on Psalms 39 :6
Walketh in a vain show - בצלם betselem, in a shadow. He is but the semblance of being: he appears for a while, and then vanisheth away. Some of the fathers read, "Although every man walketh in the image of God, yet they are disquieted in vain."
He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them - He raketh together. This is a metaphor taken from agriculture: the husbandman rakes the corn, etc., together in the field, and yet, so uncertain is life, that he knows not who shall gather them into the granary!
on Psalms 39 :6
Surely every man walketh in a vain show - Margin, "an image." The word rendered "vain show" - צלם tselem - means properly a shade, a shadow; and then, an image or likeness, as shadowing forth any real object. Then it comes to denote an idol, 2 Kings 11:18; Amos 5:26. Here the idea seems to be that of an image, as contradistinguished from a reality; the shadow of a thing, as distinguished from the substance. Man seems to be like an image, a shadow, a phantom - and not a real object, walking about. He is a form, an appearance, that soon vanishes away like a shadow.
Surely they are disquieted in vain - That is, they are actively engaged; they bustle about; they are full of anxiety; they form plans which they execute with much toil, care, and trouble; yet for no purpose worthy of so much diligence and anxious thought. They are busy, bustling "shadows" - existing for no real or substantial purposes, and accomplishing nothing. "What shadows we are, and what shadows do we pursue," said the great orator and statesman, Edmund Burke; and what a striking and beautiful comment on the passage before us was that saying, coming from such a man, and from one occupying such a position.
He heapeth up riches - The word used here means to heap up, to store up, as grain, Genesis 41:35; or treasures, Job 27:16; or a mound, Habakkuk 1:10. Here it undoubtedly refers to the efforts of men in accumulating wealth, or storing up property. This was the thing which struck the psalmist as the leading employment of these moving shadows - a fact that would strike any one as he looks upon this busy world.
And knoweth not who shall gather them - Who shall gather them to himself; to whom they will go when he dies. Compare Job 27:16-19; Ecclesiastes 2:18, Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 5:13-14; Luke 12:20. The idea is, that it is not only vanity in itself, considered as the great business of life, to attempt to accumulate property - seeing that this is not what the great object of life should be, and that a life thus spent really amounts to nothing - but vanity in this respect also, that a man can have no absolute control over his property when he is dead, and he knows not, and cannot know, into whose hands his accumulated gains may fall. The facts on this subject; the actual distribution of property after a man is dead; the use often made of it, against which no man can guard - should, together with other and higher motives, be a powerful consideration with every one, not to make the amassing of wealth the great business of life.
on Psalms 39 :6
39:6 Vain shew - Heb. in a shadow or image; in an imaginary rather than a real life: in the pursuit of vain imaginations, in which there is nothing solid or satisfactory: man in and his life, and all his happiness in this world, are rather appearances and dreams, than truths and realities. Disquieted - Heb. They make a noise, bustling, or tumult, with unwearied industry seeking for riches, and troubling and vexing both themselves and others in the pursuit of them.