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Penitential Psalms: The Amazing Psalm 6

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Psalm 6 is a psalm of “firsts,” when compared with Psalms 1 through 5 in the Septuagint English.

1. First mention of substitutionary sin (vs 1) 

  • Psalms 1-3. These carry no thought of sin by the speaker; all is righteousness
  • Psalm 4. Emphasizes the speaker’s righteousness in comparison with his enemies’ sins
  • Psalm 5. Condemns wickedness, extols righteousness, and proclaims God’s welcome to the righteous, among whom the psalmist includes himself
  • Psalm 6. V1–rebuke, wrath, anger mentioned. “Rebuke me not,” etc. While there is no confession of sin, questions about the Lord’s disfavor are strongly implied. This is why I write, “substitutionary sin.” (See also “Penitential Psalms: Psalm 6“)

2. First express mention of weakness (vs 2)b

  • Psalms 1 and 2. All positive toward the righteous speaker
  • Psalm 3. Emphasizes the psalmist’s personal dependence upon the Lord, but there is no confession of weakness; all is trust in the Lord
  • Psalm 4. “Thou has made room for me in tribulation; pity me, and hearken to my prayer” (vs 1) expresses an implication of need in the phrase “pity me” (οἰκτίρησόν με), yet there is no direct statement of weakness
  • Psalm 5. Rejoices in the strength of the Lord for the righteous
  • Psalm 6. Vv 2-7 list the weaknesses and ailments of the speaker. Verse 2 names weakness: “Pity me, O Lord; for I am weak:” (languishing ESV, faint NIV, frail NET, weak KJV)

3. First mention of psalmist’s being diseased 

  • Psalms 1 and 2. Strength and well-being for the righteous man (Ps 1) and King (Ps 2).
  • Psalm 3. Mention of enemies, but with a strong voice that recounts the prior blessings
  • Psalm 4. Spoken from a state of confident well-being (see especially vv 7 and 8)
  • Psalm 5. Speaks predominantly against the wicked while voicing the confident assurance in the Lord of the righteous
  • Psalm 6. Vv 2-7 are a litany of ailments and concerns: bones are vexed (3), soul vexed (3), death in view (5), weariness, groaning, tears (6), troubled eyes, worn out (7)

4. First mention of God’s extensive non-answering of the prayers of the psalmist

  • Psalms 1-2. No prayer
  • Psalm 3 (vs 4) “I cried to the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy mountain. Pause.”
  • Psalm 4. God answers strongly (vv 1, 3, 6, 7, and 8)
  • Psalm 5.
    • confidence that prayer will be answered (vs 3 )
    • confidence in Lord’s mercy and the psalmist’s own strength in that mercy (vs 7)
    • confidence in blessed outcome for the righteous on account of the Lord’s love of righteousness (vv 11-12)
  • Psalm 6.
    • fear that the Lord is rebuking and angry (vs 1)
    • plea for pity that remains unanswered (vs 2)
    • statement of frustration with the great length of time in which the Lord has not answered, “but thou, O Lord, how long?” (vs 3)
    • request that the Lord would turn back toward him, implying that God had removed himself from the speaker (vs 4), “Return, O Lord”
    • urgency expressed by the psalmist that he is nearing death (vs 5), “For in death no man remembers thee: and who will give thee thanks in Hades?”
    • the Lord finally answers (vv 8-9), “8 …for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.  9 The Lord has hearkened to my petition; the Lord has accepted my prayer.”

5. First mention of death and Hades as a possible outcome for the psalmist

  • Psalms 1-2. Pure strength and blessing
  • Psalms 3-5. No thought that the outcome for the psalmist might be death
  • Psalm 6. (vs 5) “For in death no man remembers thee: and who will give the thanks in Hades?”

6. First mention of grief

  • Psalm 1. Blessings to the righteous and judgment to the wicked
  • Psalm 2. Glory for the King and punishment for his enemies
  • Psalm 3. Prayer of strong trust and confidence in deliverance by the Lord
  • Psalm 4. Alternate direct address to the Lord and to the psalmist’s enemies; strong faith in Lord expressed to the enemies; strong confidence in the Lord for his past acts of salvation; also, one short phrase in verse 1, “pity me”
  • Psalm 5. Confident prayer in the orderly way God rules: judgment upon the wicked; blessings and intimacy with God’s righteous followers
  • Psalm 6. While there is no use of words such as lowly, sorrowful, and mourn, there are some poignant descriptions of these: (vs 6) I am wearied with my groaning; I shall wash my bed every night; I shall water my couch with tears; (vs 7) Mine eye is troubled because of my wrath; I am worn out because of all my enemies.

7. First mention of enemies having some success 

  • Psalm 1. The wicked have nothing but God’s judgment
  • Psalm 2. The wicked rebel with no success whatever. God laughs and scorns them
  • Psalm 3. There are large numbers of enemies; no outcome mentioned
  • Psalm 4. No thought is given that the enemies have any success throughout the long duration of their obstinance
  • Psalm 5.
    • Verse 9 contains a detailed description of the wicked and their acts;
    • there are supplications (vs 10) and statements of confidence (vv 4-6) that the Lord will destroy the enemies (See Psalms 1 and 2)
    • there are descriptions of God’s love for righteousness (vv 4, 6, 8) and his blessings for the righteous (vs 10)
    • there is no mention of any enemy success
  • Psalm 6. Vs 7b “I am worn out because of all my enemies. 8 Depart from me, all ye that work iniquity; for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.” Note: The lengthy descriptions of the psalmist’s woes in verses 1-7a does not state that the enemies are the cause of this grief; it could be the Lord himself. The enemies are not mentioned until verse 8.

