This is the first of what have been called "the Penitential Psalms." It has been said that "there is much of grief in it, but nothing of penitence." The grief, however—such grief (see verse 6)—can scarcely be supposed to have arisen from any other source than consciousness of sin. dud grief of this kind is a main element in penitence. The title ascribes the psalm to David, and declares it to be addressed, like Psalms 4:1-8; "to the Chief Musician on Neginoth," by which we are probably to understand that it is intended to be set to an accompaniment of stringed instruments (see introductory paragraph to Psalms 4:1-8.). The further statement, that it is to be "upon Sheminith," is very obscure, but perhaps refers to some form of musical time (see Hengstenberg). The psalm seems to divide into four stanzas—the first and last of three, the intermediate ones of two verses each.
O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger. The psalmist begins by deprecating God's wrath and displeasure. He is conscious of some grievous sin, deserving rebuke and chastisement, and he does not ask to be spared his chastisement; but he would fain be chastised in love, not in anger (comp. Jeremiah 10:24, "O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing"). Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure; or, in thy wrath. In its primary sense, humah ( חמה ) is no doubt "heat," "glow; ' but the secondary sense of "anger," "wrath," is quite as common.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak; rather, I am faint, or languid—withered away, like a faded plant or flower. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. Bodily ailment seems certainly to be implied; but it is that sort of bodily ailment which is often produced by mental distress—a general languor, weariness, and distaste for exertion (comp. Psalms 22:14; Psalms 31:10; Psalms 38:3; Psalms 102:3).
My soul is also sore vexed. It is not, however, the body alone which suffers; the soul also is vexed, and vexed greatly ( מְאֹד ). Clearly the main emphasis is intended to be laid on the mental suffering. But thou, O Lord, how long! We may fill up the ellipse in various ways: "How long wilt thou look on?" "How long wilt thou hide thyself?" "How long wilt thou be angry?" (see Psalms 34:17; Psalms 79:5; Psalms 89:46). Or again, "How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?" (Habakkuk 1:2). The cry is that of one wearied out with long suffering (comp. Psalms 90:13).
Return, O Lord. God seemed to have withdrawn himself, to have, forsaken the mourner, and gone far away (comp. Psalms 22:1). Hence the cry, "Return" (comp. Psalms 80:14; Psalms 90:13). Nothing is so hard to endure as the feeling of being deserted by God. Deliver my soul. "The psalmist feels himself so wretched in soul and body, that he believes himself to be near death" (Hengstenberg). His prayer here is, primarily, for deliverance from this impending danger, as appears clearly from the following verse, Save me for thy mercys' sake. Either a repetition of the preceding prayer in other words, or an enlargement of it so as to include salvation of every kind.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee (comp. Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:11; Psalms 115:17; Psalms 118:17; Isaiah 38:18). The general view of the psalmists seems to have been that death was a cessation of the active service of God—whether for a time or permanently, they do not make clear to us. So even Hezekiah, in the passage of Isaiah above quoted. Death is represented as a sleep (Psalms 13:3), but whether there is an awakening from it does not appear. No doubt, as has been said, "the cessation of active service, even of remembrance or devotion, does not affect the question of a future restoration," and the metaphor of sleep certainly suggests the idea of an awakening. But such a veil hung over the other world, under the old dispensation, and over the condition of the departed in it, that thought was scarcely exercised upon the subject. Men's duties in this life were what occupied them, and they did not realize that in another they would have employments—much less form any notion of what those employments would be. The grave seemed a place of silence, inaction, tranquillity. In the grave (Hebrew, in Sheol) who shall give thee thanks? (comp. Psalms 115:17, Psalms 115:18).
I am weary—or, worn out (Kay)—with my groaning. The Oriental habit of giving vent to grief in loud lamentations must be remembered. Herodotus says that at the funeral of Masistias, the Persians present "vented their grief in such loud cries that all Boeotia resounded with the clement" (Herod; 9.24). All the night make I my bed to swim. The Revised Version has, "every night," which is a possible meaning. Dr. Kay translates, "I drench my bed." I water my couch with my tears. One of the usual pleonastic second clauses.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; or, mine eye is wasted away because of provocation. The eye falls in, becomes dull, and, as it were, "wastes away" through long-continued grief (comp. Psalms 31:9). The kind of grief expressed by the word ka'as ( כַעַס ) is "that which arises from provocation or spiteful treatment" (Kay). It waxeth old because of all mine enemies. It becomes dull and heavy and sunken, like the eye of an old man. How often has it not been noted that nothing so much ages a man as grief!
