Monday, March 21
Reader: ““Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.”
Response: “Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.”
Scripture: Psalm 39
For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.
I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
when the ungodly are around me.”
But as I stood there in silence—
not even speaking of good things—
the turmoil within me grew worse.
The more I thought about it,
the hotter I got,
igniting a fire of words:
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
Rescue me from my rebellion.
Do not let fools mock me.
I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,
for my punishment is from you.
But please stop striking me!
I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
When you discipline us for our sins,
you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
Each of us is but a breath. Interlude
Hear my prayer, O Lord!
Listen to my cries for help!
Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
a traveler passing through,
as my ancestors were before me.
Leave me alone so I can smile again
before I am gone and exist no more.
This is quite a psalm! Can you imagine saying to God (and I bet you have said this to God at some point), “Leave me alone so I can smile again.” Jeduthun was one of three Levitical musician leaders appointed by King David. I’m curious why David wrote this psalm for Jeduthun. David is evidently under a stress of some kind and is processing! His pattern of handling it has certainly happened in our lives. We start out with the determination to hold our tongues, to keep our mouths shut and not add to the problem. We were hearing bad things being said and did not give a counterbalance with the positive perspective. The more bad things being said, the madder we got internally. Though this is the description of David’s heart, it has been mine as well at times.
Finally, when he could hold it in no longer he spoke, but notice to whom he spoke. “LORD, remind me . . .” He didn’t parade his thoughts before the ungodly. No pearls before pigs. His thoughts were moved from his present frustrating situation to a more godly perspective. In truth, our time on earth is quite brief. (Ps.139:16) The reference to the width of the hand, or “handbreadth” as it is sometimes translated, is an ancient measure of about 4 ½ inches. (For example, horses’ heights are measured in “hands.”) Here it is used to denote a brief span of time, as short as a breath, a wisp of air. David is thinking our days are numbered and we need to weigh our time wisely. We can spend a lifetime accumulating, but when we are gone, all those things go to someone else and what have we accomplished?
The next part of the text seems as if it could come from the book of Job! David reminds himself that his only hope is in God. It was a common idea that rebellion toward God brought suffering and difficulty. His assumption was that he was being disciplined by God at least partially for some of his past sins. One can’t help but notice his ambiguity in handling his situation. In one moment his words are “My only hope is in you, God.” “Rescue me from my rebellion.” “I won’t say a word.” “Please stop striking me!” “I’m exhausted by the blows from your hand.” “Listen to my cries for help!” “I’m your guest.” “Leave me alone so I can smile again before I am gone.” In other words, “Since I’m here on earth as your guest only for a short time, can’t you treat me a little better?”
What do you notice in these words? David is completely honest with God. God receives his uncertainty and David doesn’t hide it. His relationship with the LORD is transparent. We are reminded that our time on earth is truly but a wisp and we do well to live with this truth in mind.
Music: “Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8
“Hear My Prayer O Lord” arr. Moses Hogan Sam Robson
Prayer: O Lord, shew forth Thy loving kindness, I entreat Thee, to all persons who in this world feel themselves neglected or little loved, or forgotten. Be Thou their beloved Companion, and let communion with Thee be to them more dear than tenderest earthly intercourse. Teach them to discern Thee in all with whom they come in contact, and to love and serve Thee in them. On earth grant them comfort by the repentance of any who have wronged them, and in heaven comfort in the communion of all saints with each other and with Thee―Amen. Cristian Rossetti from Prayers Ancient and Modern p. 207