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Bible Commentaries

Trapp's Complete Commentary

Psalms 39

Verse 1

Psalms 39:1 « To the chief Musician, [even] to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David. » I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.

Ver. 1. I said, I will take heed ] He resolved so, Psalms 38:13-14 , sc. to continue as one deaf and dumb, to use Isaac’s apology to scoffing Ishmael, viz. no apology, unless it be that which is real; for vivendo melius arguuntur obtrectatores, quam loquendo, slanderers and railers are best answered by silence. Eiusdem sensus est hic Psalmus cum priori (Kimchi).

That I sin not with my tongue ] A hard task, a long lesson, as Pambus, in the Ecclesiastical History, found it by experience; and after many years’ trial could not take it out. For the tongue is an unruly member; and "if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body," James 3:2 . David resolved to temper his tongue, and to keep a bridle or a muzzle for his mouth, while he was in extremity of pain, and in the presence of the wicked, who lay at the catch, and would soon exclaim; but his heart deceived him, for he quickly after brake his word, Psalms 39:3 , and made a rash request, Psalms 39:4 , so great need is there that the best pray to God to keep the door, as Psalms 141:3 .

Verse 2

Psa 39:2 I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, [even] from good; and my sorrow was stirred.

Ver. 2. I was dumb with silence ] As not willing either to open the mouths of those dead dogs or to cast pearls before those sensual swine.

I held my peace, even from good ] That good which I might have spoken in mine own defence and their reproof, ne miscerem illud cum malo, saith one, lest some evil should be mingled with it; as mud and gravel is with the clear water that runs down a current. Intellige de bono licito, non de bono necessario et praecepto.

And my sorrow was stirred ] Heb. troubled; though I had somewhat to do to do it. Corruption must be curbed and kept in by violence, James 1:26 .

Hanc fraenis, hanc tu compesce catenis.

Verse 3

Psa 39:3 My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: [then] spake I with my tongue,

Ver. 3. My heart was hot within me ] It was almost suffocated for want of vent. By heat of heart and fire kindled, saith one, the prophet meaneth, not only the greatness of his grief, as they that are grievously sick feel great force and power of heat; but he meaneth also some motions that he had to impatience and fretting; to which fault they are very much subject that are hot, and given to heat: thus he. This distemper to prevent, God and Nature have placed the heart near unto the lungs, ut cum ira accenditur, pulmonis humore temperetur, that, when it is heated with wrath, it may be cooled and qualified by the allay of the lungs.

While I was musing the fire burned ] This showeth that thoughts and affections are the mutual causes one of another; so that thoughts kindle affections, and these cause thoughts to boil. And hence it is, saith a reverend man (Dr Goodwin), that new converts, having new and strong affections, can with more pleasure think of God than any.

Then spake I with my tongue ] But better he had held his tongue, according to his first resolution. The Greeks have a saying, Let a man either keep silence or speak that which is better than silence. Austin paraphraseth thus: When I refrained so from speaking, for fear of speaking evil, that I spake no good, I was troubled at this my silence, lest my sin should be counted greater for this silence than my virtue in refraining from speaking evil.

Verse 4

Psa 39:4 LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it [is; that] I may know how frail I [am].

Ver. 4. Lord, make me to know mine end ] This Austin expoundeth of heaven, the end of all his troubles, which he now sighed after. But Vatablus, Calvin, and most modern interpreters conceive that David doth here ingenuously confess that he grudged against God; considering the greatness of his grief and the shortness of his life.

And the measure of my days ] An ad malorum quae perfero compensationem sufficiant, whether they are likely to be enough to make me amends for nay grievous sufferings. This he seemeth to speak either out of impatience, or curiosity, at least.

That I may know how frail I am ] How soon ceasing and short lived. Quam durabilis sum (Trem.). Vatablus hath it, quam mundanus sim, how long I am like to be a man of this world, this vale of misery and valley of tears.

Verse 5

Psa 39:5 Behold, thou hast made my days [as] an handbreadth; and mine age [is] as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state [is] altogether vanity. Selah.

