on Psalms 78 :39
He remembered that they were but flesh - Weak mortals. He took their feeble perishing state always into consideration, and knew how much they needed the whole of their state of probation; and therefore he bore with them to the uttermost. How merciful is God!
A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again - I believe this to be a bad translation and may be productive of error; as if when a man dies his being were ended, and death were an eternal sleep. The original is, רוח הולך ולא ישוב ruach holech velo yashub: and the translation should be, "The spirit goeth away, and it doth not return." The present life is the state of probation; when therefore the flesh - the body, fails, the spirit goeth away into the eternal world, and returneth not hither again. Now God, being full of compassion, spared them, that their salvation might be accomplished before they went into that state where there is no change; where the pure are pure still, and the defiled are defiled still. All the Versions are right; but the polyglot translator of the Syriac, rocho, has falsely put ventus, wind, instead of spiritus, soul or spirit. The Arabic takes away all ambiguity: "He remembered that they were flesh; and a spirit which, when it departs, does not again return." The human being is composed of flesh and spirit, or body and soul; these are easily separated, and, when separated, the body turns to dust, and the spirit returns no more to animate it in a state of probation. Homer has a saying very like that of the psalmist: -
Ανδρος δε ψυχη παλιν ελθειν ουτε ληἱστη,
Ουθ' ἑλετη, επει αρ κεν αμειψεται ἑρκος οδοντων.
IL. ix., ver., 408.
"But the soul of man returns no more;
nor can it be acquired nor caught after it has
passed over the barrier of the teeth."
Pope has scarcely given the passage its genuine meaning: -
"But from our lips the vital spirit fled
Returns no more to wake the silent dead."
And the Ossian-like version of Macpherson is but little better: "But the life of man returns no more; nor acquired nor regained is the soul which once takes its flight on the wind." What has the wind to do with the ἑρκος οδοντων of the Greek poet?
Several similar sayings may be found among the Greek poets; but they all suppose the materiality of the soul.
on Psalms 78 :39
For he remembered that they were but flesh - That they were human; that they were weak; that they were prone to err; that they were liable to fall into temptation. In his dealings with them he took into view their fallen nature; their training; their temptations; their trials; their weaknesses; and he judged them accordingly. Compare Psalm 103:14. So it was with the Saviour in his treatment of his disciples, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," Matthew 26:41. God will judge people as they are; he will not in his judgments forget that they are people, and that they are weak and feeble. People often judge their fellow-men with much more harshness, with much less allowance for their infirmities and weaknesses, than God shows in his dealings with mankind. And yet such are the very people who are most ready to blame God for his judgments. If God acted on the principle and in the manner according to which they act, they could hope for no mercy at his hand. It is well for them that there is not one like themselves on the throne of the universe.
A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again - Which blows by us, and is gone forever. What a striking description is this of man! How true of an individual! How true of a generation! How true of the race at large! God remembers this when he thinks of people, and he deals with them accordingly. He is not harsh and severe, but kind and compassionate. To man, a being so feeble - to the human race, so frail - to the generations of that race, so transitory, so soon passing off the stage of life - he is ever willing to show compassion. He does not make use of his great power to crush them; he prefers to manifest his mercy in saving them.
Psalm 78:39.Compare 1 Chronicles 29:15; Job 14:10-11.
And then vanisheth away - Wholly disappears. Like the dissipated vapor, it is entirely gone. There is no remnant, no outline, nothing that reminds us that it ever was. So of life. Soon it disappears altogether. The works of art that man has made, the house that he has built, or the book that he has written, remain for a little time, but the life has gone. There is nothing of it remaining - any more than there is of the vapor which in the morning climbed silently up the mountain side. The animating principle has vanished forever. On such a frail and evanescent thing, who can build any substantial hopes?
on Psalms 78 :39