Dr. Payson says in a letter to a friend: “There is one trial which you cannot know experimentally: it is that of being obliged to preach to others when one doubts of everything, and can scarcely believe that there is a God. All the atheistical, deistical, and heretical objections which I meet with in books are childish babblings compared with those which Satan suggests, and which he urges upon the mind with a force which seems irresistible. Yet I am often obliged to write sermons, and to preach when these objections beat upon me like a whirlwind, and almost distract me.”

Verse 2

I was dumb with silence - Compare Psalms 38:13. The addition of the words “with silence,” means that he was entirely or absolutely mute; he said nothing at all. The idea is, that he did not allow himself to give utterance to the thoughts which were passing in his mind in regard to the divine dealings. He kept his thoughts to himself, and endeavored to suppress them in his own bosom.

I held my peace, even from good - I said nothing. I did not even say what I might have said in vindication of the ways of God. I did not even endeavor to defend the divine character, or to explain the reasons of the divine dealings, or to suggest any considerations which would tend to calm down the feelings of complaint and dissatisfaction which might be rising in the minds of other men as well as my own.

And my sorrow was stirred - The anguish of my mind; my trouble. The word “stirred” here, rendered in the margin “troubled,” means that the very fact of attempting to suppress his feelings - the purpose to say nothing in the case - was the means of increased anguish. His trouble on the subject found no vent for itself in words, and at length it became so insupportable that he sought relief by giving utterance to his thoughts, and by coming to God to obtain relief. The state of mind referred to here is that which often occurs when a man broods over his own troubled thoughts, and dwells upon things which are in themselves improper and rebellious. We are under no necessity of endeavoring to vindicate the psalmist in what he here did; nor should we take his conduct in this respect as our example. He evidently himself, on reflection, regarded this as wrong; and recorded it not as a pattern for others, but as a faithful transcript of what was passing at the time through his own mind. Yet, wrong as it was, it was what often occurs even in the minds of good men. Even they, as in the cases referred to above, often have thoughts about God and his dealings which they do not dare to express, and which it would do harm to express. They, therefore, hide them in their own bosom, and often experience just what the psalmist did - increased trouble and perplexity from the very purpose to suppress them. They should go at once to God. They may say to him what it would not be proper to say to men. They may pour out all their feelings before him in prayer, with the hope that in such acts of praying, and in the answers which they will receive to their prayers, they may find relief.

Verse 3

My heart was hot within me - My mind became more and more excited; my feelings more and more intense. The attempt to suppress my emotions only more and more enkindled them.

While I was musing the fire burned - literally, “in my meditation the fire burned.” That is, while I was dwelling on the subject; while I was agitating it in my mind; while I thought about it - the flame was enkindled, and my thoughts found utterance. He was unable longer to suppress his feelings, and he gave vent to them in words. Compare Jeremiah 20:9; Job 32:18-19.

Then spake I with my tongue - That is, in the words which are recorded in this psalm. He gave vent to his pent-up feelings in the language which follows. Even though there was a feeling of murmuring and complaining, he sought relief in stating his real difficulties before God, and in seeking from him direction and support.

Verse 4

Lord, make me to know mine end - This expresses evidently the substance of those anxious and troubled thoughts Psalms 39:1-2 to which he had been unwilling to give utterance. His thoughts turned on the shortness of life; on the mystery of the divine arrangement by which it had been made so short; and on the fact that so many troubles and sorrows had been crowded into a life so frail and so soon to terminate. With some impatience, and with a consciousness that he had been indulging feelings on this subject which were not proper, and which would do injury if they were expressed “before men,” he now pours out these feelings before God, and asks what is to be the end of this; how long this is to continue; when his own sorrows will cease. It was an impatient desire to know when the end would be, with a spirit of insubmission to the arrangements of Providence by which his life had been made so brief, and by which so much suffering had been appointed.

And the measure of my days, what it is - How long I am to live; how long I am to bear these accumulated sorrows.

