Psalm 39: Lessons From David For Responding to God’s Discipline

Introduction: Here, David cried out to God after He had disciplined him for his sins. The psalm does not state which sin David had committed. What mattered was how he responded. From David’s response, God reveals seven lessons for responding to His discipline. These include: (1) restraint, (2) humility, (3) hope, (4) repentance, (5) prayer, (6) separation, and (7) faith.

First, David wanted to cry out to God for relief from the consequences of his sins. But he was careful not to say things that could stumble others. When God disciplines you, you should also restrain your complaints to others who might stumble in their faith because of your words. Second, David knew that his pride might cause him to complain or pray amiss. Thus, he asked God for humility. When God disciplines you, He also wants you to pray for humility. Third, because David could not turn to others after they had judged him, he placed his hope in God for forgiveness. When you are disciplined and others reject you, God also wants you to place your hope in Him. Fourth, the pain of God’s discipline caused David to cry out and repent. When God exposes your sins, He also wants you to repent. Fifth, even though he deserved the punishment that he received, he cried out for God’s mercy. When you are disciplined, God also wants you to pray for His mercy. Sixth, David saw himself as a sojourner. His sins caused him to see the need to separate himself from worldly influences that had caused him to sin. When God exposes your sin, He also wants you to separate yourself from your sins. Finally, David cried out for God to provide a way for His gaze of punishment to be turned away. When you sin, put your faith in Jesus’ atoning death. He took the full punishment that each sinner deserves.

1. Restraint: When You Are Disciplined, Watch What You Say to Others. Ps. 39:1-3a.

  • David restrained his mouth in the presence of others. Although David knew that he could pour out his unfiltered feelings to God, he restrained his tongue before other people: “For the music director, for Jeduthun. A Psalm of David. 1 I said, ‘I will keep watch over my ways so that I do not sin with my tongue; I will keep watch over my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.’ I was mute and silent, I refused to say even something good, and my pain was stirred up. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned; . . . ” (Ps. 39:1-3a). David knew that his honest feelings spoken in the wrong company could stumble others and discredit God’s name. Few church leaders pray openly with the same candor of feelings as David did throughout the psalms. While God values your honesty, He would not want you to openly complain or express your doubts in a way that might stumble another person whose faith is weak.

Psalm 39 – Prayer for Wisdom and Forgiveness - Such Love

Guard your month and let God guide your actions1

  • David learned the importance of self-restraint when attacked. Through his trials in the wilderness, David learned to restrain himself. He had once responded with rage and tried to kill Nabal for failing to offer food for his men after David’s men had protected Nabal’s herds. David relented only after Abigail offered restitution and pleaded for mercy (1 Sam. 25:21-31). Through his testing and molding, God taught David to restrain his desires to retaliate. As an example of this, the Ammonites once rejected King David’s peace offering and humiliated his peace envoys by shaving their heads. David resisted the urge to retaliate against them (1 Chr. 19:3-5; 2 Sam. 10:2-5).

  • Guard your tongue when you are hurt. The Bible warns believers to control their feelings and their tongues: “Set a guard, LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141:3). “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (Jam. 1:26). “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” (Jam. 3:5). “One who guards his mouth protects his life; one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Prov. 13:3). “One who is slow to anger has great understanding; but one who is quick-tempered exalts foolishness.” (Prov. 14:29). “When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, but one who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:19). “One who withholds his words has knowledge, and one who has a cool spirit is a person of understanding.” (Prov. 17:27). “Do you see a person who is hasty with his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov. 29:20). When you are hurt, do you walk away and refrain from speaking?

  • Avoid strife and be at peace with others. God wants you avoid strife: “You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger;” (Jam. 1:19). “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.” (Prov. 17:14). “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, . . .” (Prov. 20:3; Ro. 12:18). When you avoid strife and trust in God, He will also put your enemies at peace with you: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7). In both good times and bad, God wants you to be a witness to believers and non-believers. Even though He wants you to be honest with Him, you should never cause others to stumble.

