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THE psalmist, vexed and disgusted with life, feeling a desire to murmur and complain, but aware that his words are watched, and his wicked enemies ready to make use of them against him, has resolved on maintaining an entire silence—at any rate, while the ungodly are in his sight (Psalms 39:1, Psalms 39:2), but is unable to keep to his resolve. Despite himself, he bursts out into speech—a speech of bitter complaint (Psalms 39:4-6). "How long has he got to endure this life so unsatisfactory, so full of vanity?" The outburst relieves him, and he continues in a gentler strain, recognizing God's hand in the griefs and woes of life, entreating his help, and finally asking to be spared a little, that he may recover strength, before he goes hence and is no more (Psalms 39:7-13).
The title assigns the psalm to David, and represents him as having committed the composition for musical arrangement to the precentor, or choir-master, of the time, who is then named as Jeduthun, one of the chief musicians in David's service (1 Chronicles 16:41, 1 Chronicles 16:42; 1 Chronicles 25:3-6). There is no reason to dispute this attribution. The poetic beauty of the composition is great, and the circumstances are such as suit David's early life.
The pause-sign, "Selah," divides the psalm into three portions:
(1) from Psalms 39:1 to Psalms 39:5;
(2) from Psalms 39:6 to Psalms 39:11; and
(3) from Psalms 39:12 to the end.
I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue. There are no grounds for connecting this silence with the abstinence from self-vindication mentioned in the preceding psalm (Psalms 39:13, 14). Indeed, it seems to have had a wholly different origin (see the introductory paragraph). I will keep my mouth with a bridle; i.e. "curb my impatience, restrain and keep in my speech." While the wicked is before me. The Prayer-book Version is better, if less literal, "While the ungodly is in my sight."
I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good. Some explain, "I held my peace, but it did me no good—I was none the better for it" (Hupfeld, Hengstenberg, Canon Cook); others adopt the Prayer-book Version, I kept silence even from good words" (Kay, Alexander, Revised Version). And my sorrow was stirred. The pain at my heart was not quieted thereby, nor even lessened; rather, it was roused up, quickened, and aggravated. This is the natural result of repressing any strong feeling.
My heart was hot within me; or, grew hot (Kay). And while I was musing the fire burned; or, kindled (Revised Version). Then spake I with my tongue; i.e. aloud, articulately. I could not—at any rate, I did not—refrain myself. I burst out in speech, and made my moan to God
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the number of my days. This is not exactly the request of Job, who desired to be at once cut off (Job 6:9; Job 7:15; Job 14:13), but it is a request conceived in the same spirit. The psalmist is weary of life, expects nothing from it, feels that it is "altogether vanity." He asks, therefore, not exactly for death, hut that it may be told him how long he will have to endure the wretched life that he is leading. He anticipates no relief except in death, and feels, at any rate for the time, that he would welcome death as a deliverer. That I may know how frail I am. So most moderns; but Hengstenberg denies that חדל can ever mean "frail," and falls back upon the old rendering, "that I may know when I shall cease [to be]," which certainly gives a very good sense.
Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth. It seems inconsistent that one who professes to be weary of his life should then complain of life's shortness. But such inconsistency is human. Job does the same (Job 14:1, Job 14:2). And mine age is as nothing before thee. The short human existence can scarcely be regarded by God as existence at all; rather, it is mere nothingness. Verily every man living at his best state is but vanity. So our Revisers. But most moderns translate, "Verily every man living was ordained for utter vanity" (comp. Psalms 62:9; Psalms 144:4).
Surely every man walketh in a vain show; literally, in an image, or "as an image;" i.e. with a mere semblance of life, but without the reality. Surely they are disquieted in vain. Their restless strivings are to no end, have no result. He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them (comp. Job 27:16, Job 27:17; Ecclesiastes 2:18, Ecclesiastes 2:21).
