Psalm 39:4
LORD, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
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(4) Rhythmically and from every other reason the psalm onward from this verse must be treated as the utterance to which the poet’s feelings have at length driven him.

How frail I am.—This is to be preferred to the margin, which follows the LXX. and Vulg. The Hebrew word, from a root meaning to “leave off,” though in Isaiah 53:3 it means “forsaken,” here, as in Ezekiel 3:27, is active, and implies “ceasing to live.”

Psalm 39:4. Lord, make me to know mine end — The end of my life, as is evident from the following words; and the measure of my days, what it is — How short it is; or, how near is the period of the days of my life; that I may know how frail I am — Hebrew, מה חדל אני, meh-chadeel ani, quam desinens sire, quam cito desinam esse, quam parum durem, what a transient, momentary being I am, how soon I shall cease to be, how little a while I shall continue, namely, on earth. He does not mean, Lord, let me know exactly how long I shall live, and when I shall die. He could not in faith ask this, God having nowhere promised his people such knowledge, but having in wisdom locked it up among the secret things which belong not to us, and which it would not be good for us to know; but his meaning is, Give me wisdom and grace to consider my end, and how short the measure of my days will be, and to improve what I know concerning it. The living know they shall die, but few so reflect on this as to make a right use of this knowledge. Bishop Patrick thus paraphrases his words: “Lord, I do not murmur nor repine at my sufferings; but that I may be able to bear them still patiently, make me sensible, I humbly beseech thee, how short this frail life is, and how soon it will have an end; that, duly considering this, I may be the less concerned about the miseries I endure, which will end together with it.” Thus, “wearied with the contradiction of sinners, and sickening at the prospect of so much wretchedness in the valley of weeping, the soul” of the pious Christian “looks forward to her departure from hence, praying for such a sense of the shortness of human life as may enable her to bear the sorrows of this world, and excite her to prepare for the joys of a better.”39:1-6 If an evil thought should arise in the mind, suppress it. Watchfulness in the habit, is the bridle upon the head; watchfulness in acts, is the hand upon the bridle. When not able to separate from wicked men, we should remember they will watch our words, and turn them, if they can, to our disadvantage. Sometimes it may be necessary to keep silence, even from good words; but in general we are wrong when backward to engage in edifying discourse. Impatience is a sin that has its cause within ourselves, and that is, musing; and its ill effects upon ourselves, and that is no less than burning. In our greatest health and prosperity, every man is altogether vanity, he cannot live long; he may die soon. This is an undoubted truth, but we are very unwilling to believe it. Therefore let us pray that God would enlighten our minds by his Holy Spirit, and fill our hearts with his grace, that we may be ready for death every day and hour.Lord, make me to know mine end - This expresses evidently the substance of those anxious and troubled thoughts Psalm 39:1-2 to which he had been unwilling to give utterance. His thoughts turned on the shortness of life; on the mystery of the divine arrangement by which it had been made so short; and on the fact that so many troubles and sorrows had been crowded into a life so frail and so soon to terminate. With some impatience, and with a consciousness that he had been indulging feelings on this subject which were not proper, and which would do injury if they were expressed "before men," he now pours out these feelings before God, and asks what is to be the end of this; how long this is to continue; when his own sorrows will cease. It was an impatient desire to know when the end would be, with a spirit of insubmission to the arrangements of Providence by which his life had been made so brief, and by which so much suffering had been appointed.

And the measure of my days, what it is - How long I am to live; how long I am to bear these accumulated sorrows.

That I may know how frail I am - Margin: "What time I have here." Prof. Alexander renders this: "when I shall cease." So DeWette. The Hebrew word used here - חדל châdêl - means "ceasing to be;" hence, "frail;" then, destitute, left, forsaken. An exact translation would be, "that I may know at what (time) or (point) I am ceasing, or about to cease." It is equivalent to a prayer that he might know when these sufferings - when a life so full of sorrow - would come to an end. The language is an expression of impatience; the utterance of a feeling which the psalmist knew was not right in itself, and which would do injury if expressed before men, but which the intensity of his feelings would not permit him to restrain, and to which he, therefore, gives utterance before God. Similar expressions of impatience in view of the sufferings of a life so short as this, and with so little to alleviate its sorrows, may be seen much amplified in Job 3:1-26; Job 6:4-12; Job 7:7; Job 14:1-13. Before we blame the sacred writers for the indulgence of these feelings, let us carefully examine our own hearts, and recall what has passed through our own minds in view of the mysteries of the divine administration; and let us remember that one great object of the Bible is to record the actual feelings of men - not to vindicate them, but to show what human nature is even in the best circumstances, and what the human heart is when as yet but partially sanctified.

