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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 39

Verse 1

Psalms 39:0.

David's care of his thoughts. The consideration of the brevity and vanity of life. The reverence of God's judgments, and prayer, are the bridles of his impatience.

To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.

Title. לידתון למנצח lamnatseach liiduthun. See what has been observed on the title to the former psalm. This, being of the same kind, is generally supposed to have been written on the same occasion. Here, as well as in that, David endeavours to prevent the scandal which good men take, while they are under afflictions, at the prosperity of the wicked; though he shews that upon same occasions it is very difficult not to be disturbed at it. Jeduthun, mentioned in the title, was one of the chief musicians, as appears from 1 Chronicles 16:42; 1Ch 25:1. 2 Chronicles 5:12. We may just remark, that some have supposed that the psalm was occasioned by the death of Absalom, after Joab had represented to the king the inconsistency of his grief. The first and second verses seem to allude to his resolution to stifle his grief in the presence of Joab: in Psa 39:4 he prays for due preparation for his own death, and strongly alludes to the untimely end of Absalom. This is enforced Psa 39:6 wherein he blames himself for making such ample provision for his heir, who was cut off in so sudden a manner. The reproach of the foolish, Psa 39:8 might allude to the malicious interpretation which Joab or his other enemies might cast upon his affliction. The precariousness of human beauty, Psa 39:11 might refer to Absalom's remarkable beauty, in which he is said to have excelled all Israel. And the strength mentioned Psa 39:13 may allude to his loss of his two sons, Amnon and Absalom; children being frequently in Scripture styled the strength of their parents.

Verse 2

Psalms 39:2. I was dumb with silence I was dumb in silence: I held my peace from what is good; but my pain was irritated: i.e. "I refrained from speaking what is good, from giving God the glory with relation to my illness, by acknowledging the greatness and justice of God, and the nothingness and sinfulness of man." This seems to shew, that the reason why he would not speak at all before his enemies was, because he did not care to give them an occasion of triumph; as he must by acknowledging his own weakness and sin. But he could not bear this restraint; it grew worse and worse; and therefore he burst out, &c. Mudge. I have before observed, and it is especially remarkable in the poetical parts of Scripture, that the whole energy and beauty of the passages are frequently spoiled by the addition of connective and other particles which are not in the Hebrew. There is a remarkable instance in the next 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, &c.— The Lord hath shewn me my end, and the measure of my days what it is: I know how perishing I am. Mudge; who observes, that this translation seems much better to agree with what follows, and indeed the whole design of the psalm, than if in the imperative.

Verse 5

Psalms 39:5. Every man at his best state Every man living. Mudge.

Verse 6

Psalms 39:6. In a vain shew In a vain shew of happiness. Green. The word צלם tselem, is only used twice in the psalms: Here, and Psa 73:20 in both which places it signifies what is imaginary, in opposition to what is real. The Hebrew word יצבר iitsbor 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 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 9

Psalms 39:9. I was dumb This is a fine expression of the Psalmist's resignation. See Job 1:21 and 2 Samuel 16:10.

Verse 11

Psalms 39:11. Like a moth i.e. "As a moth consumes a garment." The Chaldee paraphrase has it, like a moth broken asunder; but the phrase is more properly applied to the moth's consuming other things, and not to the being itself consumed: thus Hosea 5:12. I will be to Ephraim as a moth; i.e. "I will consume him." and Isaiah 50:9. The moth shall eat them as a garment.

Verse 12

Psalms 39:12. For I am a stranger with thee, &c.— More like a stranger, and sojourner in this country, than an inhabitant or lord of it; with thee, who in a particular manner art the proprietor of this land, which thou hast chosen to be thy peculiar inheritance. The land, says Moses, is thine; we are but strangers and sojourners with thee. Leviticus 25:23.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, This psalm contains much matter for a mournful song, suited to soothe the sorrows which mortality is heir to, and reconcile our souls to the holy will of God.

David reflects upon the solemn purposes that he had formed, to watch over his words and ways; which was so needful when many eyes were upon him, waiting for his halting. He said within his heart, I will take heed to my ways, to walk circumspectly after the word and will of God. I will keep my mouth with a bridle from every murmuring expression under my trials, while the wicked is before me; who would take pleasure in seeing him provoked to speak unadvisedly with his lips. Note; (1.) We need much watchfulness and circumspection, in order to walk aright; a careless heart will make crooked ways. (2.) Nothing is more difficult to restrain than the tongue; and he is a perfect man who can always govern it.

2nd, The views of man's vanity bid him look for a more enduring portion in God. And therefore,
1. He professes that on him all his hope is stayed; and that, as he could expect nothing beneath the sun as his happiness, neither would he be disquieted with the light and momentary troubles to which he might be exposed. Note; (1.) The less we expect on earth, the more will our eyes be turned to heaven. (2.) All else is a vain hope; they who hope in God shall never be ashamed.

2. He prays for pardon and deliverance. His sins were his great concern; he longs above all things to be delivered from their condemning guilt and their prevailing power, that he may enjoy true peace of conscience. Note; (1.) Our ceaseless prayer must be for pardoning mercy, till obtained. The sting of affliction is removed, when sin is forgiven. (2.) One stroke of disease makes strange alterations; the bloom of beauty fades, the sparkling eye is dim, the ruddy lip is livid; and languor, paleness, and decay, mar all the lovely form. What poor things then to be proud of, what precarious vanities! (3.) The prayer of faith, and the tears of penitence, will never be disregarded of God. (4.) When we consider ourselves as really strangers upon earth, who neither have nor seek our rest below, every trial that we meet will quicken our pace, and whet our longings after our house and home, a mansion in the skies.

3. With holy resignation he surrenders up himself to God; having begun to pray, his ruffled spirits are composed, and his soul returns to its rest again. Since God's hand is in every affliction, and every chastisement most righteous, yea, less than our iniquity deserves, it ill becomes us to find fault, but rather continually to acknowledge that he doth all things well.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 39". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.