David seems to have been in dire straits when he penned this psalm. It is with some difficulty that he conquers his emotions and composes his spirit. This is a funeral psalm and teaches us the brevity, uncertainty and calamitous state of human life. Those who are in need of God’s comforts will find this psalm of great use for their spiritual benefit and in getting their hearts reconciled to the holy will of God in all things. Join us as we study this psalm of prayer for wisdom and forgiveness.
Psalm 39 – A Psalm of David
I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. So long as the wicked are in my presence, I will guard my mouth with a muzzle.” I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse. My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.
Remove your stroke from me; I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, You consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!
Call to mind the solemn vows
Henry says – David remembers the covenants he had made with God to walk conscientiously, and to be very cautious of what he did and what he said. When we are tempted to sin we must call to mind the solemn vows we have made against sin. God can and will, remind us of them (Jer. 2:20; You said, I will not transgress), and therefore we ought to remind ourselves of them.
David remembers that he had resolved, to be very cautious and conscientious in his walking (Ps. 39:1): I said, I will watch my ways. It is the great concern of every one of us to watch our ways while others walk in jeopardy. Fast bind, fast find. Having resolved to watch our ways, we must remind ourselves of that resolution, for it is a covenant never to be forgotten.
David remembers that he had covenanted against tongue-sins—that he would not sin with his tongue. He then would not speak improperly, either to offend God or offend the generation of the righteous, Ps. 73:15. It is not as easy as we could wish to not sin in thought, but if an evil thought should arise we are to lay our hand upon our mouth, and suppress it, that it should go no further. This is so great an attainment that, if any do not offend in word, he is a perfect man. If someone seems to be religious, but does not bridle his tongue, it is declared that His religion is vain.
In the strength of God’s grace
David had resolved that he would watch against tongue-sins: “I will keep a bridle, or muzzle, upon my mouth.” He would keep a muzzle upon it, as upon an unruly dog that is fierce and causes trouble. Corruption is restrained from breaking out of the lips, and so is muzzled. He would double his guard against them when there was most danger of scandal-when the wicked is before me. When he was in the company of the wicked he would take heed of saying anything that might harden them or give them occasion to blaspheme.
If good men fall into bad company, they must watch what they say. Or, when the wicked is before me, in my thoughts. When he was contemplating the pride, power, prosperity and flourishing estate of evil-doers, he was tempted to speak wrongly. The stronger the temptation to a sin, the stronger the resolution must be against it. He made a shift to bridle his tongue (Ps. 39:2): I was dumb with silence; I held my peace even from good. His silence was commendable; and the greater the provocation was, the more praiseworthy was his silence. Watchfulness and resolution, in the strength of God’s grace, will do more towards the bridling of the tongue than we can imagine, though it be an unruly evil.
Address our ungoverned thoughts
The less he spoke, the more he thought and the more he was warmed. My sorrow was stirred, my heart was hot within me, Ps. 39:3. He could bridle his tongue, but he could not keep his passion under control. Though he suppressed the smoke, it was as a fire in his bones. Those who are of an anxious spirit ought not to ruminate. For while they allow their thoughts to dwell upon the causes of the calamity, the fire of their discontent is fed with fuel and burns all the more furiously. If we are to prevent the trouble with ungoverned passions, we need to address our ungoverned thoughts.
When he did speak it was in reformation of his mistake in carrying it too far. He had kept silent from good, but now he would keep silent no longer. He had nothing to say to the wicked who were before him, for to them he did not know what to say. But after much thought the first word he said was a prayer. It was a devout meditation upon a subject which will be good for us all to think on.
Make me to know the end of my days
He prays to God to make him aware of the shortness and uncertainty of life and the near approach of death (Ps. 39:4): Lord, make me to know my end and the measure of my days. He does not mean, “Lord, let me know how long I shall live and when I shall die.” We could not, in faith, pray such a prayer for God has not promised to let us know. But in His wisdom has locked up that knowledge among the secret things which do not belong to us, nor would it be good for us to know it. But, Lord, make me to know my end, which means, “Lord, give me wisdom and grace to consider it (Deut. 32:29).” The living know that they shall die (Eccl. 9:5), but few care to think of death.
