Life Application Study Bible (LASB): Theme of Psalm 39 – Apart from God, life is fleeting and empty. An appeal for God’s mercy because life is so brief.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary (MHC)
The psalmist, having meditated on the shortness and uncertainty of life, and the vanity and vexation of spirit that attend all the comforts of life, here, in these verses, turns his eyes and heart heaven-ward. When there is no solid satisfaction to be had in the creature it is to be found in God, and in communion with him; and to him we should be driven by our disappointments in the world. David here expresses,
I. His dependence on God, Ps. 39:7. Seeing all is vanity, and man himself is so, 1. He despairs of a happiness in the things of the world, and disclaims all expectations from it: “Now, Lord, what wait I for? Even nothing from the things of sense and time; I have nothing to wish for, nothing to hope for, from this earth.” Note, The consideration of the vanity and frailty of human life should deaden our desires to the things of this world and lower our expectations from it. “If the world be such a thing as this, God deliver me from having, or seeking, my portion in it.” We cannot reckon upon constant health and prosperity, nor upon comfort in any relation; for it is all as uncertain as our continuance here. “Though I have sometimes foolishly promised myself this and the other from the world, I am now of another mind.” 2. He takes hold of happiness and satisfaction in God: My hope is in thee. Note, When creature-confidences fail, it is our comfort that we have a God to go to, a God to trust to, and we should thereby be quickened to take so much the faster hold of him by faith.
II. His submission to God, and his cheerful acquiescence in his holy will, Ps. 39:9. If our hope be in God for a happiness in the other world, we may well afford to reconcile ourselves to all the dispensations of his providence concerning us in this world: “I was dumb; I opened not my mouth in a way of complaint and murmuring.” He now again recovered that serenity and sedateness of mind which were disturbed, Ps. 39:2. Whatever comforts he is deprived of, whatever crosses he is burdened with, he will be easy. “Because thou didst it; it did not come to pass by chance, but according to thy appointment.” We may here see, 1. A good God doing all, and ordering all events concerning us. Of every event we may say, “This is the finger of God; it is the Lord’s doing,” whoever were the instruments. 2. A good man, for that reason, saying nothing against it. He is dumb, he has nothing to object, no question to ask, no dispute to raise upon it. All that God does is well done.
III. His desire towards God, and the prayers he puts up to him. Isa. any afflicted? let him pray, as David here,
1. For the pardoning of his sin and the preventing of his shame, Ps. 39:8. Before he prays (Ps. 39:10), Remove thy stroke from me, he prays (Ps. 39:8), “Deliver me from all my offences, from the guilt I have contracted, the punishment I have deserved, and the power of corruption by which I have been enslaved.” When God forgives our sins he delivers us from them, he delivers us from them all. He pleads, Make me not a reproach to the foolish. Wicked people are foolish people; and they then show their folly most when they think to show their wit, by scoffing at God’s people. When David prays that God would pardon his sins, and not make him a reproach, it is to be taken as a prayer for peace of conscience (“Lord, leave me not to the power of melancholy, which the foolish will laugh at me for”), and as a prayer for grace, that God would never leave him to himself, so far as to do any thing that might make him a reproach to bad men. Note, This is a good reason why we should both watch and pray against sin, because the credit of our profession is nearly concerned in the preservation of our integrity.
2. For the removal of his affliction, that he might speedily be eased of his present burdens (Ps. 39:10): Remove thy stroke away from me. Note, When we are under the correcting hand of God our eye must be to God himself, and not to any other, for relief. He only that inflicts the stroke can remove it; and we may then in faith, and with satisfaction, pray that our afflictions may be removed, when our sins are pardoned (Isa. 38:17), and when, as here, the affliction is sanctified and has done its work, and we are humbled under the hand of God.
(1.) He pleads the great extremity he was reduced to by his affliction, which made him the proper object of God’s compassion: I am consumed by the blow of thy hand. His sickness prevailed to such a degree that his spirits failed, his strength was wasted, and his body emaciated. “The blow, or conflict, of thy hand has brought me even to the gates of death.” Note, The strongest, and boldest, and best of men cannot bear up under, much less make head against, the power of God’s wrath. It was not his case only, but any man will find himself an unequal match for the Almighty, Ps. 39:11. When God, at any time, contends with us, when with rebukes he corrects us, [1.] We cannot impeach the equity of his controversy, but must acknowledge that he is righteous in it; for, whenever he corrects man, it is for iniquity. Our ways and our doings procure the trouble to ourselves, and we are beaten with a rod of our own making. It is the yoke of our transgressions, though it be bound with his hand, Lam. 1:14. [2.] We cannot oppose the effects of his controversy, but he will be too hard for us. As we have nothing to move in arrest of his judgment, so we have no way of escaping the execution. God’s rebukes make man’s beauty to consume away like a moth; we often see, we sometimes feel, how much the body is weakened and decayed by sickness in a little time; the countenance is changed; where are the ruddy cheek and lip, the sprightly eye, the lively look, the smiling face? It is the reverse of all this that presents itself to view. What a poor thing is beauty; and what fools are those that are proud of it, or in love with it, when it will certainly, and may quickly, be consumed thus! Some make the moth to represent man, who is as easily crushed as a moth with the touch of a finger, Job 4:19. Others make it to represent the divine rebukes, which silently and insensibly waste and consume us, as the moth does the garment. All this abundantly proves what he had said before, that surely every man is vanity, weak and helpless; so he will be found when God comes to contend with him.
(2.) He pleads the good impressions made upon him by his affliction. He hoped that the end was accomplished for which it was sent, and that therefore it would be removed in mercy; and unless an affliction has done its work, though it may be removed, it is not removed in mercy. [1.] It had set him a weeping, and he hoped God would take notice of that. When the Lord God called to mourning, he answered the call and accommodated himself to the dispensation, and therefore could, in faith, pray, Lord, hold not thy peace at my tears, Ps. 39:12. He that does not willingly afflict and grieve the children of men, much less his own children, will not hold his peace at their tears, but will either speak deliverance for them (and, if he speak, it is done) or in the mean time speak comfort to them and make them to hear joy and gladness. [2.] It had set him a praying; and afflictions are sent to stir up prayer. If they have that effect, and when we are afflicted we pray more, and pray better, than before, we may hope that God will hear our prayer and give ear to our cry; for the prayer which by his providence he gives occasion for, and which by his Spirit of grace he indites, shall not return void. [3.] It had helped to wean him from the world and to take his affections off from it. Now he began, more than ever, to look upon himself as a stranger and sojourner here, like all his fathers, not at home in this world, but travelling through it to another, to a better, and would never reckon himself at home till he came to heaven. He pleads it with God: “Lord, take cognizance of me, and of my wants and burdens, for I am a stranger here, and therefore meet with strange usage; I am slighted and oppressed as a stranger; and whence should I expect relief but from thee, from that other country to which I belong?”
3. He prays for a reprieve yet a little longer (Ps. 39:13): “O spare me, ease me, raise me up from this illness that I may recover strength both in body and mind, that I may get into a more calm and composed frame of spirit, and may be better prepared for another world, before I go hence by death, and shall be no more in this world.” Some make this to be a passionate wish that God would send him help quickly or it would be too late, like that, Job 10:20, 21. But I rather take it as a pious prayer that God would continue him here till by his grace he had made him fit to go hence, and that he might finish the work of life before his life was finished. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee.