Psalm 39

Psalm 39

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What Is the Measure of My Days?

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

39   I said, “I will guard my ways,
    that I may not sin with my tongue;
  I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
    so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
  I was mute and silent;
    I held my peace to no avail,
  and my distress grew worse.
    My heart became hot within me.
  As I mused, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:
  “O LORD, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
  Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
  Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
    Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
  Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
    man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
  “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.
  Deliver me from all my transgressions.
    Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
  I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
    for it is you who have done it.
  Remove your stroke from me;
    I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
  When you discipline a man
    with rebukes for sin,
  you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
    surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah
  “Hear my prayer, O LORD,
    and give ear to my cry;
    hold not your peace at my tears!
  For I am a sojourner with you,
    a guest, like all my fathers.
  Look away from me, that I may smile again,
    before I depart and am no more!”


Psalm 39 Commentary

by Hank Workman

There are many times when our emotions run high in a situation.  Driven by disappointment or anger we can easily lash out at others through our words bringing a tidal wave of problems.  The taming of the tongue is something we wrestle with again and again.  It’s the age-old question of when do we speak and when do we keep silent?

James wrote most profoundly:

“The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our  life, and is set on fire by hell.

For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.”

James 3:5-10

David recognized ahead of the fact that he needed to guard his tongue.  The reality whatever was going on within and the audience that stood before him what he said would or could be damaging.  His emotions were too involved in the situation.

How many a flame or forest fire has been started through our own foolish talk or response to someone when driven by emotion.  Yes, this is the case we battle when dealing with someone as our anger has grown hot.  Such words do no good and are part of our own stumbling, as James speaks earlier.

The silence David looks toward is going to take a movement of God within him.  For everything within wants to speak out – yet instead, he prays for wisdom.  He’s asking for discernment in when to speak and when not.  What is so fascinating is David’s prayer is also requesting perspective.  “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Psalms 39:4)

This prayer was not for an understanding of when exactly his life would come to an end but truly was for perspective.  “Help me see my own end in light of this situation that is gripping me.  In the end is it worth it?  Am I to speak or simply stay silent?”   Basically in the scheme of eternity is what I am so driven by in my emotions going to catapult what I say to another and will it actually make a difference?

What matters to David and what should matter to us is our relationship with our Father, through Jesus.  He guides and directs us of when to speak and when not and knows the battles we face and yes the ones we choose at times but must be driven by the lead of the Holy Spirit as to when to open our mouths.

There is not a day goes by I don’t ask God for wisdom and discernment.  And in the tangible aspect of the prayer, it is about just this – when to respond and when to let things go.  I pray continually even when my emotions are running high as to if I am to speak and if so plead for the words.  But if I’m not then I ask for his strength to muzzle my tongue.

There was a situation where I was burdened for another.  My prayers were that God would do whatever it took to bring them into alignment with Him.  They were a Believer but there were personal things going on that was bringing a bit of separation not only in their relationship with God but also with myself.  I asked everyday for wisdom and discernment.  I prayed for the right moment to speak.

And get this — I prayed this prayer for over 6 months.  6 months of waiting for the Lord to direct a bold conversation that was needed.  It was hard, I won’t lie.  I struggled daily at times with simply wanting to “put all the cards on the table” but the Holy Spirit continued to block.

Yet it would be one random morning the individual walked into the conversation that was needed.  He set the table so to speak through some questions and honest wrestling about his life.  The Holy Spirit swung open the door and all those months of prayer, He stepped in and took control of the hard words needed to be said.

This wasn’t a kumbaya moment at all – far from it.  It was a tough conversation but after the words were spoken the individual took them back to his own prayer time and the Holy Spirit took it from there.  He repented and not only that began to seek the Spirit on changing his ways.

What’s the point?  The Holy Spirit had confirmed my feelings all those months as being valid.  The individual was simply not ready to hear them yet.  This means the Spirit of God had to work on the heart of the other through those months in preparation for the conversation.  But He was also working on me.  It was a moment of growing trust that He knew the best timing and would bring it about when it was right.

Are you quick to simply state your mind in a situation?  How pleased is God with this?  Are you one who confronts again and again over things that in light of eternity don’t matter?  What’s your real witness like?  Are you one who even puts a lot of “spiritual” lingo into your confrontation?  What image are you painting of God to the other and even onlookers?

