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Psalm 39 - My Hope is in the LORD

INTRODUCTION: I began this study by comparing ten translations of Psalm 39from my Online Bible software, from which I prepared a composite paraphrase. I further investigated Some of the terms and phrases through commentaries, by using the Hebrew lexicon, or by comparing similar wording from other passages. I discarded many of the passages I had located, because the context seemed to disallow direct linkage. All of my studies tend this way, that only a portion of my searching remains in the finished product. My comments, and the passages I retained, have been interspersed with the paraphrased verses of the subject Psalm. Even after I had completed many hours of study and contemplation, I was at a loss to compose a personal prayer from this psalm. During the weeks of preparation, I also read several short books and essays on creationism and other subjects for variety, but was unable to compose a prayer until I cried out to the Lord asking Him to clear my thoughts. I am still not sure that my work completely satisfies me, but I definitely agree with David: my hope is in the LORD.

Psalms 39:1-2 in composite paraphrase

{To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.} I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will muzzle my mouth, while the wicked is in my presence. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was renewed.

COMMENTS: In his thoughts, David determined not to speak at all while in the presence of unbelievers. We are not told why he thought he had to completely muzzle his mouth to avoid sin, but the result was clearly not satisfying to him because his "sorrow was renewed". Our Lord Jesus knew everything that Christians would face, and prayed for us, John 17:15 "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." Jesus continues to intercede for the believer to the present time, and each one must determine when silence might be appropriate in his own life. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:1,7 "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:", "A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;" And David said in another place, Psalms 141:3 "Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." In the case of our subject psalm, David however, begins to accept in his burning heart that his silence has only prolonged and increased his sorrow, with no glory to the Lord. So, his silence had potential for withholding good, and such withholding can be sin. James 4:17 "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

Psalms 39:3 in composite paraphrase

My heart was hot within me, while I was deep in thought the fire burned: then I spoke with my tongue.

COMMENTS: David's contemplation in silence caused him to burn within, not unlike Jeremiah centuries later, and when the fire was sufficiently hot David began to speak aloud. For Jeremiah, he had first spoken openly of the Lord and came under attack; but silence was not the answer for him. Jeremiah 20:7-9 "O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." David wrote elsewhere that unconfessed sin could also consume a man who might otherwise seek after God. Psalms 32:3-5 "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah." Jesus still offers to provide the Christian of today with relief from burdens of the soul, Matthew 11:28 "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Psalms 39:4 in composite paraphrase

LORD, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how temporary and short-lived I am.

COMMENTS: David reflects on his insignificance before the eternal God of all creation. Other scriptures reverberate with this fact for all men. Psalms 103:13-14 "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust." It is a comfort to know that he does have pity for us, for James reminds us, James 4:14 "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." But he has special affection for us even in our temporal state, because we have precious seed contained in this mortal body. 1 Peter 1:23-24 "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:"

Psalms 39:5 in composite paraphrase

Behold, you have made my days as a handbreadth; and my lifetime is as nothing before you: truly every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.

COMMENTS: Psalms 62:9 "Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity." Ecclesiastes 2:16 "For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool." So these additional two passages agree that all individuals, from the high-placed, to the low-placed among them, are vanity or emptiness before a Holy God. And as for the term selah, it is replete with meaning, including: to consider repeating the thought just expressed -- to reflect on the significance it has to any prior statements -- and to meditate on the full apprehension of that content into one's own life.

Psalms 39:6 in composite paraphrase

Surely every man walks as a mere semblance; surely for vanity they are in turmoil: he heaps up riches, and knows not who shall get them.

COMMENTS: How empty is even the diligent pursuit of temporal, earthly comfort and riches! Psalms 49:6-10 "They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others." God's way for us is better than our attempts to achieve lasting value from anything else, for we are helpless before him. Jeremiah 9:23-24 "Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD." Jesus warned through this parable, in excerpt herein, Luke 12:19-21 "And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." And Jesus also said, Matthew 16:26 "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Psalms 39:7 in composite paraphrase

And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you!

COMMENTS: David seems now to be bringing his thoughts to the remembrance that he has a different hope that is seen only through faith; because whatever material gain he has from this present world, he cannot retain. This special hope provided the title for this MPN. Jeremiah made a similar conclusion even amidst the devastation of his country. Lamentations 3:24-26 "The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD." And we have this word from the prophet, Isaiah 40:31 "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." Other psalms provide reason for us to wait on the work of the Lord within us, Psalms 37:9 "For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth." Psalms 37:34 "Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it." Are we willing to wait to see fulfillment in God's time? Romans 8:24-25 "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."

