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Superscription.—“To the chief musician, to Jeduthun, a psalm of David.” Jeduthun was one of the leaders of the sacred music in the time of David (1 Chronicles 16:41-42; 1 Chronicles 25:6; 2 Chronicles 35:15). Jeduthun is also the title of one of the twenty-four musical choirs left by David. As the psalm is addressed to the chief musician, it was obviously intended for use in the public worship of the tabernacle. David is said to be the author of the psalm. The particular occasion to which it refers is unknown. But from the psalm itself, it is clear that it was written in a time of doubt and trouble, when the psalmist’s thoughts were of such a character that he could not express them without injury to others and to the cause of God. We have no means of determining what the particular trouble was from which David was suffering. Matthew Henry suggests that “perhaps it was the death of some dear friend or relation that was the trial of his patience, and that suggested to him these meditations of mortality; and at the same time, it should seem too, he himself was weak and ill, and under some prevailing distemper.” Hengstenberg thinks that the psalm was written “when in hot persecucution and violent conflict.” It is clear that the Psalmist was in affliction and trouble, and his mind seems to have been sorely exercised as to the Divine dealings. He could not see the wisdom, the benevolence, or the justice of some of the Divine arrangements. He had dark and painful thoughts on the matter, which he dare not utter. And at length he is compelled to seek relief in prayer. Homiletically we divide the psalm thus,—Silence in Trouble (Psalms 39:1-3; Speech in Trouble (Psalms 39:4-6); Supplication in Trouble (Psalms 39:7-13).
SILENCE IN TROUBLE
We have here presented to our consideration:—
I. Silence maintained in trouble. “I said I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue,” &c. (Psalms 39:1-2).
1. God’s providential dealings, as seen by us, sometimes occasion doubt and trouble to good men. The Psalmist appears greatly perplexed as to the Divine administration of human affairs. He saw so much grief and pain in life, apparently proceeding from the hand of God, he was himself being consumed by the blow of God’s hand, and life itself was so short and vain, that he could not see the benevolence of the dealings of God with him. The providence of God has occasioned much perplexity and doubt in the minds of good met Asaph was sorely tried at one time by some of its problems (Psalms 73:0). We all have passed through experiences which at the time seemed utterly irreconcilable with the wisdom and love of God, and unbelieving and painful thoughts and feelings have filled our mind and heart. At such times we shall do well to remember that we see only a very small portion of His ways, and that small portion we see but dimly. Moreover, bitter experiences often lead to richest blessings.
2. The expression of such doubt and trouble in the presence of the wicked is to be avoided as evil. By the utterance of the sceptical and hard thoughts of God which filled his mind, the Psalmist would probably have confirmed the wicked in their unbelief, and encouraged them in their rebellion against God. Asaph felt that if he spake of his mental difficulties, and announced the dark conclusions which suggested themselves to him, he should thereby injure the true children of God. “If I say I will speak thus; behold, I should offend the generation of Thy children.” We are not at liberty to express our doubts, if, by so doing, we should give the wicked an occasion to blaspheme the Holy One, or if we should unsettle the faith of any sincere believer in God.
3. The good man guards against this evil by maintaining silence. “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue,” &c. A soul resolutely maintaining silence, lest by speech another should be injured, is surely a brave and beautiful sight. “What a strange power,” says Emerson, “there is in silence! How many resolutions are formed, how many sublime conquests effected, during that pause when the lips are closed, and the soul secretly feels the eye of her Maker upon her! When some of those cutting, sharp, blighting words have been spoken which send the hot indignant blood to the face and head, if those to whom they are addressed keep silence, look on with awe, for a mighty work is going on within them, and the spirit of evil, or their guardian angel, is very near to them in that hour. During that pause they have made a step toward heaven or toward hell, and an item has been scored in the book which the day of judgment shall see opened. They are the strong ones of the earth, the mighty food for good or evil, those who know how to keep silence when it is a pain and a grief to them; those who give time to their own souls to wax strong against temptation, or to the powers of wrath to stamp upon them their withering passage.” The good man is ready to speak, when by his speech he can help the faith of others. He says, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” He is “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear.” But if by his speech he should incur the risk of imperilling the faith or peace of a believing soul, or of hardening the wicked in his wickedness, then he resolutely keeps silent. The silence of the Psalmist required effort. He put a muzzle upon his mouth. It is a pity that some of the weaklings, who so glibly prate about their doubts, and parade their so-called religious difficulties, would not try to imitate the Psalmist in this respect. But the Psalmist was a strong man, while the majority of those who exhibit their mental and religious difficulties as a sign of a superior order of mind, are the very reverse. The soul that has agonised with real doubts on the most vital and momentous questions will be silent concerning such doubts, or speak of them in such a manner and to such auditors only as will at least derive no harm from his speech.