  • Jesus remained silent when He was attacked. When Jesus offered harsh words, it was limited to the religious leaders who were leading the people astray (E.g., Matt. 23:27-28). When He was attacked personally, He remained silent: “And then the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Do You not offer any answer for what these men are testifying against You?’ But He kept silent and did not offer any answer.” (Mk. 14:60-61a). Jesus calls upon believers to show restraint when they are provoked or insulted. “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matt. 5:39; Lk. 6:29). “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:9). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Ro. 12:14, 17). When others attack you, follow Jesus’ example of restraint. Put your trust in Him to right the wrongs against you.

2. Humility: When God Disciplines You, Pray For Humility. Ps. 39:3b-6.

  • David prayed for the wisdom to be humble. Knowing that his own flesh would cause him to be prideful, David prayed for God to give him the wisdom to see the shortness of his days on Earth and the need to focus on God: “3b then I spoke with my tongue: Lord, let me know my end, and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days like hand widths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; certainly all mankind standing is a mere breath. Selah Certainly every person walks around as a fleeting shadow; they certainly make an uproar for nothing; He amasses riches and does not know who will gather them.” (Ps. 39:3b-6). “David’s silence was broken in the best way — by humble prayer to God. He would not speak his fears and doubts before the wicked, but he would pour them out before His God. Here David asked God for wisdom — specifically, the wisdom to know the shortness and the frailty of his life that I may know how frail I am. We might have expected David to break his silence by telling off his enemies or by defending his own righteousness. He did neither; he sought God for wisdom.” (David Guzik on Ps. 39). (emphasis original).2

  • Humble yourself before God and focus on the eternal and not the worldly. The Bible warns believers not to be prideful based upon the things of the flesh that quickly fade away: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). “My days are like a lengthened shadow, and I wither away like grass.” (Ps. 102:11). “As for man, his days are like grass; like a flower of the field, so he flourishes.” (Ps. 103:15). “Man is like the breath; His days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps. 144:4). “A voice says, ‘Call out.’ Then he answered, ‘What shall I call out?’ All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.” (Is. 40:6). “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away.” (Jam. 4:14). “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off.”’ (1 Pet. 1:23-24). “but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.” (Jam. 1:10-11). Are you consumed with worldly ambitions or the things of God?

  • Even with a short time, you can accomplish much for God. God has given you a wonderful gift with each day that you are alive. You should never squander your short time on Earth. Use your time to pursue the things of God: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, in three years, saved the world. Some of his followers in three years have been the means of saving many and many a soul.” (Charles Spurgeon on Ps. 39).3

3. Hope: When You Are Disciplined and Rejected, Place Your Hope in God. Ps. 39:7.

  • David placed his hopes in God. David found no comfort from his sins amongst the people around him who judged him. Instead, he placed his hope in God to restore what he had lost because of sin: “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” (Ps. 39:7). “Here the psalmist steps off the sand, and puts his foot on the rock. Happy is the man who can say to the Lord, ‘My hope is in thee.’” (Charles Spurgeon on Ps. 39) “This psalm provides an essential message for the spiritual life; it will resonate with almost every believer who has had to deal with sin and sorrow. The message could be captured in a number of ways, but one expository idea that will work is this: Believers who are severely chastened for sin and faced with the frailty and uncertainty of life must pour out their complaint to the LORD (and not to the unsympathetic world) because He is their only hope of deliverance.” (Allen Ross, A Commentary of the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41), Kregel Academic (2011) p. 850-51) (italics original).

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During your trials, place your hope in God4

  • Place your hope in God. You can give thanks that God’s mercy and grace is greater than your sins. Thus, when others reject you, God wants you to place your hope in Him: “For I wait for You, LORD; You will answer, Lord my God.” (Ps. 38:15). “My soul, wait in silence for God alone, for my hope is from Him.” (Ps. 62:5). “For You are my hope; Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.” (Ps. 71:5). “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable and one which enters within the veil,” (Heb. 6:19). If your hope is in God, you can withstand other people’s rejection.

  • God humbles sinners to cause them to turn back to Him. Many people have trouble forgiving. In contrast, God’s goal when He disciplines you is to draw you back to Him, not to condemn you: “Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will make Your ear attentive to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that mankind, which is of the earth, will no longer cause terror.” (Ps. 10:17-18). “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry for help and save them.” (Ps. 145:19). “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14). If God has disciplined you, know that He has only done so out of love for you (Prov. 3:12).

