Verse 5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood. As when a torrent rushes down the river bed and bears all before it, so does the Lord bear away by death the succeeding generations of men. As the hurricane sweeps the clouds from the sky, so time removes the children of men.
They are as a sleep. Before God men must appear as unreal as the dreams of the night, the phantoms of sleep. Not only are our plans and devices like a sleep, but we ourselves are such. "We are such stuff as dreams are made of."
In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. As grass is green in the morning and hay at night, so men are changed from health to corruption in a few hours. We are not cedars, or oaks, but only poor grass, which is vigorous in the spring, but lasts not a summer through. What is there upon earth more frail than we!
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood. ~tmrz (zeram-tam) thou hast inundated them, namely, the years of man, i.e., thou hast hurried them away with a flood, thou hast made them to glide away as water, they will be sleep. --Bythner's "Lyre of David."
Verse 5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood. Let us meditate seriously upon the swift passage of our days, how our life runs away like a stream of waters, and carrieth us with it. Our condition in the eyes of God in regard of our life in this world is as if a man that knows not how to swim, should be cast into a great stream of water, and be carried down with it, so that he may sometimes lift up his head or his hands, and cry for help, or catch hold of this thing and that, for a time, but his end will be drowning, and it is but a small time that he can hold out, for the flood which carries him away will soon swallow him up. And surely our life here if it be rightly considered, is but like the life of a person thus violently carried down a stream. All the actions and motions of our life are but like unto the strivings and struggles of a man in that case: our eating, our drinking, our physic, our sports, and all other actions are but like the motions of the sinking man. When we have done all that we can, die we must, and be drowned in this deluge. --William Bradshaw.
Verse 5. Away as with a flood. "A man is a bubble", said the Greek proverb, which Lucian represents to this purpose, saying, "All the world is a storm, and men rise up in their several generations like bubbles. Some of these instantly sink into the deluge of their first parent, and are hidden in a sheet of water, having no other business in the world but to be born, that they might be able to die; others float up and down two or three turns, and suddenly disappear, and give their place to others: and they that live longest upon the face of the waters are in perpetual motion, restless and uneasy, and being crushed in by a great drop from a cloud, sink into flatness and a froth; the change not being great; it being hardly possible that a bubble should be more a nothing than it was before." -- Jeremy Taylor.
Verse 5. (first clause). The most ancient mode of measuring small portions of time was by water flowing out of a vessel the clepsydra of the Greeks and Romans; and Ovid has compared the lapse of time to the flowing of a river (Metam. 15, 180.) -- Stephen Street.
Verse 5. They are as a sleep. For as in the visions of sleep, we seeing, see not, hearing we hear not, tasting or touching we neither taste nor touch, speaking we speak not, walking we walk not; but when we seem to employ movements and gestures, in no respect do we employ them, since the mind vainly forms without any real objects images of things that exist not, as if they existed. In this very way, the imaginations of those who are awake closely resemble dreams; they come, they go, they confront us and flee from us; before they are seized, they fly away. --Philo, in Le Blanc.
Verse 5. They are as a sleep. Our life may be compared to sleep in four respects.
- In regard of the shortness of it.
- In regard of the easiness of being put out of it.
- In regard of the many means to disquiet and break it off.
- With regard to the many errors in it.
For the first three. Sleep is but short, and the sweeter it is, the shorter it seems to be. And as it is but short of itself, though it should last the full swing of nature; so the soundest sleep is easily broken; the least knock, the lowest call puts men out of it; and a number of means and occasions there be to interrupt and break it off. And is it not so with the life of man? Is not the longest life short? Is it not the shorter, the sweeter and fuller of contents it is? And is it not easily taken away? Are there not many means to bring us unto our end? even as many as there are to waken us out of sleep.
For the fourth. How many errors are we subject to in sleep? In sleep the prisoner many times dreams that he is at liberty; he that is at liberty, that he is in prison; he that is hungry, that he is feeding daintily; he that is in want, that he is in great abundance; he that abounds, that he is in great want. How many in their sleep have thought they have gotten that which they shall be better for for ever, and when they are even in the hope of present possessing some such goodly matter, or beginning to enjoy it, or in the midst of their joy, they are suddenly awaked, and then all is gone with them, and their golden fancies vanish away in an instant. So for evil and sorrow as well. And is it not just so in the life of man? -- William Bradshaw.
Verse 5. They are like grass. In this last similitude, the prophet compares men to grass, that as grass hath a time of growing and a time of withering, even so has man. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up. In which words Moses compares the former part of man's life, which is the space of thirty-three years, to the time of growing of grass, and that is accounted the time of the perfection of man's strength and age; at which age, according to the course of nature, man flourisheth as grass doth; that is the time of a man's prime and flourishing estate.
But in the evening; that is, when the grass is ripe, and ready to be cut down, it withereth. Even so man, being once at his strength, and ripest age, doth not stand at a stay, nor continueth long so; but presently begins to decay, and to wither away, till old age comes, and he is cut down by the scythe of death.
Now, in that Moses useth so many similitudes, and all to show how frail this life of man is, we are taught, that the frailty, vanity, and shortness of man's life is such, that examples will scarcely shew it. Death comes as a flood, violently and suddenly; we are as a sleep; we are as grass; our life is like a dream; we spend our days as a tale that is told, Psalms 90:9 . All these similitudes Moses hath in this Psalm, as if he wanted words and examples, how to express the vanity, frailty, and shortness thereof. --Samuel Smith.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 5. Comparison of mortal life to sleep. See William Bradshaw's remarks in our Notes on this verse.
Verse 5-6. -- The lesson of the Meadows.
- Grass growing the emblem of youth.
- Grass flowering -- or man in his prime.
- The scythe.
- Grass mown -- or man at death.