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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Psalms 39

 

 

Verse 1

Psalms 39:1. I said — I fully resolved, &c. “The Psalm,” says Dr. Horne, “begins abruptly with the result of a meditation on the narrow, slippery, and dangerous paths of life; more especially on the extreme difficulty of restraining the tongue, amidst the continual temptations and provocations”

which surround or assault us, to speak unadvisedly with our lips. I will take heed to my ways — That is, to order all my actions aright, and particularly to govern my tongue, that if any evil thought or passions arise within me, I may suppress and mortify them, and not suffer them to break forth into sinful reflections on God and his providence. I will keep my mouth as with a bridle — With all possible care and diligence. While the wicked is before me — In my presence; or in my thoughts, as the phrase is understood, Psalms 51:3, that is, while I consider the flourishing estate of wicked men.


Verse 2

Psalms 39:2. I was dumb with silence — Or, I was dumb in silence; two words expressing the same thing with greater force. I held my peace even from good — I spake not a word, either good or bad, but remained, like a dumb man, in perfect silence. I refrained even from giving God the glory, with respect to my illness, by acknowledging his greatness and justice, and the nothingness and sinfulness of man. Perhaps the reason why he would not speak at all before his enemies was, because he was unwilling to give them an occasion of triumph, as he thought he should do if he acknowledged his weakness and sin. But he could not bear this restraint long; it became more and more grievous. My sorrow, he says, was stirred — My silence did not assuage my grief, but increased it, as it naturally and commonly does. “There is a time to keep silence,” says Dr. Horne, “because there are men who will not hear; there are tempers, savage and sensual, as those of swine, before whom evangelical pearls, or the treasures of heavenly wisdom, are not to be cast. This consideration stirreth up fresh grief and trouble in a pious and charitable heart.”


Verse 3

Psalms 39:3. My heart was hot within me — Though I said nothing, I could not but have many affecting thoughts: and “the fire of divine charity, thus prevented from diffusing itself for the illumination and warmth of those around it, presently ascended, in a flame of devotion, toward heaven.” While I was musing — While this fire “continued to be fed, and preserved in brightness and vigour, by meditation on the goodness of God, and the ingratitude of man; the transient miseries of time, and the durable glories of eternity;” the fire burned — My thoughts kindled into passions, which could no longer be confined. Then spake I with my tongue — The ardour of my soul broke forth into such expressions as these that follow. “It is remarkable,” says Dr. Dodd, “in the poetical parts of Scripture, that the whole energy and beauty of the passages are frequently spoiled by the addition of connective particles, which are not in the Hebrew. There is a remarkable instance in this verse, which, in the original, is very expressive, My heart grew hot within me — while I was musing, the fire flamed out: I spake with my tongue.


Verse 4

Psalms 39:4. Lord, make me to know mine end — The end of my life, as is evident from the following words; and the measure of my days, what it is How short it is; or, how near is the period of the days of my life; that I may know how frail I am — Hebrew, מה חדל אני, meh-chadeel ani, quam desinens sire, quam cito desinam esse, quam parum durem, what a transient, momentary being I am, how soon I shall cease to be, how little a while I shall continue, namely, on earth. He does not mean, Lord, let me know exactly how long I shall live, and when I shall die. He could not in faith ask this, God having nowhere promised his people such knowledge, but having in wisdom locked it up among the secret things which belong not to us, and which it would not be good for us to know; but his meaning is, Give me wisdom and grace to consider my end, and how short the measure of my days will be, and to improve what I know concerning it. The living know they shall die, but few so reflect on this as to make a right use of this knowledge. Bishop Patrick thus paraphrases his words: “Lord, I do not murmur nor repine at my sufferings; but that I may be able to bear them still patiently, make me sensible, I humbly beseech thee, how short this frail life is, and how soon it will have an end; that, duly considering this, I may be the less concerned about the miseries I endure, which will end together with it.” Thus, “wearied with the contradiction of sinners, and sickening at the prospect of so much wretchedness in the valley of weeping, the soul” of the pious Christian “looks forward to her departure from hence, praying for such a sense of the shortness of human life as may enable her to bear the sorrows of this world, and excite her to prepare for the joys of a better.”