And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. And now—under these circumstances—human life being what it is, and all men nothing but vanity, what is my hope? what is my expectation? what am I waiting for? A cry, as it would seem, of utter despair. But when the night is darkest, day dawns. "Out of the depths" comes forth the voice of faith—"My hope is in THEE!" There is always hope in God When our father and mother forsake us, the Lord taketh us up. He will not leave us nor forsake us. So the psalmist ends his complaint by throwing himself into the arms of the Divine mercy, and unreservedly submitting himself to God's will.
Deliver me from all my transgressions. The approach to God quickens in every God-fearing man the sense of sin and the longing for pardon. So the psalmist has no sooner thrown himself upon God as his one Hope, than the thought of his sin occurs to him—the sin which has brought upon him all his misery; and his first prayer is to be "delivered" from it. Make me not the reproach of the foolish. So long as his afflictions continued, the psalmist would be an object of scorn to the fool and the un= godly. He prays, therefore, secondly, that the punishment of his sin may cease.
I was dumb, I opened not my mouth (comp. Psalms 39:1, Psalms 39:2). Because thou didst it. The knowledge that my afflictions came from thee, and were the just punishment of my transgressions, helped me to keep the silence which I observed while the ungodly was in my sight.
Remove thy stroke away from me (camp. Psalms 38:11). I am consumed by the blow of thine hand; literally, by the quarrel of thine hand. But our version gives the true meaning. The "quarrel" has led the "hand" to deal the "stroke" by which the sufferer is "consumed" or "wasted away" (Kay).
When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity. The calamities which God sends on a man are of the nature of "rebukes" addressed to his spirit. They are intended to teach, instruct, warn, deter from evil-doing (see Job 36:8-10). Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth; or, "thou dost consume, as by a moth, what he prizes;" i.e. his health, his strength, "all wherein he has joy and satisfaction" (Hengstenberg). As a moth corrodes a beautiful garment, so does thy displeasure and heavy hand pressing on him corrode and destroy all which constituted his delight and glory. Surely every man is vanity (comp. Psalms 39:5 ad fin.). This has become a sort of refrain, terminating the second as well as the first part of the psalm (comp. Psalms 107:8, Psalms 107:15, Psalms 107:21, Psalms 107:31; Ecclesiastes 2:1, Ecclesiastes 2:11, Ecclesiastes 2:15, Ecclesiastes 2:19, Ecclesiastes 2:21, Ecclesiastes 2:23, Ecclesiastes 2:26; Isaiah 9:12, Isaiah 9:17, Isaiah 9:21).
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears. Tears appeal to the Divine pity in an especial way. "Weep not!" said our Lord to the widow woman at Nain; and to Mary Magdalene, "Why weepest thou?" He himself offered up his supplications with strong crying and tears" (Hebrews 5:7); and so his faithful servants (Job 16:20 : Psalms 6:6; Psalms 42:3; Psalms 56:8; Isaiah 16:9; Isaiah 38:3; Jeremiah 15:17; Lamentations 2:11; Luke 7:38; Acts 20:19). Hezekiah's tears especially moved God to pity him (2 Kings 20:5). For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner. "Here we have no continuing city" (Hebrews 13:14), but are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13). Hence, being so weak and dependent, we may the more confidently claim God's pity. As all my fathers were (comp. Leviticus 25:23, "The land is mine; ye are strangers and sojourners with me ").
O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more. The Psalmist, no longer anxious for death, but still expecting it, requests of God, in conclusion, a breathing-space, a short time of refreshment and rest, before he is called on to leave the earth and "be no more ;" i.e. bring his present state of existence to an end. Nothing is to be gathered from the expression used as to his expectation or non-expectation of a future life.
A wise prayer.
"Lord, make me to know mine end," etc. The writer of this most beautiful, though most sorrowful, psalm opens to us his inmost heart. The inspiring Spirit speaks through one of like passions with ourselves. His-own sorrows had taught him sympathy. Looking at human life, he seems to see one vast funeral procession, in which business and pleasure seem alike vain. Yet he shrinks from uttering his pent-up feelings, lest he appear to the ungodly to be blaming God. So he turns to God and pours out his grief in prayer.
