Theme: Out, Out Brief Candle!
In this week’s lessons we see how David responds in the midst of trouble, which is by taking his cares to the Lord and trusting him to act.
Scripture: Psalm 39:1-13
We should learn a number of things from David’s conduct: 1) What we say is vitally important; we can sin with our mouths as well as with our other bodily members; 2) It is better to be silent than to say things that can be used against God by wicked persons; 3) We should not be anxious to share such grief even with godly persons; and 4) We should bring our troubles to God.
If we follow David’s example at this point, we will be doing what Paul recommended to the Philippians and will receive the corresponding blessing: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7).
The problem bothering David finally emerges in verse 4 and is developed in the psalm’s second stanza (vv. 4-6). It is the brevity of life and the corresponding emptiness or meaninglessness of human existence, as I have been pointing out.
The key word in this stanza, as well as in the next, is hebel, which is translated “a breath” (v. 5), “in vain” (v. 6) and “a breath” (v. 11). It is the same word translated “vanity” or “meaningless” in Ecclesiastes, the ideas of which are echoed in this psalm: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Eccles. 1:2).
The Apostle James, who was a great student of the wisdom literature, also seems to echo these ideas in the New Testament, where he gives an exposition of how Christians are to handle the problem. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).
I notice that after two of the three uses of hebel in Psalm 39 (in vv. 5, 11) the sentence in which it occurs is followed by the word selah, which means to stop, pause and consider. Good advice. It means, think about the brevity of life so you may apply your heart to wisdom.
The brevity of life is a thought that troubles everyone, or should. I do not know whether
William Shakespeare knew this psalm or had these words in mind when he penned Macbeth’s despairing speech from Act 5 of the play by that name, but he expressed the same idea:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrowCreeps in this petty pace from day to day,To the last syllable of recorded time;And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsThe way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing (Act 5, Scene 5).
But King David is not King Macbeth. So although he frets over the same problem, namely, the brevity and apparent vanity of life, he does not do it in the same way. What he does do is unburden himself to God and seek wisdom from God, as we have seen.
Review the four things we can learn from David’s conduct.
What is the meaning of the Hebrew word hebel?
Application: Memorize Philippians 4:6-7. How do you need to practice this?