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Verse 5

Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth - literally, “Lo, handbreadths hast thou given my days.” The word rendered “handbreadth” means properly the spread hand; the palm; the hand when the four fingers are expanded. The word is then used to denote anything very short or brief. It is one of the smallest natural measures, as distinguished from the “foot” - that is, the length of the foot; and from the cubit - that is, the length of the arm to the elbow. It is the “shortness” of life, therefore, that is the subject of painful and complaining reflection here. Who has not been in a state of mind to sympathize with the feelings of the psalmist? Who is there that does not often wonder, when he thinks of what he could and would accomplish on earth if his life extended to one thousand years, and when he thinks of the great interests at stake in reference to another world which God has made dependent on so short a life? Who can at all times so calm down his feelings as to give utterance to no expressions of impatience that life is so soon to terminate? Who is there that reflects on the great interests at stake that has not asked the question why God has not given man more time to prepare for eternity?

And mine age - Or, my life. The word used here - חלד cheled - means properly “duration of life,” lifetime; and then, life itself; Job 11:17.

Is as nothing - That is, it is so short that it seems to be nothing at all.

Before thee - As over against thee; that is, in comparison with thee. Compare Isaiah 40:17, “All nations “before him” are as nothing;” that is, over against him, or in comparison with him. When the two are placed together, the one seems to be as nothing in the presence of the other. So the life of man, when placed by the side of the life of God, seems to be absolutely nothing.

Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity - Margin, “settled.” The idea is, that every man is “constituted” vanity. Literally, “All vanity every man is constituted.” There seems to be nothing but vanity; and this is the result of a divine constitution or arrangement. The idea expressed in our common version, “at his best state,” however true in itself, is not in the original. The thoughts in the original are:

(a) that all people are vanity; that is, life is so short, and man accomplishes so little, that it seems to be perfect vanity; and

(b) that this is the result of the divine constitution under which man was made.

It was the fact that man has been “so made” which gave so much trouble to the mind of the psalmist.

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