Measuring Days, Psalm 39

A bit over two years ago, I blogged on Psalm 39 under the title, “Carpe Diem!” That Latin phrase means, “Seize the day,” which still seems an apt title. But in revisiting the psalm today, I’m struck by the ESV heading, “What Is the Measure of My Days?”

In this personal lament that conveys the brevity of life, David displays impatience as well as repentance and submission while he waits on God’s will.

He initially determines not to complain:

I said, “I will guard my ways,
    that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
    so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent;
    I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse (Psalm 39:1-2, ESV).

David doesn’t want to give unrighteous people an opportunity to criticize him or the Lord. But while he holds his peace, his distress increases. He speaks, but he speaks to the Lord (verses 3-6, ESV):

My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:

“O Lord, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
    man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

David’s prayer begins with a petition that God will make him more aware of the brevity of life. He seems to have a good grasp of life’s transience and futility, but he asks God to increase his concept of measuring his days.

He knows that the days of his life measure a few hands, like one might measure a pony or horse, and that his lifetime is nothing compared to God’s infinity. Every day, billions of people breath in and out countless times. Yet the sum total of all the breaths of all people who have ever lived and who will ever live is like a mere breath to God! We think our lives are so substantial and important, but all our actions are like fleeting shadows. Why are we so concerned about obtaining and keeping stuff? What will happen to it when we’re gone? Our children will have to sort through it, perhaps keeping a few meaningful mementos, but selling much of it at an auction or giving away whatever has a little value or tossing more than we care to know.

David recognizes life’s brevity and wants to become even more aware of it in order to make each day count. But he also wants to guard against running ahead of God’s will. He waits on the Lord and hopes in him.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.
Deliver me from all my transgressions.
    Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
    for it is you who have done it.
Remove your stroke from me;
    I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
When you discipline a man
    with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
    surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah (7-11, ESV)

While David waits, he asks God to keep him from sin. He doesn’t want to dishonor God by giving unrighteous people an opportunity to mock him and God. As David reverts again to silence, he recognizes the sovereignty of God over his afflictions, he repents from his sins, and he reiterates the brevity of life.

Psalm 39 concludes with a cry to God (12-13, ESV):

“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
    and give ear to my cry;
    hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
    a guest, like all my fathers.
Look away from me, that I may smile again,
    before I depart and am no more!”

In this cry, David begs God to see his tears and act. He confesses that we are all sojourners as our ancestors have been (and as our children will be). He seeks relief from distress so that he may smile again before God calls him home.

We have only a limited number of days on earth. When we’re young, they seem to stretch out like an endless road before us. As we age, we begin to sense how close we’re drawing to the end of our journey. The older I get, the more I feel an urgency about working for the Lord. I want to accomplish what he wants me to do while I’m here, and I realize I don’t have all that much time left.

What is the measure of my days? None of us knows the answer to that question. But an awareness of their limit leads to a better perspective of how we use each one as we work for the Lord and wait on his will.



Dwelling in the Land, Psalm 37

As I’ve blogged my way through the Psalms, I’ve noticed over and over how God’s promises are for the here and now as well as for the future.

While Psalm 37 repeatedly assures believers that they will inherit the land and dwell in it forever (which seems to refer to our eternal future), it also uses language implying that believers can dwell in delight in this life. Who doesn’t love the beautiful promise found in verse 4?

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

But that delightful promise is followed by verses that provide the key to living in joy (5-7, ESV):

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

Notice the imperatives? Commit, trust, be still, wait patiently, and fret not!

When we commit our way to the Lord and trust in him to act, he will. He may not make the righteousness of your cause immediately apparent. In fact, since the next verse encourages us to be still and wait patiently for him, I’m pretty sure that God usually takes his perfect time. He wants us to learn to rest in him and wait on his will.

Waiting is never easy, is it? We tend to rush in and try to do things our way. We’re often confident that we know the best way to respond when we’ve been wronged. We believe we should act because we’re obviously in the right! We’re certain we know what to do and our friends back us up. Full speed ahead!

Furl the sails! Drop the anchor! God commands us (these are imperatives, not suggestions) to commit our way to him, to trust him, to be still and wait patiently for him to act. And in the meantime, don’t worry about the guy who seems to prosper in his evil schemes.

God sees our hearts. If our cause is righteous, if we are just, he will make that shine as brightly as the noonday sun.

It isn’t easy to wait on the Lord. Ask him to give you the ability to commit your way to him and put your complete trust in him. Plead for peace to be still and wait patiently for his action (rather than rushing ahead of his will).  Beg God to grant you the equipping grace not to worry.

Then you can delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart!

You can read Psalm 37 in its entirety at the Bible Gateway site. And here are my reflections on Psalm 37 from nearly three years ago.

Steadfast love, Psalm 33

The English Standard Version (ESV) uses a term that I cherish: steadfast love. The King James (KJV) and New King James (NKJV) translate the same phrase as “goodness,” while the American Standard Version (ASV) translates it as “lovingkindness” and the New International Version (NIV84) uses “unfailing love.” Based on what I’ve heard from those who know Hebrew, the original word conveys God’s covenant loyalty, mercy, and love.

The ESV prefaces Psalm 33 with the heading: The Steadfast Love of the Lord. God’s faithful and unchanging love is a wonderful reminder on any Monday morning, but it’s especially meaningful on this particular Monday morning–as a gray day dawns in a bleak time.

Yet these weary circumstances come during the Christmas season, when we celebrate Christ’s first advent and anticipate his second. And that’s a reason to rejoice.

Psalm 33 begins by calling Christians to joy and praise:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts 
(1-3, ESV).

The reasons for this rejoicing are God’s upright word and faithful work. These are aspects of his steadfast love:

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord (4-5, ESV).

Our hindered vision may not always see God’s love of righteousness and justice, but they always exist. The earth pulses with these attributes of God. The whole world overflows with his steadfast love.

God created the cosmos and continues to sustain its entire scope by the power of his word:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
    he puts the deeps in storehouses (6-7, ESV).

Everyone on earth should stand in awe of our Creator God:

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm (8-9, ESV).

God controls all the plans of people (10-12, ESV):

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Even when evil seems to win, God is frustrating it. His counsel and the plans of his heart stand firm to all generations. God blesses people and nations who trust in him. He considers them as his own heritage.

God sees the hearts of all people. He sees their vain efforts to trust in worldly wisdom and personal powers:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue (13-17, ESV).

The Lord knows every heart and he sees every deed. His eye never leaves those who trust and hope in his steadfast love:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine (18-19, ESV).

But God does more than merely keep an eye on his people, he delivers their souls from death and preserves their bodies during life. He promises to keep us alive, even during the times that seem like famines from his presence.

Because we trust God’s promises, we can wait patiently for him to act:

Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you (20-22, ESV).

God will provide and protect. Our hearts can be glad in him when we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you!