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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 39

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

This psalm agrees, in all material features, as also in date and general occasion, with Psalms 38:0, with this single peculiarity the author here indulges more in general reflections upon the brevity of life, the vanity of earthly grandeur, and the deceitful and unsatisfying nature of worldly prosperity. From his nearness to death, and the depth of his humiliation, he now surveys human life in its true relations to eternity, and prays, (Psalms 39:4,) like Moses, (Psalms 90:12,) for a practical estimate of its brevity. He observes the same reticence before enemies as in Psalms 38:0, (comp. Psalms 39:1-2; Psalms 39:9, and Psalms 38:13-14,) confesses the same sins, (Psalms 39:8; Psalms 38:4; Psalms 38:18,) feels the same impending dread of reproach, (Psalms 39:8; Psalms 38:16,) and apprehension of speedy death without help from God, Psalms 39:12-13; Psalms 38:10; Psalms 38:17; Psalms 38:22.TITLE:

To Jeduthun The name of one of David’s choristers, 1 Chronicles 16:41-42; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3. His descendants, being also choristers, went by the same name, Nehemiah 11:17. The name also occurs in the titles of Psalms 62, , 77, which see.

Verses 1-2

1, 2. See on Psalms 38:13-14.

Bridle Or muzzle, implying restraint,

That I sin not The danger of sinning when speaking under strong excitement, also of being misinterpreted by enemies, led to this resolution. See note on Psalms 4:4; and compare Job 1:22; Job 2:10

Verse 3

3. While I was musing the fire burned My meditations increased the trouble and perplexity of my heart until the heat of my sorrow impelled me to speak.

Verse 4

4. Make me to know mine end The first utterance gives expression to the thought which was uppermost. He would know why he should be thus cut off in the midst of his days, as one not fit to live, and that, if such were the will of God, he might duly act with reference thereto.

How frail How passing away, transitory. Margin, “what time I have here.” See Psalms 89:47

Verse 5

5. Handbreadth Hebrew, hand-breadths, to correspond to days. A measurement of four fingers’ breadth, proverbially used for a brief period.

Mine age is as nothing “Age” is put for the whole period of life.

Every man at his best state is… vanity Hebrew, certainly altogether vanity is every man standing firm. His apparently firm, established state contrasts with vanity. His securest state, made so by health, wealth, power, and friends, is, however, wholly unreliable, it is itself vanity.

Verse 6

6. Vain show An image, or shadow, as opposed to reality, or substance.

They are disquieted in vain Literally, surely, for a breath will they be disturbed. Such is human frailty, “thrown into tumult, raptured, or dismayed,” at what is empty as breath!

Verse 7

7. And now From this humiliating picture, he turns his thought to God for comfort.

What wait I for Literally, what have I expected? What have I rested my hopes on? Quickly he answers,

My hope is in thee Not in man, not in earthly things, not in doctrines of immortality even, objectively considered or speculatively admitted, but “in thee,” the living God.

Verse 8

8. Another painful calling up of his sin in a prayer for forgiveness, and a deprecation of the dreaded scorn of wicked men.

Verse 9

9. Compare on Psalms 39:1-2, and Psalms 38:13-14.

Because thou didst it Much as he had suffered from man, the point of his anguish lay inthe thought that it was a judgment from God for his own conscious ill-desert. Thus in Psalms 39:10, thy stroke, the blow of thine hand recognise the same truth.

Verse 11

11. When thou with rebukes Still the psalmist holds before him the avenging hand of God, as in vers. 9, 10, as the efficient cause of his affliction.

Beauty to consume away like a moth Judgments cause the beauty of man to perish, as the garment falls into shreds when eaten by the clothes-moth. The figure is quite common, but startling, (Job 4:19; Job 13:28; Isaiah 1:9; Hosea 5:12; Matthew 6:19;) and more impressive in the East, as abundance of clothing was coveted as a token of wealth and rank, with greater exposure to the עשׁ , ( ‘ash,) or destructive clothes-moth, whose work was stealthy and silent.

Surely every man is vanity Surely a breath is every man. A refrain of Psalms 39:6

Verses 12-13

12, 13. The concluding verses are a prayer for restoration, urged by the shortness and frailty of life.

Prayer… cry… tears “Prayer,” here, must be understood of prostrate pleading; “cry,” or outcry, as lamentable wailing; and “tears” alone could climax the earnestness of his devotions. “When the gates of prayer seem to be closed, the gates of tears still remain unclosed.” Delitzsch.

Stranger… sojourner A glance at the primitive nomadic life of his ancestors, Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9; compare Hebrews 11:9; Hebrews 11:13. A “stranger” is a traveller, one passing through a country with no fixed abode; a “sojourner” is one dwelling in a country for a time, and holding property by legal sufferance, but not a citizen: both transient.

Oh spare me Literally, look away from me; that is, turn away thy threatening look and avenging hand.

That I may recover strength Hebrew, and 1 will be joyful. Bishop Alexander reads: “That I may smile again.”

Before I go hence The verb simply means to depart, but is sometimes used to signify departing by death, dying, as Genesis 15:2, “I go childless,” I die, or depart, childless.

And be no more Literally, and am not; exist no longer with living men upon earth, death being represented as it affects our relation to earthly life. On this verse see Job 7:8; Job 7:19-21; Job 10:20-21; Job 14:6; to which the metaphors and sentiments correspond. The phrase “ I go,” or, depart, is grounded in the belief that the “I,” or ego, is different from and independent of the body.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 39". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.