Like psalms 3 to 5, psalm 6 is a psalm of David. It’s once again a lamentation, where the psalmist cries to the Lord because he’s in trouble. Once again, like psalms 4 and 5, it’s not possible to pin down the historical background to the psalm or the circumstances which led David to write it. Nevertheless, as we’ll see, like the previous psalms this psalm speaks to us of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God’s Anointed King. And we can divide the psalm into three main parts.
Verses 1 to 3
First of all — in verses 1 to 3 — we have David’s introductory cry to the Lord. David turns to the Lord and asks him not to rebuke him in his anger or to discipline him in his wrath.
In Proverbs 3, we’re told not to despise the Lord’s discipline or to resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves. As a loving parent will discipline wayward children, so that they will avoid evil and learn to do good, so the Lord disciplines his people for our good. However, in this psalm, the Lord’s rebuke and discipline seem so harsh that it appears to the psalmist that the Lord is angry with him. He acknowledges that the Lord is disciplining him, but it doesn’t seem to be out of love, but out of wrath.
And so, in verse 3, he asks the Lord to be merciful towards him, because he was feeling faint. The word translated ‘faint’ can also be used to describe a plant which is withering. So, David feels he’s withering away and becoming weak because of the Lord’s discipline. And because he’s become so weak, he turns to the LORD for relief.
And, of course, in these verses, LORD is written in capital letters; and so we should remember that this is God’s special covenant name; and it speaks to us of God’s commitment to his people and his faithfulness. So, David turns to the Lord — the one who has bound himself to his people with a promise — and asks the Lord to do what he has promised and to show him mercy.
He then says that his bones are in agony. There are two ways to understand this expression. He could mean that his whole body is in physical pain; or else his bones could refer to his inner being; which means he would be referring to the agony of his soul and to his spiritual distress. In any case, he asks for the Lord to heal him.
‘My soul is greatly troubled’, he complains in verse 3. And he wonders how long the Lord will allow him to suffer like this. How long must this go on? How long must I continue like this? How long before you come and help me?
Verses 4 to 7
In the second part of the psalm — verses 4 to 7 — we have his prayer. He asks the Lord to turn to him and to deliver him and to save him ‘according to his unfailing love’. The word translated ‘unfailing love’ can also be translated ‘steadfast love’ and it refers to God’s covenant love, the love which he has for his people and which never fails. So, instead of basing his appeal on something in himself, David bases his appeal on something in the Lord. That is, instead of basing his appeal on his own goodness or righteousness or on his good works, David bases his appeal on the Lord’s steadfast love. In other words, he’s basing his appeal on the grace of the Lord; and on his kindness to his people.
However, he’s also prepared to reason with the Lord; and in verse 5 he puts forward the argument that no-one remembers the Lord when he is dead. He asks: ‘Who praises the Lord from the grave?’ ‘Remember’ here means remember and give thanks to the Lord for all the great things he does on behalf of his people. So, David is saying that the dead don’t praise God.
Now, we know that the dead do praise God, because those who die in the Lord go to be with him in glory, where they will praise him forever and forever. David is not denying that. But he’s appealing to the Lord to preserve his life in this world, so that he can continue to praise the Lord before the people in this life. He wants to go on living, so that he will be able to glorify the Lord. So, turn and deliver my life from the pit of death, so that I can continue to praise you.
And in verses 6 to 7, he describes his distress once again. He feels worn out because of his groaning; and all night long, he floods his bed, he drowns his bed, with weeping. So, because of what he’s suffering, he now feels worn out and done. He can’t go on. When we first begin to suffer, we can put up with it. But when it goes on and on, and when there seems to be no end to it, we’re worn down by it and we feel we can’t go on. And so, David spends his nights in agony and in weeping. His eyes are no longer bright; but have become weak with sorrow. If you were to look into his eyes, you’d be able to see into his soul, and see from his eyes that deep down inside, he’s in pain and sorrow.