8. First mention that the Lord appears to be angry with the psalmist and may be punishing him

  • Psalms 1-5. Contain no mention of anything but the goodness and favor of the Lord toward the psalmist and the righteous, of whom he is one
  • Psalm 6. Clearly refers to the wrath and anger of the Lord toward the psalmist, either actual or suspected. The psalm opens with these words, “O Lord, rebuke me not in they wrath, neither chasten me in thine anger” (vs 1). It continues with, “3 My soul also is grievously vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long? 4 Return, O Lord, deliver my soul:”
  • Note: Although the readers’ suspicions are aroused in Psalm 6 that the Lord himself may be punishing the psalmist, the reader cannot be certain. Other psalms spell out the Lord’s wrath upon the psalmist directly and clearly. See, for example, Psalm 88:7-8.

9. First mention of physical nearness of enemies to the psalmist individually

  • Psalm 1. No direct enemies per se; rather the wicked generally, who displease the Lord
  • Psalm 2. Enemies are a large distance away, far removed from the authoritative, all-powerful King
  • Psalm 3. Multitudes of enemies, but arrayed as in a battle. The psalmist is not alone, and God is near.
  • Psalm 4. God is near and supportive of the psalmist. The scene is like an oration to crowds.
  • Psalm 5. The psalmist appears to be in a private sanctuary in prayer; many enemies but none in physical proximity
  • Psalm 6. The enemies are close by: “Depart from me, all ye that work iniquity; for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping” (vs 8). “Let all mine enemies be put to shame and sore troubled: let them be turned back and grievously put to shame speedily” (vs 10).

10. First extended length of intense petition by the psalmist for himself

  • Psalms 1-2. No petitions, none necessary
  • Psalm 2. Personal enemies arise; psalmist asks why? (vs 1); one direct petition (vs 7), “Arise, Lord; deliver me, my God:”
  • Psalm 4. None
  • Psalm 5.
    • Vv 1-2 “hearken…attend…attend”
    • Vs 8 “lead me…make my way plain”
    • Vs 10 “judge them…cast them out”
    • Vs 11 “let all that trust in thee be glad in thee”
  • Psalm 6. Vv 1-4 “rebuke me not…neither chasten me…pity me…heal me…how long?…return…deliver…save”

Comments

The most amazing feature of this and so many other psalms is how the psalmist, in spite of his difficult trials and seeming abandonment and possible punishment by the Lord himself–how the psalmist continues to quietly and submissively turn to the Lord in complete trust and utter dependence upon his goodness and ultimate favor. (We might call it God’s love.) There is no doubt and certainly no anger. This is how the “righteous” so often mentioned in Psalms love out their faith.

Secondly, when searching through the Psalter for the messianic prophecies announced by Jesus himself to the two Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:25-27) and the gathering of his eleven and others back in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-48), it is important to remember that although these disciples had walked and talked with Jesus for nearly three years, they had completely missed the references to him, his death, and his resurrection in Psalms and their other Scripture. They needed to be taught by Jesus explicitly and directly. Where are those teachers today?

Except for direct quotations in the New Testament, I believe that our 21st century church has lost sight of the vast quantity of messianic prophecy contained in the Psalter. This is to a large extent the result of scholars having atomized, or separated out into tiny pieces, individual verses and phrases within the psalms. It is also the result of having quenched the great interpreter, the Holy Spirit, with the icy disbelief of academia. The result is that Psalms, and indeed Old Testament Scripture generally, ceased to be looked upon as a unified whole. The art and learned skill of reading Scripture side by side with other Scripture, comparing Scripture with Scripture, became invalidated and lost.

Fortunately, beginning with courageous pioneers such as the great Brevard Childs (Childs, Bibliography), some very few scholars began fighting for a return to the unity and wholeness of Scripture. (See my Annotated Bibliography for a listing and description of those authors whom I have found.) Additionally, some highly esteemed preachers never denied the Holy Spirit as Interpreter, nor left the unity and wholeness of Scripture. These are also listed in the Annotated Bibliography just referenced. The few whom I have found include Patrick Reardon, Andrew A. Bonar, John Barclay, and Arthur Pink. I’m sure there are others. I believe that today we are seeing the tide turning, as more and more scholars boldly come forth to announce the dialogues inherent in the Psalter. These are authors such as Matthew W. Bates, Richard Hays, and Michael Cameron. As I press forward in my studies here in my isolated and tiny citadel, I continue to discover others.

However, the greatest teacher of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, sent for this very purpose. All believers have access to the Holy Spirit. Readers, please never forget that Christians like you and me, the rank and file of early, non-educated lay persons, determined collectively what scholars today call “The Rule of Faith.” It is this standard of measurement, the combined and sifted shared beliefs of the earliest church, as indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who passed on orally and shared as written epistles, what eventually became the canon of New Testament Scripture. It is the rank and file Body-of-Christ members who establish and maintain what the church believes today. Each Spirit indwelled cell contributes to the whole.

I write this by way of encouragement to others to “keep on keeping on” in your search for what Jesus told those two blessed Emmaus disciples. It wasn’t just for them that he unlocked (“hermeneuticked” is the Greek word) what the Old Testament prophecies, including Psalms, said about himself. He meant it for us all.


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