Psalm 39:1-13

To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

1 I said, “I will guard my ways,
Lest I sin with my tongue;
I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle,
While the wicked are before me.”

I was mute with silence,
I held my peace even from good;
And my sorrow was stirred up.

My heart was hot within me;
While I was musing, the fire burned.
Then I spoke with my tongue:

Lord, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.

Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah

Surely every man walks about like a shadow;
Surely they busy themselves in vain;
He heaps up riches,
And does not know who will gather them.

“And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.

Deliver me from all my transgressions;
Do not make me the reproach of the foolish.

I was mute, I did not open my mouth,
Because it was You who did it.

10 Remove Your plague from me;
I am consumed by the blow of Your hand.

11 When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity,
You make his beauty melt away like a moth;
Surely every man is vapor. Selah

12 “Hear my prayer, O Lord,
And give ear to my cry;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner, as all my fathers were.

13 Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength,
Before I go away and am no more.”

Jeduthun (Intro) — A Levite, chief singer and instructor, father of one of the three families of Levitical singers. See 1 Chronicles 9:16; 16:38-42; 25:1-6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15; Nehemiah 11:17. He is mentioned in the inscriptions of Psalms 39; 62; 77.

This psalm attests thematic and phraseological parallels both to the previous psalm (e.g., “I am like a dumb man”//”I have become dumb” [38:13; 39:2, 9]; “my plague”//”Thy plague” [38:11; 39:10; in both cases referring to God’s chastisement]; “O Lord, rebuke me not … chasten me not”//”with rebukes Thou dost chasten” [38:1; 39:11]) as well as to the words of Job (e.g., “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extend of my days”//”What is my end, that I should endure?” [Psalm 39:4a; Job 6:11]; “Turn Thy gaze away from me that I may have cheer before I go and am no more”//”Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer before I go and am no more” [Psalm 39:11; Job 10:20b-21]). These latter parallels, together with the thematic focus of this psalm, suggests that Job’s repentance at the end of that book (42:6) is not for anything he said that was wrong (so Job 2:10: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips”), but rather for what he did not say — perhaps due to whispers of doubt in his hear — in correcting his companions’ erroneous portrayal of God. — Wechsler, pages 114-115.

the fire burned (v.3) — Jeremiah 20:9

David begins by reviewing his past determination not to sin with his tongue, and to guard his mouth while the wicked were in his presence (v.1) — i.e., knowing his own tendency to meet injustice with quick-tempered outbursts rather than more thoughtful and discerning responses, David determined to refrain from rash pronouncements that he might later regret as excessive, and hence sinful (as in 1 Samuel 25:21-22, 33). While this determination was, in and of itself, a good thing, consistent with biblical wisdom (see Proverbs 14:29; 17:27), David took it too far by remaining silent when he should have spoken and, in so doing, refrained even from good (v.2). That David’s silence at such a point was in fact sinful is underscored by the precept preceding — indeed, leading up to — the Second Greatest Commandment itself, in Leviticus 19:17: “You shall surely reprove your neighbor and not incur sin because of him” (i.e., if you do not reprove your neighbor when he sins, you will incur sin because you said nothing). — Wechsler, pages 115-116.

vapor (v.5) — Psalm 62:9

shadow (v.6) = image, phantom, vain show

riches (v.6) — Luke 12:20

David affirms, in the concluding section, that the fact of human transience and the futility of his works does not, in the end, exonerate him from guilt as a responsible moral agent. Though every man is indeed a mere breath (v.11) and, whatever we do or don’t do, God’s purposes will be achieved, each of us is still fully responsible for — and God is still keenly concerned with — the way in which we conduct ourselves here and now. To put it differently, it is not the “ends” for which we, as believers, are responsible, but the “means” — it is in the means, or manner, by which we live our lives that our gratitude and obedience, and hence our love for God, is expressed, and for which we are held accountable by Him. It is in this respect that David now acknowledges his transgressions (v.8) — i.e., for his “manner” of having kept silent when he should have spoken — and affirms the justness and necessity of God’s chastisement. — Wechsler, pages 116-117.

stranger/sojourner (v.12) — Leviticus 25:23; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Hebrews 11:13

I’m not certain that I’ve grasped the meaning of this psalm. If Wechsler is correct, and I have no better solution to offer, David is writing about the importance of speaking up for the Lord and not worrying about what anyone says. Our lives are short. Our hope is in the Lord. It’s only what we do for Him that matters, so we shouldn’t hesitate to do it.

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