Psalms 39:8 in composite paraphrase

Deliver me from all my transgressions; do not set me forth as the reproach of the fool.

COMMENTS: David continues to speak, and he is speaking not to other men, but to his God, as in other psalms. Psalms 25:5-7 "Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait. Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD." Psalms 119:37 "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way." Psalms 86:15 "But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth." Psalms 116:5 "Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful." Praise the Lord for his abundant mercy!

Psalms 39:9-10 in composite paraphrase

I was dumb; I did not open my mouth, because you had done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am consumed by the blow of your hand.

COMMENTS: Here David repeats what he had said in verse 2, that he had been dumb, and tells God that he now understands what God had done, and how much he needs the mercy of God lest he be consumed. Nehemiah spoke of that type of mercy centuries later. Nehemiah 9:31 "Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God." And praise is always appropriate even when our circumstance seems bleak. Isaiah 25:1 "O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth."

Psalms 39:11 in composite paraphrase

When you correct man with rebukes for iniquity you make his desires to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah.

COMMENTS: All desires of earthly treasures which may be seen as beautiful will be so fleeting as the beauty of a moth or butterfly, which lives for only a short season (average of 2 weeks among some 16,000 species, to lay eggs for the next generation). But the Lord offers more than fleeting life, and David's son Solomon tells us why we should accept the Lord's correction, Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction." 1:23 "Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." 1:30-31 "They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices." David wanted to avoid this folly which did his son later describe, and that is also my desire. Centuries later, all Israel suffered loss, but Jeremiah agreed with David about the response God desires. Lamentations 3:39-41 "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens."

Psalms 39:12 in composite paraphrase

Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears: for I am a stranger with you, and a sojourner, as were all my fathers.

COMMENTS: Now that David has broken his own silence, he lifts up his heart unto God, asking that God not be silent, but provide an answer to his cry. Other psalms give example of this attitude. Psalms 27:7 "Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me." Psalms 143:1-2 "{A Psalm of David.} Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." David asks that his prayer be heard, not because of his ancestry as part of Israel, or his own achievements as Israel's leader, but he appeals to God's own righteousness, understanding that no person can claim to be without sin. It may seem strange that David says he is a stranger, but this next passage speaks of how the patriarchs were strangers in the land. Hebrews 11:8-10 "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Abraham, being a man of great faith, was able to look beyond to a permanent, eternal country. Later, as the nation was being formed In Egypt, they grew in number, while living in a land not there own. Exodus 23:9 "Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." And David, as a man after God's own heart, surely shared with Abraham the vision of another country, even though he dwelt in Israel at the writing of this psalm. Christians anywhere in the world should look to the future in expectation of an everlasting dwelling place with our Savior, and all other saints. Psalms 119:19-20 "I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me. My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times." 2 Corinthians 4:18-5:2 "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:"

Psalms 39:13 in composite paraphrase

Let your wrath be turned away from me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.

COMMENTS: This was not a unique cry from David, for other Psalms bear witness. Psalms 13:1 "{To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.} How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? For ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" Psalms 27:9 "Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation." Psalms 42:5 "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." Psalms 51:14 "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness." The last of these other passages show an element of joy, evidencing the hope within David, more than the last verse of the subject Psalm. But David is remembered as the man after God's own heart, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, so we can believe that in all circumstances that he faced, his hope was still in the Lord.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

My hope is in the Lord. Guide me my Lord to set a guard on my mouth; but not to muzzle it to the point of withholding good that would praise you, especially before those yet dead in their sin. When I feel any flicker of inner fire for you, help me Lord to refrain from quenching your Spirit within me. Remind me Lord that my days are as short as just a handbreadth, or like a morning vapor gone before mid-day. A life that is filled with the most prized worldly treasures is a shadow, and even reaching the highest pinnacle of achievement among men is emptiness before you. All vestiges of wealth and fame are undeniably left with others when our spirit departs the body, and it returns to dust. And now Lord, do I really wait for you? Yes! My hope can be placed firmly, in none other than you.

Deliver me from all my transgressions, for they are many and you alone can deliver. There was absolutely nothing I could say in my defense when you uncovered my guilt, so my plea is that you remove your hand from me in your grace before I am consumed. I know full well that your correction can make even the greatest glory of my life like that of a fleeting moth. Hear my prayer O Lord, for I desire citizenship in heaven rather than anywhere in this world, where I am now a stranger. Apply your mercy to me so I will have the strength of confidence in your salvation, before my soul is separated from this mortal body. My hope is in the Lord!

Published 3 June 2004, first issued 27 February 2004