I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)My tongue.—To enter into the feeling of the poet we must remember the unrestrained way in which Orientals give way to grief. It was natural and becoming for him to “roar” (Psalm 38:8, &c.) out his indignation or his grief, to mutter (Psalm 1:2, &c) aloud his prayers, to speak out on every impulse. Now he determines to endure in silence and mutely bear the worst, rather than speak what may in the eyes of the impious be construed into a murmur against Divine Providence, into impatience under the Divine decree. (Comp. Psalm 38:13-14.)
With a bridle.—See margin, and comp. Deuteronomy 25:4, where the cognate verb occurs. The root-meaning is “stop.” For the metaphor comp. James 1:26, and Plato, Laws, 3:701, “the argument, like a horse, ought to be pulled up from time to time, and not be allowed to run away, but held with bit and bridle.” (Comp. also Virgil, Æneid, vi. 79.)Psalm 39:1. I said — I fully resolved, &c. “The Psalm,” says Dr. Horne, “begins abruptly with the result of a meditation on the narrow, slippery, and dangerous paths of life; more especially on the extreme difficulty of restraining the tongue, amidst the continual temptations and provocations”
which surround or assault us, to speak unadvisedly with our lips. I will take heed to my ways — That is, to order all my actions aright, and particularly to govern my tongue, that if any evil thought or passions arise within me, I may suppress and mortify them, and not suffer them to break forth into sinful reflections on God and his providence. I will keep my mouth as with a bridle — With all possible care and diligence. While the wicked is before me — In my presence; or in my thoughts, as the phrase is understood, Psalm 51:3, that is, while I consider the flourishing estate of wicked men.Psalm 39:9-10, from which he was led to reflect on the mysteries of the divine administration in general, and on the fact that man had been subjected by his Creator to so much trouble and sorrow - and that, under the divine decree, human life was so short and so vain.
I will take heed to my ways - To wit, in respect to this matter. I will be cautious, circumspect, prudent. I will not offend or pain the heart of others. The particular thing here referred to was, the resolution not to give utterance to the thoughts which were passing in his mind in regard to the divine administration. He felt that he was in danger, if he stated what he thought on the subject, of saying things which would do injury, or which he would have occasion to regret, and he therefore resolved to keep silent.
That I sin not with my tongue - That I do not utter sentiments which will be wrong, and which I shall have occasion to repent; sentiments which would do injury to those who are already disposed to find ground of complaint against God, and who would thus be furnished with arguments to confirm them in their views. Good men often have such thoughts passing through their minds; thoughts reflecting on the government of God as unequal and severe; thoughts which, if they were suggested, would tend to confirm the wicked and the skeptical in their views; thoughts which they hope, in respect to themselves, to be able to calm down by meditation and prayer, but which would do only unmitigated harm if they were communicated to other men, especially to wicked people.
I will keep my mouth with a bridle - The word used here means rather a "muzzle," or something placed "over" the mouth. The bridle is to restrain or check or guide the horse; the muzzle was something to bind or fasten the mouth so as to prevent biting or eating. Deuteronomy 25:4 : "thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn." See the notes at 1 Corinthians 9:9. The meaning here is, that he would restrain himself from uttering what was passing in his mind.
While the wicked is before me - In their presence. He resolved to do this, as suggested above, lest if he should utter what was passing in his own mind - if he should state the difficulties in regard to the divine administration which he saw and felt - if he should give expression to the skeptical or hard thoughts which occurred to him at such times, it would serve only to confirm them in their wickedness, and strengthen them in their alienation from God. A similar state of feeling, and on this very subject, is referred to by the psalmist Psalm 73:15, where he says that if he should utter what was really passing in his mind, it would greatly pain and offend those who were the true children of God; would fill their minds with doubts and difficulties which might never occur to themselves: "If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I shall offend against the generation of thy children." As illustrations of this state of feeling in the minds of good men, and as evidence of the fact that, as in the case of the psalmist, their existence in the mind, even in the severest and the most torturing form, is not proof that the man in whose bosom they arise is not a truly pious man, I make the following extracts as expressing the feelings of two of the most sincere and devoted Christian men that ever lived - both eminently useful, both in an eminent degree ornaments to the Church, Cecil and Payson: "I have read all the most acute, and learned, and serious infidel writers, and have been really surprised at their poverty. The process of my mind has been such on the subject of revelation, that I have often thought Satan has done more for me than the best of them, for I have had, and could have produced, arguments that appeared to me far more weighty than any I ever found in them against revelation." - Cecil. Dr. Payson says in a letter to a friend: "There is one trial which you cannot know experimentally: it is that of being obliged to preach to others when one doubts of everything, and can scarcely believe that there is a God. All the atheistical, deistical, and heretical objections which I meet with in books are childish babblings compared with those which Satan suggests, and which he urges upon the mind with a force which seems irresistible. Yet I am often obliged to write sermons, and to preach when these objections beat upon me like a whirlwind, and almost distract me."
