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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.”

6. Surely man walketh in a shadow. 6969     In the Hebrew it is literally, “Man walketh in an image;” a phantasm, that which seems to be something real and substantial, but which does not deserve that character, which is an appearance only. Life is a mere show; “the baseless fabric of a vision;” it has the semblance of solidity, but there is no reality in it. The word occurs again in Psalm 73:20, “Thou shalt despise their image;” their vain show, or phantastic prosperity. Walford reads, “walketh as a shadow;” observing, that “the prefix ב is often used for כ as a particle of similitude.” he farther observes, that Dathe’s translation, “he pursues a shadow,” gives a good sense, but does not convey the exact notion of the figure that is conveyed by the Hebrew. He still prosecutes the same subject. By the word shadow, he means, that there is nothing substantial in man, but that he is only, as we say, a vain show, and has I know not how much of display and ostentation. 7070     “Et je ne scay quelle parade et ostentation.” — Fr. Some translate the word darkness, and understand the Psalmist’s language in this sense, That the life of man vanishes away before it can be known. But in these words David simply declares of every man individually what Paul extends to the whole world, when he says,

“The fashion of this world passeth away.” —
1 Corinthians 7:31

Thus he denies that there is any thing abiding in men, because the appearance of strength which displays itself in them for a time soon passes away. What he adds, that men disquiet themselves in vain, shows the very height of their vanity; as if he had said, It seems as if men were born for the very purpose of rendering themselves more and more contemptible: for although they are only as a shadow, yet as if they were fools, or rather insane, they involve themselves needlessly in harassing cares, and vexing themselves to no purpose. He expresses still more plainly how they manifest their folly, when he declares that while they anxiously and carefully heap up riches, they never think that they must soon, and it may be suddenly, leave their present abode. And why is it that they thus fret away their mind and body, but only because they imagine that they can never have enough? for by their insatiable desire of gain, they eagerly grasp at all the riches of the world, as if they had to live a hundred times the life of man. Moreover, David does not in this passage hold up to scorn the covetousness of man in the same sense in which Solomon does, Ecclesiastes 5:10; for he not only speaks of their heirs, but declares generally, that men disquiet and vex themselves with care, although they know not who shall reap the fruit of their labor in amassing riches. 7171     It is important to mark the difference between the Hebrew word צכר, tsabar, here rendered to heap together, and the Word אסף, asaph, rendered to gather “The former,” says Hammond, “here appears to contain all the toil of the harvest, in reaping, binding, setting up, and heaping things together, bringing them from the several places where they grow, into a cumulus The latter denotes the stowing or housing, laying it up, removing or carrying it out of the field, where it is heaped or set up, ready for carriage. For so אסף signifies sometimes to lay up, sometimes to take away This, then, is the description of the vanity of our human estate, that when a man hath run through all the labors of acquisition, and hath nothing visible to interpose betwixt him and his enjoyments, yet even then he is uncertain, not only whether himself shall possess it at last, but whether his heir shall do it; nay, he knows not whether his enemy may not; he cannot tell ‘who shall gather them into the barn,’ or enjoy them when they are there.” They may indeed wish to make provision for themselves; but what madness and folly is it for them to torment themselves with incessant and unprofitable cares which have no certain object or limit? David here condemns those ardent and unbridled desires, under the influence of which worldly men are carried away, and talk in a strange manner, confounding heaven and earth; for they admit not that they are mortal, much less do they consider that their life is bounded by the narrow limits of a hand-breadth. David spoke under the influence of a distempered and troubled state of mind; but there is included in his language this very profitable lesson, that there is no remedy better fitted for enabling us to rise above all unnecessary cares, than the recollection that the brief period of our life is only, as it were, a hand-breadth.

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