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A Cry for Mercy under Judgement
The morning prayer, Psalms 5:1-12, is followed by a “Psalm of David,” which, even if not composed in the morning, looks back upon a sleepless, tearful night. It consists of three strophes. In the middle one, which is a third longer than the other two, the poet, by means of a calmer outpouring of his heart, struggles on from the cry of distress in the first strophe to the believing confidence of the last. The hostility of men seems to him as a punishment of divine wrath, and consequently (but this is not so clearly expressed as in Ps 38, which is its counterpart) as the result of his sin; and this persecution, which to him has God's wrath behind it and sin as the sting of its bitterness, makes him sorrowful and sick even unto death. Because the Psalm contains no confession of sin, one might be inclined to think that the church has wrongly reckoned it as the first of the seven (probably selected with reference to the seven days of the week) Psalmi paenitentiales (Psalms 6:1, Psalms 32:1, Psalms 38:1, Psalms 51:1, Psalms 102:1, Psalms 130:1, Psalms 143:1). A. H. Francke in his Introductio in Psalterium says, it is rather Psalmus precatorius hominis gravissimi tentati a paenitente probe distinguendi. But this is a mistake. The man who is tempted is distinguished from a penitent man by this, that the feeling of wrath is with the one perfectly groundless and with the other well-grounded. Job was one who was tempted thus. Our psalmist, however, is a penitent, who accordingly seeks that the punitive chastisement of God, as the just God, may for him be changed into the loving chastisement of God, as the merciful One.
We recognise here the language of penitently believing prayer, which has been coined by David. Compare Psalms 6:2 with Psalms 38:2; Psalms 6:3 with Psalms 41:5; Psalms 6:5 with Psalms 109:26; Psalms 6:6 with Psalms 30:10; Psalms 6:7 with Psalms 69:4; Psalms 6:8 with Psalms 31:10; Psalms 6:10 with Psalms 35:4, Psalms 35:26. The language of Heman's Psalm is perceptibly different, comp. Psalms 6:6 with Psalms 88:11-13; Psalms 6:8 with Psalms 88:10. And the corresponding strains in Jeremiah (comp. Psalms 6:2, Psalms 38:2 with Jeremiah 10:24; Psalms 6:3 and Psalms 6:5 with Jeremiah 17:14; Psalms 6:7 with Jeremiah 45:3) are echoes, which to us prove that the Psalm belongs to an earlier age, not that it was composed by the prophet (Hitzig). It is at once probable, from the almost anthological relationship in which Jeremiah stands to the earlier literature, that in the present instance also he is the reproducer. And this idea is confirmed by the fact that in Jeremiah 10:25, after language resembling the Psalm before us, he continues in words taken from Psalms 79:6. When Hitzig maintains that David could no more have composed this disconcertedly despondent Psalm than Isaiah could the words in Isaiah 21:3-4, we refer, in answer to him, to Isaiah 22:4 and to the many attestations that David did weep, 2 Samuel 1:12; 2 Samuel 3:32; 2 Samuel 12:21; 2 Samuel 15:30; 2 Samuel 19:1.
The accompanying musical direction runs: To the Precentor, with accompaniment of stringed instruments, upon the Octave. The lxx translates ὑπὲρ τῆς ὀγδόης , and the Fathers associate with it the thought of the octave of eternal happiness, ἡ ὀγδόη ἐκείνη , as Gregory of Nyssa says, ἥτίς ἐστιν ὁ ἐφεξῆς αἰών . But there is no doubt whatever that על־השּׁמינית has reference to music. It is also found by Psalms 12:1-8, and besides in 1 Chronicles 15:21. From this latter passage it is at least clear that it is not the name of an instrument. An instrument with eight strings could not have been called an octave instead of an octachord. In that passage they played upon nablas על־עלמות , and with citherns על־השּׁמינית . If עלמות denotes maidens = maidens' voices i.e., soprano, then, as it seems, השּׁמינית is a designation of the bass, and על־השׁמינית equivalent to all' ottava bassa. The fact that Psalms 46:1-11, which is accompanied by the direction על־עלמות , is a joyous song, whereas Psalms 6:1-10 is a plaintive one and Psalms 12:1-8 not less gloomy and sad, accords with this. These two were to be played in the lower octave, that one in the higher.
(Heb.: 6:2-4) There is a chastisement which proceeds from God's love to the man as being pardoned and which is designed to purify or to prove him, and a chastisement which proceeds from God's wrath against the man as striving obstinately against, or as fallen away from, favour, and which satisfies divine justice. Psalms 94:12; Psalms 118:17; Proverbs 3:11. speak of this loving chastisement. The man who should decline it, would act against his own salvation. Accordingly David, like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:24), does not pray for the removal of the chastisement but of the chastisement in wrath, or what is the same thing, of the judgment proceeding from wrath [ Zorngericht ]. בּאפּך and בּחמתך stand in the middle, between אל and the verbs, for the sake of emphasis. Hengstenberg indeed finds a different antithesis here. He says: “The contrast is not that of chastisement in love with chastisement in wrath, but that of loving rescue in contrast with chastisement, which always proceeds from the principle of wrath.” If what is here meant is, that always when God chastens a man his wrath is the true and proper motive, it is an error, for the refutation of which one whole book of the Bible, viz., the Book of Job, has been written. For there the friends think that God is angry with Job; but we know from the prologue that, so far from being angry with him, he on the contrary glories in him. Here, in this Psalm, assuming David to be its author, and his adultery the occasion of it, it is certainly quite otherwise. The chastisement under which David is brought low, has God's wrath as its motive: it is punitive chastisement and remains such, so long as David remains fallen from favour. But if in sincere penitence he again struggles through to favour, then the punitive becomes a loving chastisement: God's relationship to him becomes an essentially different relationship. The evil, which is the result of his sin and as such indeed originates in the principle of wrath, becomes the means of discipline and purifying which love employs, and this it is that he here implores for himself. And thus Dante Alighieri
(Note: Provided he is the author of I sêtte Salmi Penitenziali trasportati alla volgar poesia, vid., Dante Alighieri's Lyric poems, translated and annotated by Kannegiesser and Witte (1842) i. 203f., ii. 208f.)
correctly and beautifully paraphrases the verse:
Signor, non mi riprender con furore,
E non voler correggermi con ira,
Ma con dolcezza e con perfetto amore .
In חנּני David prays God to let him experience His loving-kindness and tender mercy in place of the punishment He has a right to inflict; for anguish of soul has already reduced him to the extreme even of bodily sickness: he is withered up and weary. אמלל has Pathach, and consequently seems to be the 3 pers. Pul. as in Joel 1:10; Nahum 1:4; but this cannot be according to the rules of grammar. It is an adjective, like רענן שׁאנן , with the passive pointing. The formation אמלל (from אמל Arab. aml , with the primary meaning to stretch out lengthwise) is analogous to the IX and XI forms of the Arabic verb which serve especially to express colours and defects (Caspari §59). The two words אני אמלל have the double accent Mercha-Mahpach together, and according to the exact mode of writing (vid., Baer in my Psalter ii. 492) the Mahpach, (the sign resembling Mahpach or rather Jethib), ought to stand between the two words, since it at the same time represents the Makkeph. The principal tone of the united pair, therefore, lies on aani; and accordingly the adj. אמלל is shortened to אמלל (cf. אדמדּם הפכפּך מרמס , and the like) - a contraction which proves that אמלל is not treated as part. Pul. (= מאמלל ), for its characteristic a4 is unchangeable. The prayer for healing is based upon the plea that his bones (Job 4:14; Isaiah 38:13) are affrighted. We have no German word exactly corresponding to this נבהל which (from the radical notion “to let go,” cogn. בּלהּ ) expresses a condition of outward overthrow and inward consternation, and is therefore the effect of fright which disconcerts one and of excitement that deprives one of self-control.
(Note: We have translated Dr. Delitzsch's word erschrecht literally - the vexed of the Authorized Version seems hardly equal to the meaning.)
His soul is still more shaken than his body. The affliction is therefore not a merely bodily ailment in which only a timorous man loses heart. God's love is hidden from him. God's wrath seems as though it would wear him completely away. It is an affliction beyond all other afflictions. Hence he enquires: And Thou, O Jahve, how long?! Instead of אתה it is written את , which the Kerî says is to be read אתּה , while in three passages (Numbers 11:15; Deuteronomy 5:24; Ezekiel 28:14) אתּ is admitted as masc.
(Heb.: 6:5-8) God has turned away from him, hence the prayer שׁוּבה , viz., אלי . The tone of שׁוּבה is on the ult., because it is assumed to be read שׁוּבה אדני . The ultima accentuation is intended to secure its distinct pronunciation to the final syllable of שׁובה , which is liable to be drowned and escape notice in connection with the coming together of the two aspirates (vid., on Psalms 3:8). May God turn to him again, rescue ( חלּץ from חלץ , which is transitive in Hebr. and Aram., to free, expedire, exuere , Arab. chalaṣa , to be pure, prop. to be loose, free) his soul, in which his affliction has taken deep root, from this affliction, and extend to him salvation on the ground of His mercy towards sinners. He founds this cry for help upon his yearning to be able still longer to praise God, - a happy employ, the possibility of which would be cut off from him if he should die. זכר , as frequently הזכּיר , is used of remembering one with reverence and honour; הודה (from ודה ) has the dat. honoris after it. שׁאול , Psalms 6:6, ἅδης (Revelation 20:13), alternates with מות . Such is the name of the grave, the yawning abyss, into which everything mortal descends (from שׁאל שׁוּל Arab. sâl , to be loose, relaxed, to hang down, sink down: a sinking in, that which is sunken in,
(Note: The form corresponds to the Arabic form fi‛âlun , which, though originally a verbal abstract, has carried over the passive meaning into the province of the concrete, e.g., kitâb = maktûb and ilâh , אלוהּ = ma‛lûh = ma‛bûd (the feared, revered One).)
a depth). The writers of the Psalms all (which is no small objection against Maccabean Psalms) know only of one single gathering-place of the dead in the depth of the earth, where they indeed live, but it is only a quasi life, because they are secluded from the light of this world and, what is the most lamentable, from the light of God's presence. Hence the Christian can only join in the prayer of v. 6 of this Psalm and similar passages (Psalms 30:10; Psalms 88:11-13; Psalms 115:17; Isaiah 38:18.) so far as he transfers the notion of hades to that of gehenna.
