Sermon Notes

Life is Short…Hope in the Lord

Psalm 39:6-11

6 Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. 7 But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. 8 Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools. 9 I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this. 10 Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand. 11 You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth-- each man is but a breath.

Where the previous verses spoke of the brevity of human life, now the focus is on the meaningless of human effort. The metaphor of walking in shadow and ambling slowly without purpose is used. The metaphor is a rather poignant symbol of the futility of human effort. To that metaphor, the psalmist adds the image of heaping up wealth, but it does not last long enough to enjoy. Their bustling is as vain as their compulsion to accumulate wealth is futile.

After this series of dismal images of futility, the psalmist has reached the turning point of his argument. The turning point is signaled by the particle “but now.” He turns to his plea with a rhetorical question: Lord, what do I look for?

God, and only God, can be the answer: My hope is in you! He finally admits that he cannot deal with his sin on his own and asks God to save him from his transgressions. To ask for forgiveness is an appeal to the character of the forgiving One. This appeal for forgiveness is based on his hope in the character of the Lord.

The phrase about “being spared the scorn of fools” is something to the effect that God has no power to save the psalmist, or that God has rejected the psalmist. The scorn that he is referring to may have been about others rejoicing in the punishment that they assumed the psalmist was receiving at God’s hands.

The psalmist returns to the theme of silence. He reminds God that his initial silence is accepting the Lord’s discipline. He believed that God had done this. David then renews the appeal: “Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand”. The psalmist is experiencing whatever crisis he is in - and it is not clear whether it is a health, legal, military, or economic crisis - as a rebuke and discipline from God. “You consume their wealth like a moth” conveys the sense of slowly being dissipated.

God disciplines us when we sin and try to deal with this sin on our own. God will consume what we build up like a moth eats cloth. While living in Kansas we had grasshoppers that consumed all in their area, from clothes on the line to cardboard boxes that blew away.

These verses close with the second occurrence of the refrain: “each man is but a breath”. This repetition, coming as the final word of this passage and as the final word before David turns to his closing plea for help sums up the psalmist’s angry, desperate argument. Under God’s stare, the sinner melts, because all people are futile - a breath.

Having established the frailty of human life and the futility of human endeavor, where can the psalmist turn for effective help? He finds hope for deliverance from sin and the "scorn of fools" in Yahweh. You don’t want to be on the bad side of God.

Deliverance comes at the price of confession of sin, and the psalmist acknowledges that the suffering endured is from God and is intended as "rebuke and discipline." It is this knowledge that has prevented him from voicing a complaint before the wicked; the punishment was deserved and just.

The psalmist ties divine rebuke and discipline together with the earlier theme of human frailty. The futility of human endeavor - the inability of humans to secure even their own wealth - is understood here as a consequence of divine discipline.

Will you put your hope in the Lord or in what you can do, or hope it will all work out?