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity! Note the sudden change of tone, very characteristic of the Davidical psalms. The psalmist, having offered his prayer, is so certain of its acceptance that he at once turns upon his adversaries with words of reproach, and almost of menace. "Depart from me!" he exclaims; "get ye gone! do not dare any more to persecute me or plot against me! Your efforts are in vain." For the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. David speaks from an inward conviction. He knows that he has prayed sincerely and fervently. He is certain, therefore, that his prayer is heard and accepted.
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive—rather, hath received; προσεδέξατο (LXX.)—my prayer. The threefold repetition marks the absoluteness of the psalmist's conviction.
Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed; rather, all mine enemies shall be ashamed and sore vexed (Rosenmuller, Kay, and others). Shame will fall upon David's enemies when their plots have failed, and deep vexation when they find him restored to health (Psalms 6:4) and in the full enjoyment of the Divine favour. Lot them return; rather, they shall return; i.e. "retire … turn their backs," "take to flight." As Hengstenberg says, "David sees his enemies, who are gathered around him for the attack, all at once in alarm give way." And be ashamed suddenly. It is doubly shameful to have to fly when one has been the assailant.
The school of adversity.
"The Lord hath heard," etc. This outburst of triumphant gratitude is like a sunbeam out of a dark, stormy sky. A wail of profound sadness echoes through the earlier portion of the psalm. In his deep affliction the psalmist seems to lose sight of the light beyond; he sees but the dark silence of the grave (Psalms 6:5). Suddenly the clouds part; faith revives; the conviction that God is the Hearer of prayer fills his soul with joy, and with the certain hope that God will answer.
I. TROUBLE IS THE SCHOOL OF PRAYER. In trouble even prayerless souls are often taught to pray (Psalms 78:34; Psalms 107:6).
"Eyes that the preacher could not school
By wayside graves are raised—
And lips say, 'God be merciful!'
That ne'er said, 'God be praised!'"
But even prayerful Christians have to own that there is no prayer like that we offer in trouble. In prosperity prayer is apt to be vague, like an arrow shot skyward from a slack string. Prayer in trouble is like an arrow shot from a full-bent bow—straight at the mark. David's prayer was intensely personal, "my supplication;" urgent, "the voice of my weeping;" persistent, "all the night" (Psalms 6:6); seizing hold on God's mercy as its plea (Psalms 6:4). Even our blessed Lord learned this lesson (Hebrews 5:7).
II. Therefore, ONE PRINCIPAL BLESSING OF AFFLICTION AND STRONG CONSOLATION under it is this—that thus our Father is teaching his child to pray. Our Lord teaches this lesson (Luke 11:5, etc.; Luke 18:1, etc.). Never lose hold of this truth in darkest trouble, for without this it will be dark indeed—meaningless, hopeless, comfortless. The Lord has heard your prayer in the way of taking note of it—knows more about it than you do yourself. Therefore he will hear in the way of sending an answer: if not the exact answer you wish and expect, then something better. So St. Paul's thrice earnestly repeated prayer was answered with a refusal richer in grace and love than if his petition had been granted (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Observe: If we lived nearer to God, more in the spirit and habit of prayer, in peaceful prosperous days, we might perhaps the less need to be taught in this sharp school.
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
The moan of a saint, and the mercy of his God.
For the significance of the title of this psalm, see the Exposition. An expositor well remarks that the confessed uncertainty on the part of the best Hebrew scholars as to the meaning or many of the titles is a striking proof of their antiquity, since it shows that the clue thereto is lost in oblivion. This psalm belongs to those specified under the first head of our introductory homily, as one of those in which we have the strugglings and wrestlings of a saint in devotional exercises; not the words of God to man, but the words of man to God, and as such they must be studied. We must not fall into the anachronism to which in our last homily we referred, of interpreting a psalm like this as if it had been written in full New Testament light; for we shall see. as we proceed abundant indication of the contrary. Yet there is here a priceless record of an early believer's experience, from which troubled souls through all time may draw an abundance of comfort. £ Here are—a moan, a prayer, a plea, an issue.