I. THIS SEEMS AN UNNECESSARY PRAYER—AT LEAST AT FIRST SIGHT. If any truth is obvious, it is this—of the brevity and frailty of life. Brief at longest (Psalms 90:10), especially if we reckon the time spent in sleep or dissipated in numberless trifles (Psalms 39:5); frail, ever carrying within it the germs of decay and dissolution. Utterly uncertain—the strongest life may in a moment snap like a thread or be torn like a tree from its root. Who knows not all this?
II. YET IT IS A VERY NEEDFUL AND WISE PRAYER. For there is no truth so obvious and certain which men take so little to heart. "All men think all men mortal but themselves." The picture Charles Dickens has drawn of the lawyer who is for ever harping on the duty of making your will in health, and who dies intestate, is very true to human nature. The psalmist's prayer is not for everybody else, but for himself—"Teach me … my days." How account for this blind insensibility of men to the certainty of the future—this "walking in a vain show"? It seems unaccountable, yet so ingrained, nothing less than Divine teaching will cure it.
III. THE TEACHING HERE PRAYED FOR IS NOT TO INFORM US OF THE FACT, WHICH EVERYBODY KNOWS—AND FORGETS, BUT TO ENABLE US TO LEARN ITS LESSONS. Not mere knowledge, but wisdom.
1. Do not anchor your hope on a life so frail, or store your treasure in a world you may leave to-morrow—must leave soon (Psalms 39:6; Matthew 6:19-21).
2. Do not leave to-day's work to be done to-morrow. A certain eminent statesman is said to have made it a rule to "do nothing to-day which you can put off till to-morrow." This has two great disadvantages:
(1) To-morrow will have its own burden, without being double-weighted.
(2) You may not be here to-morrow to do it (John 9:4).
3. Cast the care of the unknown future on God. The frailest thread of life cannot break in his hand unless he wills (Matthew 10:22-31; Mat 6:1-34 :80).
4. Live as pilgrims, "like unto men who wait for their Lord" (Psalms 39:12). If you are a believer in Jesus, a child of God by faith, then the keys of life and death are in the hands once nailed for you to the cross, of which he says, "Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). Death will but come as his messenger. Learn to look full in the dark angel's face and smile, and you will see an answering smile (Hebrews 13:14; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 Corinthians 5:8).
God, the Refuge of the soul.
"My hope is in thee." This is the single note of joy the psalmist strikes from his harp amid its mournful music—like a ray of sunshine from a stormy sky. From his own private sorrow, from his wide survey of the troubles of human life, he takes refuge in God.
I. A HOPE OF PRESENT HELP, IMMEDIATE DELIVERANCE. (Psalms 39:13.) He is a stranger and a sojourner with God (Leviticus 25:23); but he hopes the brief remainder of his pilgrimage will be divinely led, even as his fathers had the manna, the water from the rock, the pillar of cloud and fire, in the desert. Hope in God is not a faraway hope, but looks to him as "a very present Help" (Psalms 46:1; John 14:18).
II. A HOPE THAT LOOKS BEYOND THIS LIFE, FOR GOD IS THE EVER-LIVING. (John 14:19.) If hope in God stopped short at the grave, the transient gleam would make the darkness but more terrible (1 Corinthians 15:19; comp. Hebrews 11:13-16). Wonderful pleasure seems taken by critics and commentators in casting doubt on the knowledge or hope of a future life among God's ancient people. How could they be ignorant of what formed the basis of Egypt's religion and wisdom, on the one hand, and was no less believed, on the other, by the Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc.? King Saul was no saint, but certainly he fully believed that the spirit of Samuel existed after death (1 Samuel 28:11).
III. THIS HOPE RESTS WITH CERTAINTY ONLY ON GOD. This is our Lord's argument against the Sadducees, to prove that the Old Testament Scriptures do teach immortality (Matthew 22:31, Matthew 22:32). Immortality apart from God would be no glorious hope, but the most appalling of our terrors.
