Psalm 39:6

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 6. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew. Life is but a passing pageant. This alone is sure, that nothing is sure. All around us shadows mock us; we walk among them, and too many live for them as if the mocking images were substantial; acting their borrowed parts with zeal fit only to be spent on realities, and lost upon the phantoms of this passing scene. Worldly men walk like travellers in a mirage, deluded, duped, deceived, soon to be filled with disappointment and despair. Surely they are disquieted in vain. Men fret, and fume, and worry, and all for mere nothing. They are shadows pursuing shadows, while death pursues them. He who toils and contrives, and wearies himself for gold, for fame, for rank, even if he wins his desire, finds at the end of his labour lost; for like the treasure of the miser's dream, it all vanishes when the man awakes in the world of reality. Read well this text, and then listen to the clamour of the market, the hum of the exchange, the din of the city streets, and remember that all this noise (for so the word means), this breach of quiet, is made about unsubstantial, fleeting vanities. Broken rest, anxious fear, over worked brain, failing mind, lunacy, these are the steps in the process of disquieting with many, and all to be rich, or, in other words, to load one's self with the thick clay; clay, too, which a man must leave so soon. He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. He misses often the result of his ventures, for there are many slips between the cup and the lips. His wheat is sheaved, but an interloping robber bears it away -- as often happens with the poor Eastern husbandman; or, the wheat is even stored, but the invader feasts thereon. Many work for others all unknown to them. Especially does this verse refer to those all gathering muckrakes, who in due time are succeeded by all scattering forks, which scatter riches as profusely as their sires gathered them parsimoniously. We know not our heirs, for our children die, and strangers fill the old ancestral halls; estates change hands, and entail, though riveted with a thousand bonds, yields to the corroding power of time. Men rise up early and sit up late to build a house, and then the stranger tramps along its passages, laughs in its chambers, and forgetful of its first builder, calls it all his own. Here is one of the evils under the sun for which no remedy can be prescribed.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 6. Man walketh in a vain shew. I see that we who live are nothing else but images, and a vain shadow. Sophocles.

Verse 6. (first clause). When in the Bristol election, his competitor died, Burke said, "What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue." William S. Plumer.

Verse 6. Every carnal man walks in a vain shew, and yet how vain is he of his shew of vanity! He is disquieted in vain, and it is only vanity which disquiets him. He labours all his life for the profits of riches, and yet in death his riches will not profit him. He that views an ox grazing in a fat pasture, concludes that he is but preparing for the day of slaughter. William Secker.

Verse 6. He heapeth up riches. This is the great foolishness and disease especially of old age, that the less way a man has to go, he makes the greater provision for it. When the hands are stiff, and fit for no other labour, they are fitted and composed for scraping together. Robert Leighton.

Verse 6. He heapeth up riches. The Hebrew word rendered, He heapeth up, signifies to rake together; in which there is an allusion to the husbandman's collecting his corn together before he carries it to the barn. The metaphor is elegant, intimating the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of human acquisitions; which though heaped up together like corn, by one person, may soon become the possession of another. Samuel Burder.

Verse 6. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.



William Shakespeare.

Verse 6. The plentiful showers of tears which stand in our eyes when we come from the womb, and when we draw to the tomb, are faithful witnesses of man's vanity. We bid the world "good morrow" with grief, and "good night" with a groan. Edmund Layfielde.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 6. The vanity of man, as mortal, is here instanced in three things, and the vanity of each shown.

  1. The vanity of our joys and honours: Surely every man walketh in a vain show.
  2. The vanity of our griefs and fears: Surely they are disquieted in vain.
  3. The vanity of our cares and toils: He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.

Matthew Henry.

Verse 6. The world's trinity consists,

  1. In fruitless honours: what appears to them to be substantial honours are but a vain show.
  2. In needless cares. They are disquieted in vain. Imaginary cares are substituted for real ones.
  3. In useless riches; such as yield no lasting satisfaction to themselves, or in their descent to others. G. Rogers.