II. Silence increasing trouble. We adopt Hengstenberg’s rendering of the second verse. “I grew dumb and was still; I was silent, not for good, and my pain was stirred.” He explains it thus, “The Psalmist says he had indeed executed his purpose, declared in the preceding verse, but that ill had thereby accrued. The obstinate and constrained silence, so far from producing good, had rather made his pain rise to a frightful magnitude.” All great emotions require expression. They must have utterance, or the over-taxed brain will reel into madness, and the over-charged heart will burst. Sometimes great emotions find utterance in poetry. We have many instances of this in these Psalms. Prose is all too hard and cold for the expression of intense emotions. The grief-stricken spirit pours out its sorrows in plaintive minor strains, and the jubilant soul hymns its gladness in some triumphant “Gloria in excelsis,” or Jubilate. Yet words the most intensely poetical in significance and arrangement not unfrequently fail to express the soul’s emotion. Very often great emotions find utterance in tears. When words fail to express our deep grief or thrilling joy, tears often come to our relief. “They are the safety-valves of the heart, when too much pressure is laid on.” “They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
“Sweet tears! the awful language eloquent
Of infinite affection, far too big
Thus tears relieve the soul when surcharged with sorrow or o’erburdened by some great joy. But great emotions may always find relief in prayer. No sorrow is too great or too sacred for us to utter it to the ear of God. We may speak our highest, holiest, joy to Him. And the dark and agonising doubt, which we dare not utter to any of our fellow-men, we may tell to Him. He understands our tears, interprets our sighs, and knows the mysteries of our awful souls; and His ear is ever open to us. At His throne of grace we may ever find relief in trouble, and grace to help in time of need. For a time, the Psalmist seems to have reserved his trouble not only from man but from God also. The emotions which distressed him found no utterance whatever, and so they became more intense and painful. Had he taken his grief to God, it would have been far otherwise with him.
III. Silence growing insupportable in trouble. “My heart was hot within me, while I was musing,” &c. The Psalmist mused upon his own afflictions and the prosperity of the wicked, and the seeming contradictions in God’s government of the world. By meditation, he realised these things more fully and intensely, until at length further silence was an impossibility. The time had come when he must speak. Upon one occasion, Jeremiah said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But it was in mine heart as a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and could not do it.” Such was the state of the Psalmist at this time.
1. Let us be careful in speaking our doubts and dark thoughts to men. We are bound to see to it that we neither shake the faith of the believer, nor afford the wicked any cause to blaspheme the Holy One.
2. Let us communicate all our mental conflicts and troubles to God. By so doing we shall be relieved; and He will help us by His grace and Spirit.
A COMMENDABLE RESOLUTION
“I said I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.”
We have here—
I. A great danger. We are in great danger of sinning with our tongue. There are several kinds of sinful speech of which we are in danger.
1. Sceptical or irreligious speech. The expression even of honest doubt should be suppressed if it is likely to offend any believer, or to harden the ungodly in wickedness.
2. Careless speech. To talk in a trifling spirit of sacred things, or to speak lightly of matters which concern the reputation and honour of another, is to sin.
3. Untruthful speech. There is much false speech without a directly uttered lie. By keeping back part of the truth, by colouring a narrative, &c., much evil is done. “A lie has no legs, and cannot stand; but it has wings, and can fly far and wide.”