I. THE MOAN. It is not that of an impenitent man; at the same time, it bears no very clear indication of being a penitential wail over sin. It is the plaint of one who is overwhelmed with sorrow—with sorrow that has come upon him through his enemies. So intense is his anguish that it haunts him by night and by day; it exhausts his frame, consumes his spirit. Note the various expressions: "withered away," "bones vexed," "sore vexed," "weary with groaning," "make my bed to swim," "water my couch with my tears,"" eyes dim" "eyesight wasting away," etc. What caused such overwhelming sorrow, we cannot tell. But this is of no consequence. The point to be noted is this—there are not unfrequently times in the experience of God's people when some care, or trouble, or perplexity is felt, and that so severe that they are haunted by it night and day; they cannot shake it off; and they cannot, even when at prayer, forget it. What are they to do? Let them not try to forget it; let them turn their prayers in that direction, so that the perplexity and the prayer are concurrent and not contrary forces. This is what the psalmist did. £ This is what we should do.
"Give others the sunshine; tell Jesus the rest."
II. THE PRAYER. It is twofold.
1. Deprecatory. (Psalms 6:1, "Rebuke me not," etc.; "nor chasten me in thine hot displeasure.") Here is one of the traces of the Old Testament saints' thinking about God: they regarded their afflictions as indications of God's anger. We are now taught rather to regard them as a part of the gracious training which our Father sees that we need. The sharpest trials often force out the most fervid prayers; yet, at the same time, we are permitted to cry to our Father to ask him to deal gently with us, and to "throw away his rod," since "love will do the work."
2. Supplicatory. "Mercy," "healing," "deliverance," "salvation,"—for these he pleads. Probably his yearning is mainly for temporal relief £ and deliverance from his foes. But we, under similar circumstances, as we know more than the psalmist did, should rise higher than he could. We should regard temporal deliverances as entirely subordinate to the higher spiritual improvement, which ought to be earnestly prayed for as the result of every trial. We should always be more anxious to have our trials sanctified than to have them removed.
III. THE PLEA. This also is twofold.
1. The psalmist feels that his burden is so great, it will soon bring him to the grave, if not removed. Hence he says, "In death there is no remembrance of thee; and in Sheol who shall give thee thanks?" Here is another proof that, in dealing with this specimen of the devotion of an Old Testament saint, we have to do with one to whom, as yet, life and immortality had not been brought to light; to whom death was but the passage to a dim and gloomy state of being; although, as we shall see in dealing with Psalms 16:1-11; Psalms 17:1-15; there was the hope of an awakening. Still, "Sheol," the all-demanding realm, was not as yet lit up with gospel light. The Greek word "Hades" and the Hebrew word "Sheol" both refer to the state after death, though under different symbolic expressions. £ Historically, there are three conceptions of Hades, or Sheol.
"Absent from the body; at home with the Lord." Hence we cannot now adopt Psalms 17:5 of this prayer, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with him; that hence our death is the gateway to rest, and that the time of our departure may be peacefully left in wiser hands than ours.
2. The psalmist grounds a second plea on the loving-kindness of God. This is better, surer ground (Psalms 17:4). Very often is this plea used. It cannot be used too often. It takes hold of God's strength.
IV. THE ISSUE.
1. The psalmist receives an answer to his prayer. (See Psalms 34:6.) Thousands can say the same. "The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping."
2. Consequently, there is:
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
A cry to God, and its response.
I. THE CRY OF THE FAINTING SOUL. Circumstances are adverse. There is gloom without and within. Conscience accuses. God seems full of wrath. Death is regarded, not as a release, but as the minister of judgment; and the grave, not as a quiet resting-place, but as a "pit," loathsome and terrible. Amidst the darkness, and with fears on every side:
1. God's indignation is deprecated. Affliction is hard to bear; but with God's wrath it would be overwhelming.
2. God's pity is appealed to. Weakness is pleaded, and the hope expressed that in deserved wrath God will remember mercy. His smile will turn the darkness to light.
3. God's deliverance is entreated. It is craved on the ground of God's mercies (Psalms 6:4). It is urged on account of the brevity of life, and because death will put an end to the power of serving God in this world (Psalms 6:5). It is claimed as the only relief for the helpless and miserable (Psalms 6:7).
II. THE RESPONSE OF A GRACIOUS GOD. It is said the darkest hour is that before the dawn. So here the psalmist, in his utter weakness and woe, turning from sin unto God, finds help. A light surprises him like sunrise breaking in suddenly on a dark night (Psalms 6:8, Psalms 6:9). The answer from God is not only quick and timely, but effectual. Thrice the glad heart says, "God has heard," thus confirming to itself the news which seems almost too good to be true.—W.F.
