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Psalm 39

Prayer for Wisdom and Forgiveness

To the leader: to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.


I said, “I will guard my ways

that I may not sin with my tongue;

I will keep a muzzle on my mouth

as long as the wicked are in my presence.”


I was silent and still;

I held my peace to no avail;

my distress grew worse,


my heart became hot within me.

While I mused, the fire burned;

then I spoke with my tongue:



“L ord, let me know my end,

and what is the measure of my days;

let me know how fleeting my life is.


You have made my days a few handbreadths,

and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.

Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Selah


Surely everyone goes about like a shadow.

Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;

they heap up, and do not know who will gather.



“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?

My hope is in you.


Deliver me from all my transgressions.

Do not make me the scorn of the fool.


I am silent; I do not open my mouth,

for it is you who have done it.


Remove your stroke from me;

I am worn down by the blows of your hand.



“You chastise mortals

in punishment for sin,

consuming like a moth what is dear to them;

surely everyone is a mere breath. Selah



“Hear my prayer, O L ord,

and give ear to my cry;

do not hold your peace at my tears.

For I am your passing guest,

an alien, like all my forebears.


Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,

before I depart and am no more.”

1. I said, I will take heed to my ways. David explains and illustrates the greatness of his grief by this circumstance, that, contrary to his inclination and resolution, he broke forth into the severest complaints. The meaning substantially is, that although he had subdued his heart to patience, and resolved to keep silence, yet the violence of his grief was such that it forced him to break his resolution, and extorted from him, if we might so speak, expressions which indicate that he had given way to an undue degree of sorrow. The expression, I said, it is well known, does not always mean what is expressed in words, but is often used to denote the purpose of the heart, and, therefore, the words in heart are sometimes added. David, therefore, means not that he boasted of his fortitude and constancy, and made a display of them before men, but that before God he was, by continued meditation, well fortified and prepared to endure patiently the temptations by which he was now assailed. We ought to mark particularly the carefulness by which he was distinguished. It was not without cause that he was so much intent on exercising watchfulness over himself. He did so because he was conscious of his own weakness, and also well knew the manifold devices of Satan. He, therefore, looked on the right hand and on the left, and kept watch on all sides, lest temptation stealing upon him unawares from any quarter might reach even to his heart. Access to it, then, had been impossible, since it was shut up on every side, if the extreme severity of his grief had not overpowered him, and broken his resolution. When he says, I will keep my mouth with a muzzle, 6161     The Hebrew word מחסום, machsom, rendered bridle in our English version, properly signifies a muzzle, and is so rendered in Deuteronomy 25:4. “Our translations,” observes Mant, “say ‘as with a bridle.’ But we do not see how a bridle would preclude the person from speaking; nor is it a correct phrase, which the word muzzle is.” It is probable that the bridles of the ancients were made in the form of muzzles. that I sin not with my tongue, it is not to be understood as if he could with difficulty restrain and conceal his grief, (for it is mere pretense for a man to show by the countenance and speech the appearance of meekness when the heart still swells with pride;) but as there is nothing more slippery or loose than the tongue, David declares that he had endeavored so carefully to bridle his affections, that not so much as one word should escape from his lips which might betray the least impatience. And that man must indeed be endued with singular fortitude who unfeignedly and deliberately restrains his tongue, which is so liable to fall into error. As to what follows, while the wicked standeth before me, it is generally understood, as if David had concealed his grief, lest he should give occasion of blasphemy to the wicked, who, as soon as they see the children of God fail under the weight of their afflictions, insolently break forth into derision against them, which amounts to a contempt of God himself. But it appears to me that by the term standeth, David meant to express something more, — that even while he saw the wicked bearing rule, exercising authority, and exalted to honor, he resolved not to speak a single word, but to bear patiently the poverty and indignity which otherwise grieve and torment not a little even good men. Accordingly, he says not merely that when he was in the presence of the wicked he restrained himself, lest he should be subjected to their scorn, but that even while the worst of men prospered, 6262     Dr Geddes renders the last clause of the verse, “While the wicked prosper before me.” and, proud of their high rank, despised others, he was fully determined in his own mind not to be troubled at it. By this he very plainly shows that he was so beset with wicked men, ever ready for mischief, that he could not freely heave a sigh which was not made the subject of ridicule and scorn. Since, then, it was so hard a task for David to restrain his tongue, lest he should sin by giving way to complaints, let us learn from his example, whenever troubles molest us, to strive earnestly to moderate our affections, that no impious expression of dissatisfaction against God may slip from us.

2. I was dumb in silence. He now declares that this resolution of which he has spoken had not been a mere passing and momentary thought, but that he had shown by his conduct that it was indeed a resolution deeply fixed in his heart. He says, then, that he held his peace for a time, just as if he had been deaf, which was a singular manifestation of his patience. When he thus determined to be silent, it was not such a resolution as persons of a changeable disposition, who scarcely ever know their own mind, and who can with difficulty be brought to carry their desires into effect, often make: he had long and steadfastly inured himself to the exercise of patience; and this he had done, not only by keeping silence but by making himself utterly dumb, as if he had been deprived of the power of speech. The expression from good is expounded by some in the sense that he not only refrained from uttering sinful and unadvised words, but also that he abstained from speaking on any subject whatever. Others think that he held his peace from good, either because, being overwhelmed with miseries and afflictions, he found no relief to whatever side he turned, or else, because, by reason of the greatness of his sorrow, he was unable to sing the praises of God. But in my opinion the natural sense is, that although he was able adequately to defend himself, and it could not be shown that he wanted just and proper grounds of complaint, yet he refrained from speaking of his own mere will. 6363     French and Skinner read, “I held my peace from good and bad.” In the Hebrew it is simply “from good;” but they observe, “This expression occurs frequently in Scripture, and it would seem, that owing to the constant use of it, one part only of the sentence has been here expressed. Thus, ‘Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad,’ (Genesis 31:24.) Again, ‘Absalom spake neither good nor bad,’ (2 Samuel 13:22.”) He might have encountered the ungodly with a good defense of his own innocence, but he rather preferred to forego the prosecution of his righteous cause than indulge in any intemperate sorrow. He adds in the last clause of the verse, that although he thus restrained himself for a time, yet at length the violence of his grief broke through all the barriers which he had set to his tongue. If David, who was so valiant a champion, failed in the midst of his course, how much greater reason have we to be afraid lest we fall in like manner? He says that his sorrow was stirred, because, as we shall soon see, the ardor of his affections was inflamed so as to become tumultuous. Some render the phrase in this sense, that his sorrow was corrupted, as if his meaning were, that it became worse; just as we know that a wound becomes worse when it happens to putrify or fester: but this sense is forced.

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