Psalm 39 - I will guard my ways

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To the leader: to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.
1) I said, "I will guard my ways
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence."
2) I was silent and still;
I held my peace to no avail;
my distress grew worse,
3) my heart became hot within me.
While I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

4) "Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
5) You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
6) Surely everyone goes about like a shadow.
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
they heap up, and do not know who will gather.

7) "And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you.
8) Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool.
9) I am silent; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
10) Remove your stroke from me;
I am worn down by the blows of your hand.
11) "You chastise mortals
in punishment for sin,
consuming like a moth what is dear to them;
surely everyone is a mere breath.

12) "Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
do not hold your peace at my tears.
For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears.
13) Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more."

Psalm 39 (NRSV*)
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

There are times to hold your tongue and times to speak out. There is no one strategy that fits all circumstances. We do well to keep watch over our ways and guard our mouths, that what we do and say be in line with righteousness. In the presence of the wicked, our words may put us in danger. They may also be the occasion to sin, to speak out of our own wickedness.

Yet it is so difficult to not say what is on our mind. Surely we have had those moments where we tried to hold back, "yet my heart became hot within me."

Here, the psalm turns to the Lord. "What is going on here!?!" Let me know what this confusion is all about.

I confess, it is not clear to me what the psalmist is talking about. Is he concerned with the place his sinfulness has brought him to? Or is she taking on sins not truly her own, but because confession at least exercises some small degree of control over her state of torment? Let me appeal to God to relieve these blows. End my punishment, even if it means a speedy death. "Let me know my end!"

Is this d-r-a-m-a, or true pathos? Is this prayer seeking restoration? Or is it seeking simply an end to this unbearable suffering and alienation? You, as the pray-er, are the one who knows, as does the One who Hears.

The guards are off duty now, and despite the claims of silence, my voice is at the throne, accusing and appealing. I am worn down by the blows of your hand, what is dear to me has been consumed. "Hear my prayer, O Lord," and be moved by my cries. "Let me know my end." I have no claim on you, I am but passing through this life, here only as your guest. But please relent, that I may have some light, some joy, some peace before I pass away.

Airman 1st Class Jerilyn Quintanilla, TW & Company Inc. Gate guards pose in front of the main gate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. Public domain, photo taken by U.S. government employee in the performance of their duties.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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