4. Angry, passionate speech. When we have lost our self-control, we are not in a fit state to speak at all. In moments of passion men utter unjust and bitter words, which rankle in the hearts of those to whom they are addressed for years, perhaps for ever. Remember, “words once spoken can never be recalled.”
5. Malicious speech. Let us see to it that we never open our lips with the deliberate intention of injuring any one. Tale-bearers and slanderers are amongst the most guilty of men, and the greatest pests of society.
Whose edge is sharper than the sword; whose tongue
Outvenoms all the worms of Nile; whose breath
Rides on the posting winds, and doth belie
All corners of the world: kings, queens, and states,
Maids, matrons,—nay, the secrets of the grave,
This viperous slander enters.”—SHAKESPEARE.
The danger of uttering sinful speeches arises from
(1.) The facility of speech. No organ of the body moves with greater ease than the tongue.
(2.) The fact that under provocation it is an outlet for pent-up feeling.
(3.) The many temptations to speech. Loquacity is a weakness of the age. With so much talking there must be much that is positively evil, and yet more that is worthless. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.”
II. A wise precaution. “I will take heed to my ways,” &c. The Psalmist resolves to guard against this evil. We need to exercise care as to—
1. What we speak. Let us speak only the pure, the true, the kindly, the faith-inspiring, &c. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.”
2. When we speak. “A word spoken in due season, how good is it!”
3. How we speak. Let us use those words which most correctly and clearly express our meaning. In our tones and manner of speech let us avoid the objectionable and evil.
CONCLUSION:—Let us not only avoid the evil, but let us also cultivate the excellent in speech.
“Apt words have power to ’suage
The tumults of a troubled mind,
And are as balm to festered wounds.”
SPEECH IN TROUBLE
The Psalmist in his speech reveals his—
I. Desire to know the duration of his life. “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” Professor Alexander and De Wette translate the last clause: “When I shall cease.” And Hengstenberg: “I wish to know when I may cease.” The Psalmist believed that—
1. His days were determined by God. Man’s “days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee; Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” “Is there not an apppointed time to man upon earth?” “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” So the Psalmist believed that the measure of his life was fixed, and the number of his days determined by the Lord.
2. He seeks to know when they will come to an end. “Make me to know mine end,” &c. At this time, the life of David was one of trouble; apparently it was full of sorrow, and he was anxious to know when his suffering life would terminate. But, whatever may be the prevailing tone of our life, it is not a wise thing to seek to know the times and seasons of our future days.
3. He desires the termination of his days. David seems to have longed in this verse for his life to be brought to a close. In his present troubled state it seems to him that the end of his sufferings will come only with the end of his life, and he is impatient for that end. Job, in his sufferings, gives expression repeatedly to the same feeling: “Oh, that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me,” &c. (Job 6:8-11). The Psalmist evidently knew that this impatience and this want of submission to the Divine arrangements were evil. Hence, for a time, and before men, he had curbed their expression; but now he pours them out before God. Blessed is he who, whether in suffering or in rest, calmly leaves his life to God. “My times are in Thy hand.”
II. Impression of the brevity of his life. “Behold, Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before Thee.” The Psalmist gives a double expression to his sense of the brevity of his life. His days were “as an handbreadth.” “The word is used to denote anything very short or brief. It is one of smallest natural measures, as distinguished from the foot, i.e., the length of the foot; and from the cubit, i.e., the length of the arm to the elbow.” And, as compared with God’s, his life shrunk, as it were, into nothingness. “My life is as non-existence before Thee.” How brief is life even at its longest! “Our days are few and short indeed, compared with the eternity to which they are conducting us—compared with the work we have to do, for ourselves, for our families, for our generation, for God—compared with the talents committed to our trust, and the improvement of those talents required at our hands—compared with the innumerable obligations that press upon us, from our station in life, our relations in life, our opportunities of usefulness, and the means which we have both of getting and of doing good.” But, compared with the eternal existence of God, our life vanishes. As Matthew Henry says: “All time is nothing to God’s eternity, much less our share of time.” Knowing that life is so brief, yet so important, let us prize it, improve its opportunities,—make the most of it.