Ps 39:1-13. To Jeduthun (1Ch 16:41, 42), one of the chief singers. His name mentioned, perhaps, as a special honor. Under depressing views of his frailty and the prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist, tempted to murmur, checks the expression of his feelings, till, led to regard his case aright, he prays for a proper view of his condition and for the divine compassion.
1. I said—or, "resolved."
will take heed—watch.
ways—conduct, of which the use of the tongue is a part (Jas 1:26).
bridle—literally, "muzzle for my mouth" (compare De 25:4).
2 I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.
"I said." I steadily resolved and registered a determination. In his great perplexity his greatest fear was lest he should sin; and, therefore, he cast about for the most likely method for avoiding it, and he determined to be silent. It is right excellent when a man can strengthen himself in a good course by the remembrance of a well and wisely-formed resolve. "What I have written I have written," or what I have spoken I will perform, may prove a good strengthener to a man in a fixed course of right. "I will take heed to my ways." To avoid sin one had need be very circumspect, and keep one's actions as with a guard or garrison. Unguarded ways are generally unholy ones. Heedless is another word for graceless. In times of sickness or other trouble we must watch against the sins peculiar to such trials, especially against murmuring and repining. "That I sin not with my tongue." Tongue sins are great sins: like sparks of fire, ill-words spread, and do great damage. If believers utter hard words of God in times of depression, the ungodly will take them up and use them as a justification for their sinful courses. If a man's own children rail at him, no wonder if his enemies' mouths are full of abuse. Our tongue always wants watching, for it is restive as an ill-broken horse; but especially must we hold it in when the sharp cuts of the Lord's rod excite it to rebel. "I will keep my mouth with a bridle," or more accurately, with a muzzle. The original does not so much mean a bridle to check the tongue as a muzzle to stop it altogether. David was not quite so wise as our translation would make him; if he had resolved to be very guarded in his speech, it would have been altogether commendable, but when he went so far as to condemn himself to entire silence, "even from good," there must have been at least a little sullenness in his soul. In trying to avoid one fault, he fell into another. To use the tongue against God is a sin of commission, but not to use it at all involves an evident sin of omission. Commendable virtues may be followed so eagerly that we may fall into vices; to avoid Scylla we run into Charybdis. "While the wicked is before me." This qualifies the silence, and almost screens it from criticism, for bad men are so sure to misuse even our holiest speech, that it is as well not to cast any of our pearls before such swine; but what if the Psalmist meant, "I was silent while I had the prosperity of the wicked in my thoughts," then we see the discontent and questioning of his mind, and the muzzled mouth indicates much that is not to be commended. Yet, if we blame we must also praise, for the highest wisdom suggests that when good men are bewildered with sceptical thoughts, they should not hasten to repeat them, but should fight out their inward battle upon its own battlefield. The firmest believers are exercised with unbelief, and it would be doing the devil's work with a vengeance if they were to publish abroad all their questionings and suspicions. If I have the fever myself, there is no reason why I should communicate it to my neighbours. If any on board the vessel of my soul are diseased, I will put my heart in quarantine, and allow none to go on shore in the boat of speech till I have a clean bill of health.
"I was dumb with silence." He was as strictly speechless as if he had been tongueless - not a word escaped him. He was as silent as the dumb. "I held my peace, even from good." Neither bad nor good escaped his lips. Perhaps he feared that if he began to talk at all, he would be sure to speak amiss, and, therefore, he totally abstained. It was an easy, safe, and effectual way of avoiding sin, if it did not involve a neglect of the duty which he owed to God to speak well of his name. Our divine Lord was silent before the wicked, but not altogether so, for before Pontius Pilate he witnessed a good confession, and asserted his kingdom. A sound course of action may be pushed to the extreme, and become a fault. "And my sorrow was stirred." Inward grief was made to work and ferment by want of vent. The pent-up floods were swollen and agitated. Utterance is the natural outlet for the heart's anguish, and silence is, therefore, both an aggravation of the evil and a barrier against its cure. In such a case the resolve to hold one's peace needs powerful backing, and even this is most likely to give way when grief rushes upon the soul. Before a flood gathering in force and foaming for outlet the strongest banks are likely to be swept away. Nature may do her best to silence the expression of discontent, but unless grace comes to her rescue, she will be sure to succumb. THE ARGUMENT
I will take heed to my ways; as every good man should; that is, to all his actions, conduct, and conversation: it becomes him to take heed what ways he walks in; that they are the ways of God, which he directs to; that they are the ways of Christ, which he has left an example to follow in; and that they are according to the word of God; that he walks in Christ, the way of salvation, and by faith on him; that he chooses and walks in the way of truth, and not error; and in all, the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless; and in the path of holiness, in which, though fools, they shall not err: and it is also necessary that he should take heed that he does nothing, either by embracing error, or going into immorality, by which the ways of God, and Christ, and truth, are evil spoken of, blasphemed and reproached; and that he does not depart out of these ways, nor stumble, slip, and fall in them;
that I sin not with my tongue; which is a world of iniquity, and has a multitude of vices belonging to it; not only in profane men, but in professors of religion; whom it becomes to take heed that they sin not with it, by lying one to another, by angry and passionate expressions, by corrupt communication, filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting, which are not convenient; by whispering, talebearing, backbiting, and by evil speaking one of another: particularly there are vices of the tongue, which the saints are liable to under afflictive providences, and seem chiefly designed here; such as envious expressions at the prosperity of others; words of impatience under their own afflictions, and murmurings at the hand of God upon them; such as these the psalmist determined, within himself, to guard against; in order to which he proposed to take the following method;
I will keep my mouth with a bridle: that is, bridle his tongue, that being an unruly member, and to be kept in with bit and bridle, like an unruly horse; see James 1:26;
while the wicked is before me; or "against me" (t); meaning either while Ahithophel and Absalom were conspiring and rebelling against him, and Shimei was cursing him, under which he behaved with great silence, calmness, and patience; see 2 Samuel 15:25; or while he had the flourishing condition of wicked men in his view, and was meditating on it; or rather, when anyone of them came to visit him in his affliction, he was determined to be wholly silent, that they might have no opportunity of rejoicing over him, nor of reproaching him, and the good ways of God: and indeed it is proper for the people of God to be always upon their guard, when they are in the presence of wicked men; and be careful what they utter with their lips, who watch their words to improve them against them, and the religion they profess.<
(a) This was one of the chief singers, 1Ch 16:41.
(b) Although he had appointed with himself patiently to have wait for God's timing, yet the vehemency of his pain caused him to break his purpose.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1. I said] To myself: I resolved, as the result of self-communing. Cp. Psalm 30:6; Psalm 31:14.
I will take heed to my ways] Lit. I will keep my ways: keep watch and ward over thought word and action. Cp. Proverbs 16:17; and the often repeated exhortation in Deuteronomy to ‘take heed’ (Deuteronomy 4:9; &c.). He fears that he may sin with his tongue (Job 31:30) by murmuring against God as he contrasts the prosperity of the wicked with his own lot of trial. Cp. Job 1:22; Job 2:10; and generally Psalms 37, 73.
I will keep &c.] Lit. I will keep a muzzle for my mouth. Cp. Psalm 141:3. Perhaps with the LXX, we should read I will put … on.
while the wicked is before me] For the sight of their prosperity is a temptation. Cp. Habakkuk 1:3. This seems to be the sense, rather than that he was afraid of giving way to complaints in the hearing of the wicked, which might give occasion for ridicule or blasphemy.
1–3. The resolution of silence in the presence of temptation.Verse 1. - I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue. There are no grounds for connecting this silence with the abstinence from self-vindication mentioned in the preceding psalm (vers. 13, 14). Indeed, it seems to have had a wholly different origin (see the introductory paragraph). I will keep my mouth with a bridle; i.e. "curb my impatience, restrain and keep in my speech." While the wicked is before me. The Prayer-book Version is better, if less literal, "While the ungodly is in my sight." Psalm 38:18 appears also to stand under the government of the פּן;
(Note: The following are the constructions of פן when a clause of ore than one member follows it: (1) fut. and perf., the latter with the tone of the perf. consec., e.g., Exodus 34:15., or without it, e.g., Psalm 28:1 (which see); (2) fut. and fut. as in Psalm 2:12, Jeremiah 51:46. This construction is indispensable where it is intended to give special prominence to the subject notion or a secondary notion of the clause, e.g., Deuteronomy 20:6. In one instance פן is even followed (3) by the perf. and fut. consec., viz., 2 Kings 2:10.)
but, since in this case one would look for a Waw relat. and a different order of the words, Psalm 38:18 is to be regarded as a subject clause: "who, when my foot totters, i.e., when my affliction changes to entire downfall, would magnify themselves against me." In Psalm 38:18, כּי connects what follows with בּמוט רגלי by way of confirmation: he is נכון לצלע, ready for falling (Psalm 35:15), he will, if God does not graciously interpose, assuredly fall headlong. The fourth כּי in Psalm 38:19 is attached confirmatorily to Psalm 38:18: his intense pain or sorrow is ever present to him, for he is obliged to confess his guilt, and this feeling of guilt is just the very sting of his pain. And whilst he in the consciousness of well-deserved punishment is sick unto death, his foes are numerous and withal vigorous and full of life. Instead of חיּים, probably חנּם, as in Psalm 35:19; Psalm 69:5, is to be read (Houbigant, Hitzig, Kster, Hupfeld, Ewald, and Olshausen). But even the lxx read חיים; and the reading which is so old, although it does not very well suit עצמוּ (instead of which one would look for ועצוּמים), is still not without meaning: he looks upon himself, according to Psalm 38:9, more as one dead than living; his foes, however, are חיּים, living, i.e., vigorous. The verb frequently ash this pregnant meaning, and the adjective can also have it. Just as the accentuation of the form סבּוּ varies elsewhere out of pause, ורבּוּ here has the tone on the ultima, although it is not perf. consec.
(Note: As perf. consec. the following have the accent on the ultima: - וחתּוּ, Isaiah 20:5, Obadiah 1:9, and ורבּוּ, Isaiah 66:16; perhaps also וחדּוּ, וקלּוּ, Habakkuk 1:8, and ורבּוּ (perf. hypoth.), Job 32:15. But there is no special reason for the ultima-accentuation of רכּוּ, Psalm 55:22; רבּוּ, Psalm 69:5; דּלּוּ, Isaiah 38:14; קלּוּ, Jeremiah 4:13; שׁחוּ, Proverbs 14:19; Habakkuk 3:6; חתּוּ, Job 32:15; זכּוּ, צחוּ, Lamentations 4:7.)
Psalm 38:21 is an apposition of the subject, which remains the same as in Psalm 38:20. Instead of רדופי (Ges. 61, rem. 2) the Ker is רדפי, rādephî (without any Makkeph following), or רדפי, rādophî; cf. on this pronunciation, Psalm 86:2; Psalm 16:1, and with the Chethb רדופי, the Chethb צרופה, Psalm 26:2, also מיורדי, Psalm 30:4. By the "following of that which is good" David means more particularly that which is brought into exercise in relation to his present foes.
(Note: In the Greek and Latin texts, likewise in all the Aethiopic and several Arabic texts, and in the Syriac Psalterium Medilanense, the following addition is found after Psalm 38:21 : Ce aperripsan me ton agapeton osi necron ebdelygmenon, Et projecerunt me dilectum tanquam mortuum abominatum (so the Psalt. Veronense). Theodoret refers it to Absalom's relation to David. The words ὡσεὶ νεκρὸν ἐβδελυγμένον are taken from Isaiah 14:19.)
He closes in Psalm 38:22 with sighs for help. No lighting up of the darkness of wrath takes place. The fides supplex is not changed into fides triumphans. But the closing words, "O Lord, my salvation" (cf. Psalm 51:16), show where the repentance of Cain and that of David differ. True repentance has faith within itself, it despairs of itself, but not of God.
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