Verse 5

Psalms 39:5. Behold, thou hast made my days as a hand-breadth — The breadth of four fingers, a certain dimension, a small one, and the measure whereof we have always about us, always before our eyes. We need no rod, no measuring-line, wherewith to take the dimension of our days, nor any skill in arithmetic wherewith to compute the number of them; no, we have the standard of them always before us. “The age of man, or of the world, is but a span in dimension, a moment in duration; nay, it is less than both, it is as nothing,” before God — in God’s judgment, and, therefore, in truth and reality, or if compared with God’s everlasting duration, with “the unmeasurable extent and the unnumbered days of eternity.” Verily every man — Prince or peasant, high or low, rich or poor; at his best estate Even when young, and strong, and healthful; when in wealth and honour, and the height of prosperity: Hebrew, נצב, nitzab, settled, or established: though he be never so firmly settled, as he supposes, in his power and greatness; though his mountain appear to him to stand strong, and, considering his health and strength, and possession of all the means whereby life may be supported, prolonged, and secured, though he may seem very likely to continue long, yet it is certain he is mere emptiness and vanity: yea, altogether vanity — The Hebrew is very emphatical, כל הבל כל אדם, cal hebel cal Adam, every man is every vanity: or, all men, or, the whole of man, is all vanity. He is as vain as you can imagine. Every thing about him is vanity; is uncertain; nothing is substantial, or durable, but what relates to the new man and to eternity. Verily he is so. This is a truth of undoubted certainty, but which we are very unwilling to believe, and need to have solemnly attested to us, as indeed it is by frequent instances. Selah is annexed as a note commanding observation. Stop here, and pause a while, that you may take time to consider and apply this truth, that every man is vanity. We ourselves are so.


Verse 6

Psalms 39:6. Surely every man walketh — Passeth the course of his life; or, goeth about busily or restlessly hither and thither, as יתהלךְ, jithhallech, implies, and as the next verb more plainly expresses: In a vain show — Hebrew, בצלם, betzelem, in a shadow, or image. The word is used only twice in the Psalms, here and Psalms 73:20, in both which places it signifies what is imaginary, in opposition to what is real. Man proceeds on in an imaginary, rather than real life: in the pursuit of vain imaginations, in which there is nothing solid or satisfactory. For such are the interests, distinctions, and pleasures of this world, unsubstantial uncertain, and transitory. Or, as some read it, Like a shadow, to which man’s life is compared, Job 14:2. Man and his life, and all his happiness in this world, are rather appearances, and representations, and dreams, than truths or realities. They are disquieted, or troubled, in vain — To no purpose; or without any real or considerable benefit to them or theirs. Hebrew, יהמיון, jehemajun, they make a noise, a bustling, or tumult; with unwearied industry seeking for riches, as it follows, and troubling both themselves and others in the pursuit of them. He heapeth up riches — For his own use, he thinks, and for his posterity after him. And knoweth not who shall gather them — Whether his children, or strangers, or enemies, shall possess and enjoy them. The Hebrew word יצבר, jitzbor, here rendered, He heapeth up, signifies to rake together; in which there is an allusion to the husbandman’s collecting his corn together before he carries it to the barn. “The metaphor,” says Dr. Dodd, “is elegant, intimating the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of human acquisitions; which, though heaped up together, like corn, by one person, may soon become the possession of another.”


Verse 7

Psalms 39:7. And now, Lord, what wait I for? &c. — Seeing this life, and all its enjoyments, are so vain and short to all men, and especially to me, I will never expect nor seek for happiness here from these vanities. I will compose myself patiently and contentedly to bear both my own afflictions, and the prosperity and glory of ungodly men, for both are vanishing and transitory things. And I will seek for happiness nowhere but in the love and favour of God, in glorifying him here, and in the hope or confident expectation of enjoying him hereafter; and, in the mean time, of receiving from him those supplies and aids which my present condition calls for.