III. Impression of the vanity of life.
1. The vanity of human anxieties. “Surely they are disquieted in vain.” The restless strivings and exertions of men seemed to the Psalmist to result in no worthy issue. “Our disquietudes,” says Matthew Henry, “are often groundless (we vex ourselves without any just cause, and the occasions of our trouble are often the creatures of our own fancy and imagination), and they are always fruitless; we disquiet ourselves in vain, for we cannot, with all our disquietment, alter the nature of things or the counsel of God; things will be as they are when we have disquieted ourselves ever so much about them.”
2. The vanity of human acquisitions. “He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them.” The word riches is supplied by the translators. Hengstenberg: “He gathers and knows not who will enjoy it.” The idea is that it is vain to amass treasures knowing not what will become of them when our brief tenure of life is at an end. Many are the illustrations of this truth which might be adduced. Here is one: “M. Foscue, the French millionaire miser, in order to make sure of his treasures, dug a cave in his wine-cellar, so large and deep that he could go down with a ladder. At the entrance was a door with a spring lock, which, on shutting, would fasten of itself. After a time, he was missing. Search was made for him, but to no purpose. At last, his house was sold. The purchaser, beginning to rebuild it, discovered a door in this cellar, and, going down, found him lying dead on the ground, with a candlestick near him; and, on searching farther, discovered the vast wealth which he had amassed. He went into the cave; and the door, by some accident, shutting after him, he perished for want of food. He had eaten the candle, and gnawed the flesh off both his arms. Thus died this avaricious wretch in the midst of the treasures he had heaped together.”—Dictionary of Illus.
3. The vanity of man himself. “Every man at his best estate is altogether vanity.” This rendering is not correct Hengstenberg translates: “Only for utter vanity was every man ordained.” P.-B.—“Verily, every man living is altogether vanity.” Two ideas are expressed,
(1.) that every man is vanity;
(2.) that this is so because of the Divine ordination. God has constituted every man vanity. The Psalmist employs another figure to set forth the vanity of man: “Surely every man walketh in a vain show.” Hengstenberg: “Only as an image walks man.” To the poet man seemed an image rather than a reality,—a mere walking phantom, a thing having no power, no life in itself, but only a mere shadow of life and strength. Such was the gloomy and one-sided view of life which filled the Psalmist’s mind in this time of trouble.
IV. Impatience of life. This is not so much uttered in any word, or number of words, as it breathes in the spirit of all the words of our text. The Psalmist was impatient of life by reason of its shortness, its vanity, and its sufferings. The same feeling finds outspoken and strong utterance in the Book of Job: “My soul chooseth strangling and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone, for my days are vanity.” Such impatience of life, if found in us in this Christian age, would be both unwise and sinful. It would be unwise, because of its tendency to unfit us for bearing life’s burden and performing life’s work. It would be unwise, also, because it takes into consideration only a small fragment of our life. This is but “the bud of being, the dim dawn, the twilight of our day.” The hereafter must be taken into account. It would be sinful, because of the want of faith in God which it involves, &c. But David, and the men of his age, must be judged by the light which they had, and not by that which we have, much of which they had not.
V. Want of clear and assured knowledge of any life beyond the present. Had he possessed such knowledge, he could not have spoken so strongly as to the utter vanity of man, not only of his anxieties, and pursuits, and acquisitions, but of man himself. In the view of the Psalmist, at the time when he penned this psalm,
Has quenched this finer flame that moves the heart,
Beyond is all oblivion, as waste night
That knows no following dawn, where we shall be
As we had never been: the present, then,
Is only ours.”—MALLET.
