Verse 3. Thou turnest man to destruction, or "to dust." Man's body is resolved into its elements, and is as though it had been crushed and ground to powder.
And sayest, Return, ye children of men, i.e., return even to the dust out of which ye were taken. The frailty of man is thus forcibly set forth; God creates him out of the dust, and back to dust he goes at the word of his Creator. God resolves and man dissolves. A word created and a word destroys. Observe how the action of God is recognised; man is not said to die because of the decree of faith, or the action of inevitable law, but the Lord is made the agent of all, his hand turns and his voice speaks; without these we should not die, no power on earth or hell could kill us.
"An angel's arm cannot save me from the grave,
Myriads of angels cannot confine me there."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 3. Thou turnest man to destruction, etc. The prophet conceives of God as of a potter, that having of dust tempered a mass, and framed it into a vessel, and dried it, doth presently, within a minute or an hour after, dash it again in pieces, and beat it to dust, in passion as it were speaking unto it, "Get thee to dust again." The word here translated "destruction", signifies a beating, or grinding, or pounding of a thing to powder. And the prophet seems to allude to the third of Genesis, where God speaks of Adam, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return", as if he should say, O Lord, thou that hast made and framed man of the dust of the earth, thou beatest him to dust again; and as thou madest him by thy word alone, so with thy word thou suddenly turnest, and beatest him against to dust; as a man that makes a thing, and presently mars it again...He doth it with a word, against which is no resistance, when that word is once come out of his mouth; it is not all the diet, physic, and help, and prayers in the world that can save the life. And this he can do suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. And therefore we should, as we love our lives, fear him, and take heed how we offend and displease him that can with a word turn the strongest man into dust. --William Bradshaw.
Verse 3. Thou turnest man to destruction, etc. The first word for "man", signifies a man full of misery, full of sickness and infirmities, a miserable man, fwna. And the other word here used in the end of the verse, signifies a man made of clay, or of the very slime of the earth. From hence we learn what is the nature of all men, of all the sons of Adam, viz., a piece of living clay, a little piece of red earth. And besides that man is subject to breaking and crushing, every way a miserable man; so is he of a brittle mould, a piece of red clay, that hath in it for a time a living soul, which must return to God that gave it; and the body, this piece of earth, return to the earth from whence it came: and if we had no Scripture at all to prove this, daily experience before our eyes makes it clear how all men, even the wisest, the strongest, the greatest and the mightiest monarchs and princes in the world, be but miserable men, made of red earth, and quickly turn again to dust. --Samuel Smith, in "Moses his Prayer", 1656.
Verse 3. Thou turnest man to destruction. Augustine says, We walk amid perils. If we were glass vases we might fear less dangers. What is there more fragile than a vase of glass? And vet it is preserved, and lasts for centuries: we therefore are more frail and infirm. -- Le Blanc.
Verse 3. Return ye. One being asked what life was? made an answer answerless, for he presently turned his back and went his way. --John Trapp.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The cause of death -- "thou turnest."
- The nature of death -- "return."
- The necessities of death -- reconciliation with God, and preparation to return.