That I may know how frail I am - Margin: “What time I have here.” Prof. Alexander renders this: “when I shall cease.” So DeWette. The Hebrew word used here - חדל châdêl - means “ceasing to be;” hence, “frail;” then, destitute, left, forsaken. An exact translation would be, “that I may know at what (time) or (point) I am ceasing, or about to cease.” It is equivalent to a prayer that he might know when these sufferings - when a life so full of sorrow - would come to an end. The language is an expression of impatience; the utterance of a feeling which the psalmist knew was not right in itself, and which would do injury if expressed before men, but which the intensity of his feelings would not permit him to restrain, and to which he, therefore, gives utterance before God. Similar expressions of impatience in view of the sufferings of a life so short as this, and with so little to alleviate its sorrows, may be seen much amplified in Job 3:1-26; Job 6:4-12; Job 7:7; Job 14:1-13. Before we blame the sacred writers for the indulgence of these feelings, let us carefully examine our own hearts, and recall what has passed through our own minds in view of the mysteries of the divine administration; and let us remember that one great object of the Bible is to record the actual feelings of men - not to vindicate them, but to show what human nature is even in the best circumstances, and what the human heart is when as yet but partially sanctified.

Verse 5

Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth - literally, “Lo, handbreadths hast thou given my days.” The word rendered “handbreadth” means properly the spread hand; the palm; the hand when the four fingers are expanded. The word is then used to denote anything very short or brief. It is one of the smallest natural measures, as distinguished from the “foot” - that is, the length of the foot; and from the cubit - that is, the length of the arm to the elbow. It is the “shortness” of life, therefore, that is the subject of painful and complaining reflection here. Who has not been in a state of mind to sympathize with the feelings of the psalmist? Who is there that does not often wonder, when he thinks of what he could and would accomplish on earth if his life extended to one thousand years, and when he thinks of the great interests at stake in reference to another world which God has made dependent on so short a life? Who can at all times so calm down his feelings as to give utterance to no expressions of impatience that life is so soon to terminate? Who is there that reflects on the great interests at stake that has not asked the question why God has not given man more time to prepare for eternity?

And mine age - Or, my life. The word used here - חלד cheled - means properly “duration of life,” lifetime; and then, life itself; Job 11:17.

Is as nothing - That is, it is so short that it seems to be nothing at all.

Before thee - As over against thee; that is, in comparison with thee. Compare Isaiah 40:17, “All nations “before him” are as nothing;” that is, over against him, or in comparison with him. When the two are placed together, the one seems to be as nothing in the presence of the other. So the life of man, when placed by the side of the life of God, seems to be absolutely nothing.

Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity - Margin, “settled.” The idea is, that every man is “constituted” vanity. Literally, “All vanity every man is constituted.” There seems to be nothing but vanity; and this is the result of a divine constitution or arrangement. The idea expressed in our common version, “at his best state,” however true in itself, is not in the original. The thoughts in the original are:

(a) that all people are vanity; that is, life is so short, and man accomplishes so little, that it seems to be perfect vanity; and

(b) that this is the result of the divine constitution under which man was made.

It was the fact that man has been “so made” which gave so much trouble to the mind of the psalmist.

Verse 6

Surely every man walketh in a vain show - Margin, “an image.” The word rendered “vain show” - צלם tselem - means properly a shade, a shadow; and then, an image or likeness, as shadowing forth any real object. Then it comes to denote an idol, 2 Kings 11:18; Amos 5:26. Here the idea seems to be that of an image, as contradistinguished from a reality; the shadow of a thing, as distinguished from the substance. Man seems to be like an image, a shadow, a phantom - and not a real object, walking about. He is a form, an appearance, that soon vanishes away like a shadow.

Surely they are disquieted in vain - That is, they are actively engaged; they bustle about; they are full of anxiety; they form plans which they execute with much toil, care, and trouble; yet for no purpose worthy of so much diligence and anxious thought. They are busy, bustling “shadows” - existing for no real or substantial purposes, and accomplishing nothing. “What shadows we are, and what shadows do we pursue,” said the great orator and statesman, Edmund Burke; and what a striking and beautiful comment on the passage before us was that saying, coming from such a man, and from one occupying such a position.