IV. THIS BLESSED HOPE—to those ancient believers matter of sheer faith—RESTS FOR CHRISTIANS ON AN IMMOVABLE DOUBLE FOUNDATION—the resurrection of Christ, which is an actual physical demonstration of life beyond death; and the promises of Christ, which bind our lives personally to his (2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:3; John 14:1-3). No wonder if the faith of the ancient saints sometimes wavered; but ours should be as strong as its foundation (2 Timothy 1:12).
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
Unburdening the heart to God in a time of sore affliction, when nothing can be said to man.
Jeduthun, whose name stands at the head of Psalms 39:1-13, Psalms 62:1-12, and Psalms 77:1-20, was one of a musical family entrusted with the conduct of the musical service in the time of David. The psalms having his name at the head were probably intended to be sung by his choir. £ It would thus seem that in the Hebrew service of sacred song the prayers and plaints of the individual believer were included, when set to music. If so, the "service of song in the house of the Lord" covered a much wider ground than is usually supposed, and was made to include not only direct address to God, whether of prayer or praise, but also the rehearsal of personal experience; and thus a holy fellowship of song would arise, anticipating long ages before, the expression of the apostle, "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs;" only it should be noted that these would be musical utterances of an actual experience going on then and there. It does not follow that the like utterances would be suitable for the service of song now. Discretion and discrimination are needed in the use thereof. This is evidently an individual psalm; it is neither national, prophetic, nor Messianic; £ it is one of those which reflect the care and anxiety with which David was bowed down at one crisis of his life, though to which of his numerous crises it refers it is not easy to decide, £ Nor, indeed, is that of moment. It will profit us more to note the course taken by the psalmist at a time of crushing sorrow, and then to see how far the course which he took may be a guide for us under like circumstances.
I. LET US NOTE THE COURSE ADOPTED BY THE PSALMIST AT A TIME OF CRUSHING SORROW. There is a somewhat wide divergence among expositors in their estimate of this psalm, and of the mental revelations therein contained. £ But we feel bound to look at the psalmist's words tenderly rather than harshly, knowing as we do, how often, in agonies of soul, the best men may utter words which would not escape them in their calmer hours (cf. Psalms 116:11).
1. Here is a case of sore affliction. "Thy stroke" (Psalms 77:10); "the blow of thine hand" (Psalms 77:10). Whatever the sorrow may have been to which reference is made, it is regarded as coming directly from God. "Thou didst it" (Psalms 77:9). It was so heavy that David was "consumed" thereby (Psalms 77:10). And it was looked on by him as a chastisement for his transgressions (of. Psalms 77:8, Psalms 77:11).
2. It is, under such circumstances, very hard to be absolutely still. So the first verse implies. There is little indication that the disturbing trouble arose (as some suggest) from seeing the prosperity of the wicked; but evidently there is some distinctively personal trouble, probably sickness and weakness, which, with all the public demands made upon him, weighs heavily upon his soul, and he is tempted to complain and to seek sympathy from without. But:
3. He is in the midst of uncongenial souls. (Psalms 77:1.) "The wicked is before me." Note: Earthly men are poor companions in the distresses of spiritual men. To the natural man the sorrows of a spiritual man would be altogether unintelligible. And supposing that the troubles here referred to arose about the time of and in connection with Absalom's rebellion, the majority of those round about David would be men whose thoughts and aims moved entirely in the military or political sphere. Hence:
4. Here is a wise resolve. (Psalms 77:1, Psalms 77:2.) He will say nothing. There would be many reasons for this.
(1) No one would enter into his feelings.
(2) What he said would be misunderstood.
(3) He would consequently be misrepresented.
(4) The more he said, the worse matters would be. And
(5) if he told men what he thought and felt, he would be very likely to say something which he would afterwards regret.
"That I sin not with my tongue." Hence silence is his wisest course.
5. But suppressed grief consumes like a fire. (Psalms 77:3.) There is nothing which so wears out the soul, nor which so burns within, as woe to which no vent can be given; so David found it, and consequently:
6. The silence is broken. "Then spake I with my tongue." But, in breaking the silence, he speaks not to man, but to God. After the word "tongue," the Authorized Version has a comma, but the Revised Version a colon, indicating that what he said is about to follow. What an infinite mercy that when we cannot say a word to man, through fear of being misunderstood, we can speak to God, and tell him exactly what we feel, as we feel it, knowing that then we touch a heart infinitely tender, and address an intelligence infinitely wise!