(Note: An adumbration of this relationship of Christianity to the religion of the Old Testament is the relationship of Islam to the religion of the Arab wandering tribes, which is called the “religion of Abraham” ( Din Ibrâhim ), and knows no life after death; while Islam has taken from the later Judaism and from Christianity the hope of a resurrection and heavenly blessedness.)
In hell there is really no remembrance and no praising of God. David's fear of death as something in itself unhappy, is also, according to its ultimate ground, nothing but the fear of an unhappy death. In these “pains of hell” he is wearied with ( בּ as in Psalms 69:4) groaning, and bedews his couch every night with a river of tears. Just as the Hiph. השׂחה signifies to cause to swim from שׂחה to swim, so the Hiph. המסה signifies to dissolve, cause to melt, from מסה (cogn. מסס ) to melt. דּמעה , in Arabic a nom. unit. a tear, is in Hebrew a flood of tears.
In Psalms 6:8 עיני does not signify my “appearance” (Numbers 11:7), but, as becomes clear from Psalms 31:10; Psalms 88:10, Job 17:7, “my eye;” the eye reflects the whole state of a man's health. The verb עשׁשׁ appears to be a denominative from עשׁ : to be moth-eaten.
(Note: Reuchlin in his grammatical analysis of the seven Penitential Psalms, which he published in 1512 after his Ll. III de Rudimentis Hebraicis (1506), explains it thus: עשׁשׁה Verminavit. Sic a vermibus dictum qui turbant res claras puras et nitidas , and in the Rudim. p. 412: Turbatus est a furore oculus meus, corrosus et obfuscatus, quasi vitro laternae obductus .)
The signification senescere for the verb עתק is more certain. The closing words בּכל־צוררי (cf. Numbers 10:9 הצּר הצּרר the oppressing oppressor, from the root צר Arab. tsr, to press, squeeze, and especially to bind together, constringere, coartare
(Note: In Arabic ציר dir is the word for a step-mother as the oppressor of the step-children; and צרר dirr, a concubine as the oppressor of her rival.)),
in which the writer indicates, partially at least, the cause of his grief ( כּעס , in Job 18:7 כּעשׁ ), are as it were the socket into which the following strophe is inserted.
(Heb.: 6:9-11) Even before his plaintive prayer is ended the divine light and comfort come quickly into his heart, as Frisch says in his “Neuklingende Harfe Davids.” His enemies mock him as one forsaken of God, but even in the face of his enemies he becomes conscious that this is not his condition. Thrice in Psalms 6:9, Psalms 6:10 his confidence that God will answer him flashes forth: He hears his loud sobbing, the voice of his weeping that rises towards heaven, He hears his supplication, and He graciously accepts his prayer. The twofold שׁמע expresses the fact and יקח its consequence. That which he seems to have to suffer, shall in reality be the lot of his enemies, viz., the end of those who are rejected of God: they shall be put to shame. The בּושׁ , Syr. b e het , Chald. בּהת בּהת , which we meet with here for the first time, is not connected with the Arab. bht , but (since the Old Arabic as a rule has t` as a mediating vowel between ש and t, ) ת with Arab. bât , which signifies “to turn up and scatter about things that lie together (either beside or upon each other)” eruere et diruere, disturbare , - a root which also appears in the reduplicated form Arab. bṯṯ : to root up and disperse, whence Arab. battun , sorrow and anxiety, according to which therefore בּושׁ (= בּושׁ as Arab. bâta = bawata ) prop. signifies disturbare , to be perplexed, lose one's self-control, and denotes shame according to a similar, but somewhat differently applied conception to confundi , συγχεῖσθαι , συγχύνεσθαι . ויבּהלוּ points back to Psalms 6:2, Psalms 6:3: the lot at which the malicious have rejoiced, shall come upon themselves. As is implied in יבשׁוּ ישׁבוּ , a higher power turns back the assailants filled with shame (Psalms 9:4; Psalms 35:4).
What an impressive finish we have here in these three Milels , jashûbu jebôshu rāga ), in relation to the tripping measure of the preceding words addressed to his enemies! And, if not intentional, yet how remarkable is the coincidence, that shame follows the involuntary reverse of the foes, and that יבשׁו in its letters and sound is the reverse of ישׁבו ! What music there is in the Psalter! If composers could but understand it!!
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 6". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26