He heapeth up riches - The word used here means to heap up, to store up, as grain, Genesis 41:35; or treasures, Job 27:16; or a mound, Habakkuk 1:10. Here it undoubtedly refers to the efforts of men in accumulating wealth, or storing up property. This was the thing which struck the psalmist as the leading employment of these moving shadows - a fact that would strike any one as he looks upon this busy world.

And knoweth not who shall gather them - Who shall gather them to himself; to whom they will go when he dies. Compare Job 27:16-19; Ecclesiastes 2:18, Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 5:13-14; Luke 12:20. The idea is, that it is not only vanity in itself, considered as the great business of life, to attempt to accumulate property - seeing that this is not what the great object of life should be, and that a life thus spent really amounts to nothing - but vanity in this respect also, that a man can have no absolute control over his property when he is dead, and he knows not, and cannot know, into whose hands his accumulated gains may fall. The facts on this subject; the actual distribution of property after a man is dead; the use often made of it, against which no man can guard - should, together with other and higher motives, be a powerful consideration with every one, not to make the amassing of wealth the great business of life.

Verse 7

And now, Lord, what wait I for? - From the consideration of a vain world - of the fruitless efforts of man - of what so perplexed, embarrassed, and troubled him - the psalmist now turns to God, and looks to him as the source of consolation. Turning to Him, he gains more cheerful views of life. The expression “What wait I for?” means, what do I now expect or hope for; on what is my hope based; where do I find any cheerful, comforting views in regard to life? He had found none in the contemplation of the world itself, in man and his pursuits; in the course of things so shadowy and so mysterious; and he says now, that he turns to God to find comfort in his perplexities.

My hope is in thee - In thee alone. My reliance is on thee; my expectation is from thee. It is not from what I see in the world; it is not in my power of solving the mysteries which surround me; it is not that I can see the reason why these shadows are pursuing shadows so eagerly around me; it is in the God that made all, the Ruler over all, that can control all, and that can accomplish His own great purposes in connection even with these moving shadows, and that can confer on man thus vain in himself and in his pursuits that which will be valuable and permanent. The idea is, that the contemplation of a world so vain, so shadowy, so mysterious, should lead us away from all expectation of finding in that world what we need, or finding a solution of the questions which so much perplex us, up to the great God who is infinitely wise, and who can meet all the necessities of our immortal nature; and who, in his own time, can solve all these mysteries.

Verse 8

Deliver me from all my transgressions - Recognising, as in Psalms 38:3-5, his sins as the source of all his troubles and sorrows. If his transgressions were forgiven, he felt assured that his trouble would be removed. His first petition, therefore, is, that his sins might be pardoned, with the implied conscious assurance that then it would be consistent and proper for God to remove his calamity, and deliver him from the evils which had come upon him.

Make me not the reproach of the foolish - Of the wicked; of those who are foolish, because they are wicked. See the notes at Psalms 14:1. The prayer here is, that God would not suffer him to become an object of reproach to wicked and foolish men; that is, as the passage implies, that God would not so continue to treat him as if he were a sinner as to justify to themselves their reproaches of him as a wicked man. In other words, he prays that God would forgive his sin, and would withdraw his hand of affliction, so that even the wicked might see that he was not angry with him, but that he was an object of the divine favor.

Verse 9

I was dumb - See the notes at Psalms 39:2. Compare Isaiah 53:7. The meaning here is, that he did not open his mouth to complain; he did not speak of God as if he had dealt unkindly or unjustly with him.

I opened not my mouth - I kept entire silence. This would be better rendered, “I am dumb; I will not open my mouth.” The meaning is, not that he had been formerly silent and uncomplaining, but that he was now silenced, or that his mind was now calm, and that he acquiesced in the dealings of Divine Providence. The state of mind here, if should be further observed, is not that which is described in Psalms 39:2. There he represents himself as mute, or as restraining himself from uttering what was in his mind, because he felt that it would do harm, by encouraging the wicked in their views of God and of his government; here he says that he was now silenced - he acquiesced - he had no disposition to say anything against the government of God. He was mute, not by putting a restraint on himself, but because he had nothing to say.

