The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
To the chief Musician on Neginoth upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David. O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.Psalms 6
[Note.—The end of this psalm is like the beginning. The psalm is like a voice from a bed of sickness, in which the sufferer is expecting a fatal termination to his disease. At verse eight the tone changes. No longer does the sufferer talk of sickness, but of enemies and workers of iniquity and human foes. May not the sufferings described be sufferings of the soul, rather than of the body? In Hebrew literature this would be quite permissible: pictures of physical pain and disease are often used to express moral evil. The Church has regarded this as the first of the penitential psalms. Probably the psalm was composed in the exile period. According to some critics the psalm harmonises with the transactions preceding the revolt of Absalom. If the sickness was bodily it was regarded by the Psalmist as part of the chastisement due to the great crime which brought disgrace and misery upon his later years. The three divisions of the psalm are Psalm 6:1-3, Psalm 6:4-7, Psalm 6:8-10.]
1. O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
2. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
3. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?
4. Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
5. For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
6. I am weary with my groaning: all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
7. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
8. Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
9. The Lord hath heard my suplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.
10. Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.
Sorrow and Succour
The whole of this psalm has about it the air of a sick man: the Psalmist says that his bones are vexed, that he lies awake all night, and that his eye is consumed because of grief; he speaks, too, of death and of the grave. During his sickness David was unable to discharge the duties of the kingly office; this gave Absalom considerable advantage in exciting a revolt; so we have before the fancy a double picture of distress—David shut up in his sick chamber, and Absalom doing his utmost to set the kingdom against his father. Perhaps we have been in the habit of thinking that the Psalms were written at the window of a beautiful library, flowers glowing luxuriantly on sunny walls, and the green lawn stretching far away, brightened here and there by birds of rare plumage; we have looked upon them, it may be, as the pious recreations of a morning hour—entries in a spiritual diary relating only to the sentimental, and never to the practical side of life. The exact contrary is the case. Some of these psalms are battles. Many of them came out of heartache and bitterness and mortal disappointment. They are pages of autobiography. They are channels worn by the urgent streams of life. We must never think of them as mere literary recreations, or as the effusions of a music composer; they are pangs of the heart, they are letters addressed to God, they are the sanctification of misery and helplessness and despair. If it is worth while to explore the head of a river, it is of infinitely greater consequence to find out the spring and source of the streams which make glad the city of God.
We may get the meaning and help of the psalm by asking, How did David conduct himself in the time of sickness and of trouble?—First of all, he made his sorrow a question between himself and God. An old divine has said, as the woman in story appealed from pillar to pillar, so does David fly from God's anger to God's grace. David did not regard it in its earthward aspect; there was something in his trouble more than mere bodily pain, and something more than mere political disaffection. Let us set it down as a stern fact that there is a moral secret under the whole figure and movement of human life. Wherever we find disorder we find sin. This doctrine puts an end to much of the false complaining to which we are accustomed in Church life and experience. Men profess to be seeking for causes and explanations which lie quite remote from the real origin of the distress. We should never forget that all pain, suffering, and misery flow from one fountain whose unchangeable name is Sin. "Sin brought death into our world."
Secondly, proceeding from this point, David proceeds to make things right between himself and God. He feels that it is of no use to trump up a peace with Absalom. It is a waste of time to be arranging things that are secondary until things that are primary are established upon a footing righteous and secure. David seems to have said to himself: "My son Absalom has set himself against me; I might excite public pity on the ground of filial ingratitude; but is there not a cause in myself? Have I not done wrong, and become infamous in wickedness before the Lord? Is not God employing Absalom as a scourge to punish me for my own grievous rebellion against himself?" Such questions bring the soul into a right temper, and deliver it from the fretfulness of narrow views. It is waste of labour to decorate the walls when the foundations are giving way. In all trouble go first in self-reproach to God and get at the cause of things. "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up." The whole philosophy of human sorrow lies in this one determination. We exalt God in sovereignty above all great providences, and we have no hesitation in describing him as directing all operations to a common issue: but even in this broad acknowledgment of God's supremity we may not sufficiently fix the mind upon the fact that every detail of life is under the superintendence of God's wisdom, and that not a sorrow afflicts the soul which he does not either directly inflict or lovingly permit. God is not the God of the fair day only, the great broad shining day; he is the God of the night; at his command the stars glitter and the planets serenely burn.
