Saturday, November 23, 2013

Psalm 39

Lines Scansion


NASB (The Hebrew text adds the superscription as verse 1. The number in parentheses represent the Hebrew text numbering. The bracketed [ ] word and numbers that follow are my variations. Unless otherwise noted the Hebrew numbering will be used.)


1 (2)        I said, “I will guard my ways
               That I may not sin with my tongue;
                I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle
               While the wicked are in my presence.”
2 (3)        I was mute and silent,
               I refrained even from good,
               And my sorrow grew worse.
3 (4)        My heart was hot within me,
               While I was musing the fire burned;
               Then I spoke with my tongue:
4 (5)        “LORD, make me to know my end
               And what is the extent of my days;
               Let me know how transient I am.
5 (6)        “Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths,
               And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight;
               Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.
6 (7)        “Surely every man walks about as a phantom;
               Surely they make an uproar for nothing;
               He amasses riches and does not know who will gather

7 (8)        “[But] now,
               Lord, for what do I wait?
               My hope is in You.
8 (9)        “Deliver me from all my transgressions;
               Make me not the reproach of the foolish.
9 (10)      “I have become mute, I do not open my mouth,
               Because it is You who have done it.
10 (11)    “Remove Your plague from me;
               Because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing.
11 (12)    “With reproofs You chasten a man for iniquity;
               You consume as a moth what is precious to him;
               Surely every man is a mere breath. Selah.
12 (13)    “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
               Do not be silent at my tears;
               For I am a stranger with You,
               A sojourner like all my fathers.
13 (14)    “Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile again
               Before I depart and am no more.”


Effect of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development


Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 66-67, classifies Psalm 39 as an Individual Lament. The following elements are typical in a complete psalm of this type:

Address to God
            Lament: They, I, You
            Confession of Trust
            Petition: (1) “Hear!” (2) “Save!”
            Vow of Praise
            Assurance of Being Heard


Psalm 39 both parallels and differs from this pattern by having (1) no Initial Address to God, (2) altering the lament (I, You, Foes), (3) limiting the confession of trust to verse 8, (4) containing no Motifs, Vow of Praise, or Assurance of Being Heard. The resultant pattern emerges as follows:

Lament — 2-7,
I, 2-4
You, 5-6
They, 7
Confession of Trust — 8
Petitions — 9-14


The psalm divides into two major sections, according to Gabelein, The Book of Psalms, 173, verses 2-7 and 8-14. Craigie, Psalms, 308-09, finds three dividing points, “The psalm is introduced by a description of the psalmist’s state of mind (vv 2-4) and then moves to a reflection on the transitory nature of human existence (vv 5-7), concluding with the principle portion which is the prayer as such (vv 8-14).” Furthermore, at verse 8 he continues, “Sobered by his reflection on the impermanence of human existence, the psalmist begins the more formal part of his prayer; in the opening words, he gets right back to the basics.” The transition point in this Psalm is the ועתה (“but now”) that begins verse 8, the exact center of the psalm metrically.


Bratcher and Reyburn, A Translator's Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 372, 377, reflect on what they find as the center, “Then at the very core of the psalm (verse [8]) there is a pivotal point: ‘My hope is in thee.’” This, however, is introduced with ועתה (“but now”) as noted by Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament , V, 296, “It is customary to begin a distinct turning-point of a discourse with וְעַתָּה: and now.” Given the dramatic change in the psalm’s direction at this point the conjunction is better translated “But” as found in the NET and NIV translations.

One of the key interpretive features of the psalm centers around the past, verses 2-7, and the present, verses 8-14. The psalmist’s reflections on his past troubles, probably partly self-generated, in verses 2-4, had moved him to finally address Yahweh directly in verses 5-7 as he meditated on the transitory nature of life itself. But he cannot continue to living in the past. There must be a “But now” moment and a refocusing on the present to which he turns in verses 8-14 with his very brief confession of trust in verse 8, “My hope is in You,” followed by seven imperatives. No indications exist in the psalm that his prayers were answered. It is a lament without a resolution.


A complaint psalm without a stated resolution leaving the psalmist and us with faith in the promises of God (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), 
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.