Because thou didst it - thou hast done that which was so mysterious to me; that about which I was so much disposed to complain; that which has overwhelmed me with affliction and sorrow. It is now, to my mind, a sufficient reason for silencing all my complains, and producing entire acquiescence, that it has been done by thee. That fact is to me sufficient proof that it is right, and wise, and good; that fact makes my mind calm. “The best proof that anything is right and best is that it is done by God.” The most perfect calmness and peace in trouble is produced, not when we rely on our own reasonings, or when we attempt to comprehend and explain a mystery, but when we direct our thoughts simply to the fact that “God has done it.” This is the highest reason that can be presented to the human mind, that what is done is right; this raises the mind above the mysteriousness of what is done, and makes it plain that it should be done; this leaves the reasons why it is done, where they should be left, with God. This consideration will calm down the feelings when nothing else would do it, and dispose the mind, even under the deepest trials, to acquiescence and peace. I saw this verse engraved, with great appropriateness, on a beautiful marble monument that had been erected over a grave where lay three children that had been suddenly cut down by the scarlet fever. What could be more suitable in such a trial than such a text? What could more strikingly express the true feelings of Christian piety - the calm submission of redeemed souls - than the disposition of parents, thus bereaved, to record such a sentiment over the grave of their children?

Verse 10

Remove thy stroke away from me - And yet this calm submission, as expressed in Psalms 39:9, does not take away the desire that the hand of God may be removed, and that the suffering that is brought upon us may cease. Perfect submission is not inconsistent with the prayer that, if it be the will of God, the calamity may be removed: Luke 22:42. On the word here rendered “stroke” - נגע nega‛ - see the notes at Psalms 38:11. It is equivalent here to chastisement, or judgment. It refers to the trial which he was then enduring, whatever it was, which had given occasion to the feelings that he says Psalms 39:1-2 he had felt bound to suppress when in the presence of the wicked, but in reference to which he had learned entirely to acquiesce Psalms 39:9. From that trial itself he now prays that he may be delivered.

I am consumed - I am wasting away. I cannot long bear up under it. I must sink down to the grave if it is not removed. See Psalms 39:13.

By the blow of thine hand - Margin, as in Hebrew: “conflict.” That is, the blow which God brings on anyone when he has, as it were, a “strife” or a “conflict” with him. It is designed here to express his affliction, as if God had “struck” him.

Verse 11

When thou with rebukes - The word here rendered “rebukes” means properly:

(a) proof or demonstration;

(b) confutation or contradiction;

(c) reproof or admonition by words;

(d) reproof by correction or punishment.

This is the meaning here. The idea of the psalmist is, that God, by punishment or calamity, expresses his sense of the evil of human conduct; and that, under such an expression of it, man, being unable to sustain it, melts away or is destroyed.

Dost correct man for iniquity - Dost punish man for his sin; or dost express thy sense of the evil of sin by the calamities which are brought upon him.

Thou makest his beauty - Margin: “That which is to be desired in him.” The Hebrew means “desired, delighted in;” then, something desirable, pleasant; a delight. Its meaning is not confined to “beauty.” It refers to anything that is to man an object of desire or delight - strength, beauty, possessions, life itself. All are made to fade away before the expressions of the divine displeasure.

To consume away like a moth - Not as a moth is consumed, but as a moth consumes or destroys valuable objects, such as clothing. See the notes at Job 4:19. The beauty, the vigor, the strength of man is marred and destroyed, as the texture of cloth is by the moth.

Surely every man is vanity - That is, he is seen to be vanity - to have no strength, no permanency - by the ease with which God takes away all on which he had prided himself. See the notes at Psalms 39:5.