In the third place, David feels that if the Lord's hand be removed he can bear all other troubles. Sin is the disease; discomforts, revolts, losses are the mere symptoms: remove the disease, and the symptoms will disappear. The pain of trouble is in the feeling that it is deserved; could we be perfectly sure of our innocence, the suffering would have no effect upon us, except rather to encourage and stimulate us, and certainly chasten us into a truer refinement of temper. Innocent men can be calm in the midst of persecution and pain and loss. Innocence is as a comforting angel sent from heaven to sustain the heart. It is when the soul knows that every pain that shoots through the life is a pain that is deserved that the whole being quivers with agony and all strength fails from the spirit. This is our true condition before God, and we must acknowledge it to be so if we are faithful to ourselves. So long as there lingers in the mind the superstition that suffering is not deserved but is arbitrarily imposed, and expresses the domination of a supreme power rather than the beneficence of a stern law, we shall be without consolation or strength or hope in all the discipline of life. Take away the righteousness of the suffering, and then suffering is as an open door into our life through which the angels come. The innocent man is never in solitude, unless it be for one agonising moment to be succeeded by all the glory and peace of heaven.
David approaches God in utter self-renunciation; there is no word of self-defence as before God. This is needful in all prayer that is meant to prevail. This state of mind does away with the whole machinery of argument, witnesses, criticism, and cross-examination. It resolves the question into one of mercy. David prays the more earnestly, because his afflictions have brought him within sight of the grave and the world unseen. Who would enter the valley without a sense of forgiveness? Who would? We must enter that dark valley,—we enter it either forgiven or unpardoned.
Now the light returns. David knows that his prayer is answered. The next work is easy. It is merely a question of time. Be right with God, and your foes cannot touch you.
"Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping" (Psalm 6:8).
A very full verse is this. It shows that David is not only not content with prayer being answered; he must dissociate himself from all wicked men and wicked concerns. If David looked upon the wicked in this instance as his pursuers and his enemies, he was right to bid them begone; but there is another sense in which the workers of iniquity may follow us, namely, in the sense of temptation and seduction and forced companionship: we shall know that the Lord hath heard the voice of our weeping when we are able to bid such men depart from us, because they can find nothing in our hearts that responds to their evil purposes. Thus prayer makes men morally strong. They can say things after prayer which they could not have said before prayer; or if they did say them the words would be wanting in pith and force; we need to have our tongues made strong by the exercise of prayer before it can effectively speak to the workers of iniquity and bid them flee away from our path. A wonderful alternation of weakness and energy is found throughout this psalm. David is so weak that one angry word would have destroyed him; so he deprecates the anger and the displeasure of the Most High: he is so weak that only mercy must breathe upon him or touch him or venture to speak to him: every bone in his body is withering, and his soul is in extreme dismay. By reason of incessant groaning he has become weary, and his strength has been dissolved in tears, and as for his eye, it is consumed because of grief, and it has waxed old as if by the multiplication of years. Now he has been in prayer he rises from his knees like a giant refreshed; his weariness has been accepted as a petition, and his weeping has been regarded as a plea for renewal of strength; mark how he rises from his knees and makes the workers of iniquity flee before him. That is the true Amen with which God follows all earnest prayer. If we still dally with the foe, and compromise with our enemies, and speak in hesitating tones to those who would do us injury, we may know of a certainty that how eloquent soever our prayer may have been in words, it has been unheard in heaven or rejected with divine contempt.
Almighty God, do thou take account of our sorrow, and consider our trouble when we are in great and sore distress. Thou knowest that there are nights in which no star can be seen, there are seas which are all storm, tempests without measure, not to be passed but with infinite danger. But thou reignest; thy throne is in the heavens which are high; yet are thine eyes upon the earth, upon the meanest of its creatures and the most trivial of its concerns. The Lord's hand is stretched out towards all his children; they have a place in his heart—secure, inviolable, eternal. This is their joy, their hymn in the nighttime, their psalm in the morning, their victory all the day. Draw nigh unto us, Holy One; keep us as in the hollow of thy hand; let our walls be continually before thee; may our name be unto thee as a pleasant memorial, and all our concerns interest thy wisdom and thy love. We will fear no evil; yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our heart shall be stout in God, for thy rod and thy staff they comfort us, and in the valley is an infinite light Blessed one, Christ of God, Son of God, walk with us in the valley, climb the hill with us, shield us when the air is full of darts aimed at our life, and comfort us with exceeding comfort when consolation is the only medicine we require. We bless thee for all heroic souls, for all patient spirits, for all men who have done the will of God, and for those other and equally noble men who have suffered it without murmur, complaint, or reproach against heaven. Order our life during the few remaining days it has yet to run; may they be days of industry, days of consecration to heavenly labour, and therefore days like Sabbaths, full of restfulness and expectation and joy, not to be spoken in the words of man. Wash us, and we shall be clean; give us the sprinkling of blood which means pardon, acceptance, adoption; give us the indwelling Spirit of God, that, walking under his counsel, comforted by his solaces, directed by his wisdom, our lives may be spent in all holiness, patience, and good-doing. Amen.