Ver. 5. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth ] i.e. Four fingers broad (which is one of the least geometrical measures, or a spanlong), as some interpret it. Now, to spend the span of this transitory life after the ways of a man’s own heart is to bereave himself of a room in that city of pearl, and to perish for ever. Or take it for a handbreadth; should a man, having his lands divided into four parts (answerable to those four fingers’ breadth), leave three of them untilled? should he not make the best of that little time that he hath, that he be not taken with his task undone? Themistocles died about a hundred and seven years of age; and when he was to die he was grieved upon this ground: Now I am to die, saith he, when I begin to be wise. But stultus semper incipit vivere, saith Seneca; and such complaints are bootless. Oh live quickly, live apace, and learn of the devil at least to be most busy, as knowing that our time is short, Revelation 12:12 . To complain of the miseries of life, and to wish for death, as David here seemeth to do (and as did Job, Job 3:19 ; Job 6:9 ; Job 7:15 ; and Moses, Numbers 11:11 ; Numbers 11:15 ; Elijah, 1 Kings 19:4 ; Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:14 ; Jonah, Jon 4:3 ), is a sign of a prevailing temptation, and of a spirit fainting under it. We must fight against such impatience; and learn to do the like by life, as we do by a lease, wherein, if our time be short, we rip up the grounds, eat up the grass, cut down the underbrush, and take all the liberty the lease will afford.

Mine age is as nothing ] Heb. My world, that is, my time of abroad in the world, is but a magnum Nihil, as one saith of honour, Puncture est quod vivimus, et puncto minus; a mere salve vale, hello and goodbye a nonentity.

Verily every man at his best state ] When he is best constituted and underlaid, set to live, as one would think, firmus et fixus, settled on his best bottom, yet even then be is all over vanity. Profecto omnimoda vanltas omnis homo est quantumvis constitutus maxime (Tremel.). All Adam is all Abel, as the original runs elegantly, alluding to those two proper names, like as Psalms 144:3-4 , Adam is Abel’s mate, or man is like to a soon vanishing vapour; such as is the breath of one’s mouth, see Jam 4:14 a feeble flash, a curious picture of nothing.

Verse 6

Psa 39:6 Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up [riches], and knoweth not who shall gather them.

Ver. 6. Surely every man walketh in a vain show ] Heb. in an image, or in a shadow, as Job 14:2 ; in the shadow of death, as some sense it; his life is like a picture drawn upon the water, saith Theodoret; it passeth away as a hasty, headlong torrent. Verily, surely, surely, it is so; Selah, you may seal to it.

Surely they are disquieted in vain ] Heb. They keep a stir, and trouble the world, as did great Alexander; who, surfeiting of his excessive fortunes, from the darling of heaven, came to be the disdain of the earth, which he had so oft disquieted. Two fits of an ague could shake great Tameriane to death. So the Emperor Adrian, who, troubling himself and others to little good purpose, died with this saying in his mouth, Omnia fui, et nihil profuit, I have tried all conclusions, but got nothing. And saith not Solomon as much in his Ecclesiastes?

He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them ] i.e. Enjoy them. See Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 , and be moderate. Think when you lock up your money in your chest, saith one, who shall shortly lock you up in your coffin. Think how that this very night thy soul may be required of thee; and then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? Luke 12:20 .

Verse 7

Psa 39:7 And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope [is] in thee.

Ver. 7. And now, Lord, what wait I for? ] q.d. Absit ergo ut de istis quisquiliis sim anxius, Far be it from me to trouble myself about these transitory trifles; I am bent to depend on thee alone, to wait for thy favour, and desire it above all earthly felicity; to place all my hope on thee alone (Beza), who, being my Lord, wilt not, canst not cast off thy poor servant, who desireth to fear thy name.

Verse 8

Psa 39:8 Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.

Ver. 8. Deliver me from all my transgressions ] But especially from that of impatiently desiring to die out of discontent, Psalms 39:4 . The sense of this one sin brought many more to remembrance; as a man, by looking over his debt book for one thing, meets with more. God giveth the penitent general discharges; neither calleth he any to an after reckoning.

Make me not the reproach of the foolish ] Let not any wicked one (for such are all fools in God’s dictionary) lay this folly in my dish, that I so foolishly desired death in a pet.

Verse 9

Psa 39:9 I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst [it].