“It is not to be overlooked,” says Hengstenberg, “that the psalm possesses in part an Old Testament character. While still there was no clear insight into a future state of being, a long-continued state of suffering must have sunk very deep into the heart. ‘When a man dies, will he live again?’ says Job; ‘all the days of my war-service will I wait, till my discharge come.’ With every day of his short and miserable existence was the space narrowing for the display of the retributive justice and grace of God; and when the powers of body and of soul began to fail, then the disconsolate thought would press upon him, that he would never come to partake of the blessing which God had promised to His people—it would scarcely be possible to avoid sinking into perplexity and despair. But this special Old Testament character of the psalm, far from depriving the psalm of its edifying signification for us, rather serves the purpose of enhancing it. The declaration: ‘My hope stands in Thee,’ which the Psalmist uttered in circumstances when it was against all reason to hope, may well put us to shame, who are easily brought into despair by light and temporal afflictions, while we have the prospect of an exceeding weight of glory; and the more that he hoped, while there was the less to hope for, so much the more readily should our hope be kindled by the light of his.” Considering how dim their revelation was, as compared with ours, their faith in God is a rebuke to us, because our faith is not greater. If immortality had beer clearly revealed to the Psalmist, the tone of this psalm would have been very different.
1. Learn the great value of “The Book of Psalms.” In these ancient poems we have true records of the life of godly souls. We see the sins and sorrows, the doubts and fears, the conflicts, temporary defeats, and glorious triumphs of these saints of old; and we are warned, encouraged, &c. Thank God for such a record of the experience of godly men.
2. Learn the great value of Christianity. How different does life appear since Jesus Christ has lived, died, and risen! He “hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
3. By the help of God let us endeavour to live well and earnestly. “Think of living!” says Thomas Carlyle. “Thy life, wert thou the ‘pitifulest of all the sons of earth,’ is no idle dream, but a solemn reality. It is thy own; it is all thou hast to front eternity with. Work, then, even as He has done, and does, ‘like a star, unhasting, yet unresisting.’ ”
MAN, A WALKING SHADOW
“Surely, every man walketh in a vain show.”
These words suggest two main ideas:
I. Life is a journey. “Every man walketh.” This figure implies—
1. Motion. Life is never stationary. Its wheels know no pause. We remain not a day in the same position. The traveller moves onward to fresh scenes, &c. So in life, the events and circumstances of yesterday are behind us to-day, and those of to-day will be in the past to-morrow. Life’s motion is incessant. The traveller, in his journey, may pause to rest or to admire the scenery through which he is passing, but it is not so in the journey of life. In this there is no pausing, not even for a minute. Asleep or awake, active or indolent, living wisely or living as a fool, every man moves forward without any pause, as though urged by a resistless hand. Life’s motion is incessantly onward. The traveller, in his journey, may retrace his steps; but, in the journey of life, we cannot turn back a single step. Every day, we are “going the way whence we shall never return.” A solemn consideration this. The wise man will note it.
2. Destiny, and approach to it. The traveller journeys with an end in view. And life’s journey has an end. As regards the body, we are travelling to the grave; as regards the soul, to the solemn retributions of eternity,—either to heaven or to hell. And how rapidly we advance to the solemn beurne of our pilgrimage! The eagle hastening to its prey, the arrow speeding to its mark, the clouds driving before the strong wind, move not so swiftly as man’s life. How solemn, then, is life! how important its every moment and every action!
II. Life is a journey prosecuted falsely. “Every man walketh in a vain show.” Hengstenberg: “Only as an image man walks.” What does this mean? It does not mean that life is not real. Life is not a vain show, not phantasmal, but a most solemn reality. Nor does it mean that man himself is unreal, a vain show, an image. Man himself is a greater reality than the solid earth or lustrous heavens. What, then, does it mean? It means that man is not true to himself; that he is false to the reality of his own being, false to the reality of life also. Man shuns himself, and lives amid unreality, amid vain shows. Practically, he ignores his own true being and lives in the realm of fiction. This implies that man is not in his normal condition. He was not made for shams, but for truth. But he half-consciously realises the fact that he has lost the blessedness of his being, and by his false modes of seeking to regain it he shows the derangement of his being and powers. He seeks it in vain shows, in excitement, pleasure, wealth, fame, knowledge. “What shadows we are, and what shadows do we pursue,” said the great Edmund Burke. Man sometimes pursues these vain shows until he himself becomes a mere image,—a living, acting, gaudy simulacrum. Can we discover the reason of this? Partly, at least, we may thus account for it. Man feels the greatness of his own being, and cannot interpret it; and he becomes perplexed, burdened. He has impulses which urge him to activity. He has also an instinctive consciousness that his well-being is to be found only in repose; and, prompted by these, he forms confused designs for obtaining satisfaction, by overcoming difficulties and thus gaining repose. But he does not reach the desired goal, because his course is false, and false are his aims. He is ever seeking, never finding. And deep at the root of all this falsity, and disappointment, and unrest, is the sad fact that his own being is not in harmony. The cause of the disquiet, and falsity, and vanity, is within him. Upon all the unrest, and gaudy show, and baffled hopes of men we may write, “Every man walketh in a vain show.” And upon the men themselves we may write, “Only as an image man walks.” Only in God can man be true and blessed; and only through Christ can man rise into union with God. Restored to God, man is restored to himself, and is able to live true to himself, to live not as “an image,” but as a reality. He then finds that true rest is found in the harmonious activity of the powers of his being in accordance with the will of God. Living for God, and in God, “life is real, life is earnest.”
