Psalm 39 speaks to the suffering, and the psalm itself is better than the transfer of poetry into propositions that follows. As you read the below, please be sure to read Psalm 39 for yourself. It is medicine for the suffering soul.
Looking at the psalm broadly, the author David laments of his “distress” (39:2) at the hand of God (39:10), a suffering severe enough to provoke prayers to know death’s time and for some peace until then (39:4, 13). Despite his cry, “I am spent by the hostility of your hand,” he could say, “My hope is in you” (39:7, 10).
Psalm 39:1–3. David attempted to remain silent about his suffering in the midst of wicked people. But this actually made his anxiety increase, moving him to speak to God (39:1–13; cf. 39:4–13).
Psalm 39:4–6. David’s suffering caused him to reflect upon the brevity of life and to more or less ask God when he would die (39:4–5). Realizing that life is brief, David speaks against living for possessions, especially when they are given in time to others (39:6). Given life’s brevity, we should pursue something other than earthly goods, and, as with David’s experience, suffering can be God’s gracious means in helping us realize that our hope is in Him (cf. 39:7).
Psalm 39:7–11. Finding no hope in earthly things, David proclaims his hope in the Lord (39:7). Should sin be the cause of his suffering, he asks for forgiveness (39:8). He then again acknowledges that his suffering is from God and that it is severe (39:9–10). This discipline and rebuke for sin took away David’s joy in what he treasured most, moving him to reflect upon God’s greatness in general (39:11). If God could do this with David, He could easily treat mankind as a breath (39:11). As earlier, suffering’s value is shown again. God can use suffering to take away what we enjoy most in this life in order to keep our hope fixed on Him (cf. 39:7, 11).
Psalm 39:12–13. In his parting words, David calls upon God to hear him as a sojourner whose brief life is quickly passing by (39:12). The parting prayer is that the frowning providence of God would be turned away so that David could smile again before his earthly life was over (39:13). For us today, we know that our departure from this earthly life is to enter the immediate presence of our Lord (2 Cor 5:8). For whatever tears we may cry in this life (cf. Ps 39:12), we know that they will be wiped away in time (Rev 21:4). And until then, it is fitting for us to pray as David for God’s smiling providence, in one’s welfare, health, and soul (cf. 3 John 2).
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.