Ver. 9. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth ] Or better thus, I should have been dumb, and not have opened my mouth, according to my first resolution. I should not have reasoned, or rather wrangled, with thee, as Psalms 39:4 , but have kissed thy rod in a humble submission, and have known that the rod of Aaron and pot of manna must go together. Macrobius writeth that the image of Angeronia among the old Romans was placed on the altar of Volupia with the mouth closed and sealed up; to signify, that such as patiently and silently bear their griefs do thereby attain to greatest pleasures.

Because thou didst it ] This is indeed a quieting consideration, and will notably quell and kill unruly passions. Set but God before them when they are tumultuating, and all will be soon hushed. This made Jacob so patient in the rape of his daughter Dinah; Job, in the loss of his goods by the Sabaean spoilers; David, in the barkings of that dead dog Shimei; that noble lord of Plessis, in the loss of his only son, a gentleman of marvellous great hopes, slain in the wars of the Low Countries. His mother, more impatient, died of the grief of it; but his father laid his hand on his mouth when God’s hand was on his back; and used these very words, "I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it."

Verse 10

Psa 39:10 Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.

Ver. 10. Remove thy stroke away from me ] Having first prayed off his sin, he would now pray off his pain, though it less troubled him; and for ease he repaireth to Jehovah, that healeth as well as woundeth, Hosea 6:1 .

- nam qui tibi vulnera fecit,

Solus Achilleo tollere more potest

(Ovid. Trist).

I am consumed by the blow of thine hand ] Heb. By the conflict or buffetings. Oh, keep out of his fingers, for it is a fearful thing to fall into them, Hebrews 10:31 , Cavebis autem si pavebis.

Verse 11

Psa 39:11 When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man [is] vanity. Selah.

Ver. 11. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity ] Or shouldest thou but correct him according to his iniquity; correct him, I say, or instruct him. Kimchi’s note here is, Morbi sunt interpretes inter Deum et homines increpantes, ut Job 33:19 . Diseases are God’s chiding messages or real rebukes.

Thou makest his beauty ] Heb. whatsoever in him is desirable, all his prime and pride, pulchritudinem et praestantiam, his beauty and bravery, as that of Jonah’s gourd.

To consume away like a moth ] Heb. To melt away as a moth, which is easily crushed between one’s fingers, Job 4:19 ; or actively, as a moth, caeco morsu, doth secretly and suddenly consume the most precious garment, so dost thou the wicked by thy secret curse, though themselves or others little observe it. Quamvis non palam fulminet e caelo Deus (Vat.).

Surely every man is vanity. Selah ] See Psalms 39:5 .

Verse 12

Psa 39:12 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I [am] a stranger with thee, [and] a sojourner, as all my fathers [were].

Ver. 12. Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear, &c. ] My prayer, my cry, my tears. See how his ardency in prayer grew by degrees, and so availed much, James 5:16 . We must rise in our requests, pray, cry, weep, ask, seek, knock, let the Lord see that we are in good earnest; and then we may have anything. Tears have a voice, and are very effectual orators.

For I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner ] And in that respect subject to many miseries and molestations, Satanical and secular, till I shall repatriasse, get home (as Bernard expresseth it); and this was the condition of all my godly predecessors, who yet found favour with thee, and so I hope shall I.

Verse 13

Psa 39:13 O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.

Ver. 13. O spare me, that I may recover strength ] Ut refociller, reficiar. Job maketh the like request, Job 10:20 . Some breathing while they would have, and a time to recollect themselves, before that last, great encounter. They say in effect, Differ, habent parvae commoda magna morae.

Before I go hence, and be no more ] No more seen among men. It is said that Richard III caused the dead corpses of his two smothered nephews to be closed in lead, and so put in a coffin full of holes, and hooked at the ends with two hooks of iron; and so be cast into a place called the Black Deeps, at the Thames’ mouth, whereby they should never rise up nor be any more seen. "Joseph is not, and Simeon is not," Genesis 42:36 . The righteous perish, Isaiah 57:1 . When once I go hence, saith David here, viz. to my long home, Ecclesiastes 12:5 , there will be a Non ego, an end of me and to this world; wherefore I beg a little respite.

Sοι μεν τουτο, Yεε, σμικρον, εμοι δε μεγα .

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 39". Trapp's Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.