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Wednesday, October 4th, 2023
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 39

Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book PsalmsScott on the Psalms

Verses 1-13

V. 1-4. It is thought, that David wrote this psalm during Absalom’s rebellion : and it is evident that the writer’s mind was greatly discomposed, by injuries and temptations, when he began his meditation. He however resolved to practise the rules which he gave to others; (Notes, Psalms 37:1-9;) and not only to walk with peculiar circumspection, but especially to watch over his words, and stop his mouth, as the mouths of animals are confined by a muzzle : for so the word signifies. (Marg.) Aware of the baseness of his enemies, he determined on a total silence before them : he would neither speak any thing in his own vindication, nor complain of them ; nor utter any pious discourse, which would have been like throwing pearls before swine. Yet the treatment which he received, his indignation at the crimes which he witnessed, his zeal for the honour of God, and the restraint imposed on him, excited in his mind a vehement and painful commotion ; and the thoughts, which wrought within, proved like the blowing of embers, which produces an intense heat, and bursts forth into a flame. (Notes, Jeremiah 20:7-9. Ezekiel 3:22-27.) He did not indeed break his resolution by speaking before the wicked : but with vehemence, and some tincture of impatience, he prayed to the Lord, that he might know his end, and the measure and limits of his days, and now near he was to the closing scene ; that, being suitably affected with the shortness of life, and his own frailty, he might be the more engaged to prepare for death and eternity, and less concerned about all his temporal interests. (Notes, Psalms 90:7-12. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. James 4:13-17. 1 Peter 4:7.) David, in his entire silence, resembled Christ when he answered nothing before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate. (Notes, Matthew 26:63-68; Matthew 27:11-13. Luke 23:6-12. John 19:8-12.)

V. 5. At his best state.] Or, " when settled" or established most firmly. (Marg.) Some things decay after a certain time, but generally last that time others endure long, if free from accidents, yet are easily broken : but the life of man not only wears out speedily as a garment, but it is also brittle like glass. (Notes, Psalms 90:3-6. Psalms 103:15-18. Job 14:1-6. Ecclesiastes 1:2.)

V. 6. A vain shew- Or shadow, unsubstantial and vanishing; or an image. (Marg. Notes, Ixxiii. 18- 22.) Such are all the interests, pursuits, and distinctions of this world ; about which men are constantly disquieting themselves and others, till death stops their career, and they leave their acquisitions without knowing who will at length possess them, and remove to a state of important and eternal realities. (Notes, Psalms 49:6-20. Esther 5:11-14; Esther 8:1-2, Proverbs 13:22. Luke 12:15-21; Luke 16:27-31.)

V. 7, 8. Meditation on the vanity of all outward things, led the Psalmist to fix more entirely his expectation on God alone, as the Fountain of happiness : but recollecting his heinous transgressions, and his proneness to sin, he earnestly prayed for deliverance from guilt and depravity ; and that he might not, by subsequent misconduct, disgrace the cause of God, and expose himself to the reproach of any foolish and wicked man. The original is Nabal. (Marg. Ref. Notes, 1 Samuel 25:10-17; 1 Samuel 25:23-31; V: 25.)

V. 9, 10. " I was dumb, I will not open my mouth, The consideration, that his afflictions were appointed by his heavenly Father, silenced the Psalmist’s complaints ;

(Notes, Psalms 38:13-14. Leviticus 10:3. 1 Samuel 3:16-18. 2 Kings 20:19. Job 1:20-22;) yet he pleaded for a mitigation of them, because he was ready to sink under them. Thus Christ, when entering on the last scene of his unknown sufferings, prayed, " Father, if it " be possible, let this cup pass from me : nevertheless, not " as I will, but as thou wilt." (Note, Matthew 26:36

V. 11. ’ The word on, rendered his beauty,) ’ signifieth all that he desireth, as health, force, strength, beauty, ’ and in whatsoever he hath delight ; so that the rod of God taketh away all that is desired in this world. (Notes, Psalms 38:3-10. Psalms 102:3-11. Job 2:7-8; Job 13:24-28.) A moth,] ’ The body is as a garment to the soul in this garment sin hath lodged a moth, which by degrees fretteth . . . away, first the beauty, then the strength, and ’ finally the contexture of its parts.’ Dp. Horne.

Thus the greatest, as well as the meanest of men, is but mere vanity. (Notes, 5, 6. Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.)

V. 12. The patriarchs lived in Canaan, as in a foreign country, by the allowance of the possessors, moving their tents from place to place ; and they confessed themselves to be strangers and pilgrims in the land : but David ruled, as a powerful monarch and a renowned conqueror, over the people of Israel, now fully settled in their promised inheritance. When, however, he considered the shortness and vanity of life, and looked forward to a future and permanent state ; he too owned, that lie was a stranger and pilgrim on earth, even as they also had been.

