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Psalm 39:4

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 4. Lord. It is well that the vent of his soul was toward God and not towards man. Oh! if my swelling heart must speak, Lord let it speak with thee; even if there be too much of natural heat in what I say, thou wilt be more patient with me than man, and upon thy purity it can cast no stain; whereas if I speak to my fellows, they may harshly rebuke me or else learn evil from my petulance. Make me to know mine end. Did he mean the same as Elias in his agony, "Let me die, I am no better than my father"? Perhaps so. At any rate, he rashly and petulantly desired to know the end of his wretched life, that he might begin to reckon the days till death should put a finish to his woe. Impatience would pry between the folded leaves. As if there were no other comfort to be had, unbelief would fain hide itself in the grave and sleep itself into oblivion. David was neither the first nor the last who have spoken unadvisedly in prayer. Yet, there is a better meaning: the psalmist would know more of the shortness of life, that he might better bear its transient ills, and herein we may safely kneel with him, uttering the same petition. That there is no end to its misery is the hell of hell; that there is an end to life's sorrow is the hope of all who have a hope beyond the grave. God is the best teacher of the divine philosophy which looks for an expected end. They who see death through the Lord's glass, see a fair sight, which makes them forget the evil of life in foreseeing the end of life. And the measure of my days. David would fain be assured that his days would be soon over and his trials with them; he would be taught anew that life is measured out to us by wisdom, and is not a matter of chance. As the trader measures his cloth by inches, and ells, and yards, so with scrupulous accuracy is life measured out to man. That I may know how frail I am, or when I shall cease to be. Alas! poor human nature, dear as life is, man quarrels with God at such a rate that he would sooner cease to be than bear the Lord's appointment. Such pettishness in a saint! Let us wait till we are in a like position, and we shall do no better. The ship on the stocks wonders that the barque springs a leak, but when it has tried the high seas, it marvels that its timbers hold together in such storms. David's case is not recorded for our imitation, but for our learning.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 4. Lord, make me to know mine end, etc. But did not David know this? Yes, he knew it, and yet he desires to know it. It is very fit we should ask of God that he would make us to know the things that we do know; I mean, that what we know emptily and barely, we may know spiritually and fruitfully, and if there be any measure of this knowledge, that it may increase and grow more ... We know we must die, and that it is no long course to the utmost period of life; yet our hearts are little instructed by this knowledge. Robert Leighton.

Verse 4. Lord, make me to know mine end. David would know his end, not so much his death -- the end consuming, as Christ the Lord of life -- the end and perfection of all our desires; or know it, not for vain science, but in his experience feel the reward of his patience. Though thy chastisement be sharp, it will be but short, and therein sweet; thou shalt lie still and be quiet, thou shalt sleep and be at rest, Job 3:13 Job 3:17-19 . How few and evil soever thy days be in the world, by patience and rolling thyself upon God they will prove unto thee both long enough and good. Edmund Layfielde.

Verse 4. Lord, make me to know mine end, etc. Seeing that both sorrow and joy are both able to kill you, and your life hangeth upon so small a thread, that the least gnat in the air can choke you, as it choked a pope of Rome; a little hair in your milk strangle you, as it did a councillor in Rome; a stone of a raisin stop your breath, as it did the breath of Anacreon: put not the evil day far from you, which the ordinance of God hath put so near; "Remember you Creator in time, before the days come wherein you shall say, We have no pleasure in them;" walk not always with your faces to the east, sometimes have an eye to the west, where the sun goeth down; sit not ever in the prow of the ship, sometimes go to the stern; "stand in your watchtowers," as the creature doth Romans 8:19 , and wait for the hour of your deliverance; provide your armies before that dreadful king cometh to fight against you with his greater forces; order your houses before you die, that is, dispose of your bodies and souls, and all the implements of them both; let not your eyes be gadding after pleasure, nor your ear itching after rumours, nor your minds wandering in the fields, when death is in your houses; your bodies are not brass, nor your strength the strength of stones, your life none inheritance, your breath no more than as the vapour and smoke of the chimney within your nostrils, or as a stranger within your gates, coming and going again, not to return any more till the day of final redemption. John King.

Verse 4. Lord, make me to know mine end, etc. It is worthy your notice, that passage you read of in Scripture, 1 Samuel 10:2 . Samuel, when he had anointed Saul king, and the people had chosen him, what signal doth he give him, to confirm him anointed? It was to go to Rachel's sepulchre. Now the reason is this, that he might not be glutted with the preferments and honours he was entering upon. The emperors of Constantinople, in their inaugurations, on their coronation days, had a mason come and show them several marble stones, and ask them to choose which of these should be made ready for their grave stones. And so we read of Joseph of Arimathea, that he had his tomb in his garden, to check the pleasures of the place. Christopher Love.

Verse 4. How frail I am. Between Walsall and Iretsy, in Cheshire, is a house built in 1636, of thick oak framework, filled in with brick. Over the window of the tap room is still legible, cut in the oak, the following Latin inscription: -- Fleres si scires unum tua tempora mensem; rides cum non scis si sit forsitan una dies. The sense of which is: "You would weep if you knew that your life was limited to one month, yet you laugh while you know not but it may be restricted to a day." How sad the thought, that with this silent monitor, this truthful sermon before their very eyes, numbers have revelled in soul destructive inebriation! And yet this is but a likeness of what we see constantly about us. Quoted in a Monthly Periodical.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 4. Make me to know mine end.

  1. What we may desire to know about our end. Not its date, place, circumstances, but
  2. Its nature. Will it be the end of saint or sinner?
  3. Its certainty.
  4. Its nearness.
  5. Its issues.
  6. Its requirements. In the shape of attention, preparation, passport.
  7. Why ask God to make us know it? Because the knowledge is important, difficult to acquire, and can be effectually imparted by the Lord only. W. Jackson.

Verse 4. David prays,

  1. That he may be enabled continually to keep in view the end of life: all things should be judged by their end. "Then understood I their end." Life may be honourable, and cheerful, and virtuous here; but the end! What will it be?
  2. That he may be diligent in the performance of all the duties of this life. The measure of his days, how short, how much to be done, how little time to do it in!
  3. He prays that he may gain much instruction and benefit from the frailties of life. That I may know, etc. My frailties may make me more humble, more diligent, while I am able for active service; more dependent upon divine strength, more patient and submissive to the divine will, more ripe for heaven.

G. Rogers.

Read Psalm 39:4