4-7. Some take these words as those of fretting, but they are not essentially such. The tinge of discontent arises from the character of his suppressed emotions. But, addressing God, they are softened and subdued.

make me to know mine end—experimentally appreciate.

how frail I am—literally, "when I shall cease."

This verse contains either,

1. A correction of himself for his impatient motions or speeches, and his retirement to God for relief under these perplexing and sadding thoughts. Or,

2. A declaration of the words which he spake.

Make me to know; either,

1. Practically, so as to prepare for it. Or,

2. Experimentally, as words of knowledge are oft used. And so this is a secret desire of death, that he might be free from such torments as made his life a burden to him. Or,

3. By revelation; that I may have some prospect or foreknowledge when my calamities will be ended; which argued impatience, and an unwillingness to wait long for deliverance.

My end, i.e. the end of my life, as is evident from the following words.

What it is; how long or short it is, or the utmost extent or period of the days of my life.

How frail I am; or, how long (or, how little, for the word may be and is by divers interpreters taken both ways) time I have or shall continue here. Lord, make me to know mine end,.... Not Christ, the end of the law for righteousness, as Jerom interprets it; nor how long he should live, how many days, months, and years more; for though they are known of God, they are not to be known by men; but either the end of his afflictions, or his, latter end, his mortal state, that he might be more thoughtful of that, and so less concerned about worldly things, his own external happiness, or that of others; or rather his death; see Job 6:11; and his sense is, that he might know death experimentally; or that he might die: this he said in a sinful passionate way, as impatient of his afflictions and exercises; and in the same way the following expressions are to be understood;

and the measure of my days, what it is; being desirous to come to the end of it; otherwise he knew it was but as an hand's breadth, as he says in Psalm 39:5;

that I may know how frail I am; or "what time I have here"; or "when I shall cease to be" (u); or, as the Targum is, "when I shall cease from the world"; so common it is for the saints themselves, in an angry or impatient fit, to desire death; see Job 7:15; and a very rare and difficult thing it is to wish for it from right principles, and with right views, as the Apostle Paul did, Philippians 1:23.

(u) "quanti aevi ego", Montanus; "quamdiu roundanus ero", Vatablus; "quam brevis temporis sim", Musculus.

LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
4. His prayer is not that he may know how much of life is left him; as the P.B.V. that I may be certified how long I have to live, paraphrasing the LXX. ἵνα γνῶ τί ὑστερῶ ἐγώ: ut sciam quid desit mihi, Vulg.: but that he may realise how surely life must end, and how brief it must be at best. What it is = how short it is.

that I may know] Better, as R.V., let me know. Frail, lit, ceasing, transitory.

4–6. Silence has proved impossible. He must give vent to his emotions, and he breaks out into a prayer that he may be taught so to understand the frailty of his life and the vanity of human aims, that he may be led back from selfish, envious, murmuring thoughts, to rest in submission to God’s will. Cp. Psalm 90:12.Verse 4. - Lord, make me to know mine end, and the number of my days. This is not exactly the request of Job, who desired to be at once cut off (Job 6:9; Job 7:15; Job 14:13), but it is a request conceived in the same spirit. The psalmist is weary of life, expects nothing from it, feels that it is "altogether vanity." He asks, therefore, not exactly for death, but that it may be told him how long he will have to endure the wretched life that he is leading. He anticipates no relief except in death, and feels, at any rate for the time, that he would welcome death as a deliverer. That I may know how frail I am. So most moderns; but Hengstenberg denies that חדל can ever mean "frail," and falls back upon the old rendering, "that I may know when I shall cease [to be]," which certainly gives a very good sense. (Heb.: 38:16-23) Become utterly useless in himself, he renounces all self-help, for (כּי) he hopes in Jahve, who alone can help him. He waits for His answer, for (כי) he says, etc. - he waits for an answer, for the hearing of this his petition which is directed towards the glory of God, that God would not suffer his foes to triumph over him, nor strengthen them in their mercilessness and injustice. Psalm 38:18 appears also to stand under the government of the פּן;