David rightfully prayed for wisdom and so should we.  Our tongue can bring much damage to another if we are speaking out of emotion or setting our own timing rather than God’s. Put the prayers of wisdom and discernment, the prayers of God’s timing in your toolbox of prayer and let Him call the shots with what you say and when you stay silent.  Seek Him.  Shut your mouth. Wait on God’s timing.  When it’s right, it will bring much glory to God.

Psalm 39 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

Let’s track this psalm from the beginning.

The psalmist opens with tremendous grief. There seems to be physical, emotional and mental suffering going on in his life and he doesn’t know how to respond. So, initially, he decides to remain silent. This was a noble gesture. He makes a special note that his decision to remain silent was specifically related to his desire not the speak out in sin.

This alone is a subject that could be fully extrapolated in a sermon. Our world today is looking for argumentative, opinionated people to challenge any little detail of their life so they can pounce with their tongue (or fingers on social media) and put others in their place. The psalmist was silent before his enemies just as Jesus was.

However, this “solution” did not work. His pain intensified.

I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse.

Psalms 39:2 ESV

So, in an effort to feel out relief from God, he moves on. His words and thoughts burn like a flaming fire that cannot be suppressed. Notice that his vow to remain silent initially was only before his enemies. The phrasing used here is the same words that describe taking your internal thoughts captive. But then comes the eruption of emotion directed toward God. In this way, he has remained silent before his enemies (avoided sin) but has found an outlet in which to seek wisdom (through God).

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!

Psalms 39:4 ESV

Almost every commentary I read interpreted this cry as literally asking, “How long do I have left to live?” However, in Hebrew times, it was not uncommon for a period of discipline and correction to have a definite end. Captivity was something the Israelites were familiar with and this would fit the type of language they would use to ask the Lord when that punishment would end. So, it’s very possible that the psalmist is crying out for relief to the seemingly never-ending pain. In other words, “When will this pruning end?”

The way the psalmist works out his thoughts here is what intrigues me. Let’s review.

He starts off silent hoping that his honorable decision will bring about relief. We do this kind of stuff all the time. If I just do (fill in the blank) the right way, then maybe God will do (fill in the blank). It’s not necessarily bad to respond this way, but it’s also not that simple. If God were our equal and able to be manipulated and controlled, then this approach would make more sense. However, we know that God is mysterious and complex in unfathomable ways.

The psalmist, like Job, addresses one of the most difficult questions of humanity. God has allowed these circumstances to come over me, yet, He is also the only one who can deliver me! Maybe you are feeling this way now. How do I pray? What do I say? Do I cry out to God for help and relief or do I just tell Him to leave me alone? The latter sounds crazy but just consider that Job, Elijah, and the psalmist here in chapter 39 have all asked for God to just let them go.

Leave me alone so that I may have some happiness before I go away and am no more.

Psalms 39:13 GNB

So, what is the lesson here? What is the answer?

Let me be the first to say, I don’t have a great answer. I have been in situations like this before and believe me, it’s hard to know how to pray. You can feel the raw emotion coming through in the writing. We should first consider that this kind of emotion and honest pleading with God may have never taken place without the trial.

I can remember being in situations like this many times and falling to my knees in prayer screaming and pleading with God. In it, I experience humility. I acknowledge where I have sinned and own up to it. But, it also causes a stirring in my heart to want to be near to God. Who else could possibly deliver me?

So, consider these thoughts for a moment. Does God allow circumstances to overwhelm in order to burn out sinful aspects of our life? Yes. Does God allow circumstances to overwhelm in order to draw us closer than we’ve ever been to His throne of grace? Yes. But remember, did God also provide eternal deliverance from sin and death through His Son Jesus? Yes! So, when all is said and done, nothing can separate us from His love.

On the other hand, there are times where He teaches us humility in our weakness. Paul famously quoted God as saying, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Do you believe that those words are true even in your weakest and most vulnerable time? Do you claim to have all the answers to every situation or do you respond in humility by acknowledging your sin and declaring that God’s reasons for allowing suffering are ultimately bringing about glory to Him?

I get it. It’s difficult. Look, I don’t pretend to know what you are going through. I do know, however, that we serve a complex God who loves us and is worthy of our trust. Don’t give up! Pour out your heart to Him and wait eagerly for His response. Own up to your part of it and then let Him do the rest. It should bring us comfort that some of the most diligent and faithful believers in Scripture wrestled with these same thoughts. He is working and moving!

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