7. In speaking to God he moans and groans. (Psalms 77:4-6.) Does David speak petulantly? Is he asking God to let him know how long he has to endure all this? Is he adducing the frailty and nothingness of man as an argument against his being allowed to suffer thus? So many think, and some, as Calvin, are very hard on David—very. But why? There is a vast difference between the fretfulness of an overburdened man and the waywardness of a rebellious man. And he who knows our frame, takes the difference into account. When Elijah pettishly said, "Now, O Lord, take away my life I" God did not rebuke him; he sent an angel to him, and said, "Arise and eat; the journey is too great for thee." £
8. He declares that his expectation of relief is in God alone. (Psalms 77:7.) Just so. These are not the words of a rebellious, but of a trusting one. And from that point of view the whole psalm must be regarded (cf. Psalms 62:1-12.).
9. He will not utter a word of complaint. (Psalms 77:9.) Render, "I am dumb; I open not my mouth, because thou hast done it" ('Variorum Bible'). "Thyself hast done it." On this fact faith fastens; and when this is the case, not a word of murmuring will escape the lips. The cry of a trusting soul is, "Here am I; let him do with me as seemeth him good" (2 Samuel 15:26).
10. Yet he supplicates. (Psalms 77:8, Psalms 77:10, Psalms 77:13.) First, he desires deliverance from sin, then a mitigation of the suffering; such is the order, and the order which only a saint would name. The last verse is, in our versions, obscure. The word "spare ' should not be read in the sense intended when we say, "If I am spared," etc; but in the sense of "O spare me this sorrow!" It is a repetition of Psalms 77:10, "Remove this stroke away from me." It asks not for prolongation of life, but for mitigation of pain. The Revised Version margin gives a more correct translation of the phrase, "that I may recover strength;" rather, "that I may brighten up." No conclusion can be drawn from the end of the thirteenth verse, as to the psalmist's view of another life. The Prayer-book Version, "and be no more seen," gives the sense.
11. The supplication is accompanied by a tender plea. (Psalms 77:12.) "I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." Archbishop Leighton beautifully expresses the force of this plea, "In this world, wherein thou hast appointed me to sojourn a few days, and I betake myself to thy protection in this strange country. I seek shelter under the shadow of thy wings, therefore have compassion upon me."
II. HOW FAR IS THE COURSE TAKEN BY DAVID, IN HIS AFFLICTION, A GUIDE FOR US?
1. In some respects we may well imitate him. In restraining our words before man, and in telling all our cares and woes to God exactly as we feel them, and in such a way as will best relieve an overburdened heart.
2. In other respects we should go far beyond him. Believers ought not to confine themselves now within the limits of such a prayer as this; they should always transcend it. We know more of God's Fatherly love; we know of our great High Priest; we know the fellowship of the Spirit; we know of "the unsearchable riches of Christ;" and hence our prayers should rise above those of David as much as the prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 is above the level of this psalm. Note: The best preventive of sins of the tongue is the fuller and more frequent outpouring of the heart to God.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
Lessons from a funeral.
It is toll of Archbishop Leighton that a friend once met him by the way, and said, "You have been to hear a sermon?" His answer was, "I met a sermon—a sermon de facto, for I met a corpse, and rightly and profitably are the funeral rites performed, when the living lay it to heart." This psalm, so often read at deaths and funerals, suggests some precious lessons for such solemn occasions.
1. A funeral is a time for silence. There is much to think of and ponder in our hearts. We have need to put a restraint upon ourselves, lest we speak rashly or fall into idle and unprofitable talk. But silence cannot always be maintained. As we muse the fire burns, and we are constrained to speak. Let us take care that we speak wisely, with feeling and solemnity, as in the presence of God.
2. A funeral is a time when we are taught the vanity of life. One thing forced on our attention is that life has an end. We know it had a beginning, but we are slow to recognize, at least as to ourselves, that it must have an end. "All men think all men mortal but themselves."