4. Repentance: When God Exposes Your Sins, Confess Them and Repent. Ps. 39:8-9.

  • David cried out for deliverance. The pain that David felt from his sins caused him to cry out. He then asked for deliverance: “Save me from all my wrongdoings; do not make me an object of reproach for the foolish. I have become mute, I do not open my mouth, because it is You who have done it.” (Ps. 39:8-9). There was nothing that he could do on his own to avoid God’s discipline. “David looked to God and not to himself for deliverance from sin. He knew — as the Apostle Paul would later declare — that the focus should be on God and not self (Romans 7:24-8:4).” (David Guzik on Ps. 39).5

  • God allows you to suffer the consequences of sin to bring you to repentance. Although God does not want any to suffer, it is sometimes His only way to bring you back to Him: “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). David’s suffering always led him back to God: “But as for me, my prayer is to You, LORD, at an acceptable time; God, in the greatness of Your mercy, answer me with Your saving truth.” (Ps. 69:13). God disciplines you when you rebel in your walk because He loves you and wants to guide you back with his rod (Heb. 12:6). If He has caused you to suffer, He may be protecting you from an even worse sin. Are you rebelling against God? (Ro. 6:15).

  • When God exposed David’s sins, he was faithful to confess them. David committed many terrible sins, including murder and adultery. But he was faithful to confess his sins: “For the music director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithfulness; According to the greatness of Your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings.” (Ps. 51:1). “I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not hide my guilt; I said, ‘I will confess my wrongdoings to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah” (Ps. 32:5). “For I admit my guilt; I am full of anxiety because of my sin.” (Ps. 38:18). When you sin, don’t force God to confront you with them. Instead, confess your sins to Him.

  • Repent of your sins. Because we as sinners cannot be in God’s holy presence, Jesus began His ministry with a call for all of mankind to repent of its sins and turn back to God. “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15). His disciples also began their ministry with a call to repentance: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’ (Acts 2:38). “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” (Acts 3:19). If you say that you are without sin, the Bible says that the truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). Yet, if you confess your sins, Jesus will forgive you: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). Every person has sins to confess. What sins do you need to repent of?

  • You must also wash your sins by reading the Word and confessing them. Jesus also makes it clear that you need to be washed even after you have been saved. At the Last Supper, Peter initially refused Jesus’ offer to wash his feet. Jesus responded by rebuking him: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” (Jo. 13:8). Peter then asked Jesus to wash his feet, hands, and head. Jesus responded: “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet.” (Jo. 13:10). In other words, Jesus died once for our sins, but our flesh gets dirty each day and must still be washed. Read God’s Word to first expose your sins: “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word . . .” (Eph. 5:26). Then confess the sins that the Word reveals to you (1 Jo. 1:9). Are you reading the Word to cleanse yourself and confess the sins of your daily life?

5. Prayer: When You Are Disciplined, Pray For God’s Mercy. Ps. 39:10-11.

  • David prayed for God’s mercy. Feeling sadness and shame after God exposed his sins, David cried out in his prayers for God to show him mercy and lift His discipline: “10 Remove Your plague from me; because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing. 11 With rebukes You punish a person for wrongdoing; You consume like a moth what is precious to him; certainly all mankind is mere breath! Selah” (Ps. 39:10-11). Some feel bitterness and resentment when they pay the consequences of their sins. In contrast, David knew that he got what he deserved. But he had the faith to turn back to God.

  • Pray for God’s mercy when you sin. As our example, David frequently prayed for mercy: “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality failed as with the dry heat of summer. Selah” (Ps. 32:4). “Remove Your plague from me; because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing.” (Ps. 39:10). “Your wrath has rested upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah” (Ps. 88:7). “For we have been consumed by Your anger, and we have been terrified by Your wrath.” (Ps. 90:7).

  • Have faith in God’s mercy. We can assume that the devil whispered in David’s mind that he was a hypocrite and had no right to be delivered. The devil also seeks to undermine your faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness when you sin. When you feel this way, you can meditate on the Psalms. They contain many praises for God’s mercy: “But He, being compassionate, forgave their wrongdoing and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger and did not stir up all His wrath.” (Ps. 78:38). “You forgave the guilt of Your people; You covered all their sin. Selah” (Ps. 85:2). “Who pardons all your guilt, who heals all your diseases;” (Ps. 103:3). God wants you to have faith that He can also forgive your sins. He further wants you to encourage others who have sinned.

