Psalms 1 - 50by Mike Raiter
I live in Melbourne, Australia, where we face the threat of bushfires every summer. It just takes the tiniest spark and a whole forest, including nearby homes, is ablaze. James describes the tongue as a fire (James 3:5-6). A few thoughtless words can cause enormous damage. James advises: ″Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry″ (1:19). This, however, is easier said than done, especially when people speak evil of you. David failed the test of controlling his tongue and this set him on an important journey of self-reflection.
Psalm 39 follows on from the previous psalm of confession. In Psalm 38, we saw his enemies gloating over his sin and suffering (vv. 12, 16). David has tried to hold his tongue but, finally, he can't take it anymore: ″My heart grew hot within me . . . then I spoke with my tongue″ (39:3).
David scorns those who spend all their days amassing wealth (v. 6), seeing the stupidity of such an existence. First, measured against God's eternity, our life is little more than a brief breath (vv. 4-5). Then, when we die, all our wealth ends up in someone else's pockets (v. 6).
David now comes to the main point of the psalm (v. 7), and he asks the question every man or woman must ask themselves: ″What do I look for?″ What do I want from life? Wealth? Health? Safety? David knows the answer: ″My hope is in you″ (v. 7). If this is true, then his biggest problem is his sin, which drives him away from what he most desires: a relationship with God (vv. 10-11).
David's reflections on the brevity of life have made him realise that he's really a foreigner and a stranger in this world. Its values are not his values. Like his ancestors, he realises that this world is not his home. Hebrews alludes to Psalm 39 when it speaks of God's faithful people seeing the fulfilment of all God's promises but only from a distance. They understood that ″they were foreigners and strangers on earth″ (Hebrews 11:13).
These are the great questions Psalm 39 asks us: What do we long for? Is God for us or against us? Where is our true home?
Reflect on the questions Psalm 39 asks: What do you look for? What do you want most from life? Does the way you live express your heart's desire?
Do you sometimes feel like a ″foreigner and stranger″ in this world (Hebrews 11:13)? What makes you feel that way?