Psalm 39 describes David’s struggle with human wickedness. He begins so concerned about his own sinful speech that he resolves not to speak at all in the presence of the wicked. However, it’s so painful holding his thoughts in that he ends up speaking anyway, not to the wicked, but to God. He urges God to help him understand his own mortality and comparative impermanence. All of mankind is equally impermanent. As a result, he puts his trust in God to rescue him from sin rather than continuing to punish him. If God does not deliver him soon, it will be too late.
Psalm 40 expresses David’s rejoicing in God’s deliverance. He waited, God rescued him, put him in a safe place, and gave him reason to praise Him. Anyone who trusts in God is blessed because God regards people like that. As a result, David offered himself to God and glorified Him. Now, he is confident that despite his desperate situation, God still will deliver him. He looks forward to seeing God disappoint those who want to see him suffer, but he expects that God will give those who seek Him reason to rejoice.
Psalm 41 explains the importance of generosity. God will protect those who are gracious to the poor, even when they are ill. This is particularly important to David, because his enemies are expecting him to die and gossiping about him. David’s illness has led even his close friends to turn against him. However, David knows that God will deliver him and show His delight in him.
Psalms 42-43 were originally the same psalm, but for some reason were divided up when the book of Psalms was organized. However, even now, their original unity is obvious. The original psalm was structured like one of our gospel hymns, with verses and a chorus. Psalm 42:1-4 is the first verse, 42:5a is the chorus, 42:5b-10 is the second verse, 42:11 is the chorus again, 43:1-4 is the third verse, and 43:5 is the final repetition of the chorus.
Content-wise, the combined psalm is about the psalmist’s suffering and hope for deliverance. He longs for God like a deer pants for water (Our hymn “As the Deer” is taken from this psalm, though it’s much more optimistic in tone than the original). He’s suffering and lonely, and he yearns for God’s deliverance. However, he tells his soul not to be miserable because he knows that God will rescue him eventually.
The second verse adds more information about the suffering of the psalmist. His situation is so bad that he feels like he’s drowning, he feels like God has forgotten him, and his enemies are mocking him because God hasn’t rescued him. However, he continues to counsel his soul to peace.
The concluding verse of the original, in Psalm 43, asks God to rescue the psalmist from his enemies and wants to know why he continues to suffer. He pleads with God to bring him to His temple so he can praise Him. Once again, though, he urges his soul to be still because he trusts in God.
Psalm 35 contains David’s plea for God’s help against his enemies. He asks God to frustrate their attempts to destroy them and to hinder them in everything they do. They hate him without good reason for doing so. Even though he has always been concerned for their welfare when they are in trouble, when they see him in trouble, they plot against him. David asks God to rescue him and not allow them to rejoice in his downfall. Instead, David hopes that God will give those who love him cause to rejoice.
Psalm 36 contrasts the wicked with God. It begins with a description of the wicked, particularly the devious wicked. They plot evil and believe that they won’t be discovered. God, on the other hand, is so good that His goodness can only be compared to the magnificence of nature. His love provides nourishment and light to all people. The psalm concludes with an appeal to God to continue his steadfast love to those who know Him, especially by protecting David from the wicked and defeating them.
Psalm 37 is commonly called “the psalm for the fretful”. It begins with an appeal to, rather than fretting about the apparent prosperity of evildoers, to trust in God instead. He will bless the righteous and those who wait for Him. The wicked, on the other hand, will vanish.
Even though the wicked are plotting against the righteous, God sees through their designs and will frustrate them. Ultimately, God’s protection is more valuable than the riches of the wicked. He will protect them, but the wicked will vanish. Even though the righteous may struggle, God will protect them from complete ruin. In all of David’s long life, he has never seen the righteous nor their descendants be reduced to begging.
David’s advice, then, is to do good, which ensures God’s blessing and averts His wrath. The righteous are surefooted even when the wicked are looking to destroy them, so anybody who wants to prosper should look to God. They’ll see the downfall of the wicked, who spring up suddenly and then are destroyed. By contrast, the blameless are able to establish themselves and their future. All of this is because of the help of God, who is sure to rescue the righteous from the wicked.
Psalm 38 pleads with God to turn aside His anger from David. He acknowledges that he has done wrong, but he is oppressed with the severity of God’s righteous wrath. Everything in his life is going wrong. He’s guilty, miserable, sick, and lonely. Indeed, his enemies have seized the opportunity to plot against him.
David, though, isn’t paying attention to their plots. Instead, his attention is entirely on God, whom he trusts to rescue him from the wicked. He admits that he has done wrong, but he doesn’t think it’s right for God to deliver him into the hands of those who hate him for his righteousness. He begs God to help him because only God can.
Ecclesiastes 11 opens with advice about how to deal with an uncertain future. Prepare for success by using several different strategies that may pay off down the road. Recognize that nothing can be done about disasters that already have occurred. At the same time, don’t be so paralyzed by fear of disaster that you do nothing. Don’t expect to understand what God has purposed. Instead, control what you can control by working hard. The chapter concludes with an encouragement to enjoy life while remembering that hard times, death, and judgment are coming.
Ecclesiastes 12 considers the inevitable end of life. The first 8 verses describe the effects of aging and death in various poetic ways. Because all of these things are inevitable, we should remember God now. The final part of the chapter, and indeed of the book, describes the work of the Preacher. He commends proverbs and wisdom while warning against excessive devotion to other kinds of study. The summation of all wisdom is to fear God, obey Him, and remember His judgment.
Psalm 32 contrasts the experience of sinfulness and forgiveness. It describes the forgiven man as blessed, then reverts to David’s personal experience. When he refused to acknowledge his sin, he suffered, but God blessed him when he repented. Because of that experience, he urges everyone to seek God so that He will protect them like He protects David. Vs. 8-9 are spoken from God’s perspective, and they explain the necessity of His corrective discipline. The final verses present the conclusion that the wicked will suffer, but the righteous will rejoice in God’s protection.