Verse 12

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry - That is, in view of my affliction and my sins; in view, also, of the perplexing questions which have agitated my bosom; the troublous thoughts which passed through my soul, which I did not dare to express before man Psalms 39:1-2, but which I have now expressed before thee.

Hold not thy peace - Be not silent. Do not refuse to answer me; to speak peace to me.

At my tears - Or rather, at my weeping; as if God heard the voice of his weeping. Weeping, if uncomplaining, is of the nature of prayer, for God regards the sorrows of the soul as he sees them. The weeping penitent, the weeping sufferer, is one on whom we may suppose God looks with compassion, even though the sorrows of the soul do not find “words” to give utterance to them. Compare the notes at Job 16:20. See also Romans 8:26,

For I am a stranger - The word used - גר gêr - means properly a sojourner; a foreigner; a man living out of his own country: Genesis 15:13; Exodus 2:22. It refers to a man who has no permanent home in the place or country where he now is; and it is used here as implying that, in the estimation of the psalmist himself, he had no permanent abode on earth. He was in a strange or foreign land. He was passing to a permanent home; and he prays that God would be merciful to him as to a man who has no home - no permanent abiding place - on earth. Compare the notes at Hebrews 11:13; notes at 1 Peter 2:11.

And a sojourner - This word has substantially the same signification. It denotes one living in another country, without the rights of a citizen.

As all my fathers were - All my ancestors. The allusion is doubtless derived from the fact that the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob thus lived as men who had no permanent home here - who had no possession of soil in the countries where they sojourned - and whose whole life, therefore, was an illustration of the fact that they were “on a journey” - a journey to another world. 1 Chronicles 29:15 - “for we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” Compare the notes at Hebrews 11:13-15.

Verse 13

O spare me - The word used here - from שׁעה shâ‛âh - means “to look;” and then, in connection with the preposition, “to look away from;” and it here means, “Look away from me;” that is, Do not come to inflict death on me. Preserve me. The idea is this: God seemed to have fixed his eyes on him, and to be pursuing him with the expressions of his displeasure (compare Job 16:9); and the psalmist now prays that he would “turn away his eyes,” and leave him.

That I may recover strength - The word used here - בלג bâlag - means, in Arabic, to be bright; to shine forth; and then, to make cheerful, to enliven one’s countenance, or to be joyful, glad. In Job 9:27, it is rendered “comfort;” in Job 10:20, that I “may take comfort;” in Amos 5:9, “strengtheneth.” It is not used elsewhere. The idea is that of being “cheered up;” of being strengthened and invigorated before he should pass away. He wished to be permitted to recover the strength which he had lost, and especially to receive consolation, before he should leave the earth. He desired that his closing days might not be under a cloud, but that he might obtain brighter and more cheerful views, and have more of the consolations of religion before he should be removed finally from this world. It is a wish not to leave the world in gloom, or with gloomy and desponding views, but with a cheerful view of the past; with joyful confidence in the government of God; and with bright anticipations of the coming world.

Before I go hence - Before I die.

And be no more - Be no more upon the earth. Compare Psalms 6:5, note; Psalms 30:9, note. See also the notes at Job 14:1-12. Whatever may have been his views of the future world, he desired to be cheered and comforted in the prospect of passing away finally from earth. He was unwilling to go down to the grave in gloom, or under the influence of the dark and distressing views which he had experienced, and to which he refers in this psalm. A religious man, about to leave the world, should desire to have bright hopes and anticipations. For his own comfort and peace, for the honor of religion, for the glory of God, he should not leave those around under the impression that religion does nothing to comfort a dying man, or to inspire with hope the mind of one about to leave the earth, or to give to the departing friend of God cheerful anticipations of the life to come. A joyful confidence in God and his government, when a man is about to leave the world, does much, very much, to impress the minds of others with a conviction of the truth and reality of religion, as dark and gloomy views can hardly fail to lead the world to ask what that religion is worth which will not inspire a dying man with hope, and make him calm in the closing scene.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 39". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/psalms-39.html. 1870.
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