Verses 8 to 10
Verses 8 to 10 come as a bit of a surprise, because in these verses, David turns to address his enemies. It seems that the Lord was using David’s enemies to rebuke and discipline him. So, just as the Lord used the Israelites to punish the Canaanites for their sinfulness; and just as the Lord used the Babylonians to chastise the Israelites for their unfaithfulness, so the Lord has used David’s enemies to rebuke and discipline him. They were the instrument in God’s hand.
But God has now answered his prayer for mercy; and so David now tells his enemies to get away from him, because the Lord has heard his weeping. The Lord has heard his cry for mercy and has accepted his prayer. And so, all his enemies will be ashamed and dismayed, because the Lord is now going to punish them for what they have done to David. Again, this is in keeping with what we read in other parts of the Bible, because although the Lord used the Babylonians to discipline the Israelites when they were unfaithful, he afterwards punished the Babylonians for the wicked things they did. The Lord is not the author of sin, but he’s able to use our sin for his own good purposes.
In the early church, psalm 6 was regarded as a penitential psalm. Psalm 51 is perhaps the best known penitential psalm. It begins like this:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
In the penitential psalms, the psalmist confesses his guilt and pleads with God for forgiveness. And psalm 6 was included in the list of penitential psalms because of its opening, where David pleads with the Lord not to rebuke him in his anger and not to discipline him in his wrath. Since David acknowledges that his suffering is due to God’s anger and wrath, some commentators take this as a confession of sin.
However, other commentators argue that it shouldn’t be regarded as a penitential psalm, because David doesn’t actually mention his sin or guilt in the psalm. That’s why, when we began, I said it was a lamentation. He’s not confessing his sin, but he’s crying to the Lord for help.
And so, the remarkable thing about this psalm is that we have David — the author of the psalm, and God’s Anointed King at that time — suffering because of the anger and wrath of God, though he appears to have done nothing wrong. He’s not being punished for his sin, but still he’s suffering the wrath of God.
And then, at the end of the psalm, it’s clear that his suffering has come to an end; and he warns his enemies that the time will come when they will be ashamed and dismayed. They will be covered in disgrace one day.
So, we have God’s Anointed King who is suffering the wrath of God. And we have the enemies of God’s Anointed King who are warned that they will one day be covered in disgrace.
Now, imagine the apostles, going from synagogue to synagogue, to persuade the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King. And we can imagine them turning to psalm 6 and reading to the Jews in the synagogue about God’s Anointed King who suffered the wrath of God, even though he had done nothing wrong. And we can imagine the apostles explaining to the Jews that Jesus is God’s Anointed King, because on the cross, he suffered the wrath of God, even though he himself had done nothing wrong. We can imagine them telling the Jews about the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus wept and prayed, asking God to take the cup of wrath from him. But God said no, because it was the Father’s will for his Anointed King to suffer his wrath. And we can imagine the apostles explaining to the Jews that Jesus did not deserve to suffer and die, because at his trial, it became clear that he had done nothing wrong; he was an innocent man. And yet he suffered the wrath of God.
We can imagine the apostles explaining all of this to the Jews in the synagogues. And we can also imagine the apostles, turning to the Jews, and warning them that the day is coming, when God will punish the enemies of his Anointed King. All who refuse to yield their lives to him and to trust in him will one day be covered in shame and disgrace, when they’re sent out of his presence to be punished forever. Therefore, repent and believe in him, because whoever believes in him will be pardoned and accepted by God and will receive the free gift of eternal life. But whoever does not believe, will one day turn back in sudden disgrace.
Do you see? This psalm is about the Lord Jesus. David was writing as a prophet and he was foretelling how God’s Anointed King, the true Anointed King, Jesus Christ, will suffer the wrath of God on behalf of his people. But God did not abandon him to the grave, but raised him up, victorious over his enemies. And the day is coming when his enemies will be punished.
And so, we should give thanks to the Lord for Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed King, who was willing to suffer for us in order to bring us to God. And we ought to give thanks to the Lord, for enabling us to repent and to believe, so that we’re no longer Christ’s enemies, who are destined to perish, but we’ve become God’s children, and we’re destined for glory.