Psalm 33 praises God for His wonderful works. It opens by calling His people to praise Him in song because of His righteous word and works. Everyone should fear and honor Him because He is the Creator. Even now, His work continues. He defeats the plans of the enemies of Israel while prospering His people. Against His will, no human strength or ability can be effective. He always remembers those who serve Him, and He protects them. Thus, we should hope in Him.
Psalm 34 expresses David’s rejoicing at escaping Abimelech. Its first verses express David’s determination to praise God and call others to join him. He wants to praise God because God rescued him, as God always rescues His people. Even when young lions go hungry, God makes sure that the righteous want for nothing. Anybody who wants to enjoy the blessings of the Lord must turn from evil and seek good. He listens to their prayers while destroying the wicked. Even when things don’t seem to be going well for them, God will still deliver and protect them. Their enemies will be defeated, while everyone who trusts God will be justified.
Ecclesiastes 6 begins with a comparison of two apparently pitiable people: a man who is greatly blessed by God, yet does not enjoy his blessings, and a stillborn child. According to Solomon, the second is better. Next, he points out that both toil and wisdom are ultimately meaningless, and that what we can see is better than what we desire. The chapter concludes with more observations about the difficulty we have in comprehending human existence.
Ecclesiastes 7 opens with several observations about the importance of learning from sorrow and death. Solomon next endorses wisdom and patience. Don’t try to figure everything out, enjoy blessing, and learn from adversity. He next explores both the dangers of wickedness and of (human) righteousness. He endorses a balanced, wise perspective on life. However, he acknowledges that even his wisdom is not enough to seek out the deep meaning of life. He wraps up the chapter with a warning about being entrapped by women.
Ecclesiastes 8 first praises wisdom and its advantages. Then, it encourages obedience to the king and patience waiting on proper procedure. After all, we are powerless in the face of many other things as well. Solomon next considers the fate of the hypocrite. He points out that it ultimately will be well with the righteous, but not with the wicked, regardless of how things look now. Nonetheless, he observes that on earth, sometimes people get what they don’t deserve, both for good and evil. The proper response to this is to enjoy the good things that we are given, while not wearying ourselves trying to figure out the ultimate purposes of God.
Ecclesiastes 9 points out that no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, the same thing happens to all of us: we die. There are two appropriate responses to this: first, enjoy prosperity and your life with your spouse. Second, do the best you can in the time you have been given, because the day is coming when you won’t be able to do anything. Looming over all our efforts, though, is chance. The best at anything still can be betrayed by bad luck. In the final portion of the chapter, Solomon relates a story about a poor man who saved a city but was forgotten. Nonetheless, it’s still better to be poor, wise, and forgotten than a ruler who is loud, obnoxious, and possibly even sinful.
Ecclesiastes 10 advocates wisdom and patience. Those who are impulsive and foolish will be destroyed by it. Sometimes, though, the undeserving are elevated and the deserving abased. Trouble comes along with every work we do, but wisdom can alleviate (though not eliminate) the problem. The fool makes his own life miserable in any number of ways. Finally, a land benefits from wise rulers and is destroyed by foolish ones. All the same, don’t curse the king, even in private. You’ll get found out!
Ecclesiastes 1 begins with Solomon reflecting on the meaninglessness of life. “All is vanity,” he says. It’s pointless. Meaningless. People are born; people die. Weather patterns shift around. Nobody does anything new, and nothing changes.
Solomon decided to use his wisdom to try to find meaning in this meaningless landscape. However, he failed. The work of mankind is irredeemably flawed. Nor is there any consolation even in the use of wisdom. All wisdom does is to increase frustration and unhappiness.
Ecclesiastes 2 recounts Solomon’s systematic examination of everything that people do to try to find happiness. However, he found that all the pleasures of humankind are ultimately pointless too. His possessions became so great that he was wealthier than any of the kings who had come before him. It didn’t matter. All of it was still meaningless.
After this, Solomon examined wisdom. Generally, it’s better to have understanding about life. However, whether we are wise or foolish, we’re all going to die anyway. Wisdom provides no lasting earthly benefit.
Additionally, there’s no point to accumulating riches for your heirs. They may well be idiots who will waste everything you worked for, leaving your labor meaningless. Instead, Solomon says it’s better to enjoy what you have now and accept it as the gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 3 begins with the famous “For everything there is a season” section, which The Byrds turned into a Vietnam-War protest song. Contextually, though, this poem is disappointing rather than reassuring. Back and forth, back and forth it goes, without any real change or resolution.
We all have our work to do under the sun, but understanding it is beyond us. God gives us things to enjoy, but we should never think that we can comprehend his will. However, it is reassuring to remember the work of God when we see earthly injustice. He will punish the wicked eventually. Conversely, as far as we can tell, we are no better off than animals when we die.
Ecclesiastes 4 begins with another examination of injustice. Solomon says it’s better not to live at all than to see the oppression that exists on earth. For those who are alive, though, they ought to be aware both of the perils of laziness and the perils of working too hard, whether to impress others or for some reason they can’t even define. However, there are two things that make life better: trusty companions to share it with, and a willingness to listen to advice. In the end, though, even great success is not enough to make life meaningful.
Ecclesiastes 5 first admonishes us to be reverent when we come before God. We need to listen a lot, talk little, and honor the promises that we have made to Him. Social injustice should not be our concern. Similarly, we shouldn’t get caught up in striving for more money, which won’t make us happy. However, the lives of those who have been made poor by circumstance aren’t pleasant either. What is best is for us to work, to savor the fruits of our labor, and to recognize that these things are the gift of God.