3. Another thing brought to our mind is that life is frail and soon passes away. Measured by human standards, it is but a very little thing—a "hand-breadth;" looked at in the light of God and of eternity, it dwindles away to "nothing." And yet of what stupendous importance to us is this "nothing"!
4. Another thing is that life at the best is full of sorrow and disappointment (Psalms 39:6). Sophocles, one of the wisest of the heathen, said, "I see that we who live are nothing else but images and vain shadows." The great orator, Burke, said, "What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!" Shakespeare also speaks to the same effect—
"Out, out, brief candle,
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more."
What, then, comes of all our labours, all our cares and disquietudes, all our hopes and ambitions? Is there no good that abideth? Is there no wealth laid up which will endure? Must we say, "All is vanity"? Yes, if there were no God, no future world. But let us take heart; let us turn from the thoughts that vex and disquiet our souls, and that leave us without hope, to the Lord our God and to Jesus Christ who has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. When we mourn the loss of friends, or when we take part with others in love and sympathy in the last rites of the dead, let us renew our faith in God. "My hope is in thee." Thus we shall gain strength to bear our trials meekly, and to rise, even at the grave's mouth, to the bright vision of immortality. Let us also cry to God for deliverance from sin (Psalms 39:8-11), from the burden of its guilt, from the slavery of its power, from the miserable reproaches which it brings upon us from without and from within, from the base murmurings and discontent which it breeds, and from the cruel forebodings of evil with which it darkens our lives. God alone can bring us help and comfort in such straits. Finally, let us pray earnestly for spiritual invigoration, that we may not fail in our duty to God and to our brethren. We have not only to sympathize, but to act. The best way we can honour the dead is to work for the living. Every breach made in our ranks is a call to close up and to quit ourselves like men, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Every bereavement is a reminder to us that we too are but "strangers" and sojourners here, and that soon God will call us home. If some father in the Church is gathered as a "shock of corn in his season," let us give thanks, and take courage to follow in his steps; if some young man of rare gifts and promise, and very dear to our hearts, is cut down early, let us be assured that it is because his Master has need of him for service in nobler fields, and let us strive to fill up what he may have left undone of good work for God; if some child, the light of our eyes, has been taken from us, let us believe that it is to enter a higher school than ours, where the holy angels are the teachers, and where progress is quick and sure under the radiant smiles of God.—W.F.
"Spare me!" This prayer is common. From many a bed of sickness, and in the time of weakness and of fear, the mournful cry goes up to heaven. Often there is a gracious answer (Isaiah 38:2, Isaiah 38:5). But the mercy of God is not always remembered, nor the vows made in trouble performed. The words suggest—
I. THAT DEATH IS AN EVENT OF DREAD SIGNIFICANCE.
1. It puts an end to our present mode of being. "Be no more." Yet a little while, and what a change! You will see no more with those eyes; your heart will cease to beat; and your spirit, disengaged from the flesh, will wing its flight to other worlds. What your experiences will be at the awful moment of dissolution, and afterwards, none can tell. All is mystery.
2. It separates us from all we hold dear on earth. "Go hence." This world is dear to us. Here we were born, and have lived; here our minds have been formed and powers developed; here we have tasted the delights of knowledge, of friendship, and of personal achievement; here, in a word, has been our home. To separate from all, to have no more anything to do with what goes on under the sun, is a distressing thing. No wonder if we recoil with pain.
3. It settles for ever our spiritual destiny. "Before I go hence." Life is associated with hope, death with doom. So long as a man lives, there is a possibility of amendment. Errors may be corrected, follies retrieved, evil courses abandoned; but let death come, and it will end all this. Any event that affects our future is important, but this is the most important of all.
"Great God, on what a slender thread
Hang everlasting things!
The eternal states of all the dead
Upon life's feeble strings!"
No wonder, if in thought of these things, we should cry, "Spare me!"