Night and morning in the soul.
I. NIGHT. There is darkness. God hides himself. There is dreariness. The soul is left alone with sad and distressing thoughts. There is depression. The ghosts of past misdeeds rise up. There are nameless terrors. But though perplexed, there need not be despair. God is near. He can help. He can even give songs in the night.
II. MORNING. Light comes, bringing hope and peace. God has beard the cry of his child. Such deliverances are comforting. They not only show God's mercy and truth, but they prophesy of complete redemption. If there be night, let us wait for the morning. The weary traveller, the tempest-tossed mariner, the city watchman dreading the assault of the foe, comfort themselves with the thought that the morning cometh. So let us look up, for our redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).—W.F.
Great afflictions, greater consolation.
The language m this psalm may seem exaggerated and unreal. But it is not so. Want of imagination and sympathy in some, and want of experience in others, make them unfit judges. We neither know our strength nor our weakness till we are tried. The man who may have stood up to help others in their troubles may be cast down and disconsolate when visited with trouble himself (Job 4:3-5). Learn—
I. THAT THERE ARE WORSE AFFLICTIONS THAN WE KNOW OF. We must not make our life the limit, nor our experience the standard. Besides what we see, there is what we only hear of, and besides all these, there are miseries beyond our wildest imaginings. Even as to ourselves, let our case be ever so bad, we can conceive of its becoming worse. What a glimpse have we of the dread possibilities of the future in that solemn word of our Lord to the man who had for thirty and eight years been a helpless cripple, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John 5:14)!
II. THAT THERE ARE ADEQUATE CONSOLATIONS FOR THE SEVEREST TRIALS. Come what will, God is our Refuge and our Strength. Let us therefore be patient and trust. Let us also be thankful. Things might be far worse than they are. Let us also bear ourselves gently and kindly to others who suffer. It is those who have themselves been sorely tried who can best sympathize, as it is those who have themselves been comforted who can best comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Deliverance from sore trouble.
"In the malice of his enemies David sees the rod of God's chastisement, and, therefore makes his prayer to God for deliverance. The struggle has lasted so long, the grief is so bitter, that his health has given way, and he has been brought to the gates of the grave. But ere long light and peace visit him, and he breaks forth into the joy of thanksgiving."
I. A PICTURE OF COMPLICATED DISTRESS.
1. Danger from outward foes. Producing constant fear and anxiety, and perhaps threatening his life.
2. A sense of being under the chastising hand of God. The malice of his enemies was regarded as the rod by which God in his anger was punishing him—an Old Testament view. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten"—the New Testament view.
3. These two things caused the prostration of both body and soul. Mental troubles are the causes of our severest afflictions and sufferings. Threatened by man, frowned upon by God, laid low by disease,—that is the picture here given.
II. ARGUMENTS USED IN SUPPORT OF THE CRY FOR DELIVERANCE. "Let thine anger cease;" "Forgive my sins."
1. Because of the extremity of my sufferings. He "languished ' (Psalms 6:2). His "bones were terrified" (Psalms 6:2). His "soul sore vexed" (Psalms 6:3). His bed swam with his tears (Psalms 6:6). His eye wasted and grew dim with his grief (Psalms 6:7). It is an appeal to the Divine pity. "He will not keep his anger for ever."
2. His power of endurance was exhausted. "O Jehovah, how long?" I cannot endure the severity of thy judgments. "How long?" was all Calvin said in his most intense grief. Here it means, "Do not quite destroy me, for I am well-nigh spent. Still a cry for mercy.
3. Because his death would put an end to his power to praise God. "There is here the childlike confidence which fears not to advance the plea that God's glory is concerned in granting his request." And that is the ground of all true prayer—the granting will honour thee. Those in Sheol lived a spectral, shadowy life, apart from the light of God's presence, and could not praise him. "The living, the living, he shall praise thee." The meaning here is—it is pleasing to God to be praised, and pleasing to himself to praise.
III. THE TRIUMPH OF RELIEVING, PENITENTIAL PRAYER. Salvation from his enemies had become a patent fact. God had forgiven, and he was safe, and could now rejoice. The psalm epitomizes his experience, and that accounts for the sudden change in the eighth verse. Our sins are our greatest foes, and when God, through Christ, forgives them, that is the hour of our greatest triumph.—S.