King David is known as ‘a man of God’s heart’ for he could lay himself bare before God, expressing all his troubles, mistakes and enemies, and then seek the merciful and just hand of God. After fighting with his enemies to establish the Jewish kingdom, he cries out to God to turn His gaze away from him to allow him some respite to let him enjoy his last days. But how could David even think about getting away from the LORD God whom he desired all his life?
God testified about the righteousness of Job before Satan and the angels that ‘there was none like him on the earth’ and Satan is challenged to test Job’s righteousness Job 1:8). And in one day Job loses his children, his wealth and all that he possessed, yet ‘he did not sin against the Lord’ by blaming God but said instead “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21). Job recognizes God’s sovereignty in everything. He then suffers sores all over his body causing him great pain and his wife unable to bear his suffering cries out to him, “Curse God and die”. Job’s three friends instead of sympathy blame him for his suffering attributing it to some hidden sin in his life. Job examines his life repeatedly to understand the reason for his suffering but can find none. Feeling let down by everyone, for he did not have the Scripture like we have, and cries out to God, “Let me alone” (Job 7:16).
King David, on the other hand, feels remorse for his sin and prays to God in a similar vein “Turn Your gaze away from me that I may regain strength before I go away and am no more” (Psalm 39:13). Hebrew word ‘shaah’ used here means to look away from and the prayer implies, ‘Do not come to inflict death on me yet’. David presumed that God had fixed His eyes on him, pursuing him with the expression of His Divine displeasure for his sin. And then he mentions the reason for the prayer, that I may recover/regain my strength. But the Hebrew word used here is ‘balag’ which actually means ‘to shine forth, smile, be cheerful or enliven one’s countenance or be glad’. The same Hebrew word in Job 9:27 is translated as ‘comfort; in Job 10:20 that I may take comfort and in Amos 5:9 as strengthens. The idea is of being cheered up or being strengthened before he should pass away, that his last days might not be under a cloud and that he may depart from the world not in gloom but with joyful memories.
Why not seek God’s face to shine on me – The interpretation becomes that God’s look of rejection and punishment is like a bitter herb that becomes difficult to bear. Hebrew word ‘ayin’ is used to mean death or becoming non-existent thus seeking some respite before dying. King David and Job both acknowledged God to be the giver of peace and strength yet they sought Him to turn His face away. King David sought the Lord to show him the brevity of his life on earth and then acknowledging his pursuit of wealth like others affirmed his hope in God only (Psalm 39:4-7).
King David’s prayer of seeking an escape from God’s permanent gaze upon him has two aspects to it – first is to escape knowledge and guilt of committed sins and second is about attachment to life. Psalm 39 is a song of contradictions – to speak and to be quiet; hope versus death and look upon me versus turn Your gaze away from me. This represents the other side of God’s anointing that is about knowing and understanding the heart of God in anguish due to the fallen nature of His creation and the burden of care of the same. Who can fully understand the agony of God who ‘repented for having created man’ due to sin abounding on the earth? (Genesis 6:6). He wants to escape the guilt of betrayal and seeks escape from God’s true character where conflict of mercy and judgement is on. We need God to turn away when we are unable to withstand His agony due to our acts so that we could return to the innocence of ignorance of sin.
The second part of the prayer about recovering strength is about attachment to life and this has three views. First, criminal attachment to life to enjoy the pleasures of sinful living through the opportunities that life gives. This demands censure and abandonment. Second is an innocent attachment to life, friends and fellow believers, servants, masters and other worthy saints of high character. This inspire our sympathy towards the seeker – God, let him be to cherish these moments some more. The third attachment is laudable for this is the desire of a penitent, saintly and a philanthropic soul for a chance to repent and set right the wrongs committed in the past.
Commend a penitent who is ‘convicted of his sin by the Holy Spirit’ to repent and seek forgiveness with the singular aim of getting transformed. This is about making the calling sure, ‘spare me Lord, that I may return from a poor backslider to a trembling petitioner. Commend a saint who desire to do some more for God’s kingdom, take the message of the Gospel to some more to save some more souls. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit let me be reach a level of piety that is seen in the angels before Your throne, angels who cover their faces and feet with their wings acknowledging that in Your presence, O God, they must hide their individual glory and walk. Commend a philanthropist, a man intent on doing good to others and for Your kingdom. King David donated 110 tons of gold and 260 tons of silver for construction of Your Temple, besides much more in terms of stone, wood and other items. Yet he gave glory to the LORD God giving thanks for the opportunity to do this (1 Chronicles 29:1-5 & 10-13). Commend a preacher of righteousness and a good minister of the Lord, a real shepherd of God’s people entrusted to his/her care.
