Psalm 39sn Psalm 39. The psalmist laments his frailty and mortality as he begs the Lord to take pity on him and remove his disciplinary hand.
For the music director, Jeduthun; a psalm of David.
1 I decided,tn Heb “I said.” “I will watch what I say
and make sure I do not sin with my tongue.tn Heb “I will watch my ways, from sinning with my tongue.”
I will put a muzzle over my mouth
while in the presence of an evil man.”sn The psalmist wanted to voice a lament to the Lord (see vv. 4-6), but he hesitated to do so in the presence of evil men, for such words might be sinful if they gave the wicked an occasion to insult God. See C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs, Psalms (ICC), 1:345.
2 I was stone silent;tn Heb “I was mute [with] silence.”
I held back the urge to speak.tn Heb “I was quiet from good.” He kept quiet, resisting the urge to find emotional release and satisfaction by voicing his lament.sn I held back the urge to speak. For a helpful discussion of the relationship (and tension) between silence and complaint in ancient Israelite lamentation, see E. S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I (FOTL), 166-67.
My frustration grew;tn Heb “and my pain was stirred up.” Emotional pain is in view here.
3 my anxiety intensified.tn Heb “my heart was hot within me.”
As I thought about it, I became impatient.tn Heb “In my reflection fire burned.” The prefixed verbal form is either a preterite (past tense) or an imperfect being used in a past progressive or customary sense (“fire was burning”).
Finally I spoke these words:tn Heb “I spoke with my tongue.” The phrase “these words” is supplied in the translation for clarification and for stylistic reasons.
4 “O Lord, help me understand my mortality
and the brevity of life!tn Heb “Cause me to know, O Lord, my end; and the measure of my days, what it is!”
Let me realize how quickly my life will pass!tn Heb “Let me know how transient I am!”
5 Look, you make my days short-lived,tn Heb “Look, handbreadths you make my days.” The “handbreadth” (equivalent to the width of four fingers) was one of the smallest measures used by ancient Israelites. See P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC), 309.
and my life span is nothing from your perspective.tn Heb “is like nothing before you.”
Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.tn Heb “surely, all vapor [is] all mankind, standing firm.” Another option is to translate, “Surely, all mankind, though seemingly secure, is nothing but a vapor.”
6 Surely people go through life as mere ghosts.tn Heb “surely, as an image man walks about.” The preposition prefixed to “image” indicates identity here.sn People go through life (Heb “man walks about”). “Walking” is here used as a metaphor for living. The point is that human beings are here today, gone tomorrow. They have no lasting substance and are comparable to mere images or ghosts.
Surely they accumulate worthless wealth
without knowing who will eventually haul it away.”tc Heb “Surely [in] vain they strive, he accumulates and does not know who gathers them.” The MT as it stands is syntactically awkward. The verb forms switch from singular (“walks about”) to plural (“they strive”) and then back to singular (“accumulates and does not know”), even though the subject (generic “man”) remains the same. Furthermore there is no object for the verb “accumulates” and no plural antecedent for the plural pronoun (“them”) attached to “gathers.” These problems can be removed if one emends the text from הֶבֶל יֶהֱמָיוּן (hevel yehemaun, “[in] vain they strive”) to הֶבְלֵי הָמוֹן (hevley hamon, “vain things of wealth”). This assumes a misdivision in the MT and a virtual dittography of vav (ו) between the mem and nun of המון. The present translation follows this emendation.
7 But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying?
You are my only hope!tn Heb “my hope, for you it [is].”
8 Deliver me from all my sins of rebellion!
Do not make me the object of fools’ insults!
9 I am silent and cannot open my mouth
because of what you have done.tn Heb “because you acted.” The psalmist has in mind God’s disciplinary measures (see vv. 10-13).
10 Please stop wounding me!tn Heb “remove from upon me your wound.”
You have almost beaten me to death!tn Heb “from the hostility of your hand I have come to an end.”
11 You severely discipline people for their sins;tn “with punishments on account of sin you discipline a man.”
like a moth you slowly devour their strength.tc Heb “you cause to dissolve, like a moth, his desired [thing].” The translation assumes an emendation of חֲמוּדוֹ (khamudo, “his desirable [thing]”) to חֶמְדוֹ (khemdo, “his loveliness” [or “beauty”]), a reading that is supported by a few medieval Hebrew mss.
Surely all people are a mere vapor. (Selah)
12 Hear my prayer, O Lord!
Listen to my cry for help!
Do not ignore my sobbing!tn Heb “do not be deaf to my tears.”
For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land;
I am at your mercy, just as all my ancestors were.tn Heb “For a resident alien [am] I with you, a sojourner like all my fathers.”sn Resident aliens were dependent on the mercy and goodwill of others. The Lord was concerned that resident aliens be treated properly. See Deut 24:17-22, Ps 146:9.
13 Turn your angry gaze away from me, so I can be happy
before I pass away.tn Heb “Gaze away from me and I will smile before I go and am not.” The precise identification of the initial verb form (הָשַׁע, hasha’) is uncertain. It could be from the root שָׁעָע (sha’a’, “smear”), but “your eyes” would be the expected object in this case (see Isa 6:10). The verb may be an otherwise unattested Hiphil form of שָׁעָה (sha’ah, “to gaze”) meaning “cause your gaze to be.” Some prefer to emend the form to the Qal שְׁעֵה (shÿ’eh, “gaze”; see Job 14:6). If one does read a form of the verb “to gaze,” the angry divine “gaze” of discipline would seem to be in view (see vv. 10-11). For a similar expression of this sentiment see Job 10:20-21.