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Heading ‘For the chief musician on stringed instruments, set to the Sheminith (‘the eighth’, a musical notation?). A Psalm to/for David (i.e. a part of the Davidic collection, dedicated to and possibly written by David).’
The psalmist cries desperately to God in his need. Possibly because he is overburdened by his sin which he seems somehow unable to control, something which has been brought home to him by a prostrating illness. The mention of his ‘enemies’ comes in only in a secondary fashion as they seek to make the most of his grief. It is not they who mainly concern him, but his sin. But finally he ends on a note of triumph, and he knows that his enemies will be ashamed.
Then, having begun by praying for restoration of his health, and for an end to the chastening that he feels is the cause of the illness, he goes on to call on YHWH to restore him, describing his grief and misery, and finally tells his mocking adversaries that YHWH has done so, to their chagrin,
‘O YHWH do not rebuke me in your anger,
Nor chasten me in your hot displeasure,
Have mercy on me (show your graciousness towards me), O YHWH for I am withered away,
O YHWH heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is sore troubled,
And you, O YHWH, how long?’
What his illness was we do not know, but it had certainly deeply affected him, not necessarily because it was serious, but because it felt serious. He felt as though he could die. And this had brought home to him his sinfulness and he was deeply distressed and troubled in mind.
He knew that he deserved God’s rebuke. That he merited His hot displeasure. But he nowhere states why, and it may well be that it was just a result of the general sense of sinfulness he felt because of his belief that his illness was a punishment (in contrast with Psalms 38:0). But now he felt that he had been chastened enough and sought relief (compare Job 5:17).
Conscience makes cowards of us all, and certainly it had deeply affected him. His body felt withered, and his bones felt troubled, so that he longed for healing, but far more than this was the fact that his inner self was troubled by the thought of his sinfulness. He wanted to know how long it would be before YHWH brought him relief from his conscience, and gave him the sense of forgiveness.
‘Heal me, for my bones are troubled.’ The bones are poetically representative of the whole physical body. They are the seat of health (Proverbs 16:24), and of pain. (Compare the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:0 and see Psalms 31:10; Psalms 32:3; Psalms 38:3; Psalms 42:10; Psalms 102:3; Psalms 102:5). He was physically troubled and spiritually troubled. So he looked to the only final Source of healing, the One Who could heal both.
‘Return, O YHWH, deliver my soul,
Save me for your lovingkindness’ sake,
For in death there is no remembrance of you,
In Sheol who will give you thanks?’
He senses the loss of YHWH’s presence (compare Psalms 51:11). He feels that his sins have separated between him and God. So he pleads for Him to come back to him, on the basis of His warm covenant love, His lovingkindness, so as to heal him and restore their relationship. For he points out that he cannot worship YHWH if he dies and goes to the grave.
Sheol means the mysterious grave world where the dead go, and where they are only shadows without real life, in the land of silence and forgetfulness from where no man could return (Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 115:17; Isaiah 14:9; Ezekiel 31:17; Ezekiel 32:0; Job 3:17). And he felt so miserable and sinful, that unlike some other psalmists he could not muster up the thought that he might go to be with God (contrast Psalms 16:10-11; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 49:15; Psalms 73:24-25; Psalms 139:24).
‘I am weary with my groaning.
Every night I make my bed swim,
I water my couch with my tears.
My eye wastes away because of grief,
It grows old because of all those who distress me.
He goes on to describe his present state, groaning both because of his illness and because of his conscience stricken state, so much so that his bed is soaked with tears. Indeed it has affected his eyes, which reveal what he is going through, made worse by his adversaries who mock him in his state. The state of a man’s health is often revealed by his eyes, and here his eye ‘grows old’, that is, wrinkled and careworn.
Very few who are God’s have not experienced such times. Times of distress and smitten conscience, when they grew weary of the sense of sin and longed for deliverance. It is often a prelude to blessing, but it does not seem so at the time.
‘Leave me alone, all you workers of iniquity,
For YHWH has heard the sound of my weeping.
YHWH has heard my supplication,
YHWH will receive my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed and extremely vexed,
They will turn back, they will be suddenly ashamed.’
At last his illness begins to subside. He has once again become more confident in YHWH. He tells those who are distressing him to leave him alone because YHWH has responded to him. He knows that God has accepted his repentance, and is once again receiving his prayer. (Of course YHWH had never ceased receiving his prayer, but it was no good telling him that). He is once again restored to full fellowship with YHWH.
We know nothing about who the ‘workers of iniquity’ are. This is a favourite expression in the Psalms (Psalms 5:5; Psalms 14:4; Psalms 28:3 and often). In Matthew 7:22-23 it refers to those who while professing belief were not genuine in their belief. They were ‘wrongdoers’. These wrongdoers had possibly sought to comfort him by telling him not to take his sin so seriously. Or they may taken the opportunity to get their own back for ways in which he had previously pricked their consciences by his life and behaviour, by speaking out against his beliefs. They may well have thought that his experiences had demonstrated that they were right. We can compare Job’s friends in the book of Job.
But now he senses the restoration of God’s presence with him. He knows that he is forgiven. And he knows that the result can only be that those who railed at him are now put to shame, as well as being annoyed at his restoration in this way. It has upset their self-satisfied thoughts and beliefs. Thus they will turn back from him and leave him alone. It is their turn to be vexed or troubled (compare Psalms 6:2-3).
Notice the three steps to his restoration. YHWH has heard what his weeping has revealed, that he is truly repentant for his sin. YHWH has then heard his spoken prayers and pleas, returning to him the sense of His presence. And finally he is aware that once again YHWH is receiving his prayers. Full fellowship is restored.
And finally he is satisfied because his ‘enemies’ are thwarted. Like Job’s comforters, in the end they are put to flight. And his final hope is that through this they might be made to face up to their own position, recognising that his experience should trouble them and put them to shame.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13