There may or may not be any direct connection between these two psalms, but both seem to be dealing with David’s attitude toward God’s discipline in his life, and so I place them together here.
We don’t know what the situations were in which these psalms were written, but I would guess that it was after the incident with the census. This is pure speculation however.
But as in Psalm 29, David seems to be suffering God’s discipline because of a sin he committed.
And he prays,
O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me.
Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (38:1-8)
One verse that strikes me here is 18, where David says,
I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. (38:18)
Some people take their sin lightly. They may “repent,” but are merely trying to wipe their dirt off on the mat of grace. Yet in their hearts, they are not troubled at all by the sin they committed. But David’s heart troubled him when he sinned. And like Paul in Romans 7, his heart cried out in remorse when he fell. That’s a true heart of repentance.
In Psalm 39, we see more of his response to the suffering he went through. And at first, he said nothing, for fear that he might bring disgrace upon God’s name among the wicked.
Perhaps he felt by confessing his sin before them, it might give them the opportunity to blaspheme God. Or perhaps he feared that by complaining about the discipline he was receiving, that it would reflect badly on God.
But in the end, he cried out,
Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. (39:4-6)
Here David confesses how his distorted perspective led him into sin. If indeed this was written following his sin with the census, he could’ve been referring to how all his efforts to build up his military strength was a waste of time. How all his pride in what he had and what he had accomplished was worthless. For all these things were temporary. All would pass away.
And so he prayed, “Lord, never let me lose perspective again. My life is but a breath. Let me not sin by focusing on things that are temporary.”
And then he prayed,
But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. (39:7)
In short, “I no longer to the things that are temporary for my hope. For my satisfaction. From now on, I look to you.”
He then closes by weeping before God, asking for forgiveness. And God did. For as John wrote,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
How about you? Does your sin trouble you? Does God’s discipline turn your eyes from temporal things to eternal things?
Let us be like David. Let us turn our eyes and our hearts from sin to the things that are eternal and bring true life.