Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 39

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

I 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.

As Psalms 37:1-40 is the subsequent, calm meditation on the right demeanour of the believer when persecuted by flourishing sinners. Psalms 39:1-13 represents the agitation of spirit to which he is tempted in the heat of the conflict.

Psalms 39:1-13.-David had resolved to keep his tongue bridled while the wicked are before him; but the fire, compressed for a time, at last broke out in impatient complaints because God had made his life but an handbreadth (Psalms 39:1-6); return to believing hope (Psalms 39:7-13); he acknowledges that his sin is the cause of his suffering: as it is God's doing, he will be dumb as to murmuring, while he cries more than ever, begging, with tears, that God will comfort him during his short sojourn on earth.

Title. - To the chief Musician, (even) to Jeduthun. Here, and Psalms 77:1-20, and 1 Chronicles 16:38, Jedithun in the Hebrew [the letter yodh (y) for the letter waw (w)], but usually Jeduthun. The sons of Jeduthun had as their special office to "prophesy with the harp, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord" (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:3). We must not, then, with (Gesenius, explain here and Psalms 62:1-12; Psalms 77:1-20, title, 'upon an instrument,' or 'according to a melody invented by Jeduthun.'

I said - I prescribed it to myself as a fixed law.

I will take heed to my ways - an expression of David, found also in his charge to Solomon (1 Kings 2:4). The "ways" are one's whole course of acting and speaking.

That I sin not with my tongue - by impatient murmuring against God, and by doubting as to His righteousness and goodness in respect to me. In spite of his resolution here, he fell into this sin subsequently (Psalms 39:4-5).

I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me - Hebrew, 'while STILL [ bª`owd (H5750)] the wicked is before me;' while as yet the wicked are not cut off, as Saul ultimately was, and as all the ungodly hereafter shall be (Psalms 37:12; Psalms 37:35-36). The sense is not, 'I will keep my mouth from impatient speech, so as not to give my wicked enemies occasion to triumph over my misfortune, and over religion as an unreality, because of my inconsistency (Psalms 39:8; Psalms 38:16; Psalms 35:26). For he might have murmured, without doing so in their presence. But here 'still,' or 'as yet,' marks that what he fears is, lest while the wicked is yet flourishing continually 'before him' (Psalms 37:35), he be betrayed thereby into impatient murmurings against God.

Verse 2

I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.

I held my peace, (even) from good - even from pleading before God with warrantable arguments. I said nothing as to the goodness of my cause, in the conflict which mine enemies had raised against me. Gejer takes it, Removed far from all joy. So the Hebrew [ min (H4480)] usually means, after verbs of silence, separation, or distance from; not refraining from speaking something. Psalms 28:1, note, 'Be not silent from me;'

i.e., removed from, me. So Hengstenberg translates, 'not for good'-literally, apart from good; expressing the evil results of his forced silence negatively.

And my sorrow was stirred - expresses the same positively. But see Psalms 39:9 in favour of the English version.

Verse 3

My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,

My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue - (cf. Jeremiah 20:9.) On "musing," cf. note, Psalms 5:1, 'meditation.' The subject of his meditative musing was his sufferings from the wicked. David was unable longer to repress the pent-up fire from breaking forth into hasty and fretful words. So Job at first, under his trials, "sinned not with his lips, nor charged God foolishly." At last "Job opened his month and cursed his day" (Job 1:22; Job 2:10; Job 3:1).

Verse 4

LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.

Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is. Not a pious prayer such as Psalms 90:12, or as Psalms 119:84, but an impatient demand to know when his life, which is co-extensive (in his view) with his suffering, is to end. This he follows up, in Psalms 39:5-6, with lamentations on the shortness of life, a hardship aggravated, as he impatiently represents it, by the withholding of all solid happiness from man during that short term. This was the strain of Job's complainings also (Job 6:8-11; Job 7:1-7; Job 14:1; Job 16:22).

That I may know how frail I am - literally, 'how FAILING I am' [ chaadeel (H2310)]: Job 14:6, 'Turn from him, that he may cease,' margin (the same Hebrew as here). The objections to the English version are-the sense requires not a pious prayer that he may be taught his frailty, so as spiritually to profit by it. He needed not to be taught that, because he knew it too well, as he bitterly describes it in Psalms 39:5. Translate, therefore, 'Let me know what ceasing I (am to have);' when am I to cease from suffering and from life together?

Verse 5

Behold, 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.

And mine age (note, 'the world'-same Hebrew as "age" - Psalms 17:14)

Is as nothing before thee - `is as non-existence' (Hengstenberg). "Before thee:" this appointment proceeds from thee.

Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity - Hebrew, 'only all vanity is every man constituted' [ nitsaab (H5324)]. Constituted (by the Creator) answers to the previous "thou hast made," and "before thee;" i:e., by thine appointment. All men are constituted as only an all of vanity.

Selah - giving time for a pause (as Selah means) to meditate over the mournful nothingness of life.

Verse 6

Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.

