Behold, you have made my days as an handbreadth; and my age is as nothing before you…
I. THE FORCE AND EMPHASIS OF THE TEXT.
1. The psalmist gives us here a very emphatic description of the measure of his days,
(1) "A handbreadth," or the breadth of four fingers was one of the least geometrical measures among the Jews; which we may fitly call an inch or two of Time. But alas! the thread of life is as slender as it is short; and often breaks before this inch or two is run off.
(2) The psalmist speaks of it in yet more diminishing terms when he adds, "My age is as nothing before Thee."
2. The psalmist gives us a much more diminishing description of the frailty of our nature than he does of the measure of our days. For, "verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity."(1) He is so in himself, both in body and mind. His body is but a living lump of earth, making haste to deformity and dust. How feeble, contracted and low, are the very best powers of his mind; how weak his reason, how cramped his understanding!
(2) His pursuits and desires are vain.
(3) His enjoyments are vain — riches, pleasures, honours.
(4) His life is vain — transient, short, uncertain.
II. WHY OUR COMMON SENTIMENTS OF HUMAN LIFE ARE SO VERY DIFFERENT FROM THESE OF THE PSALMIST.
1. Men do not steadily attend to the nature, consequence, and final issue of things; but confine their views to present objects and appearances, which are sure to deceive them.
2. Sense and appetite too often corrupt the judgment. It is a hard thing for men to believe what they would not have to be true. The truth is, their affections are engaged, and they cannot help thinking well of what they love; they do not care to hear those things disparaged which they exceedingly value; nor can they be easily persuaded to think that what they have fondly set their hearts upon is so altogether vain.
III. WE SHALL SOON BE CONVINCED OF THE JUSTNESS OF THIS DESCRIPTION if we but duly consider two things.
1. What man is in comparison of what he shall be. Do we not look upon one single moment of time as a mere point, when compared with the many years we have a]ready lived? But one single moment of time bears an infinitely greater proportion to the period of human life than the whole period of human life does to eternity. How concerned, then, should we be by a course of steady piety and virtue to add a value to this nothing, by improving our transient years to the purposes of eternal bliss I Because on this moment of time depends eternity.
2. We shall be more sensible of the justness of this description which the psalmist gives us of the vanity of mankind, if we consider in what manner they generally act in comparison of what they should do.
(1) In what manner they ought to live as reasonable creatures in a state of trial and preparation for an eternal world. Impressed with this thought, would they not be very careful to watch their heart and behaviour, and daily examine their temper and conduct by that rule of righteousness which God hath given them for their direction and guide; lest they should be unawares seduced into sin, to the danger and detriment of their immortal interest?
(2) Do we find that they really do live in this manner? Is not the general course and conduct of their lives often just the reverse of this? How rarely are they disposed to think of another world! How unattentive to the government of their lives and passions!
1. Seeing we know these things, let us beware lest we also be led away with the error of the wicked.
2. The text, if well considered, must surely be a sovereign cure for envy; unless vanity, folly, and wretchedness be the proper objects of it.
3. Is man in his best state altogether vanity? what is he, then, in his worst state?
4. Let us learn hence to rectify our sentiments of human life and all its vanities.
(1) What do We think of them under a grievous fit of pain or sickness? When all of them together cannot purchase for us so much as one moment's ease.
(2) What should we think of them at death? It is then that men always form the truest thoughts of human life.
(3) Suppose we were to judge of them by the general character of those who possess the most of them; and see the pernicious effects they generally have upon the minds of men; what shall we think of them then?
5. Are these things really vain; it is time, then, that we seek out for some more substantial good.
(J. Mason, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.