Psalm 6 Song of the Penitent

O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,

Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak;

O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.

My soul also is greatly troubled;

But You, O LORD — how long?

Return, O LORD, deliver me!

Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake!

For in death there is no remembrance of You;

In the grave who will give You thanks?

I am weary with my groaning;

All night I make my bed swim;

I drench my couch with my tears.

My eye wastes away because of grief;

It grows old because of all my enemies.

Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity;

For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.

The LORD has heard my supplication;

The LORD will receive my prayer.

Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled;

Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.

After reading Psalm 6 a few things stand out. Though verse 10 of the Psalm reminds us of the theme we have found repeated in the first five Psalms – that of the clash between the two classes of mankind: the righteous subjects of the Messiah and the rebels who stand against Him – at the same time, this Psalm differs wholly from the first five Psalms in its expression of humble grief. For this reason, Psalm 6 is classified as the first of seven of what are known as ‘Penitential Psalms” (the others are 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). Psalm 6 is David’s sorrowful prayer for mercy at a time of deep affliction, which he recognizes is the result of the just chastening of God, which he has brought upon himself. He affirms that he can no longer bear up under his present suffering and that divine glory would only be obscured should his distress continue until his death. Despite this he nevertheless ends up sure of divine compassion – that his prayer is heard and answered in the defeat of his enemies.

In pleading his case before God for deliverance, we find David recognizing the terrible consequences of his personal sin. We find sorrow, humiliation, and even hatred of sin which are the unfailing marks of a contrite and repentant heart. He does not make his plea based upon his own greatness, or God’s wonderful plan to use him in the future, but rather his weakness (v.2). A sense of his own sinfulness has removed the Psalmist’s pride, and so taken away any reliance which he may have had upon his own strength. In this way God even uses sin in our lives to remove any hope that we might have in ourselves. It is one of the ways all things work together for good for those who love Him. Even our very rebellion against God, is used by Him for our good and His glory.

The glory of God is the Psalmist’s chief aspiration. In verse 5, the Psalmist laments: For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks? Although God is glorified even in eternal condemnation, the Psalmist’s desire to live is not so that he might live for himself, but that he might voluntarily glorify God among the living sons of men. God is glorified on earth by the continuing witness of the church. It is to be the utmost desire and prayer of the church to see God’s name hallowed, His kingdom advanced, and His will done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The Penitential Psalms, just like sin and repentance itself, though beginning in the darkness of unbelief usually end in hopeful exultation. This is a reminder to us sinners, that when we sin and are chastened, if we would only pour out our complaint before the throne of grace, our soul too would be unburdened. Can you not see the glory of God’s love and Gospel in this wonderful truth?

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