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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 39

Verses 1-13

This psalm is inscribed to Jeduthun, leader of one of the choral bands in the temple. 1 Chronicles 16:41; and bears the name of David.

Psalms 39:5 . Thou hast made my days as a hand-breadth, which is the smallest of the three measures of stature; the span and the cubit being also in use.


How valuable are those sacred songs, and plaintive supplications of Hebrew devotion. We have followed David in a vast variety of the vicissitudes of life; now we follow him to the bed of sickness, on which he lay very weak and emaciated. Here we find a piety correspondent to all the devotion of his more active scenes of life. Here we find the hero of the east, the Lord’s chosen and anointed king, vanquished by a fever, and wasting as the helpless poor. His gay, his infidel, his wicked courtiers, covered with apparent regret, or on the affairs of state, gained admission into his presence. The king, animated with a piety becoming his situation, wished to deliver his soul of them by a faithful declaration of their state. But knowing their principles and incorrigible character, he for awhile restrained the efforts of the Spirit. Finding this to occasion pain and anguish, and that the fire of heaven was kindling in his heart by reflection, he freely uttered the following moral and divine excellencies.

He most aptly expatiated on the shortness of human life, which is but as a hand-breadth, a vapour that fleeth away as a shadow.

He next enlarges on the vanity and folly of life. What a folly for man to heap up riches when he has already more than enough; when he may never live to enjoy them; when his children may die in their minority, and when the sons of strangers shall inherit his substance. Why pursue pleasures with such avidity? They are unsatisfactory in their nature; they divert the mind from more rational duties, and leave but the stings of reflection behind. And why become a martyr for popular applause, and the honour that cometh of men? Perhaps the votary may never acquire the dignity at which he aspires. Perhaps he may see his rival in robes, and himself despised; perhaps a false step may occasion the public to load him with execrations, and cover his lustre with a cloud of eternal infamy. Surely, man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain. The prophet having delivered his mind to the wicked, next turned to his own situation, and looked to his God. “And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is,” not in physicians, but “in thee.” His first care was to glorify God’s chastising hand by connecting his punishment and sin; such indeed was his uniform practice.

His first request was to be delivered from all his transgressions; for good men should at all times be more cautious of their conscience than of their health. Therefore he was dumb, and opened not his mouth; he owned the punishment as mild and just.

His next request was for a reprieve: “Hear my prayer, oh Lord, and hold not thy peace at my tears.” Though piety glowed in his heart; though all fear of death was thereby removed; yet his enemies, the foolish who wished for his death, were many. His body, the garment or vehicle of the soul, fretted away as if eaten by a moth. The fine ruddy countenance of his youth now faded as the rose. Therefore, still anxious that God would not leave the empire in the hands of foolish and ungodly courtiers, he prayed, he cried, he wept that God would spare him a little before he followed his fathers. So Hezekiah, the good Hezekiah, wept and obtained the like reprieve. And what a calamity would it have proved to Israel in both cases, had the Lord in those afflictions taken away their pious kings.

We learn here, that good men are often raised up in answer to prayer; and when thus spared, they are under peculiar obligations to devote the remains of life to piety and usefulness.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 39". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.