Verse 9. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath. Justice shortened the days of rebellious Israel; each halting place became a graveyard; they marked their march by the tombs they left behind them. Because of the penal sentence their days were dried up, and their lives wasted away.
We spend our years as a tale that is told. Yea, not their days only, but their years flew by them like a thought, swift as a meditation, rapid and idle as a gossip's story. Sin had cast a shadow over all things, and made the lives of the dying wanderers to be both vain and brief. The first sentence is not intended for believers to quote, as though it applied to themselves, for our days are all passed amid the lovingkindness of the Lord, even as David says in the Psalms 23:6 "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Neither is the life of the gracious man unsubstantial as a story teller's tale; he lives in Jesus, he has the divine Spirit within him, and to him "life is real, life is earnest" -- the simile only holds good if we consider that a holy life is rich in interest, full of wonders, chequered with many changes, yet as easily ordered by providence as the improvisatore arranges the details of the story with which he beguiles the hour. Our lives are illustrations of heavenly goodness, parables of divine wisdom, poems of sacred thought, and records of infinite love; happy are we whose lives are such tales.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 9. For all our days go back again (wnp) in thy wrath. Hitherto he has spoken of the cause of that wrath of God which moveth him to smite the world with such mortality. Now here he further sets forth the same by the effects thereof in reference to that present argument he hath in hand.
Verse 9. When I was in Egypt, three or four years ago, I saw what Moses himself might have seen, and what the Israelites, no doubt, very often witnessed: -- a crowd of people surrounding a professed story teller, who was going through some tale, riveting the attention and exciting the feelings of those who listened to him. This is one of the customs of the East. It naturally springs up among any people who have few books, or none; where the masses are unable to read, and where, therefore, they are dependent for excitement or information on those who can address the ear, and who recite, in prose or verse, traditionary tales and popular legends. I dare say this sort of thing would be much in repute among the Israelites themselves during their detention in the wilderness, and that it served to beguile for them many a tedious hour. It is by this custom, then, that we venture to illustrate the statement of the text.
The hearing of a story is attended by a rapid and passing interest -- it leaves behind it a vague impression, beyond which comparatively but few incidents may stand out distinctly in the after thought. In our own day even, when tales are put into printed books, and run through three or four volumes, we feel when we have finished one, how short it appears after all, or how short the time it seemed to take for its perusal. If full of incident, it may seem sometimes long to remember, but we generally come to the close with a sort of feeling that says, "And so that's all." But this must have been much more the case with the tales "that were told." These had to be compressed into what could be repeated at one time, or of which three or four might be given in an evening or an hour. The story ended; and then came the sense of shortness, brevity, the rapid flight of the period employed by it, with something like a feeling of wonder and dissatisfaction at the discovery of this. "For what is your life? It is even as a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." --Thomas Binney.
Verse 9. As a tale. The grace whereof is brevity. --John Trapp.
Verse 9. As a tale that is told. The Chaldee has it, like the breath of our mouth in winter. --Daniel Cresswell.
Verse 9. The thirty-eight years, which after this they were away in the wilderness, were not the subject of the sacred history, for little or nothing is recorded of that which happened to them from the second year to the fortieth. After they came out of Egypt, their time was perfectly trifled away, and was not worthy to be the subject of a history, but only of a tale that is told; for it was only to pass away time like telling stories, that they spent those years in the wilderness; all that while they were in the consuming, and another generation was in the rising ... The spending of our years is like the telling of a tale. A year when it is past is like a tale when it is told. Some of our years are as a pleasant story, others as a tragical one; most mixed, but all short and transient; that which was long in the doing may be told in a short time. --Matthew Henry.
Verse 9. We spend our year as a tale that is told, or, as a meditation (so some translate) suddenly or swiftly: a discourse is quickly over, whether it be a discourse from the mouth, or in the mind; and of the two the latter is far the more swift and nimble of foot. A discourse in our thoughts outruns the sun, as much as the sun outruns a snail; the thoughts of a man will travel the world over in a moment; he that now sits in this place, may be at the world's end in his thoughts, before I can speak another word. -- Joseph Caryl.
Verse 9. We spend our years as a tale that is told. This seems to express both a necessary fact and a censure. The rapid consumption of our years -- their speedy passing away, is inevitable. But they may be spent also in a trifling manner to little valuable purpose, which would complete the disconsolate reflection on them, by the addition of guilt and censure. --John Foster, 1768-1843.
Verse 9. As a tale that is told. In the Hebrew it is hgxwmk, sicut meditatio, (as a meditation) and so we read it in the margin, as if all our years were little else than a continual meditation upon the things of this world. Indeed, much of man's time is spent in this kind of vain meditation, as how to deceive and play fast and loose for advantage; such a meditation had they, Isaiah 59:13 , or meditating with the heart lying words; the same word in the Hebrew as in my text; or how to heap up riches, such a meditation had that covetous man in the gospel, Luke 12:17 ; or how to violate the sacred bonds of religion and laws of God, such a meditation had they, Psalms 2:1-3 ; and in such vain meditations as these do men spend their years "as a tale that is told" ...
To close this point with Gregory Nazianzen.
What are we but a vain dream that hath no existence or being, a mere phantasm or apparition that cannot be held, a ship sailing in the sea which leaves no impression or trace behind it, a dust, a vapour, a morning dew, a flower flourishing one day and fading another, yea, the same day behold it springing and withered, but my text adds another metaphor from the flying of a bird, and we fly away, not go and run but fly, the quickest motion that any corporeal creature hath. Our life is like the fight of a bird, it is here now and it is gone out of sight suddenly. The Prophet therefore speaking of the speedy departure of Ephraim's glory expresses it thus, "It shall flee away like a bird", Hosea 9:11 ; and Solomon saith the like of riches, "they make themselves wings and flee away like an eagle toward heaven": Proverbs 23:5 . David wished for the wings of a dove that he might flee away and be at rest and good cause he had for it, for this life is not more short than miserable ...
Be it our care then not to come creeping and coughing to God with a load of diseases and infirmities about us, when we are at death's door and not before, but to consecrate the first fruits of our life to his service. It is in the spending our time (as one compares it) as in the distilling of waters, the thinnest and purest part runs out first and only the lees at last: what an unworthy thing will it be to offer the prime of our time to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the dregs of it to God. He that forbade the lame and the blind in beasts to be sacrificed, will not surely allow it in men; if they come not to present their bodies a living sacrifice, while they are living and lively too, ere they be lame or blind or deformed with extremity of age, it is even a miracle if it prove then a holy, acceptable, or reasonable service. --Thomas Washbourne, 1655.
Verse 9. (second clause). -- The Hebrew is different from all the Versions. We consume our years (hgxwmk kemo hegeh) like a groan. We live a dying, whining, complaining life, and at last a groan is its termination! -- Adam Clarke.
Verse 9. -- The Vulgate translation has, Our years pass away like those of a spider. It implies that our life is as frail as the thread of a spider's web. Constituted most curiously the spider's web is; but what more fragile? In what is there more wisdom than in the complicated frame of the human body; and what more easily destroyed? Glass is granite compared with flesh; and vapours are rocks compared with life. --C.H.S.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS