Psalm 39

Psalm 39

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!

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments