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."
I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.
Verse 2. - I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good. Some explain, "I held my peace, but it did me no good - I was none the better for it" (Hupfeld, Hengstenberg, Canon Cook); others adopt the Prayer-book Version, I kept silence even from good words" (Kay, Alexander, Revised Version). And my sorrow was stirred. The pain at my heart was not quieted thereby, nor even lessened; rather, it was roused up, quickened, and aggravated. This is the natural result of repressing any strong feeling.
My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
Verse 3. - My heart was hot within me; or, grew hot (Kay). And while I was musing the fire burned; or, kindled (Revised Version). Then spake I with my tongue; i.e. aloud, articulately. I could not - at any rate, I did not - refrain myself. I burst out in speech, and made my moan to God
LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
Verse 4. - Lord, make me to know mine end, and the number of my days. This is not exactly the request of Job, who desired to be at once cut off (Job 6:9; Job 7:15; Job 14:13), but it is a request conceived in the same spirit. The psalmist is weary of life, expects nothing from it, feels that it is "altogether vanity." He asks, therefore, not exactly for death, but that it may be told him how long he will have to endure the wretched life that he is leading. He anticipates no relief except in death, and feels, at any rate for the time, that he would welcome death as a deliverer. That I may know how frail I am. So most moderns; but Hengstenberg denies that חדל can ever mean "frail," and falls back upon the old rendering, "that I may know when I shall cease [to be]," which certainly gives a very good sense.
Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
Verse 5. - Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth. It seems inconsistent that one who professes to be weary of his life should then complain of life's shortness. But such inconsistency is human. Job does the same (Job 14:1, 2). And mine age is as nothing before thee. The short human existence can scarcely be regarded by God as existence at all; rather, it is mere nothingness. Verily every man living at his best state is but vanity. So our Revisers. But most moderns translate, "Verily every man living was ordained for utter vanity" (comp. Psalm 62:9; Psalm 144:4).
Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
Verse 6. - Surely every man walketh in a vain show; literally, in an image, or "as an image;" i.e. with a mere semblance of life, but without the reality. Surely they are disquieted in vain. Their restless strivings are to no end, have no result. He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them (comp. Job 27:16, 17; Ecclesiastes 2:18, 21).
And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.
Verse 7. - And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. And now - under these circumstances - human life being what it is, and all men nothing but vanity, what is my hope? what is my expectation? what am I waiting for? A cry, as it would seem, of utter despair. But when the night is darkest, day dawns. "Out of the depths" comes forth the voice of faith - "My hope is in THEE!" There is always hope in God When our father and mother forsake us, the Lord taketh us up. He will not leave us nor forsake us. So the psalmist ends his complaint by throwing himself into the arms of the Divine mercy, and unreservedly submitting himself to God's will.
Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.
Verse 8. - Deliver me from all my transgressions. The approach to God quickens in every God-fearing man the sense of sin and the longing for pardon. So the psalmist has no sooner thrown himself upon God as his one Hope, than the thought of his sin occurs to him - the sin which has brought upon him all his misery; and his first prayer is to be "delivered" from it. Make me not the reproach of the foolish. So long as his afflictions continued, the psalmist would be an object of scorn to the fool and the un = godly. He prays, therefore, secondly, that the punishment of his sin may cease.
I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
Verse 9. - I was dumb, I opened not my mouth (comp. vers. 1, 2). Because thou didst it. The knowledge that my afflictions came from thee, and were the just punishment of my transgressions, helped me to keep the silence which I observed while the ungodly was in my sight.
Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.
Verse 10. - Remove thy stroke away from me (camp. Psalm 38:11). I am consumed by the blow of thine hand; literally, by the quarrel of thine hand. But our version gives the true meaning. The "quarrel" has led the "hand" to deal the "stroke" by which the sufferer is "consumed" or "wasted away" (Kay).
When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah.
Verse 11. - When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity. The calamities which God sends on a man are of the nature of "rebukes" addressed to his spirit. They are intended to teach, instruct, warn, deter from evil-doing (see Job 36:8-10). Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth; or, "thou dost consume, as by a moth, what he prizes;" i.e. his health, his strength, "all wherein he has joy and satisfaction" (Hengstenberg). As a moth corrodes a beautiful garment, so does thy displeasure and heavy hand pressing on him corrode and destroy all which constituted his delight and glory. Surely every man is vanity (comp. ver. 5 ad fin.). This has become a sort of refrain, terminating the second as well as the first part of the psalm (comp. Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31; Ecclesiastes 2:1, 11, 15, 19, 21, 23, 26; Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21).
Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
Verse 12. - Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears. Tears appeal to the Divine pity in an especial way. "Weep not!" said our Lord to the widow woman at Nain; and to Mary Magdalene, "Why weepest thou?" He himself offered up his supplications with strong crying and tears" (Hebrews 5:7); and so his faithful servants (Job 16:20: Psalm 6:6; Psalm 42:3; Psalm 56:8; Isaiah 16:9; Isaiah 38:3; Jeremiah 15:17; Lain. 2:11; Luke 7:38; Acts 20:19). Hezekiah's tears especially moved God to pity him (2 Kings 20:5). For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner. "Here we have no continuing city" (Hebrews 13:14), but are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13). Hence, being so weak and dependent, we may the more confidently claim God's pity. As all my fathers were (comp. Leviticus 25:23, "The land is mine; ye are strangers and sojourners with me ").
O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.
Verse 13. - O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more. The Psalmist, no longer anxious for death, but still expecting it, requests of God, in conclusion, a breathing-space, a short time of refreshment and rest, before he is called on to leave the earth and "be no more ;" i.e. bring his present state of existence to an end. Nothing is to be gathered from the expression used as to his expectation or non-expectation of a future life.