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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 39



Verse 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

Verse 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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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 39:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

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