This psalm of David needed some extra work on my part this morning so I did some digging around the commentaries to shed light on David’s current condition while wring this lament to God. The following are excerpts of what we learn.
There is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7), and wise is the person who knows the difference. David didn’t argue with God (v. 9) or with those who reproached him, but he did pray to the Lord.
When we find ourselves burying our true feelings and creating physical and emotional pain for ourselves, then it’s time to talk to the Lord and seek His help. David knew that life was short and that the days would pass swiftly; he also knew that he was frail and that one day he would die.
David compared life to an “empty show,” with shadow people bustling about, trying to get rich. Busy for what? Wealthy for what? Years later, Solomon raised the same questions (Eccl. 2:18-19), and Jesus emphasized the same truth in Luke 12:16-21. If you measure the length of life, you may become despondent, but if you look around you and measure the depth of life, you are appalled. Life is swift, life is short, and for most people, life is futile. In modern vocabulary, people are living for the image and not the reality.
Who are we and what are we living for? Better question, Who are we living for?
Who can I talk to when evil is all around, mocking God, our Father and mocking what I do for God? It is only God. He can take it. He has taken it since creation. Wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent can only come from God.
“If life is short and goes past so swiftly,” asks David, “what am I waiting for? If the world is nothing but a shadow image, let me give myself to the Lord, who is the foundation of all that is real and lasting.” Today we would say, “The reality is … found in Christ” (Col. 2:17 niv). The main concern is not how long we live but how we live.
Life is measured, not by how rich we are in material wealth, but whether we have values that last. Are we living with eternity’s values in view? “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17 nkjv). In turning by faith to the Lord, David moved from hopelessness to hope and from paralysis to action.
We begin with David the sinner and listen to his prayer for forgiveness (vv. 8-9). Like every truly convicted sinner, his mouth had been stopped (Rom. 3:19), and he admitted his guilt before God (see 1 Sam. 3:18; Lam. 1:21).
God listens to the cry of the brokenhearted (51:17) and forgives when we confess (1 John 1:9). David was especially concerned that he not give occasion to “the foolish” to ridicule his faith (14:1; 69:7; 74:22; 79:4).
In his advanced years, David is recovering from a stroke. C. S. Lewis was correct when he wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” The human body ages, decays, and dies; and the material wealth we gather gradually loses its value, like a moth silently destroying a garment.
Jim Elliot’s oft-quoted statement certainly applies here: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Vanity of vanity, all is vanity–unless we put our faith and hope in God.
Warren Wiersbe states, “Finally, David the sojourner prays for God’s direction as he makes his pilgrim way through life with its joys and sorrows. The world is a “vain show” (v. 6)–John Bunyan called it “Vanity Fair”–and God’s people are aliens and strangers here (119:19; Gen. 23:4; Lev. 25:23; 1 Chron. 29:15; Heb. 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). We are not strangers to God, for He knows us and we know Him, but we are strangers with God as His welcomed guests (90:1; 23:6).
God hears our prayers and cries, and He sees our tears. “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus told His disciples, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 nkjv). His closing prayer was that God would turn away His frowning face and give him strength to return to life with its duties and burdens and then one day enable him to pass into eternity. The phrase “no more” doesn’t suggest annihilation or the absence of an afterlife, but that David would “no more” be on his earthly pilgrimage. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (23:6).
Worship and Wisdom, Psalms and Proverbs
Psalm 39, The Message
A David Psalm
39 1-3 I’m determined to watch steps and tongue
so they won’t land me in trouble.
I decided to hold my tongue
as long as Wicked is in the room.
“Mum’s the word,” I said, and kept quiet.
But the longer I kept silence
The worse it got—
my insides got hotter and hotter.
My thoughts boiled over;
I spilled my guts.
4-6 “Tell me, what’s going on, God?
How long do I have to live?
Give me the bad news!
You’ve kept me on pretty short rations;
my life is string too short to be saved.
Oh! we’re all puffs of air.
Oh! we’re all shadows in a campfire.
Oh! we’re just spit in the wind.
We make our pile, and then we leave it.
7-11 “What am I doing in the meantime, Lord?
Hoping, that’s what I’m doing—hoping
You’ll save me from a rebel life,
save me from the contempt of dunces.
I’ll say no more, I’ll shut my mouth,
since you, Lord, are behind all this.
But I can’t take it much longer.
When you put us through the fire
to purge us from our sin,
our dearest idols go up in smoke.
Are we also nothing but smoke?
12-13 “Ah, God, listen to my prayer, my
cry—open your ears.
Don’t be callous;
just look at these tears of mine.
I’m a stranger here. I don’t know my way—
a migrant like my whole family.
Give me a break, cut me some slack
before it’s too late and I’m out of here.”
TRUTH: Oh! we’re all shadows in a campfire. Oh! we’re just spit in the wind. We make our pile, and then we leave it. “What am I doing in the meantime, Lord? Hoping, that’s what I’m doing—hoping You’ll save me from a rebel life, save me from the contempt of dunces. AND God does. Every. Time.
Proverb 16:21-24, The Message
A wise person gets known for insight;
gracious words add to one’s reputation.
22 True intelligence is a spring of fresh water,
while fools sweat it out the hard way.
23 They make a lot of sense, these wise folks;
whenever they speak, their reputation increases.
24 Gracious speech is like clover honey—
good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.
WISDOM: Gracious speech is like clover honey, good for the soul, energy for the body. Anything less takes our breath away, a word at a time, and leaves scars of hurt that only God can heal.
You are God and we are not. Our tongues need your control. When I lay my life before you each morning, in includes my thoughts that could pass over my tongue at the wrong time, wrong place, with a bad spirit because of hurt and fear. Help us, Lord. Be our strength and wisdom in all of life. Help us to first be silent before you. Help us to bring all that bothers us about the world to you to solve. Then help us to know when to speak your word in ways that build each other, not tear them down. Give us righteous words, at the right moment from you. Help us to make the most of every opportunity to point people to you. Keep us from causing pain to anyone. Use us to encourage. Life is short. Help us to fill each day left for your glory and praise.
In Jesus Name, Amen