Read: Psalm 39:10 – 11; Job 9:34; 13:21; Psalm 32:4; Hosea 5:8 – 15
The occasion of this psalm is revealed in v. 10, “Remove Your stroke from me.” Some rabbinical commentators viewed this psalm as the second in the series of four (Psalms 38 – 41) which David wrote when suffering an illness that was God’s discipline for some sin, quite possibly his sin with Bathsheba, although there is no biblical record of David suffering from illness as a discipline for that sin. Scripture cannot be expected to record every incident in a seventy-year lifespan, so it is very possible David wrote this psalm in response to discipline he endured because of some sin that did not become part of the biblical record. Although David wrote the psalm in response to suffering that he regarded as personal discipline, many Jews related it to the experience of their nation in exile.
Think About It: According to Psalm 39:10 – 11, what was involved in God’s discipline upon David? What was happening to David as a result of God’s discipline? Hosea 5:8 – 15 spells out a series of events of increasing severity that are involved in God’s discipline, beginning with a trumpet call of warning (Hosea 8:8), followed by the wasting of the moth and of dry rot (Hosea 8:12), followed by the ravages of a lion (Hosea 8:14), followed by the still more devastating withdrawal of God’s presence (Hosea 8:15). Is God’s discipline of His children an Old Testament phenomenon, or can Christians also expect discipline (Hebrews 12:5 – 13)?
Prayer: Lord, grant me wisdom to be aware of Your discipline, and to respond in repentance and obedience.
Read: Psalm 39:1 – 2, 9; Job 7
David’s response to God’s discipline was to purpose to remain silent. The 19th century Ukrainian rabbi known as Malbim differentiated between the “tongue” and the “mouth.” He believed that the tongue, being an internal organ, symbolized expression that was well-considered and intellectual; the mouth, by contrast, being external, symbolized words spoken thoughtlessly in haste. David’s commitment to God in Psalm 39:1 was a promise to guard both his intellectual considerations and his casual speech, so that wicked people would not hear and presumably be given any occasion to blaspheme. David’s initial commitment to uncomplaining silence arose from recognition that God’s discipline was the cause of his suffering. Yet, while he refrained from opening his mouth (Psalm 39:9 – giving vent to ill-considered words born of frustration), he could not refrain from speaking with his tongue carefully considered thoughts directed towards God. David’s feelings and thoughts in Psalm 39 parallel Job’s expression in Job 7.
Think About It: How did David’s circumstances differ from Job’s? How might David’s frustrations be misunderstood and twisted around by wicked people? How can I apply David’s commitment in Psalm 39:1- 2 in my life?
Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
Read: Psalm 39:3 – 4; Job 32:18 – 19; Jeremiah 20:9; 23:29; Luke 24:32
David’s “musings” were words spoken internally. The image of a burning fire described a situation of great urgency. David’s inner thoughts burst forth into speech, yet it was the speech of his tongue, the internal organ which symbolizes deep reflection. Psalm 39:4 revealed that what David needed so urgently was a deep conversation with the Lord about his situation. David was aware of the presence of wicked people, yet his conversation with the Lord was not a complaint session about evil-doers, but a reflection on his own spiritual condition.
Think About It: What makes my heart burn within me? Based on the Scripture references in Jeremiah 20:9, 23:29, and Luke 24:32, what should light the fire in my heart? Does my prayer life have a sense of burning urgency?
Prayer: Lord, I pray for a greater sense of urgency to talk with You.
Read: Psalm 39:4 – 5; Genesis 47:9; Psalm 78:39; Psalm 90:12; Psalm 103:14; Ecclesiastes 6:12;
David’s urgent discussion with God began with a reflection on the relative brevity of life. Life seemed brief even to Jacob when he was 130 years old (Genesis 47:9). Subjectively and objectively, life is short and full of trouble. This is the universal human condition: “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath.” The ending of Psalm 39:4 with the notation “Selah,” which signified a rest or musical interlude, underscores the need for everyone who reads this psalm to stop and reflect on this truth.
Think About It: Do I know how much time I have left in this life? Ephesians 5:16 instructs me to “redeem the time” – redeem means “to buy up,” and “to rescue from loss.” Why must time be “bought up” and “rescued from loss”? What happens to my time if I don’t redeem it? How can I rescue my time from being lost? Do I waste a lot of time? How could I better spend my time?
Prayer: Lord please help me to make the best use of time.
Read: Psalm 39:6; Ecclesiastes 1; James 1:11; 4:14; 1 Peter 1:24 – 25
David’s urgent discussion with God, having begun with reflection on the brevity of life, continued with a discussion of the vanity of life: man goes about as a shadow (carrying no weight, having no influence); he is in turmoil over nothing; he heaps up wealth to no purpose. David’s reflection would seem to indicate this psalm was written later in his life, when he had (apparently) accomplished and acquired much, but now saw that it meant nothing. Ambrose Bierce defined a mausoleum as “The final and funniest folly of the rich.”
Think About It: Everything on this earth fades away. What endures forever (1 Peter 1:25)? What did Jesus teach about heaping up wealth that endures (Matthew 6:19 – 20)? How does one acquire treasure in heaven (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21; Luke 12:33)? What is in my heavenly bank account?
Prayer: Lord grant me the grace and wisdom to lay up treasure that fades not away.
Read: Psalm 39:7; Psalm 25:5; Psalm 38:15; Isaiah 40:31
Having considered the brevity and vanity of human life, David asked rhetorically, “For what do I wait?” Nothing in this world can bring deliverance or fulfillment, therefore the only answer can be, “My hope is in You.” “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him out” (Lamentations 3:25). Commenting on Isaiah 40:31, Matthew Henry defined “waiting on the Lord” thus: “But those that wait on the Lord, who make conscience of their duty to Him, and by faith rely upon Him and commit themselves to His guidance, shall find that God will not fail them.” Given the brevity of human life, a natural response might be to “hurry up” and do something – do anything. Yet David’s response was to wait, not expecting or seeking deliverance or provision or guidance from anything in this shadowy and meaningless world, but rather from God alone.
Think About It: Am I waiting upon the Lord? What is involved in “waiting on” and “hoping in” the Lord? What kinds of things does a “waiter” and a “hoper” do, and not do?
Prayer: Lord, I pray for the grace and wisdom to wait upon You and to hope in You, and in You alone.
Read: Psalm 39:8, 12 – 13; James 4:8 – 10; 1 John 1:9
Having reflected on the brevity and vanity of human existence, and having expressed his hope in the Lord, David concluded his prayer in Psalm 39 with a request for forgiveness (Psalm 39:8). David authenticated the genuineness of his repentance by reference to his tears. He experienced and expressed genuine sorrow for sin. David further authenticated the genuineness of his repentance with reference to his humble position and his dependence upon God. King though David was, he recognized that on this earth he was only a sojourner, emphasizing that status by referring to himself with two different words with a similar meaning – “sojourner” and “guest.” In Middle Eastern culture, the guest had a strong claim on his host, and David further strengthened his claim on the Lord with a reference to “all my fathers,” which would have included Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Patriarchs with whom the Lord made covenant. David requested forgiveness, therefore, on the basis of sorrowful repentance, on the basis of his status as a needy sojourner and God’s nature as a gracious host, and on the basis of God’s covenant with the Patriarchs.
Think About It: When I seek repentance, do I give evidence of real sorrow for sin? Do I humble myself? Do I recognize my dependence upon God? Do I believe that God’s grace is greater than all my sin? What promise has God made on which I can rely when seeking forgiveness for sin?
Prayer: Lord, be merciful on me, a sinner!