Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 39: A Psalm of the Tongue and Acknowledgment of God’s Providence

Psalm 39

There was another Socrates, called Socrates Scholasticus…

psalm39.10a…who was an ecclesiastical historian of the fifth century, and he tells of a simple man named Pambo. This Pambo once came to a learned man, and asked him to teach him some psalm. The teacher began to read to him the 39th: ‘I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.’

Having heard this first sentence, Pambo took his leave, saying he would make this his first lesson. He did not return, and when his teacher met him after the space of two months, and asked him when he would proceed, he replied that he had not yet mastered his first lesson; and he gave the like answer to one who asked the same question forty-nine years after.

A very good illustration of the saying of James, ‘The tongue can no man tame;’ but Pambo might have succeeded better had he allowed his teacher to go on to ver. 7: ‘And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee;’ or had he sought,as the apostle describes it, ‘the wisdom from above, which is first pure and then peaceable.’ Verse 9.

psalm-39-7-christian-iphone-wallpaper-lockscreen-backgroundThe last days of Calvin were passed under severe bodily suffering,which forced from him involuntary moans. Those about him heard repeatedly the words of Hezekiah, ‘I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward.’ followed by those of this psalm, ‘ I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.’

When Dr. Thomson, of St. George’s, fell dead at the door of his own house in Edinburgh, the blow was thought to be irreparable by the evangelical party in the Church of Scotland. Dr. Jones of Lady Glenorchy’s, his bosom friend, shut himself up in privacy, and did not appear till the following Sabbath, when he preached with powerful effect. The first psalm he gave out for singing sent a thrill through the immense congregation–

‘Dumb was I, opening not my mouth,
Because this work was thine.’

Later, it was the penetration of this same Dr. Jones, who had been friend of Dr. Thomson, which discovered the genius of Dr. Chalmers in obscure Kilmany, from which he came as a new standard-bearer for Church of Scotland.

Psalm 39

To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.

I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,  Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee. Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.


Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”