Monday, September 7, 2009

Psalm 6

This is a psalm of individual lament, the largest category of psalms. As much as 30% of the psalms are lament psalms. Unfortunately, the term ‘lament’ may suggest to us an excessive concentration on one’s difficulties or guilt, but that doesn’t really describe the character of these psalms of worship. While it is true that in these songs the worshipers cry to God “out of the depths” (Psalm 130.1), these psalms almost always end with a note of confidence—either a vow to praise God when deliverance is brought or a note of praise to God for deliverance experienced.

This psalm, however, is a specific kind of lament, called a ‘Penitential Psalm.’ These all express (in the first half of the psalm, at least) an expression of sorrow for personal guilt. They usually end, as this psalm does, with what Derek Kidner calls, ‘an outburst of defiant faith’ (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1: Psalms 1–72, page 60).

We do not know exactly what event in David’s life gave rise to this song. There is no title to the psalm (see blog entry on Psalm 3, September 3, 2009) and the contents don’t reveal a specific situation. There are, however, some things we can gather.

1. David was being chased by enemies (vv 7–8).
2. David’s problem was not merely his enemies but was connected to some personal sin on his part. This is why he pleads with God not to “rebuke” him or “discipline” him (v 1), but to “be gracious” to him (v 2).
3. In his fear and flight from enemies, David is asking God to deliver him because he is experiencing physical pain (“my bones are troubled,” v 2), emotional pain (“my soul also is greatly troubled,” v 3), and his repentance has been deep and afflicting (vv 6–7).

We all face troubles in life. When I am struggling with some difficulty, I sometimes find it very difficult to distinguish those problems that I experience because I live in a fallen world from those that occur because of my own sinfulness. Usually, the difference is clear; if I am experiencing the consequence of sin (bad attitudes, unkind words or actions towards others, dishonesty, etc.) I usually know. But sometimes, as a Christian, I need to reflect (or even invite someone else to help me reflect) on my heart—are there attitudes or actions I engage in without thinking about it that are displeasing to God? Is he seeking to get my attention by the circumstances of life? Does he want me to bring my sinful heart to him for cleansing and strengthening.

Now this is a bit dangerous for introspective people like me—when I look inside, I always see a lot of dirt and I can find myself taking responsibility for all kinds of things that I really have no control over. I know that not everyone is like me (some people need to be more self-reflective), but many people are. Nevertheless, Psalm 6 reminds me that troubles don’t always come from other people; sometimes we are the source of our problems. God uses our troubles to chasten us for our sin, to “discipline” us (v 2) to make us more loving, gentle, godly people.

The sixth psalm shows us one of the ways we should bring our heart to God—in repentance and recognition that our sin brings God’s fatherly discipline. Most Bible students think that there are only seven penitential psalms among the 33 lament psalms. This at least tells us that personal introspection and repentance was, for the psalmists, a less frequent form of worship than crying out to God for deliverance from external problems that were not their fault.

The reading and re-reading of the psalms in an attitude of personal reflection helps us in this way: We can learn to bring our hearts to God, over time, in the way the psalmists did. Remember, the individual psalms are the expression of human beings bringing their hearts to God. But those individual psalms were collected by God’s guidance into the Psalter as we know it today. God owns this collection as the legitimate expression of worship, praise, and petition that he desires his people to bring to him.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice, Tom! It's also a good reminder to me that the Psalms can teach us things -- they are more than just guides for worship. They are also different from other parts of the Bible. Some people seem to treat the Bible as a whole, as some kind of big repository for doctrinal facts. They'll pick verses or phrases from the Psalms and other places inappropriately and build dogma from them.

    A lot of error can arise if we don't appreciate the context, the genre or the intent of the authors. For example, we can't necessarily take David literally when he says there's "no remembrance" of God after death, any more than when he says he "flooded" his bed with tears.

    The psalms can teach us, and do contain truth, but it's not always as obvious as other forms of literature. But neither can we say that they're just "inspirational material," and have no instructional content.