Surely every man walketh in a vain show - Hebrew, 'only as a shadow walketh man (or 'as an unreal image') [the bª- marks that this is his essential character-literally, IN an image] (Psalms 144:4; Job 14:2).

Surely they are disquieted in vain - what they so restlessly strive after is vain. The Hebrew for "disquieted" yehemayun) is 'they make a bustle' about a thing (cf. Luke 10:41).

He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them - i:e., who shall enjoy them. The former verb [ tsaabar (H6651)] expresses the reaping, binding in sheaves, and heaping in the field; the latter [ 'aacap (H622)] expresses the removing from the field, and laying up in barns. Compare the case of the rich fool (Luke 12:17-20).

Verse 7

And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.

And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee. Here the true spiritual man resumes the ascendancy, after the temporary outbreak of impatience emanating from the old Adam. The flame of true love is easily re-kindled. The "now" draws the inference from what precedes. 'Since thou, O Lord, hast constituted life so transitory, and at the same time so miserable while it lasts.' The question "what wait I for?" implies that man must have some hope. Then follows the answer-not what nature would suggest, nor what we might have expected after his unbelieving complaints. Faith breaks forth from the mists of sense, which had shrouded him, and saith, "my hope is in thee."

Verse 8

Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.

Deliver me from all my transgressions - alike from their guilt, power, and penalty; especially from being delivered up to mine enemies (cf. next clause).

Make me not the reproach of the foolish. This is the "stroke" of God which he dreads (Psalms 39:10). He hath 'the wicked still before him' (Psalms 39:1, note), but his language shows that he now feels his "transgressions" to be the true cause of his sufferings not any harshness or unrighteousness in God, such as he had heretofore complained of.

Verse 9

I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.

I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. The sense is 'I have become mute (as to complaints against God); I do not open my mouth; because Thou hast done it.' Not that David ceases to speak in prayer for deliverance from enemies, but he no longer opens his mouth in complaints against God. His silence, in the latter respect, is not the constrained one which he had at first vainly attempted (Psalms 39:1-2), wherein he kept from utterance the then prevalent promptings of his impatience, but the reverent silence of one who justified God in His dealings, and therefore instinctively repressed the ebullitions of the old man, while he gave free vent to right prayers. This justifies the English version (Psalms 39:2), "I held my peace, (even) from good" (words). 'THOU hast done it' is a sufficient justification of whatever affliction the believer suffers. Our God and loving Father can do nothing unwise, unrighteous, or unkind to His children. So Aaron "held his peace" when fire from the Lord slew his sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3). So Job (Job 40:4-5) renounced his previous impatience: "Behold, I am vile: what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further." So David, when cursed by Shimei, said, "So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David" (2 Samuel 16:10).

Verse 10

Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.

Remove thy stroke - (margin, Psalms 38:11.)

Verse 11

When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah.

When thou with rebukes dost correct man. God's word of 'rebuke' is equivalent to punishment in act; because His Word effects His will.

Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth - i:e., like as a moth consumes a garment, however beautiful heretofore, so that it is fit neither for ornament or use, so God makes to consume (literally, dissolves) man's beauty (chamudo) - literally, 'all that is desirable in or about him.'

Surely every man is vanity - Hebrew ( 'ak (H389)), 'only (i:e., nothing but) vanity is every man.' He uses the same plea as in Psalms 39:5, end, but in a different spirit. There it was a complaint against God, here it is a humble appeal to move His compassion. The same words mean a very different thing, according to the spirit in which they are spoken.

Verse 12

Hear 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.

Hear my prayer, O Lord ... hold not thy peace at my tears - the petition. The ground on which it rests follows.

For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. Tears move us instinctively to speak to the weeping one: much more do they move the compassion of Yahweh; as when "the Lord saw"' the widow of Nain in tears, "He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not." Compare also John 20:13. God puts His people's tears in His bottle, and writes them in His book (Psalms 56:8), and will at last wipe them all away (Isaiah 25:8). The Psalmist's absolute dependence, as man, like his fathers before him, on the compassion of God, on whose earth he lives as a mere 'stranger and sojourner,' is his plea that his prayer may be heard. So Abraham to the sons of Heth (Genesis 23:4). Compare Genesis 47:9 as to Jacob. God declared to Israel, "The land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me" (Leviticus 25:33), to which David refers here. Yahweh was Lord of the manor, and the Israelites were but sojourners, permitted to stay with Him and enjoy the fruits, which were His, so long only as He pleased. There is an undesigned coincidence between the words attributed to David in the history in a different connection (1 Chronicles 29:15), and his words here in the psalm.

Verse 13

O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.

O spare me - literally, 'look away from me;' 'turn away (thy angry look) from me' [ haasha` (H8159) mimeniy (H4480)].

That I may recover strength, [ baalag (H1082)] - literally, 'that I may exhilarate (my countenance)' (Hengstenberg). 'That, I may recover my bright look,' when thou hast 'turned away from me' thy stern look. Job was before the Psalmist's mind (Job 7:19; Job 10:20-21; also 14:6).

Before I go hence, and be no more - (Job 7:8; Job 7:21.)

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 39". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/psalms-39.html. 1871-8.
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