The Beauty of Mortality

Recently, whilst working through a few of the psalms, I hit a stop, at Psalm 39. I was baffled – I couldn’t seem to make sense of it! Determined as I was, I sat praying, reading commentaries, etc, and eventually, I started to see some light… And what I read, began to overwhelm me, like beautiful poetry…


First things first, the fact that I was completely confused over this psalm, may mean that I have interpreted it wrong or most probably, different to others, but by reading commentaries I’ve tried to at least include other views upon it also, to encourage you in the right way! Before you read the rest of this post, I advise you to read over the psalm at least twice, to get a sense of it…

David was caught in silence – he had a passion to speak, to advise, to act however, amongst times that required silence, and simply, prayer before God, he lacked patience. His passion hindered him and left him angry – he struggled to balance his actions with his quiet times, yet this was key, and here he begins, attempting to come back to the start. In the first half of the psalm (1-6) we begin to see how David is expressing the harsh realities of life: the thing is, that we are mortal and that life is short. Death comes when we least expect it. Even the healthy can leave suddenly, and it’s painful. In fact, when we compare our mortal lives with the age of the earth, or simply to our colossal God, we are minuscule. Simply, a mortal breath. The world is corrupt – like phantoms (ghosts) we rush about trying to acheive wealth, success or fame; we seek reputation, or worth to mark our quick, and rushed lives but this never works. It’s worthless. As the world busies itself, searching for worth amongst riches and popularity, we lose the real treasures – we cannot take possessions to our death bed! Seeking these things has caused so much grief in the modern day world, as no longer do we live satisfied, but live feeling even more worthless! Mortality loses its beauty and becomes fearful…

Yet, as we start to look deeper, within this poem, coming straight from David’s grieving heart, we begin to see the beauty! Take a look at verses 7-11! David turned to God in a sense of grief. He began to put his hope in God, asking for forgiveness when overcome with the reality of mortality. He had been silent, and angry with God, trying to do it all alone (like above, forgetting the balance between action and refuge in God’s dwelling place) but here he is, turning, into God’s grace, trusting into God’s greater plans. He allowed God to take his sin, his worthlessness, and instead began to view discipline as a grace rather than a mortal conviction; David realised that in God, we are simply a breath. However this breath is not worthlessly mortal, but rather, it’s a breath, within a much greater body – we are nothing without God yet with him, we are brought into a gracious union, as our tiny lives, are made to count through the blood of the lamb. Even if only one breath – a mustard seed – we are at least another breath in the kingdom of God, growing into a flourishing city!

Moving onwards, the last two verses really stood out to me. At first, I really didn’t understand – in my closed view, I struggled to grasp why David would say something like this after putting his hope in the lord. Why would he want to ‘enjoy life’ without God? Yet this was not what David was saying… Praying on it, and by reading upon it, I realised that this poetic language is more that what I originally saw. V12: David had become part of God’s kingdom and in his grief he prayed, recognising that God was the only one who could relieve him. As he prays, he dwells with God. No longer did he belong to the world, but instead to God’s country – and so here, he looked for advice, no longer silent or anguished. V13: David prays for joy – yet not wordly joy as we may originally think. In my opinion, he asks God to look away from him, so that he may have passion (this the enjoyment, perhaps mentioned), and again use this passion – he asks God to spare him, and to allow him to live as long as he can before he goes to heaven. He is passionate to live the rest of his numbered days, in ministry, set apart, eager to share the knowledge of our Gracious and Compassionate God!

Do you view life as harsh and corrupt, or as a breath of grace? How do we respond to this poetic picture?

We need to strip everything back. To look to God’s intimacy and just breath. We need to make ourselves little, and become dependent upon God, for, mortality is beautiful; dust we are, and to dust we will return but in God, our souls are worthy – in the grace of God, we may be redeemed! In moments of intimate connection, God takes our grief, He takes our pride, and He sets us apart from corruption – devastation- instead, welcoming us into a family of holy people, made holy in God’s grace – not our own works. To respond, like David, (whilst trusting and leaning upon the power and strength of Christ) we are to live the rest of our numbered days on earth, passionately making this love and grace known – the grace of knowing that we are hopeless and that’s ok. Because in God, our hope is found.

What’s your interpretation of the psalm? Which verses really stand out to you?

Eleanor ♥






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