We need to pray that God by His grace would conquer that aversion, “Lord, make me to consider what death is”. It is the end of my life, and all the employments and enjoyments of life. It is the end of all men,” Eccl. 7:2. It is a final period to our state of probation and preparation, and an awful entrance into a state of compensation and retribution. To the wicked man it is the end of all joys, to a godly man it is the end of all griefs. “Lord, give me to know my end, to be better acquainted with death, to make it more familiar to me (Job 17:14).
The oil that keeps that lamp burning
Lord help me consider what a serious thing it is to die. “How near it is. Lord, help me consider the measure of my days, that they are measured in the counsel of God” (the end is a fixed end, so the word signifies; my days are determined, Job 14:5) “and that the measure is but short: My days will soon be numbered and finished.” When we look upon death as a thing at a distance we are tempted to adjourn the necessary preparations for it. But, when we consider how short life is, we shall see ourselves concerned to do all that our hand can find to do, with all our might, and with all possible speed.
“Lord, give me to consider how frail I am and how faint the spirit is which are as the oil to keep that lamp burning.” We find by daily experience that the earthly house of this tabernacle is mouldering and going to decay: “Lord, make us to consider this, that we may secure mansions in the house not made with hands.”
David meditates upon the brevity and vanity of life, pleading with God for relief under the burdens of life, as Job did often, and pleading with himself for his quickening to the business of life. Man’s life on earth is short and of no continuance, and that is a reason why we should hold it loosely and prepare for the end of it (Ps. 39:5): Behold, You have made my days as a hand-breadth, the breadth of four fingers. It is a small dimension, and we have this measure always before our eyes.
Every man walks in a vain show
Our time is short, and God has made it so; for the number of our months is with Him. He remembers how short our time is, Ps. 89:47. It is nothing in comparison with You. All time is nothing to God’s eternity, much less our share of time. Man’s life on earth is vain and of no value, and therefore it is folly to be fond of it and wisdom to make sure of a better life. Man is vanity, in his present state. He and all his comforts lie at a continual uncertainty. If there were not another life after this then he was made in vain. He is mortal, he is mutable.
Every man is vanity, without exception, high and low, rich and poor. He is so even at his best stage, when he is young, strong and healthy, in wealth and honour, and at the height of prosperity. When he is most at ease, merry and secure, and thinks his mountain stands strong. He is also altogether vanity, as vain as you can imagine. All man is all vanity everything about him is uncertain. Nothing is substantial and durable but only what relates to the new man.
We ourselves are also. David mentions three things, and shows the vanity of each of them, Ps. 39:6. The vanity of our joys and honours. Surely every man walks in a vain show. Acts 25:23 It is but a show like the rainbow, the gaudy colours of which disappears quickly when the basis is but a cloud, a vapour. Such is life (Jas. 4:14), and therefore such are all the humours of it.
Turn your eyes and heart heaven-ward
Our griefs and fears are also vanity. Surely we are agitated in vain. Our anxieties are often groundless (we vex ourselves without any just cause, and our troubles are often formed in our imaginations). They are always fruitless. We disturb ourselves in vain, for we cannot, with all our anxieties alter the nature of things nor the counsel of God. Things will be as they are when we have vexed ourselves over them.
Man takes a great deal of trouble to heap up riches. They are but heaps of manure in gullies of the field, good for nothing unless they be spread. But, when he has filled his treasures, he does not know who shall gather them. For he is not able to take them away with him. He does not ask, For who do I labour? and that is his folly, Eccl. 4:8. This is vanity.
The Psalmist meditated on the shortness and uncertainty of life, the vanity and trouble of spirit that comes with all the comforts of life. He now turns his eyes and heart heaven-ward. When there is no solid satisfaction to be had, it is to be found in God, and in communion with Him. To Him we should be driven by our disappointments in this world.
