Theme: Made for Eternity
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
When we do come to understand our own weakness and creatureliness in the context of our suffering, we tend to ask these kinds of questions: “What does God want with me?” “Why does he care what I do? Nothing I do can possibly affect him or hurt him. I don’t have anything to contribute to him.” “Why doesn’t God just forget about me and leave me alone.”
The answer, of course, is the very paradox of human existence, namely, that although man is a passing creature who often does merely strut and fret his short hour upon life’s stage, he is also more than a passing creature of an earthly day; he is made for eternity, for God himself. Therefore, what happens to him and in him, as well as what is done by him, has eternal value and consequences. This is the point of God’s rebukes and discipline. What God is making of men and women now is forever. What we do here matters.
So I go back to verse 7, which I called the turning point of the psalm: “My hope is in you.” Now we can understand it. It does not mean, “You are my last hope, and I am not very hopeful even of you.” It means, “You are the one who gives meaning to life. Nothing else does, because everything else is passing. You alone are eternal, and you have made me for lasting fellowship with yourself. I am restless until I find my rest in you.”
Alexander Maclaren, who also regards this verse as the turning point of the psalm, finds the same sentiments in verses 8-13 as in verses 1-6. But he thinks that in the second half they are considered in an entirely different light since the psalmist is now looking to God rather than being consumed by life’s sorrows.4
The fourth stanza (vv. 12, 13) contains the psalm’s final petition which is also the climax. By this point the psalmist has come a long way in his thinking, recognizing that life does have meaning, though it is not in the possession of wealth (v. 6). David sees that he is an “alien” or “stranger” in the land. In the Old Testament these are terms for foreign residents in Israel, the first probably of short duration, the second longer. Such people were to be treated well, but they were prohibited from owning land. They were not permanent residents. They were pilgrims.
This has both an Old Testament history and a New Testament perspective. Abraham is the great Old Testament example of a pilgrim since, although God had given him the entire land of Israel from the boarders of Egypt to the great river Euphrates, Abraham never possessed any of it. In fact, the only exception highlights the poignancy of his pilgrim status. For when his wife Sarah died and he had no ground in which to bury her, he had to negotiate the purchase of a burial plot from the Hittites. Abraham mourned for Sarah. Then, as the text says, “Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead” (Gen. 23:4).5
Explain the “paradox of human existence.”
Why is verse 7 the turning point of the psalm?
What is David’s final petition?
Application: Have you felt the discouragement David expresses in this psalm? What is the proper response to these feelings?
4Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 1, pp. 264-279.5See also I Chronicles 29:15; Job 19:15; Psalm 69:8.