As compared to King David, Job’s situation is different for he is not aware of the reason of his suffering and his prayer to God to turn His face from him is a cry of despair. Job expects no relief from any quarter for after listening to the continuous tirade of his friends who condemn him, he has given up on life itself (Job 7:16). We know what Job does not for we have the revelation of the Scriptures about God’s commendation of Job and Satan’s accusation against him.
In every situation that we are placed in there is a purpose of Satan and God also has a purpose about which we are not aware till much later. The devil wants to use Job’s pain of sickness to afflict his body to break resistance; foolish and ignorant ‘comfort’ of his friends to irritate his soul and God’s silence to attack Job’s spirit to finally break his faith. On the other hand, God’s purpose is to teach new truths, deepen his understanding to help him know God better and to answer Satan before all his principalities and powers of the universe to prove him wrong. God’s message is also aimed at all in the ages to come that HE is always in control, knows what He is doing and is not answerable to anyone.
King David’s prayer is a source of great encouragement for us who are suffering from some sickness of the body and soul, or lack of resources, or are dealing with some sin our lives. For God desires that we meditate on His Word and attempt to gaze behind the curtain of our suffering to identify God’s purpose to see what rewards are coming our way as an outcome of our struggle.
Learning points from King David’s prayer – The Scripture repeatedly reminds us of the transient nature of our lives for it is like a vapor (James 4:14). David prays to God that He would not let him forget this affirming that every man at his best is a mere breath – for the next breath is in God’s control (Psalm 39:4-6 & 11). The Hebrew word used in the quoted verse 11 is ‘habel’ which has been translated as vanity in the book Ecclesiastes 36 times repeated the transitory nature of our lives. King David gives two reasons for this state of our living, first, that life is transient in view of eternity while comparing his life to God and His eternal Being. He compares his life and its value with the heavens, sun, moon and the stars, where man is just a speck in time in comparison with God and His creation praying to God to let him know his end (Psalm 8:3-4).
Second, that life is transient in view of death, for whatever man does, amassing a fortune, it means nothing at death. Legend has it that a master sent his servant to the market for an errand where the angel of death met him startling the servant. He ran back to his master and sought a horse to go to Samaria immediately, which request was granted by the master. After a while, the same day, the master also met the angel of death and sought the reason for scaring/surprising his servant. The death angel answered that he was himself startled on seeing the servant in Jerusalem, for he had an appointment with the servant in Samaria the same night. Nobody can escape that appointment but generally we start feeling that I have many more years to live for I am young, least realizing that death is certain but not its time – it comes unexpectedly. There is no time to waste for anyone in accepting Lord Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior for we do not know about the certainty of the next breath.
Seeing the transient nature of life it must be lived for the Lord – King David emphasizes that he has put all his hope in the LORD and not on self, family or others. Life must not be wasted in pursuit of idle pleasure for nothing else can take precedence and we must seek pleasure in the LORD and Him alone Psalm 39:1-3 & 7-13). Secondly, I must make holiness my desire and a way of lifepraying to the Lord to deliver me from all my transgressions (Psalm 39:1-3 & 8). I must not become the reproach of the foolish and be made holy in speech for which I must muzzle my mouth least I say something against God’s honor. Man stumbles in many ways and one who does not stumble in what he says is a perfect person and can bridle his whole body also. Tongue of a person is a deadly poison that can damage and destroy many lives James 3:2&8). Thirdly, one must pursue holiness in behavior and Lord Jesus warned us ‘from the heart of man proceed evil thoughts (Mark 7:21-23) and controlling evil thoughts leads to holy behavior.
To live for the Lord means I must submit to His hand of discipline in my life. God uses trials and tribulations in our lives to show our lack of holiness and these then become the sanctifiers by fire. King David then confesses that God chastens man for inequity and he recognizes God’s right to correct him (psalm 39:9-13).Comparing King David’s request with the one of Apostle Peter “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8), it is evident that both are aware of their inherent nature to sin. The key during trials is to surrender to God and seek His grace and mercy for He is a loving Father.
How do I know that I am living for the Lord? Answer to three specific questions reveals my state – first, what is my hope? Is it my family, name, finances or self worth? Second, what are my desires? What do I really seek for my happiness and fulfillment? Thirdly, how do I respond to God’s chastening or discipline? What is my attitude during trials – of complaining or of gratitude and humble submission? We are required to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Am I doing so?
Our Father in heaven help me to know more truth about the mysteries of Your Word to realize that I have far less reason to give up than King David and Job. Lord, teach me to seek Your face in all circumstances rather than turn away from Your benevolent gaze of grace and mercy.