What is the character of your life-journey?
SUPPLICATION IN TROUBLE
In this instance, we use the word supplication not in the signification of petition or entreaty merely, but in its broad signification as including request, acknowledgment of dependence, thanksgiving, prayer. So using it, the teaching of this section may fitly be grouped under the heading, “Supplication in Trouble.”
I. The confidence avowed. “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee.”
1. Man’s need of hope. Low as the Psalmist was sunk in misery, he had not lost hope. “The miserable hath no other medicine,” says Shakespeare, “but only hope.” “He that loses hope may part with anything.”—Congreve. But he that retains hope may rise from great depths of misery to calm heights of joy. When that star is quenched in the firmament of the soul, the darkness is unrelieved and total Judas lost hope, and was undone. “We are saved by hope.”
2. Man’s only sufficient hope. “My hope is in Thee.” The Psalmist has already bewailed the vanity of man, and of his pursuits. Man is an image pursuing shadows. There is no trust to be reposed in him: to hope in him is to invite disappointment. So the Psalmist turns from human pursuits and possessions, and from man himself, and fixes his hope in God. Although he regarded his troubles as coming from the hand of God, and cried bitterly and complainingly to Him, yet it was to Him that he looked,—in Him that he trusted. God may appear severe, and His ways mysterious and painful, yet there is no one beside Him to whom we can look for help, and in whom we can place our trust in the great trials of life. And He is all-sufficient in all things.
II. The submission expressed. “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.”
1. The submission. “I am dumb, I open not my mouth.” The silence which is spoken of here is very different from that spoken of in Psalms 39:2. Then he was silent lest by his murmurings against the government of God he should cause the wicked to blaspheme; now he is silent because he acquiesces in the arrangements of that government. That was the silence of rebellion, or at least of bitter dissatisfaction and complaint; this is the silence of trustful submission to the will and ways of God. He submits himself to God, feeling no desire now to complain of His providence.
2. The reason. “Because Thou didst it.” The Psalmist looked upon his afflictions and sorrows as produced by God, and in that he found reasons for patient acquiescence. How much more should we! Knowing how wise and loving, how tender and strong He is, let us immediately check any rising complaint with the consideration, “It must be well, for Thou hast done it.”
“It is Thy hand, my God;
My sorrow comes from Thee:
I bow beneath Thy chastening rod,
’Tis love that bruises me.”—DARBY.
III. The petitions presented.
1. For the forgiveness of sin. “Deliver me from all my transgressions; make me not the reproach of the foolish.” These two clauses have a close relation. That relation, as we understand it, may be expressed thus:—The afflictions of the Psalmist were regarded by men as a proof that he was wicked: on this account his enemies reproached him; if his sins were forgiven, his afflictions would cease, so he thought; and in this way the reproaches of the wicked would be brought to an end. David seems to have viewed his sins as the cause of his sufferings and troubles. He seeks forgiveness of sin before he asks for removal of suffering. This is well and wise. Would that all efforts for the amelioration of human condition proceeded in this order! When moral evil is no more, “natural evil” (so called) will soon cease to be. When sin is not, suffering will not long continue. When the fountain is dry, the stream will speedily cease to run.
