Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity… Surely every man walketh in a vain shew.

Psalm 39:5–6

Brethren, I am not ashamed of this world God created—I am only ashamed of man’s sin!

If you could take all of man’s sin out of this world, there would be nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to be afraid of.

Our apologies must be for humanity—and for our sins. I keep repeating that we have no business making excuses for God.

It is popular now to talk about Christ being a guest here. I dare to tell people that they should stop patronizing Jesus Christ!

He is not the guest here—He is the Host!

We have apologists who write books and give lectures—apologizing for the person of Christ, trying to “explain” to our generation that the Bible does not really mean “exactly” what it says. But God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and thus we know where we stand, believing that all things were made by Him and “without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

Lord, in my own personal life I relinquish control to Your Spirit within me. Slay my vanity, Lord.[1]

39:4–6Lord, how long is this nightmare going to last? Tell me how much time I have left, and when it is going to run out. At best the span of my life is only about the width of my palm; compared to Your eternity, my lifetime isn’t worth mentioning. All of us humans are as unsubstantial as a vapor. We go through life like phantoms. We rush around in frenzied activity—but what does it all amount to after all? We spend our lives scrimping and saving, and leave it all behind to be enjoyed by ingrates or fools or strangers![2]

Prayer for Divine Illumination (39:4–6)


4 Unable to resolve his problem, the psalmist turns to the Lord for instruction. The purpose of knowing life’s end is not that he may plan for every day of his life. He does not ask to know all that will happen but only what is the purpose of life. In the greater awareness of the brevity of life, he hopes that the Lord will guide him in an understanding and acceptance of this brevity. Notice the threefold mention of the brevity of life: “my life’s end,” “the number of my days,” and “how fleeting is my life” (cf. Ps 90; Job 11:7–9; Ecc 2:3).

Prayer is God’s means of instruction. In the quietness of prayer, the psalmist returns to the revealed insights pertaining to his life and to life in general. Because the question was personal, his first insight is personal. But the sage in him is not content until he has generalized it to be applicable to humankind.

5 Contrary to his feelings of self-worth, the psalmist reminds himself that his life is brief. He compares it to a “handbreadth,” one of the smallest units of measurement in ancient Israel. It is equivalent to “a couple of inches.” In Jeremiah 52:21, the measurement is given in terms of “four fingers thick.” In his heart he feels that his life span is like a mile, but in reality the Lord has made him to live for only a brief time.

In a more general way, the psalmist speaks of people who feel themselves established (see Notes). Even when it seems that people are strong and self-assured, from God’s perspective they are little more than a “breath.”

6 This last observation leads the psalmist to a more general and less ambiguous statement: human beings’ existence and future are filled with uncertainties. This sounds like the message of Ecclesiastes, and it is! A human is “a mere phantom.” In other words, human importance is dwarfed in comparison with God. People’s busying about may give them status and wealth, but even in their accomplishments they share the fate of all. Humans are mortal and cannot control their affairs after their death. Their inability to control, know, and project themselves outside the sphere of human limitations characterizes their fragile existence (cf. Lk 12:13–21; Jas 4:13–17).[3]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 609). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 360). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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