Psalm 39

Wile I mused, the fire burned

This Psalm may seem like a strange prayer on first reading.  The one who prays has reflected on the human condition – our lives are short, full of affliction, and our efforts seem like an exercise in futility.  (This could be a prayer of the writer of Ecclesiastes). 

Vs. 1-3 – ‘While I mused the fire burned.’

Our psalmist has tried the way of silence, getting no encouragement from others, but this silence cannot last.

Vs. 4-6 – ‘Let me know how fleeting my life is.’

Here our psalmist acknowledges the transience of life: death seems imminent, and he wonders what his efforts have been for?                         

   ‘Surely everyone goes about like a shadow.
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
   they heap up, and do not know who will gather.’

Vs. 7 – ‘My hope is in you.’

This is the only statement of confidence in the prayer. 

Vs. 8-13 – ‘Do not hold your peace at my prayers.’

The prayer concludes on a troubled note.  The pray-er does not ask for God to save him, but only to look away, that is, ‘leave me alone.’ 

        Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,                             

      before I depart and am no more.’    

Who prays like this?  Well, it may be more common than we think.  Earlier the psalmist referred to himself as an ‘alien and sojourner’ (v. 12).  He seems to suggest that we are ‘aliens/strangers’ (just passing guests) in the world as well and sometimes, in the face of adversity, we feel the loneliness and pain of our solitude.  When we suffer we need to talk about it, with others but also with God, the One who is in control.

Furthermore, the prayer reminds us that we are all going to die: our lives are short with a  beginning and an end; God’s life is eternal. 

I didn’t think much about dying until my best friend from college died, just in his twenties.  Then the thought came to me that I could die too and I had very little control.

I thought about death when my first grandchildren were born: I wondered if I would live to see them become adults with children of their own.  Now with two new grandkids aged two and three I am even more aware of my mortality.  Little control!

In the New Testament the metaphor of ‘aliens and strangers’ is used of Christians (Hebrews 11.13; 1 Peter 2.11).  Those writers remind us of the difference made by the resurrection of Christ.  Christ’s triumph over death transforms our hope: while we know we are passing guests, we also have a certain home in the everlasting care of God. - ‘In the bulb there is a flower’