My hope is in You
David expresses his dependence on God, Ps. 39:7. Seeing that all is vanity, and man himself is too, he despairs of finding happiness in the things of the world. He renounces all expectations from it: “Now, Lord, what do I wait for? I have nothing to wish for, nothing to hope for, from this earth.” When considering the vanity and frailty of human life our desires should be deadened for the things of this world and our expectations from it lowered. “If the world be such a thing as this, God deliver me from having, or seeking, my portion in it.”
We cannot depend upon constant health and prosperity, nor upon comfort in any relationship, for it is all as uncertain as our continuance here. “Though I have sometimes foolishly promised myself this or that from the world, I am now of another mind.” He takes hold of happiness and satisfaction in God: My hope is in You. When creature-confidences fail, it is our comfort that we have a God to go to, a God to trust in, and we should take a fast hold of Him by faith.
David submits to God, and submits to His holy will, Ps. 39:9. If our hope be in God for happiness in the other world, we can accept all that He affords in this world: “I was dumb; I did not open my mouth in a way of complaint and murmuring.” He now again recovered that serenity and sedateness of mind which had been disturbed, Ps. 39:2. Whatever comforts he is deprived of, whatever crosses he is burdened with, he will be at ease. “Because You did it; it did not come to pass by chance, but according to Your appointment.”
All that God does it well
We see in this a good God who orders all events concerning us. Of every event we may say, “This is the finger of God; it is the Lord’s doing,” whoever were the instruments. A good man, for that reason, says nothing against it. He is dumb, he has nothing to object, no question to ask, no dispute to raise. All that God does is well done.
David prays (Ps. 39:8), “Deliver me from all my offences, from the guilt I have contracted, the punishment I have deserved, and the power of corruption by which I have been enslaved.” When God forgives our sins He delivers us from them all. He pleads, Do not make me a reproach to the foolish. Wicked people are foolish people and show their folly most by scoffing at God’s people.
When David prays that God would pardon his sins, and not make him a reproach, it is to be taken as a prayer for peace of conscience (“Lord, do not leave me to the power of melancholy, which the foolish will laugh at me for”). It was also a prayer for grace, that God would never leave him to himself to do anything that might make him a reproach to bad men.
He is righteous
This is a good reason why we should watch and pray against sin, because our profession is tied up in the preservation of our integrity. David prays for the removal of his affliction, that he might be eased of his present burdens (Ps. 39:10): Remove Your stroke away from me. When we are under the correcting hand of God our eye must be to God Himself, and not to any other, for relief. He who inflicts the stroke is the one who can remove it. When the affliction is sanctified and has done its work, and we are humbled under the hand of God, we may then in faith pray that they be removed (Isa. 38:17).
David’s sickness prevailed to such a degree that his spirit failed, his strength was wasted and his body emaciated. “The blow of Your hand has brought me even to the gates of death.” The strongest and best of men cannot bear up under the power of God’s wrath. It was not his case only, but any man will find himself an unequal match for the Almighty, Ps. 39:11. When God, at anytime contends with us. We can only acknowledge that He is righteous in it, for, whenever He corrects man, it is for iniquity.
Do not hold your peace
Our ways and our doings draw the trouble to ourselves, and we are beaten with a rod of our own making. It is the yoke of our transgressions. We cannot oppose the fallout of His contention, He will be too hard for us. As we cannot arrest His judgment, so we have no way of escaping the execution. God’s rebukes make man’s beauty to consume away like a moth. We often see and sometimes feel, how much the body is weakened and decayed by sickness in such a little time. The countenance is changed gone the ruddy cheek and lip, the sparkly eye, the smiling face. What a meager thing beauty is and what fools are those who are proud of it. It will certainly, and may quickly, be consumed.
David hoped that the purpose for which it had been sent would be accomplished and that it would be removed. It had set him weeping, and he hoped God would take notice of it. When the Lord God called for mourning, he answered the call and therefore could, in faith, pray, Lord, do not hold Your peace at my tears, Ps. 39:12. God does not willingly afflict His children and at their tears will either speak deliverance for them or in the meantime speak comfort to them and make them to hear joy and gladness.
