“O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.” (Psalm 6:1–10, ESV)
The psalmist prays for the removal of God’s chastisements, ver. 2 (1), because they have already brought him very low, ver. 3, 4 (2, 3), because the divine glory will be promoted by his rescue, ver. 5 (4), and obscured by his destruction, ver. 6 (5), and because, unless speedily relieved, he can no longer bear up under his sufferings, ver. 7, 8 (6, 7). He is nevertheless sure of the divine compassion, ver. 9 (8). His prayer is heard and will be answered, ver. 10 (9), in the defeat and disappointment of his enemies, by whose malignant opposition his distress was caused, ver. 11 (10). This reference to his enemies constitutes the link of connection between this psalm and the foregoing series, and maintains the contrast, running through that series, between two great classes of mankind, the righteous and the wicked, the subjects of Messiah and the rebels against him, the friends and foes of the theocracy, the friends and foes of David, as an individual, a sovereign, and a type of the Messiah. At the same time, this psalm differs wholly from the others in its tone of querulous but humble grief, which has caused it to be reckoned as the first of the Penitential psalms. This tone is suddenly exchanged, in ver. 9 (8), for one of confident assurance, perfectly in keeping with what goes before, and true to nature.
For the Chief Musician, (to be sung) with stringed instruments upon the eighth. This last word corresponds exactly to our octave; but its precise application in the ancient music we have now no means of ascertaining. An instrument of eight strings, which some suppose to be the sense, could hardly be described by the ordinal number eighth. We probably lose little by our incapacity to understand these technical expressions, while, at the same time, their very obscurity may serve to confirm our faith in their antiquity and genuineness, as parts of the original composition. This psalm, like the three which immediately precede it, describes itself as a psalm of (or by) David, belonging to David, as its author. The correctness of this statement there is as little reason to dispute in this as in either of the other cases.
(1). O Lord, Jehovah, do not in thine anger rebuke me, and do not in thy heat, or hot displeasure, chasten me. Both the original verbs properly denote the conviction and reproof of an offender in words, but are here, as often elsewhere, applied to providential chastisements, in which God speaks with a reproving voice. This is not a prayer for the mitigation of the punishment, like that in Jer. 10:24, but for its removal, as appears from the account of the answer in ver. 9–11 (8–10). Such a petition, while it indicates a strong faith, at the same time recognises the connection between suffering and sin. In the very act of asking for relief, the psalmist owns that he is justly punished. This may serve to teach us how far the confident tone of the preceding psalms is from betraying a self-righteous spirit, or excluding the consciousness of personal unworthiness and ill-desert. The boldness there displayed is not that of self-reliance, but of faith.
(2). Have mercy upon me, or be gracious unto me, O Lord, Jehovah, for drooping, languishing, am I. The original construction is, for I am (one who) droops or withers, like a blighted plant. Like a child complaining to a parent, he describes the greatness of his suffering as a reason for relieving him. Heal me, O Lord, Jehovah, for shaken, agitated with distress and terror, are my bones, here mentioned as the strength and framework of the body. This might seem to indicate corporeal disease as the whole from which he prays to be delivered. But the absence of any such allusion in the latter part of the psalm, and the explicit mention there of enemies as the occasion of his sufferings, shews that the pain of body here described was that arising from distress of mind, and which could only be relieved by the removal of the cause. To regard the bodily distress as a mere figure for internal anguish, would be wholly arbitrary and destructive of all sure interpretation. The physical effect here ascribed to moral causes is entirely natural and confirmed by all experience.
(3). The Psalmist himself guards against the error of supposing that his worst distresses were corporeal. And my soul, as well as my body, or more than thy body, which merely sympathizes with it, is greatly agitated, terror-stricken, the same word that was applied to the bones in the preceding verse. The description of his suffering is then interrupted by another apostrophe to God. And thou, O Lord, Jehovah, until when, how long? The sentence is left to be completed by the reader: how long wilt thou leave me thus to suffer? how long before thou wilt appear for my deliverance? This question, in its Latin form, Domine quousque, was Calvin’s favorite ejaculation in his times of suffering, and especially of painful sickness.