Verse 8

Psalms 39:8. Deliver me from all my transgressions — That I may not be disappointed of my hopes of enjoying thee and thy favour, which is the chief thing I desire, pardon and deliver me from all my sins, which stand like a thick cloud between thee and me, and even fill me with fears about my condition both here and hereafter. Make me not the reproach of the foolish — Of the ungodly. Let not my remaining under the guilt, and power of my transgressions give them reason to reproach me as a hypocrite, and a person whose life is not consistent with his profession. And let not their prosperity and my misery give them occasion to deride me, for my serving of thee, and trusting in thee to so little purpose or advantage. He terms the ungodly foolish, because though they profess and think themselves to be wise, yet they are indeed fools, as is manifest from their eager pursuit of fruitless vanities, Psalms 39:6, and from their gross neglect of God and his service, who only is able to make men happy.


Verse 9

Psalms 39:9. I opened not my mouth — In the way of murmuring or repining against thee or thy providence, as I promised I would not, Psalms 39:1. For though, when I looked only to instruments, I was discomposed, and did at last speak foolishly; yet when I recollected myself, and looked up to thee, the first cause and sovereign disposer of this afflictive dispensation, I returned to my former silence. Because thou didst it — Didst send this chastisement: meaning, probably, either, 1st, The rebellion and untimely death of Absalom; in which he acknowledged the just hand of God, punishing his sins: or, 2d, Some other affliction.


Verse 10-11

Psalms 39:10-11. Remove thy stroke away from me — But though I may not, I will not, open my mouth to complain, yet I may open it to pray, that thou wouldest take off the judgment that thou hast inflicted upon me. I am consumed, &c. — Help me, therefore, before I be utterly and irrecoverably lost. When thou with rebukes — That is, with punishments, which are often so called; dost correct man for iniquity — Dost punish him as his iniquity deserves. Thou makest his beauty to consume away — Hebrew, חמודו, chamudo, desiderabile ejus, his desirable things, as this word signifies, Lamentations 1:11; Daniel 9:23; Daniel 10:3; Daniel 10:11; Daniel 10:19; his comeliness, strength, wealth, prosperity, and all his present excellences and felicities; like a moth — As a moth is easily crushed to pieces with a touch. Thus the Chaldee paraphrase, Like a moth broken asunder: or, rather, as a moth consumeth a garment, as Job 13:28; Isaiah 50:9, to which God compares his judgments secretly and insensibly consuming a people, Isaiah 51:8; Hosea 5:12. Surely every man is vanity — As was affirmed, Psalms 39:5, and is hereby confirmed. For though men in the height of their prosperity will not believe it, yet when God contendeth with them by his judgments, they are forced to acknowledge it.


Verse 12

Psalms 39:12. Hold not thy peace at my tears — Joined with my prayers. For I am a stranger, &c. — Though I be not only a native, but actually king of this land, yet, in truth, I am but a stranger and sojourner, both in regard of my very uncertain and short continuance here, where I am only on my journey to my real and long home; and in respect of the many wants, hardships, contempts, and injuries to which I am exposed, as men usually are in strange lands. And, therefore, I greatly need and desire thy pity and help. With thee — Either, 1st, In thy sight or judgment, and therefore in reality. We are apt to flatter ourselves that we are settled inhabitants, and can hardly believe we are but strangers on earth, but thou knowest the truth of the matter, that we really are such. Or, 2d, In thy land, or territory, who art the only proprietor of it, in which I only sojourn by thy leave and favour, and during thy pleasure, as is expressed Leviticus 25:23, whence these words are taken. As all my fathers were — Both in thy judgment and in their own, Hebrews 11:13, upon which account thou didst take special care of them, and, therefore, take care also of me.


Verse 13

Psalms 39:13. O spare me — Hebrew, השׁע ממני, hashang, memenni — Desiste a me, desist, or cease from me, that is, from afflicting me: do not destroy me; my life at best is short, and full of trouble, and thou knowest sufficient for it is the evil thereof: do not add affliction to the afflicted. That I may recover strength — Both in my outward and inward man, both which are much weakened and oppressed. Hebrew, אבליגה, abligah, recreabo me, that I may refresh myself or may be refreshed, or comforted, namely, eased of the burden of my sins, and of thy terrors consequent upon them; and better prepared for a comfortable and happy dissolution. Before I go hence — Unto the grave, as this phrase is often used; or the way of all the earth, Joshua 23:14; or whence I shall not return, as it is, Job 10:21. And be no more — Namely, among the living, or in this world.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 39:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/psalms-39.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, August 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 16 / Ordinary 21
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