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Marc Chagall - David

    Tammuz 13, 5770

Vanity and Hope

Finding Substance in the Shadows

by John J. Parsons

Psalm 39:8[h] (BHS)

"And now, my Lord, to what do I look? My hope is in you."
(Psalm 39:7)

DO ANY OF US KNOW THE MEASURE of our days?  Can we truly appreciate the limited amount of time we are given in this life? When we are young we believe we will live forever. David prayed, "make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!" (Psalm 39:4).

Life in this world is called chayei sha'ah (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה, "fleeting life") in Jewish thought.  Chayei sha'ah is the life of "vanity of vanities," a vapor that soon dissipates in the winds of time. In light of eternity, King David reminds us that our days are as a few "handbreadths." We walk as "shadows" through the byways of this world.

Many of us make the mistake of looking to the "what" of life instead of looking to the "who." We look superficially at things, at our present circumstances, and tend to forget that God is in control of all our days. Often we are looking for something rather than for Someone.

God sometimes brings affliction and distress into our lives to help us regain a godly perspective. This is meant to shock us out of our lethargy. King David was at the point of death itself. He felt frail and alone. Like Solomon, he questioned the meaning of life. What good are riches or the esteem of others when everything is fading like a flower of the field? David realized that life itself is a kind of suffering. The whole of creation groans.

The turning point came when David realized he was asking the wrong kind of question. Since the things of life are fleeting and empty, a mere change of circumstance is never enough.  It is not a question of seeking a "what," but rather a "Who." Instead of focusing on external circumstances, David inwardly accepted the Presence of God in everything: tochalti lekha hi: "my hope is to you."

The whole of creation was made subject to vanity, but it was done so for the sake of hope (Rom. 8:20). Hope (tochelet) is the substance of chayei olam (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), or eternal life (Rom. 8:24). Because God ordered creation this way, we must turn our attention away from the flux of life to discover the Rock of Israel (צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל). God alone is the Substance of our hope. He "hears the groaning of the prisoner and sets free those who are subject to death" (Psalm 102:20).

Hebrew-English Transliteration:

Hebrew-English transliteration

ve'attah mah-kivviti Adonai, tochalti lekha hi.

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