The Fathers on Psalm 39

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 39

And now, LORD, for what do I wait?

You are my only hope.

From all my sins deliver me;

let me not be the taunt of fools.

I am silent and do not open my mouth

because you are the one who did this.

Take your plague away from me;

I am ravaged by the touch of your hand.

You chastise man with rebukes for sin;

like a moth you consume his treasures.

Every man is but a breath.

Selah

Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry;

do not be deaf to my weeping!

For I am with you like a foreigner,

a refugee, like my ancestors.

Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile

before I depart to be no more.

Athanasius: “If you are in need and want to pray on your own behalf as you see your enemy closing in—for at that time one has good reason to be on guard against such people—and you want to arm yourself against him, sing Psalm 39.”[1]

Diodore of Tarsus: And now, LORD, for what do I wait? You are my only hope: for my part, I realize you are responsible both for my being and for my existing, and I await help from you, still not beaten black and blue by other people for such untoward desires. From all my sins deliver me: it is you who are able to do this and free me from the misfortunes besetting me. Let me not be the taunt of fools. He resumes what was being said by him in the introduction, by fools referring to the person boasting and uttering loud threats with a poor conception of human nature, and hinting at Saul and those of his company. While they taunted and threatened in this fashion, what of me? I am silent and do not open my mouth because you are the one who did this: for my part, I realized that this happens to me with your permission, and I waited longer in the knowledge that I would receive help from the same quarter from which came also the allowance of my suffering. Take your plague away from me; I am ravaged by the touch of your hand: for this reason, then, I beg of you also relief from the difficulties, since from you also comes the permission for me to suffer. You chastise man with rebukes for sin: admittedly, I realize that all your scourging proves to be for a person’s training and betterment; it is not as thought you were indifferent to human beings in allowing them to suffer, instead preferring to improve their souls, as it were. Hence he goes on, like a moth you consume his treasures: thus you winnow it and purity it of its sins with the scourging. Every man is but a breath: but all those failing to understand this are fools in not realizing the reason for the permission, and so are alarmed and worried. Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry: for my part, on the contrary, aware as I am of the reason, I beseech you to apply correction commensurate with my ability in order that the excess of sufferings not prove my undoing and not a lesson for my betterment. Do not be deaf to my weeping! He then states the reason as well. A refugee, like my ancestors: I shall not live long enough to match such awful punishment; rather, I must accept punishment commensurate with the limits of my life. Hence he goes on, Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile before I depart to be no more: lighten my misfortunes, then, Lord, since death is at hand to snatch me away and bring me to my undoing, where corrections will make no impact on me.[2]

Pseudo-Athanasius: When he heard that his enemies were reviling him and he knew that he was being chastised by God—I am silent and do not open my mouth because you are the one who did this—he endured the insult with humility of mind. You chastise man with rebukes for sin; like a moth you consume his treasures. Every man is but a breath. Listen to my prayer, LORD, hear my cry; do not be deaf to my weeping! For I am with you like a foreigner, a refugee, like my ancestors. But he asks that he teach him if there exists for him a life of uselessness and exile according to the measure of the expiation of his sin. Take your plague away from me; I am ravaged by the touch of your hand. And at the same time he prays to God to remove from him the torments and Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile before I depart to be no more to give him rest, so that he may go down to death in confidence.[3]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 73.