II. THAT GOOD MEN SOMETIMES SHRINK FROM DEATH UNDER A SENSE OF WEAKNESS AND UNPREPAREDNESS. Some are prepared to die. But such a state of mind is rare and inconstant. The best of men have their times of misgiving, as well as their moments of exulting faith. Doubting Castle and the Valley of the Shadow of Death lie in the pilgrim's path, as well as the Delectable Mountains. Even the sweet Land of Beulah is bounded by the cold flood and the swellings of Jordan. The moods of the soul vary. He who says to-day, "I will fear no evil" (Psalms 23:4), may cry to-morrow from the dust, "Oh, spare me!" Paul had a large experience. He had been "in deaths oft" (2 Corinthians 11:23); his heart had been well-nigh broken by separations (Acts 20:37); his whole soul shuddered at the thought of being a "castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27); but what chiefly moved him in the thought of death was sin. "The sting of death is sin." And this has been the feeling of many, and therefore the cry is not merely," Spare me!" but, "that I may recover strength."
1. Strength is needed to face death with fortitude.
2. Strength is lost through sin. There is the action of the body (Psalms 39:11) and of the affections (Psalms 39:12), but worst of all is sin. It clouds the mind, burdens the conscience, racks the heart, darkens the future (Psalms 31:10).
3. Strength may be recovered if sought in due time. "Before I go hence." To everything there is a season. Hence the urgency of the prayer. Life should be used for invigoration of the soul. To be ready we must have our lamps burning. We all receive warnings Perhaps we have been "spared" already. Therefore take heed. It is as we can say, "To me to live is Christ," that we can add, "To die is gain."
III. THAT IN THE SOUL'S DARKEST HOUR GOD IS A SUFFICIENT REFUGE. "Spare me!" Why? Is it that you are young, that you have bright hopes, that you are concerned about those near and dear to you, that you have the consciousness of powers unused, or that you desire to do more for God than you have yet done? The great thing is—Are you seeking this high boon for yourself or for God? If you put your hand in the fire, or cast yourself before the railway car, what boots it to cry, "Spare me"? We can only be spared, in the truest and best sense, by being brought nearer God. God is the Lord of life (1 Samuel 2:6; Revelation 1:18); God is very pitiful and of tender mercy (Exodus 33:11); God is mighty to save. Let us, therefore, trust in him. "Spare me!"—if not the body, the soul; if not to longer life on earth, to eternal life with thee in heaven.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The afflicted man.
The old question of the retributive justice of God lies at the bottom of this psalm. Why should the righteous be afflicted and the wicked prosper, since the sins of the latter are greater and more numerous than those of the former? But he has determined that he will not discuss his difficulties before the wicked, lest he should seem to complain of the Divine ways. But when he can no longer restrain speech, this is what he says, in which we have two main divisions of thought.
I. AN AFFLICTED MAN'S PERPLEXITIES. (Psalms 39:1-6.)
1. He wishes to know when his sufferings shall come to an end—in death. (Psalms 39:4.)
2. He is deeply impressed that human life should be so brief and fleeting. (Psalms 39:5.) Man is but a breath, so that it seems scarcely worth while to live.
3. The restless exertions which men make here are to no purpose. (Psalms 39:6.) Men are but fleeting shadows, and all that they seek for is evanescent; they are troubled in vain.
II. THE AFFLICTED MAN'S HOPE. (Psalms 39:7-13.) In God.
1. The good man is waiting for God. (Psalms 39:7.) To unfold his purpose toward him more fully.
2. To be delivered from all his transgressions. (Psalms 39:8.)
3. His hope in God teaches him self-restraint. (Psalms 39:9.)
4. Teaches him to pray for the Divine mercy to remove his sufferings. (Psalms 39:10.)
5. He pleads for mercy because of the brevity of his life. (Psalms 39:12.) A stranger, "one who is but a passing guest;" a sojourner, "one who settles for a time in a country, but is not a native of it."
6. And because it is near its close, (Psalms 39:13.) I shall soon be no more. Help before it is too late for help. Such faith in God, with such views of this life as being all, is something marvellous, when compared with our faith in him, who believe in an immortal life.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 39". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/