2. For the removal of affliction. “Remove Thy stroke away from me; I am consumed by the blow of Thine hand,” &c. (Psalms 39:10-11). He regarded
(1.) His afflictions as Divine correction, “Thy stroke, … the blow of Thine hand.… When Thou with rebukes dost correct,” &c. The sufferings of the people of God are frequently God’s chastisement by reason of their sins. When He corrects us, it is because of our iniquity, and in love to us. “My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” &c. (Hebrews 12:5-11).
(2.) His affliction was severe. “I am consumed by the blow of Thine hand.… Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth.” Margin: “That which is to be desired in him to melt away.” Hengstenberg: “Thou dost consume, as by a moth, what he loves.” As the moth consumes the most beautiful woollen garment or the finest sable, so the Psalmist says he was being consumed away by the afflictions which had come upon him,—his strength and vigour, his cheerfulness, and courage, and beauty, were passing away before the expressions of the displeasure of God. Yet, severe as these corrections were, God could remove them. Low as he was reduced by suffering, God could raise him up again. For this he prays. He turns for healing to the hand that wounded him; for lifting up to Him who had brought him low.
3. For invigoration before death. “O spare me, that I may recover strength before I go hence, and be no more.” Hengstenberg: “Leave off from me, that I may be revived, before I go away and be no more.” The first member, literally: Look away from me, that I may brighten up; q.d. turn away from me Thy angry look, so that my sorrowful one may be made cheerful. “The idea,” says Barnes, “is that of being cheered up; of being strengthened and invigorated before he should pass away.” He desired to be invigorated and comforted before he passed away from this world for ever.
IV. The pleas urged. “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not Thy peace at my tears,” &c. (Psalms 39:12). The Psalmist pleads—
1. His sorrow. “Hold not Thy peace at my tears.” “Weeping, if unmurmuring,” says Barnes, “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.” And, says John Arnd, “This is the effect of tears, when one sees or hears any one weeping sadly, one cannot well remain silent, as the Lord Jesus said to the woman at Nain, ‘Weep not;’ and to Mary Magdalene, ‘Woman, why weepest Thou?’ This nature teaches us. Now, if a man can scarcely be silent to a person’s tears, how much less the Lord God! Therefore, it is said in Psalms 56:0 that God numbers the tears of believers, and in Isaiah 25:0 that He will wipe away all tears from our eyes.” In thus pleading his sorrow, the Psalmist appeals to the compassion of God. “The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.”
2. His dependence. “For I am a stranger with Thee,—a sojourner, as all my fathers.” “A stranger and pilgrim has nothing of his own, he is quite dependent upon the goodness of those with whom he lives, is everywhere on the footing of a beggar.” By thus pleading his dependence, the Psalmist appeals to the faithfulness of God. Such-appeals are ever met by a full and gracious response.
CONCLUSION:—There is still much vanity, and gloom, and sorrow, in life. There are times when our “burden seems greater than our strength can bear,” and we are ready to cry out in impatient complaint to God. But let us take our burdens to Him. He will interpret their meaning, and give us strength to bear them. He is the unfailing support in life’s troubles of all who trust in Him. “Lord, my hope is in Thee.”
GOD AFFLICTING, AND MAN SUBMITTING
“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.”
I. God afflicting man. “Thou didst it.” This will apply—
1. To many temporal losses, e.g., those occasioned by floods, storms, earthquakes, &c.
2. To many bodily afflictions.
3. To the bereavements of death. “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?”—Barnes.
II. Man submitting to God. “I am dumb, I open not my month, because Thou didst it.” Submission to God may be enforced by the following considerations:
1. The folly of rebelling against Him.
2. The perfection of His character. He is perfect in wisdom, goodness, faithfulness. In accordance with these glorious attributes, He governs the world.
3. The uses of suffering. Great are the benefits of sanctified affliction. “Thou didst it,” we say now in submission. “He hath done all things well,” we shall soon exclaim in rapture.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 39". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17