Ep.095: Psalm 39: Life is Short and Unhappy.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

In Psalm 39, the poet reflects on the transient and troubling nature of life.  

We see this first in the tension between silence and speech. The poet begins the psalm with a vow to be silent, to say nothing good or bad (v. 1). That lasts for one short verse (v. 2), until his bottled up questions and emotions burst the dam of silence and pour out in speech (v. 3).  

What he says introduces another troubling perspective–life is short and insubstantial. Life is only a breath (v. 5), our years are measured as the width of a hand (v. 5), we go around like phantoms (v. 6). And if we heap up wealth, no one knows who gets it when we go (v. 6). 

A third troubling aspect of life is the problem of God’s role in sin and suffering. The poet says to God,
    Remove your scourge from me;
        I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
    When you rebuke and discipline any for their sin,
        you consume their wealth like a moth–
        surely everyone is but a breath (vv 10b – 11).
The poet feels his suffering is God’s whip correcting him and a blow from God’s hand reprimanding him. Under God’s discipline, his carefully hoarded wealth disappears like a moth eating clothes. But the poet doesn’t understand what it means. He’s not sure what God is saying to him.

Let’s pray. 

God, your presence is not always a comfort and joy to us. Sometimes, like the poet, we feel oppressed by what you do and what you don’t do. We feel your frown of disapproval at our sins. We feel your discipline making our lives short and unhappy.

But like the poet, we cannot just shut up and say nothing. We must express what is on our unhappy hearts, we must vent our confusion to you. We state our complaint. We keep asking the questions you never answer. We wait for an assurance that never comes.  

Look at us O God. Our lives our short. Our wealth trickles away. Our doctors give us bad news. Our breath is fleeting. And we don’t know how to make sense of it all. What are you trying to teach us? What prevents us from hearing and learning? 

With the poet we say,
    Hear our our cry for help;
      do not be deaf to my weeping.
    We dwell with you as foreigners,
        strangers, as all our ancestors were (v. 12).
Yes, Lord, we are strangers in the world you gave us, people with no permanent home, wandering in an uncharted land, looking for hope and meaning. Wishing for a map. We weep at life’s troubles. we weep for the poverty of the poor and the injustice of the oppressed. We weep at our own sin. 

With the poet we say, 
      Our hope is in you.
  Save us from our transgressions;
      do not make us the scorn of fools (vv. 7b-8).

O Lord, in life’s mysteries and confusions, you alone are the quiet centre. We hope in your mercy. We trust you to save us from our transgressions and from the scorn of fools. 

We feel your hand heavy on us as the poet did. With him we pray, 
  Look away from us, God, that we may enjoy life again 
      before we depart and are no more (v. 13).

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

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