(Note: The following are the constructions of פן when a clause of ore than one member follows it: (1) fut. and perf., the latter with the tone of the perf. consec., e.g., Exodus 34:15., or without it, e.g., Psalm 28:1 (which see); (2) fut. and fut. as in Psalm 2:12, Jeremiah 51:46. This construction is indispensable where it is intended to give special prominence to the subject notion or a secondary notion of the clause, e.g., Deuteronomy 20:6. In one instance פן is even followed (3) by the perf. and fut. consec., viz., 2 Kings 2:10.)

but, since in this case one would look for a Waw relat. and a different order of the words, Psalm 38:18 is to be regarded as a subject clause: "who, when my foot totters, i.e., when my affliction changes to entire downfall, would magnify themselves against me." In Psalm 38:18, כּי connects what follows with בּמוט רגלי by way of confirmation: he is נכון לצלע, ready for falling (Psalm 35:15), he will, if God does not graciously interpose, assuredly fall headlong. The fourth כּי in Psalm 38:19 is attached confirmatorily to Psalm 38:18: his intense pain or sorrow is ever present to him, for he is obliged to confess his guilt, and this feeling of guilt is just the very sting of his pain. And whilst he in the consciousness of well-deserved punishment is sick unto death, his foes are numerous and withal vigorous and full of life. Instead of חיּים, probably חנּם, as in Psalm 35:19; Psalm 69:5, is to be read (Houbigant, Hitzig, Kster, Hupfeld, Ewald, and Olshausen). But even the lxx read חיים; and the reading which is so old, although it does not very well suit עצמוּ (instead of which one would look for ועצוּמים), is still not without meaning: he looks upon himself, according to Psalm 38:9, more as one dead than living; his foes, however, are חיּים, living, i.e., vigorous. The verb frequently ash this pregnant meaning, and the adjective can also have it. Just as the accentuation of the form סבּוּ varies elsewhere out of pause, ורבּוּ here has the tone on the ultima, although it is not perf. consec.

(Note: As perf. consec. the following have the accent on the ultima: - וחתּוּ, Isaiah 20:5, Obadiah 1:9, and ורבּוּ, Isaiah 66:16; perhaps also וחדּוּ, וקלּוּ, Habakkuk 1:8, and ורבּוּ (perf. hypoth.), Job 32:15. But there is no special reason for the ultima-accentuation of רכּוּ, Psalm 55:22; רבּוּ, Psalm 69:5; דּלּוּ, Isaiah 38:14; קלּוּ, Jeremiah 4:13; שׁחוּ, Proverbs 14:19; Habakkuk 3:6; חתּוּ, Job 32:15; זכּוּ, צחוּ, Lamentations 4:7.)

Psalm 38:21 is an apposition of the subject, which remains the same as in Psalm 38:20. Instead of רדופי (Ges. 61, rem. 2) the Ker is רדפי, rādephî (without any Makkeph following), or רדפי, rādophî; cf. on this pronunciation, Psalm 86:2; Psalm 16:1, and with the Chethb רדופי, the Chethb צרופה, Psalm 26:2, also מיורדי, Psalm 30:4. By the "following of that which is good" David means more particularly that which is brought into exercise in relation to his present foes.

(Note: In the Greek and Latin texts, likewise in all the Aethiopic and several Arabic texts, and in the Syriac Psalterium Medilanense, the following addition is found after Psalm 38:21 : Ce aperripsan me ton agapeton osi necron ebdelygmenon, Et projecerunt me dilectum tanquam mortuum abominatum (so the Psalt. Veronense). Theodoret refers it to Absalom's relation to David. The words ὡσεὶ νεκρὸν ἐβδελυγμένον are taken from Isaiah 14:19.)

He closes in Psalm 38:22 with sighs for help. No lighting up of the darkness of wrath takes place. The fides supplex is not changed into fides triumphans. But the closing words, "O Lord, my salvation" (cf. Psalm 51:16), show where the repentance of Cain and that of David differ. True repentance has faith within itself, it despairs of itself, but not of God.

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