Make me fit to go from here
The afflictions had also set him to pray. When we are afflicted we can tend to pray more and pray better, in the hope that God will hear our prayers. For the prayer which by His Providence He gives the occasion for, and which by His Spirit of grace He composes shall not return void. They had helped to wean him from the world and to take his affections off from it. Now he began, more than ever, to look upon himself as a stranger and sojourner here. Like all his fathers, not at home in this world, but travelling through it to another, to a better, and would never reckon himself at home till he came to heaven.
He pleads with God: “Lord, take notice of me, and of my wants and burdens, for I am a stranger here. I am slighted and oppressed as a stranger and where should I expect relief but from You, from that other country to which I belong?” He prays for a reprieve (Ps. 39:13): “O spare me, ease me, raise me up from this illness that I may recover strength in body and mind. He asks that he may get into a more calm and composed frame of spirit to be better prepared for another world, before I go by death, and shall be no more in this world.”
He asks that God would continue with him here till by His grace He had made him fit to go from here, and that He might finish the work of life before his life was finished. Let my soul live, and it shall praise You.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
[Slide right to left] Accept in Silence Since God makes all things work together for good Then this act of His which has befallen me, Can only be for my benefit. I will yield to it then willingly. There will be no protest, On my part. I will not even ask why my lot differs from others. Mine will not be a questioning heart. Only if my love is directed, not at God But at some object I am seeking for its own sake Will the good which He wishes to give me be deferred Could I run the risk of making such a mistake? Lack of an explanation matters little What if there is silence from above! The way of knowing God, is not by knowledge But it is only by real love. What peace and joy there truly is What assurance there is found, In the words the Lord Jesus said of the sparrows “Without your Father in heaven knowing, not one of them will fall to the ground.” Should I not accept then in silence What comes to me from His hand? Seeing His love poured out for me can I believe That anything that happens to me is unplanned? By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer for the Day
Father, I come to You. When I am tempted to sin, may I call to mind the solemn vows I have made against it. May it be a great concern to watch my ways. It is hard to not sin in thought, but if an evil thought should arise may I lay my hand upon my mouth, and suppress it, that it should go no further.
May I be resolved and watchful in the strength of Your grace to bridle my tongue. Keep me from an anxious spirit and to cease from ruminating. I pray You make me aware of the shortness and uncertainty of life and the near approach of death. Lord, give me wisdom and grace to know my end and be better acquainted with death. When I consider how short life is, help me do what my hand finds to do, not only with all my might, but with all possible speed to Your glory.
Help me me consider how frail I am and how faint the spirit is, that I may secure a mansion in the house not made with hands. For I know that nothing is substantial and durable but only what relates to the new man.
Remind me that often my anxieties are groundless. Cause me never to disturb myself in vain, for I know that I cannot, with all my anxieties alter the nature of things nor Your good counsel. Things will be as they are. Help me turn my eyes and heart heaven-ward. For the only satisfaction is to be found in You, and in communion with You. May I be driven to You in all my disappointments in this world.
I thank You
May my desires be deadened for the things of this world and my expectations from it lowered. When creature-confidences fail, I thank You for the comfort I have in You and that I have You to go to and trust in. May I take a fast hold of You by faith.
I will submit to You and to Your holy will. Whatever comforts I am deprived of, whatever crosses I am burdened with, I will be at ease. For I know that a good God orders all events concerning me. Therefore teach me to say nothing against it. For I know that all that You do is done well.
I pray that You will not leave me to myself to do anything that might make me a reproach to bad men. When I am under Your correcting hand may my eye be to You alone and not to any other, for relief. Wean me off from this world and to take any affections off from it. May I look upon myself as a stranger and sojourner here travelling through it to a better one. May I never reckon myself at home till I come to heaven.
I ask that You continue with me here till by Your grace You make me fit to go from here. Finish the work of life in me before my life is finished. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.