6. Separation: When God Exposes Your Sin, Separate Yourself From It. Ps. 39:12.

  • David prayed to God for help because he felt as a stranger in the world. Despite being the King of Israel, David saw himself as a foreigner in need of God’s help in the world: “12 ‘Hear my prayer, Lord, and listen to my cry for help; do not be silent to my tears; for I am a stranger with You, one who lives abroad, like all my fathers.” (Ps. 39:12). There was arguably no one who was more of a citizen of Israel than King David. But the power and wealth he enjoyed never caused him to forget that his real home was in heaven. Thus, he realized that he needed to separate himself from sinful worldly influences.

  • Live as a stranger in the world. The great leaders of the faith lived with few attachments to the Earth. When Sarah died, Abraham declared that he was a stranger in a foreign land without even the right to bury his wife: “I am a stranger and a foreign resident among you; give me a burial site among you so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Gen. 23:4). God also told His priests to live as strangers in the Promised Land: “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine; for you are only strangers and residents with Me.” (Lev. 25:23). “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13). Christ wants you to live as a stranger to the evil things of this world: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11). Have you lived as a stranger to the evil things of the flesh?

  • Place your hope in what cannot be taken away. You will not be troubled by the loss of your physical things if your real treasure lies in the eternal Promised Land: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;” (Matt. 6:19-20). Like David, does your hope lie in God’s Kingdom or in things that can be taken away?

  • Invest in God’s unseen eternal promises. Jesus also reveals that a person of faith values his or her investment in the Kingdom of Heaven far beyond any investment on Earth: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:44-46). The Kingdom of Heaven should also be considered your most treasured possession. If an accountant were to analyze how you use your time, talent, and treasure, would your investments in God’s Kingdom come anywhere close to your investments on Earth?

  • Jesus lived as a sojourner in the world. Jesus also lived as a sojourner without a home on Earth: “And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”’ (Lk. 9:58; Matt. 8:20). It is not a sin to have a home. But Jesus wants you to live in the world but not of the world.

7. Faith: When You Sin, Put Your Faith in Jesus’ Atoning Death. Ps. 39:13.

  • David cried out for God to withhold the judgment he deserved for his sins. David had the faith to turn to God to provide a means to atone for the punishment that he deserved: “13 Turn Your eyes away from me, that I may become cheerful again before I depart and am no more.” (Ps. 39:13). His prayer was similar to Job’s prayer when he incorrectly blamed God for his trials: “Would He not leave my few days alone? Withdraw from me so that I may have a little cheerfulness.” (Job 10:20). On our own, we would also suffer from the punishment that we deserve. Only faith in Jesus can spare us from this pain.

  • God the Father turned away from Jesus so that you don’t need to bear that punishment. At the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the pain that every person who rejects God will one day experience: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lemma Sabatini? that is, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”’ (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34; Ps. 22:1). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the plunder with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was counted with wrongdoers; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the wrongdoers.” (Is. 53:12). “David suffered a plague and blows and the shame of sins he committed (39:7-11 [MT 39:8-12]). The holy one was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for the sins of the people (Isa. 53:4). David cried out to the Lord, asking Him to turn His angry gaze away (39:12-13 [MT 39:13-14]). The Father turned His back on Jesus altogether, prompting the God-forsaken cry. David speaks of his own experience in Ps 39, a pattern of events that finds its fullest expression in the one who filled every good thing David typified.” (James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. I: Psalms 1-72) (Lexham Academic 2021) p. 428). Thus, Jesus is worthy of your praise.

  • Praise Jesus for the blessings of mercy and forgiveness that He provides. The blessings of forgiveness are available to all through faith in Jesus’ atoning death at the cross: “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (Ro. 4:6-8). “namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their wrongdoings against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19). “I have wiped out your wrongdoings like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” (Is. 44:22). “having canceled the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col. 2:14). You can show your faith by making yourself a living sacrifice to Jesus (Ro. 12:1-2). You can also show your faith by continuing to serve God after He forgives you.