“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!”
Psalm 39:4-6 ESV
This Psalm of David focuses on gaining perspective and wisdom on the shortness of life and its hardships. David was not the first and would not be the last man to grapple with these difficult concepts. In the seventh chapter of the book of Job, he similarly questioned the misery he endured and the brevity of his life. The whole book of Ecclesiastes speaks about the pointless nature of “striving after wind” (1:14) when one knows that life is short.
We do not like to think or speak of death. Even though we know that none shall escape it, we are always taken aback by it. This is because God “…has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) We always have a feeling that this cannot be it…that there must be more to life than this. And it is right for us to feel this way – we were made for Another World. We have access to this World through the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us on the cross. But that doesn’t mean that we should live statically on this side. The great hero in the movie, Gladiator, said that “what we do in life, echoes in eternity.”
Therefore the Psalmist asked God to show him his end and the measure of his days. Why? So that he might know the fleeting nature of man in contrast to the Everlasting and Infinite God. The life of a human being stands as “a few handbreadths” (four fingers) and is incomparable to the vast, immeasurable God.
Do we always live in a way that reflects this knowledge? “Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather.” We are forever busy and anxious, running on a hamster wheel going nowhere, feeling exhausted, unfulfilled and, therefore, perpetually complaining. The preacher of Ecclesiastes said it like this: “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23)
God disciplines us by showing us His greatness in contrast to our weaknesses; He restores the fear of the Lord into our hearts. He humbles us and takes away our unfulfilling treasures. “I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it… When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah” (Psalm 39:9,11).
In humility and meekness we are able to confess our sins to God and recenter our lives for His Kingdom, His Glory, His Will. It is only then that we will find rest. “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool!” (Psalm 39:7-8)