I said, “I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.
Save me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the scorn of fools.
I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
for you are the one who has done this.
Remove your scourge from me;
I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
you consume their wealth like a moth —
surely everyone is but a breath.
“Hear my prayer, LORD,
listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
before I depart and am no more.”
In Psalm 39, David speaks about the fleeting nature of human existence, describing life as a mere "handbreadth." "Everyone is but a breath," he says, "even those who seem secure." David reflects on the fact that life is like a passing shadow and that even the longest human lifespan is but a moment in the grand scheme of things. David also acknowledges the certainty of death and that we cannot add time to our lives.
This realization that life is so fragile can be sobering, even unsettling. However, it can also serve as a reminder of the importance of living purposefully, with an eye to the life that follows this one. We expend so much time, effort, and energy securing things for ourselves here on Earth. How much of it will we take with us? One day we will be six feet under the ground with nothing but a suit of clothes which the worms will eat along with the rest of us. Should we not try to secure things for ourselves in the life hereafter, which is for eternity?
Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).
In another instance, Jesus told a rich man who had asked how he could inherit eternal life: "Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." There is nothing wrong with attaining success and wealth here on earth, but we should be equally, if not more, concerned about what we attain in heaven. As Jesus said at another time, "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mark 8:36).
As we reflect on this psalm today, let us think about the fragility of life and take steps to ensure that we live it fruitfully with an eye toward eternity.
God bless you.