[2] TLG 6 Καὶ νῦν τίς ἡ ὑπομονή μου; Οὐχὶ κύριος; Καὶ ἡ ὑπόστασίς μου παρὰ σοῦ ἐστιν. Ἀλλ’ ἐγώ, φησίν, καὶ αὐτοῦ τοῦ εἶναι καὶ αὐτοῦ τοῦ ὑπάρχειν σε ἐπίσταμαι αἴτιον, καὶ ὑπομένω τὴν παρὰ σοῦ βοήθειαν, ἔτι οὐ συμφυρόμενος τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀνθρώποις κατὰ τὰς τοιαύτας ἀτόπους ἐπιθυμίας. Ἀπὸ πασῶν τῶν ἀνομιῶν μου ῥῦσαί με. Αὐτὸς γάρ, φησίν, δύνασαι καὶ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι καὶ ἀπαλλάξαι με τῶν ἐπικειμένων συμφορῶν. Ὄνειδος ἄφρονι ἔδωκάς με. Ἀναλαμβάνει τὰ ἐν τοῖς προοιμίοις αὐτῷ λεγόμενα. «Ἄφρονα» δὲ καλεῖ τὸν μεγαλαυχοῦντα καὶ μεγάλα ἀπειλοῦντα καὶ οὐ στοχαζόμενον τῆς ἀνθρωπείας φύσεως· αἰνίττεται δὲ τὸν Σαοὺλ καὶ τοὺς μετ’ αὐτοῦ. Ἀλλ’ ἐκεῖνοι μέν, φησίν, οὕτως ὠνείδιζον καὶ ἠπείλουν· ἐγὼ δὲ τί; Ἐκωφώθην καὶ οὐκ ἤνοιξα τὸ στόμα μου, ὅτι σὺ ἐποίησας. Ἐγὼ δέ, φησίν, ἐπιστάμενος ὅτι κατὰ συγχώρησιν σὴν ταῦτά μοι συμβαίνει, πλέον περιέμενον εἰδὼς ἐκεῖθεν ἥξειν μοι τὴν βοήθειαν ὅθεν καὶ τὸ ἐνδόσιμον τοῦ παθεῖν. Ἀπόστησον ἀπἐμοῦ τὰς μάστιγάς σου· ἀπὸ γὰρ τῆς ἰσχύος τῆς χειρός σου ἐγὼ ἐξέλιπον. Διὰ τοῦτο οὖν, φησίν, παρὰ σοῦ αἰτῶ καὶ τὴν ἀπαλλαγὴν τῶν χαλεπῶν, παρ’ οὗ καὶ τὸ πάσχειν ἐν συγχωρήσει μοί ἐστιν.  Ἐν ἐλεγμοῖς ὑπὲρ ἀνομίας ἐπαίδευσας ἄνθρωπον. Καίτοι γε, φησίν, ἐπίσταμαι ὅτι πᾶσά σου μάστιξ ἐπὶ παιδείᾳ καὶ βελτιώσει γίνεται ἀνθρώπου. Οὐ γὰρ ὡς ἀμελῶν τῶν ἀνθρώπων συγχωρεῖς αὐτοῖς πάσχειν, ἀλλ’ ὡς βελτιῶσαι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν προῃρημένος. Ὅθεν ἐπιφέρει· Καὶ ἐξέτηξας ὡς ἀράχνην τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ. Οὕτω γάρ, φησίν, αὐτὴν λεπτύνεις καὶ ἐκκαθαίρεις τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων διὰ τῶν μαστίγων. Πλὴν μάτην ταράσσεται ἄνθρωπος. Ἀλλ’ οἱ μὴ τοῦτο ἐπιστάμενοι, φησίν, ὅσοι τῶν ἀφρόνων εἰσίν, τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς συγχωρήσεως οὐκ εἰδότες, θορυβοῦνται καὶ ταράσσονται. Εἰσάκουσον τῆς προσευχῆς μου, κύριε, καὶ τῆς δεήσεώς μου ἐνώτισαι. Ἀλλ’ ἐγώ, φησίν, εἰδὼς τὴν αἰτίαν, σὲ παρακαλῶ σύμμετρον δοῦναι τὴν παιδείαν τῇ δυνάμει τῇ ἐμῇ ἵνα μὴ τὸ ὑπερβάλλον τῶν παθημάτων ἀναίρεσις τοῦ εἶναί μοι γένηται καὶ οὐ παίδευσις εἰς βελτίωσιν. Τῶν δακρύων μου μὴ παρασιωπήσῃς. Εἶτα καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν λέγει· Ὅτι πάροικος ἐγώ εἰμι παρὰ σοὶ καὶ παρεπίδημος καθὼς πάντες οἱ πατέρες μου.  Οὐ γὰρ διαιωνίζω, φησίν, εἰς τὸ ζῆν ἵν’ ἐξαρκέσω πρὸς τοσαύτην τιμωρίαν, ἀλλ’ ἐν μεμετρημένῳ τῷ βίῳ μεμετρημένην ὀφείλω καὶ τὴν παιδείαν ὑπομένειν. Διὰ τοῦτο ἐπάγει·   Ἄνες μοι ἵνα ἀναψύξω πρὸ τοῦ με ἀπελθεῖν καὶ οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ ὑπάρξω. Ἐπικούφισόν μοι οὖν, φησίν, τὰς συμφοράς, δέσποτα, ἐπειδὴ ὁ θάνατος ἕτοιμος ἐξαρπάσαι καὶ εἰς ἀναισθησίαν με καταστῆσαι, ἔνθα λοιπὸν ἡ παιδεία ἀνόνητός μοι.

[3] Syriac CSCO 387, SYRI 168 V, pg 25. Cx. PG 27:189-190 for Latin and Greek.

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