New European Commentary


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Psa 39:1 For the Chief Musician. For Jeduthun. A Psalm by David- The Psalm is similar to Psalms 38 and 40, and they all appear to be David's reflections upon his sin with Bathsheba and his sufferings and resolutions which arose from that. Jeduthun was perhaps "the chief musician" who was to perform the Psalms or teach them to others (1 Chron. 16:41,42,44; 25:3-6).

I said, I will watch my ways, so that I don’t sin with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked is before me-
Through  David's repentance he obviously learnt from his sin, as we can from each of ours. Ps. 32:9 comments that men ought to learn from David’s example, and not be as horses who must have their mouths kept in with a bridle. In Ps. 39:1 David reminisces how he had earlier said [before his sin with Bathsheba] that he would stop himself sinning by restraining himself with a bridle. He learnt that sheer will power is not enough; blind resolution to simply ‘obey’ will fail. Instead, it is a living relationship with the Father, a deep sense of His glory, that creates an environment of life where we just won’t do what David did with Bathsheba. This was what he learnt, and this is what he was so eager to pass on to us in the post-Bathsheba Psalms of  David's repentance.


Psa 39:2 I was mute with silence; I held my peace, even from good. My sorrow was stirred-
This clearly connects with Ps. 38:14. He hung his head as one in whose mouth there were no more arguments, hoping only in the Lord’s grace (Ps. 38:14 RVmg.). In describing his feelings after the Bathsheba experience, David comments that he was "as a man that hears not [the taunts of others against him], and in whose mouth are no rebukes" (Ps. 38:14 AV), as if he was "mute". The pre-Bathsheba Psalms present David as a man who was so easily hurt by the taunts of others, and whose mouth was indeed full of rebuke of others.  Or we can read this as meaning that he didn't pay attention to the bad things said about him at this time. Maybe he was alluding to how Saul, when likewise criticized by “sons of belial”, "held his peace" and “was as though he had been deaf” to their words (1 Sam. 10:27 RVmg.). He saw the good in Saul, he remembered that one good example he showed- and it empowered him to follow it.  

Psa 39:3 My heart was hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned: I spoke with my tongue-
This again alludes to some of the scenes in the book of Job, where the friends and Elihu feel an answer brewing up within them, and eventually they let their tongues speak out the thoughts which were boiling up within them.

Psa 39:4 Yahweh, show me my end, what is the measure of my days. Let me know how frail I am-
David was so sick and depressed that he felt he only had some days left to live, and he asked to be told how long he had left. Or we could read somewhat deeper; as if David recognized his sin, but had not yet come to the full repentance required (see on Ps. 38:1). He realized that, and asked to be taught his frailty.

Psa 39:5 Behold, you have made my days mere handbreadths. My lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely every man stands as a breath. Selah-
This is effectively the answer to his prayer in :4 to be shown his frailty. So often in the Psalms, the answer appears to come during the prayer. I doubt this was because of a flash of supernatural revelation. Rather, as is so true in our own prayer lives, the answers to our questions become apparent within our prayer, as we pray on and remain in God's presence.

Psa 39:6 Surely every man walks like a shadow. Surely they busy themselves in vain. He heaps up, and doesn’t know who shall gather-
The references to "every man" (:5 also) are typical of the Bathsheba Psalms; David on one hand could be accused of rationalizing his great sins by arguing that he is only human, like other men. Or we could more generously argue that he saw the grace poured out to him as programmatic for all men, seeing all are serious sinners.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon comes to conclude that although he had heaped up riches, his life was vanity- indeed, all is vanity, because one doesn’t know how wise will be the person to whom one leaves their life achievements. And yet one of David’s songs which Solomon must have sung went like this: “Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Ps. 39:6). Solomon didn’t think about the implications of the words of his dad’s hymns. It took him  a lifetime to learn the truth of them for himself, and by then it was too late (so it seems to me). So with us, to learn and heed wisdom rather than have to learn it all again by experience- this is one of the hardest things for us, especially if our background was in a home of truth and wisdom.

Psa 39:7 Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You-
David's hope was simply "You", God; by which he surely means, relationship with God restored. David was waiting for nothing else apart from that. This is the equivalent thought to that in Ps. 38:9 "Lord, all my desire is before You; my groaning is not hidden from You". All his desire was for forgiveness and salvation; and this was granted. At the end of his life (Ps. 37:25), David reflected that if we "delight yourself in Yahweh... He will give you the desires of your heart" (Ps. 37:4). The desires of the heart is paralleled in Psalm 37 with inheriting the land eternally. If this is our greatest desire, we shall receive it. This is a sublime truth. All those who truly love the Lord's appearing as the master passion of their lives- will be acceptable to Him (2 Tim. 4:8). This is why the hope of the Kingdom can never be a mere hobby, but is by its very nature the all consuming passion of human life.