(4). The expostulatory question is now followed by direct petition. Return, O Lord, Jehovah, deliver my soul, my life, my self, from this impending death. As God seems to be absent when his people suffer, so relief is constantly described as his return to them. (Oh) save me, a still more comprehensive term than that used in the first clause, for the sake of thy mercy, not merely according to it, as a rule or measure, but to vindicate it from reproach, and do it honor, as a worthy end to be desired and accomplished.
(5). As a further reason for his rescue, he now urges that without it God will lose the Honor, and himself the happiness, of his praises and thanksgivings. For there is not in death, or the state of the dead, thy remembrance, any remembrance of thee. In Sheol, the grave, as a general receptacle, here parallel to death, and, like it, meaning the unseen world or state of the dead, who will acknowledge, or give thanks, to thee? The Hebrew verb denotes that kind of praise called forth by the experience of goodness. The question in the last clause is equivalent to the negative proposition in the first. This verse does not prove that David had no belief or expectation of a future state, nor that the intermediate state is an unconscious one, but only that in this emergency he looks no further than the close of life, as the appointed term of thanksgiving and praise. Whatever might eventually follow, it was certain that his death would put an end to the praise of God, in that form and those circumstances to which he had been accustomed. See below, on Ps. 30:10 (9); 88:11–13 (10–12), 115:17, 18, and compare Isa. 38:18. So far is the argument here urged from being weakened by our clearer knowledge of the future state, that it is greatly strengthened by the substitution of the second or eternal death.
(6). I am weary in (or of) my groaning, I have become wearied with it, and unless I am relieved, I shall (still as hitherto) make my bed swim every night, my couch with tears I shall dissolve, or make to flow. The uniform translation of the verbs as presents does not bring out their full meaning, or express the idea, suggested in the Hebrew by the change of tense, that the grief which had already become wearisome must still continue without mitigation, unless God should interpose for his deliverance. Thus understood, the verse is not a mere description, but a disguised prayer.
(7). Mine eye has failed, grown dim, a common symptom both of mental and bodily distress, from vexation, not mere grief, but grief mixed with indignation at my enemies. It has grown old, dim like the eye of an old man, a still stronger expression of the same idea, in (the midst of) all my enemies, or in (consequence of) all my enemies, i.e. of their vexatious conduct. Compare Ps. 31:10 (9). In these two verses he resumes the description of his own distress, in order to shew that the argument in ver. 6 (5) was appropriate to his case, as that of one drawing near to death, and therefore likely soon to lose the capacity and opportunity of praising God.
(8). Here the key abruptly changes from the tone of sorrowful complaint to that of joyful confidence. No gradual transition could have so successfully conveyed the idea that the prayer of the psalmist has been heard, and will be answered. The effect is like that of a whisper in the sufferer’s ear, while still engrossed with his distresses, to assure him that they are about to terminate. This he announces by a direct and bold address to his persecuting enemies. Depart from me, all ye doers of iniquity, the same phrase that occurs in Ps. 5:6 (5). The sense is not that he will testify his gratitude by abjuring all communion with the wicked, but that his assurance of divine protection relieves him from all fear of his wicked foes. When God arises, then his enemies are scattered. This sense is required by the last clause of ver. 8 (7), and confirmed by a comparison with ver. 11 (10), For the Lord, Jehovah, hath heard the voice of my weeping, or my weeping voice. The infrequency of silent grief is said to be characteristic of the orientals, and the same thing may be observed in Homer’s pictures of heroic manners.
(9). Jehovah hath heard my supplication. The assurance of this fact relieves all fear as to the future. Jehovah my prayer will receive. The change of tense is not unmeaning or fortuitous. The combination of the past and future represents the acceptance as complete and final, as already begun, and certain to continue. The particular petition thus accepted is the one expressed or implied in the next verse.
(10). Ashamed and confounded, i.e. disappointed and struck with terror, shall be all my enemies. The desire that they may be is not expressed, but involved in the confident anticipation that they will be. In the second verb there is an obvious allusion to its use in ver. 3, 4 (2, 3). As he had been terror-stricken, so shall they be. As they filled him with consternation, so shall God fill them. They shall return, turn back from their assault repulsed; they shall be ashamed, filled with shame at their defeat; and that not hereafter, (in) a moment, instantaneously.
Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)