I said, “I will guard my waysThat I may not sin with my tongue;I will muzzle my mouthWhile the wicked are in my presence.” I was mute and silent [before my enemies],I refrained even from good,And my distress grew worse. My heart was hot within me.While I was musing the fire burned;Then I spoke with my tongue: “Lord, let me know my [life’s] endAnd [to appreciate] the extent of my days;Let me know how frail I am [how transient is my stay here]. “Behold, You have made my days as [short as] hand widths,And my lifetime is as nothing in Your sight.Surely every man at his best is a mere breath [a wisp of smoke, a vapor that vanishes]! Selah. “Surely every man walks around like a shadow [in a charade];Surely they make an uproar for nothing;Each one builds up riches, not knowing who will receive them. “And now, Lord, for what do I expectantly wait?My hope [my confident expectation] is in You. “Save me from all my transgressions;Do not make me the scorn and reproach of the [self-righteous, arrogant] fool. “I am mute, I do not open my mouth,Because it is You who has done it. “Remove Your plague from me;I am wasting away because of the conflict and opposition of Your hand. “With rebukes You discipline man for sin;You consume like a moth what is precious to him;Surely every man is a mere breath [a wisp of smoke, a vapor that vanishes]. Selah. “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and listen to my cry;Do not be silent at my tears;For I am Your temporary guest,A sojourner like all my fathers. “O look away from me, that I may smile and again know joyBefore I depart and am no more.”
My uncle and aunt, Paul and Virginia Weismann, went as missionaries to West Africa in the 1930’s. With their six and three-year old boys, they settled in Tengodougou, Upper Volta(now the country of Burkina Faso), and subsequently moved to Durango, Togo. In the span of a year, they lost a son to black water fever, fought malaria, had a roof literally fall in on them, saw the government collapse, and faced a problem pregnancy. They had chosen the name Beulah Joy if a girl was born, but decided Faith would be a better name-because that’s all they had left- their faith.
Their experiences parallel that of David in Psalm 39, except we do not know the particular reverses he experienced. We do know that he is seeking to cope with a situation which rocked him. Perhaps, likewise, you have been through a string of reverses.
In Psalm 39 we find David, after holding back his feelings, now venting them in prayer and weeping. He did not wish to express them in the presence of the “wicked”(verse 1), for in doing so he would adversely affect his testimony or give people occasion to slander God because of him. “I will put a muzzle on my mouth,” he declares.
But he could not stay silent forever and ignore his feelings or stay gracious and calm, so he spoke. Who, then, did he speak to? George Wood says, He did not fly off the handle; he flew to the One who understood him and could help him.
Psalm 39 records that David wants to die. He looks for meaning in his suffering but sees none. He literally asks, “How much longer must I live?” “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days.”(verse 4)
We all know that life is short- nothing in comparison to eternity (“a handbreath- the width of four fingers, a mere breath”).
In that moment of depression, David finds no meaning in life: “Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro; He bustles about, but only in vain.”( verse 6). Even working to accumulate wealth is vain for in the end, someone else gets it.
As Psalm 39 continues in the mood of depression, David even blames God for his suffering(verses 9, 10). Sometimes hurt or feeling badly toward God will cause us to quit praying, but that’s the difference between us and David- he never quit talking to God. Further, he was willing to take the responsibility for his part in developing his problems rather than seeking a scapegoat to blame.
David concludes the psalm by taking note of his own helplessness and powerlessness. He calls himself an “alien”- a person with no rights, a transitory person, a sojourner. In his deep despair, he closes his prayer by asking God to leave him alone so he can spend the few days he has left happy. Psalm 39 reveals that we can sometimes get up from prayer without any real victory or even without good theology in our hearts or heads.
David requests that God will “look away from me” just as some years later Peter would say to Jesus, “Depart from me…” God has no intention of answering such foolish requests. Instead He responds, “I will never leave you nor forsake you!”
Although David didn’t hold it very long, the bright note in Psalm 39 is, “My hope is in you.” Even though it was momentary, at least his faith shone through the darkness.
God does bring us out of the pit of despair and through the times of trouble. Otherwise, David would have written none of the other psalms that are filled with trust, joy, and thanksgiving.
George Wood shares, “My aunt and uncle had a baby girl. They named her Faith. They overcame their time of adversity, returned to Dupango and Tengodougou, and helped lay the strong foundations for the present church of Togo and Burkina Faso. Faith, with her husband Ed Ferguson and her brother John Weidman have served the Lord through their adult lives as Assemblies of God missionaries.”
For those who may find themselves in a time of despair and bewilderment and like David in Psalm 39 are asking, “But now, Lord, what do I look for?”, are told, “Look for Him to be Lord, to exercise control over you, to be present with you and in you, and to work in your life according to His perfect will. We can trust God even in the places when we don’t fully understand.
Dr. John Thompson