Psa 39:8 Deliver me from all my transgressions-
At this point, David doesn't feel totally delivered from his sins. He has still to come to the total assurance of repentance and forgiveness, whereby in later Psalms he can describe himself as "righteous", so confident was he of imputed righteousness by faith through grace. "Redeem / deliver me from the hand..." is again a quotation from Jacob's words when he found his relative Esau barring his path back home (Gen. 32:11,30). And the word is used of David's desire for deliverance from Saul (1 Sam. 26:24); and yet this was a redemption unappreciated by him as it ought to have been (2 Sam. 12:7). Finally David recognized that this prayer was answered (2 Sam. 22:18,49). As David had earlier prayed for redemption / deliverance from Saul and his enemies (Ps. 31:15; 59:1; 144:7), he would later pray for redemption / deliverance from his sins (Ps. 39:8; 79:9).

Don’t make me the reproach of the foolish- Despite claiming to have forgiveness as his only hope and desire (see on :7), his fear of shame before others clearly remains.

Psa 39:9 I was mute. I didn’t open my mouth, because You did it-
See on :2. Another explanation of his silence could be to how David didn't hear or see the plans to overthrow him- because he didn't want to. Just as Samson chose not to perceive in reality that Delilah was going to betray him despite knowing she would, and as the Lord knew Judas would betray Him, but trusted him as His own familiar friend. David likewise must have known the deceit of Ahithophel and Absalom; but he chose not to see it, for love’s sake. See on Ps. 41:9.

Psa 39:10 Remove Your scourge away from me; I am overcome by the blow of Your hand-

"Remove" is the word used for how violence would never depart from David because of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:10). David prayed for this to "depart" but it never did. David was open to the possibility that through prayer, God can remove the consequences of sin in this life; but such prayer is not always answered. But the "scourge" more comfortably refers to David's illness. It has been observed that the Psalms contain several usages of language which is specifically related to leprosy. It could be that David was struck with some form of leprosy after the sin. See on :11.


Psa 39:11 When You rebuke and correct man for iniquity, You consume his days like a moth-
The correcting or "discipline" is the word used for David's experiences after the sin with Bathsheba (s.w. Ps. 6:1; 38:1; 39:11). “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth: because thou didst it... when thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth” (Ps. 39:9,11) may all suggest David suffered some kind of stroke, leaving him dumb and without his legendary beauty. In all this he was brought to know the spirit of Christ crucified, in whom there was no beauty that he should be desired, and who was dumb as a lamb before her shearers. The links between the Bathsheba Psalms about  David's repentance and the crucifixion are copious. The Lord on the cross came to know the feelings of David after his sin, He felt a leprous sinner although He never committed sin, so that even when we sin we are not in that sense separated from our Lord. He even then has a fellow feeling with every failure.  

Surely every man is but a breath. Selah- Constantly in the Bathsheba Psalms, David sees his experience as that of every man. The same radical grace is available to us all. The "Selah" in this Psalm is clearly the equivalent of breaking the Psalm into stanzas, even if they are of differing lengths; in this Psalm the divisions are clearly marked by the "Selah". From :1-5, then :6-11, and now :12 to the end.


Psa 39:12 Hear my prayer, Yahweh, and give ear to my cry. Don’t be silent at my tears- Who we are as persons is effectively our prayer and plea to God. This conception of prayer explains why often weeping, crying, waiting, meditating etc. are spoken of as "prayer", although there was no specific verbalizing of requests (Ps. 5:1,2; 6:8; 18:1,2,3,6; 40:1; 42:8; 64:1 Heb.; 65:1,2; 66:17-20; Zech. 8:22). The association between prayer and weeping is especially common: 1 Sam. 1:10; Ps. 39:12; 55:1,2; Jn. 11:41,42; Heb. 5:7, especially in the Lord's life and the Messianic Psalms. "The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer" (Ps. 6:8,9) crystallizes the point.

For I am a stranger with You, a foreigner, as all my fathers were- Again David pleads his connection with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He too has had no continuing city, has been treated as a foreigner, and thereby he feels he is one of the seed of Abraham, and appeals for the same grace to be shown to him what had been shown to the fathers.

Psa 39:13 Oh spare me-
As David respected God's words (Ps. 119:117), so he asks God to spare or respect him (s.w.). This is not to be read as meaning that Bible study assures a man of salvation; but rather that there is a mutuality in relationship between God and man. Our respect of His words is reflected in His saving respect of us.

That I may recover strength, before I go away, and exist no more- Clearly enough, David saw death as unconsciousness and non-existence; rather than envisaging an immortal soul going to heaven after death.