(Notes, Psalms 119:19-21. Genesis 47:9. Hebrews 11:8-16. 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:11.)

V. 13. If this psalm was composed during Absalom’s usurpation, David might mean, that he was desirous before he left the world, to recover his peace of mind, to be reinstated in his authority, and to retrieve his character. He however prayed, that his faith, hope, and love, might recover strength ; that he might be enabled to do some further service to his people, before his death ; and have inward comfort, when about to depart hence and be no more seen. His prayer in all these respects was completely answered. (Notes, 1 Chronicles 29:1-30:)


V. 1- 6.

The presence of the wicked, especially if powerful and prosperous, exposes us to many temptations, either by enticing or terrifying us into improper compliances, or by exciting our indignation or envy. When we are not able wholly to separate from them, we should double our watchfulness, and especially impose a strict restraint upon our tongues ; lest we should be betrayed into boasting, reviling, slandering, flattering, or trifling conversation : remembering that they will criticize every expression, and turn it, if they can, to our disadvantage, and to the discredit of religion. Sometimes it may be necessary to keep silence even from good words, when they are likely to excite pro.fane contempt or rage ; yet in general we run into an extreme, when we are backward to engage in edifying discourse. (Note, James 1:26.) But even if we be enabled to bridle our tongues, we shall often find ourselves incapable of repressing our passions. When zeal, anger, impatience, compassion, grief, and other conflicting affections, are excited in the heart, confinement increases their force, and reflection excites more disquietude, till a fire seems to be kindled within, which must in some way break forth. In this case, it is our wisdom to retire, and pour out our hearts before God, and to utter our complaints, sorrows, and desires to him alone. It is also very composing to the believer’s mind, under sore trials and temptations, to know and consider his end, and the measure of his days : but we are never suitably affected with such subjects, except we pray over them, and are inwardly taught by the Spirit of God. It would be in vain for us to enquire the precise time which we have to live; nor would the information, could it be had, be desirable : it will answer every good purpose attentively to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life. Our days are but a hand-breadth, or as nothing, before God, and in comparison of his eternity : and in our greatest prosperity, and in the vigor of youth and health, verily every man is altogether vanity. He cannot live long ; he may die soon, and suddenly ; his busy cares are useless, his acquisitions are a shadow ; he is disquieted in vain ; and if he succeed in heaping up riches, he must shortly leave them, not knowing who shall gather them. How absurd then are the perplexing anxieties, and the incessant fatigues, of the most successful worldling, who pursues such shadows to the marring of his present comfort, and the ruin of his immortal soul ! Indeed the believer’s disquietude about the difficulties of his path, and the treatment that he meets with, are not much more rational.

V. 7-13.

It is worthy of notice, that, in fact, we become happy in exact proportion, as we despair of happiness from this changing, sinful world; and wait and hope for it, from the mercy and all-sufficient love of God our Saviour. Instead of being much concerned about temporal things, let us earnestly pray to be " delivered from all our transgressions ; " and that we may not be made a reproach to those, who, being foolish at all times, never so much expose their folly, as when they deride the hopes, or insult, over the falls, of the righteous. We should look above instruments, and view the hand of God in all our afflictions : and then faith in his wisdom, justice, truth, and love ; united with consciousness that he rebukes us for our iniquity ; will render us silent and submissive, because he has done it. Then our prayers for the removal of his stroke, even when we " are consumed with the blow of " his hand," will be offered with resignation to his ill, and hope in his mercy. But if his fatherly chastisements of his children for their offences consume their strength and comeliness, as a moth fretteth away a garment; what will be the effect of his avenging wrath against his enemies ’. And as every man is vanity, it behooves sinners to make haste to seek forgiveness, before they go hence and be no more seen. The Christian’s sorrows are all sanctified ; the gracious Lord will wipe away his tears, and answer all his prayers: lie cannot but feel his afflictions ; yet, as a stranger and a pilgrim on earth, he hopes for a better and more enduring habitation in heaven, where his heart and his treasure are already. He expects weariness and ill-treatment by the way : but his stay here will not be long ; and, walking with God by faith, he goes forward on his journey, undiverted from his course, and not much east down, by the ill accommodation or difficulties with which lie meets. He only desires to be spared, till his measure of service on earth be finished, and his title to heaven clear ; and that he may depart in that vigorous exercise of faith: and grace, which may be honourable to God, encouraging to his brethren, and comfortable to himself. Then going hence, and being no more on earth, he enters upon his perfect and eternal rest ; and leaves his pious friends consoled with the joyful hope of a blessed reunion ; and instructed by his words and actions, how to live, to suffer, and to die. (Notes, Proverbs 14:32. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.)

Bibliographical Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 39". Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tsp/psalms-39.html. 1804.
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