Bible Commentaries
Psalms 6

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Verses 1-3


Psalm 6 is a penitence psalm, the first of the seven penitence psalms found in Psalms (Psalms 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). This psalm describes the exercises of soul brought about by the afflictions in Psalms 3-5. With that now comes the awareness that the distress comes not only from the enemy, but from the LORD Himself. And that brings the psalmist, David, to penitence. That is why this penitence psalm is sung in a low, somber voice. It can be compared to what Joseph works with his brothers by his way of dealing with them (Genesis 42-44).

David’s deep soul stirrings and struggles here, however, are not the result of a distress caused by sinners around him who are seeking his life. It is a distress that stems from the awareness that, seen in God’s light, he himself is a sinner. This need presses so heavily upon him that he feels as if he is about to collapse. He experiences his need physically, in his bones, and in his soul, through the awareness of who he is before the LORD. Added to that is the scorn of the adversaries.

These are two sides of the same matter. One side is that the faithful believers live in the midst of the apostates. They live in those circumstances to the glory of God and know that He is on their side. That evokes enmity and persecution from the haters of God. In that awareness, they bring their enemies, who so oppress them, before God. God hates those workers of iniquity and so they ask that He overthrows them. They point out to God the violence and mendacity of their persecutors and wish Him to judge them. This is what David, and in the end times the faithful remnant of Israel, speaks to God about in Psalm 5 (Psalms 5:5-Joshua :; Psalms 5:10).

The other side is the inner distress that the faithful believer has, which is the result of the awareness of his own sinful nature. We see that here in Psalm 6, where David is speaking of himself. At the same time, we also hear here prophetically the faithful remnant of Israel in the future. A faithful believer knows that in himself he is no better than the haters of God. He himself has been one of them in the past (cf. Titus 3:3). And also as a believer he knows that he will come to sin if he does not keep himself dead to sin and forgets that he depends on grace.

We see both sides in Isaiah, for example. In Isaiah 5, Isaiah speaks six times “woe” over various sins of God’s people (Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:20Isaiah 5:21; Isaiah 5:22). In Isaiah 6, Isaiah speaks the “woe” for the seventh time, but this time over himself. This happens when he comes face to face with the glory of the LORD (Isaiah 6:1-Deuteronomy :).

The two types of distress result in different perceptions of one’s relationship to God. For the distress caused by the surrounding enemies, David seeks and experiences support from God. For the inner distress, the distress of his conscience, which is caused by the awareness of sins, he experiences God’s anger. He also goes to God with the need because of his sins, however, not to seek support and protection, but to acknowledge his guilt and to beg for mercy. Sin that is acknowledged does not drive away from God, but drives towards Him, for only with Him is forgiveness.

Psalm 6 gives the deep experience of a believer who is aware of who he is in himself. God wants His own – and that goes for the New Testament believer as much as for the Old Testament believer! – to be deeply aware of this. The deeper someone becomes aware of this, the more thankful he will be for his forgiveness. As a result, love for and dedication to God and the Lord Jesus will increase. At the same time, the testimony of forgiveness will gain tremendous power, regardless of the reaction of the environment to it. This is not about God’s work for us, but in us.

Prayer for Grace and Healing

For “for the choir director” see at Psalm 4:1.

For “with stringed instruments” see at Psalm 4:1.

Here it is added that it is sung accompanied by “an eight-string lyre” (Psalms 6:1). This addition occurs in Psalms only here and in the heading of Psalm 12 (Psalms 12:1). The “eighth” is the translation of a word derived from the word for ‘eight’. The word is used in music to indicate playing an octave lower and has also been translated ‘octave harps’ (1 Chronicles 15:21, footnote by ‘lyre’).

We can compare this to the low bass voice in a polyphonic song. The bass voice fits well with this melancholic song. In this psalm we hear the deep, low voice of someone who is struggling inwardly because of his own sinfulness. He feels God’s powerful hand on him (1 Peter 5:6).

For “a Psalm of David” see at Psalm 3:1

The distress expressed in this psalm applies not only to David’s experience but also to that of the remnant in the end times. The tribulation of the remnant will be severe. As mentioned, this is not only because of the enemies around them, but also because their conscience tells them that they are oppressed by God because of their sins. That is why David speaks about it – and so will the faithful remnant of Israel in the end times – that the LORD, the God of the covenant, is punishing him (Psalms 6:1). However, this does not alienate and drive him away from God, but rather he clings to Him as a result.

David does not deny that he deserves punishment and is to be punished. He is not asking if God will not punish him, but if God will not do it in His anger and in His wrath. If God poured out His full anger and wrath on him, nothing would be left of him (cf. Jeremiah 10:24). He is deeply impressed by the holiness and righteousness of God and acknowledges that he cannot stand before Him if He “should mark iniquities” (Psalms 130:3).

All David can do is beg God to be gracious to him (Psalms 6:2). There is no right to which he could appeal. By virtue of the covenant, God should punish him, yet he asks for mercy. He is totally weakened and on the verge of death. He is sick and there is no strength in his bones to move, let alone walk. His body is decrepit and powerless. He begs God for mercy and healing. Everything must come from Him. From Him the disciplinary action has come. Only He can also take it away (Psalms 39:10). Therefore, in his hopeless situation, he has placed his hope in Him.

Not only is his body affected by the discipline, but his soul also suffers greatly (Psalms 6:3). A person can sometimes endure much physical suffering, but when the soul succumbs, the strength to endure the suffering is gone. David realizes that he has no power to save himself from misery and that he has no right that God would save him. He is without strength and without right.

All that remains is to keep looking forward to God’s salvation in spite of everything. We hear this in the second line of Psalms 6:3. Through the despair we hear that he expects his distress of conscience to come to an end. Only, how long will it take? He puts that question to Him Who alone can give the answer.

Verses 4-7

The Call to the LORD to Return

He calls on the LORD to return to him, to no longer turn away from him (Psalms 6:4). He longs for the salvation of his soul, for he is greatly dismayed, as he has just said in Psalms 6:3. There is nothing in himself that he could refer to as a ground for his salvation. When the LORD saves and redeems him, the only ground for that is His “lovingkindness”. The word “lovingkindness” is again the translation of the Hebrew word chesed, which means that God is righteous and is faithful to His covenant for that very reason. That is why David appeals to it. His salvation and redemption will be a testimony of God’s goodness. For that He will be glorified.

The latter will not happen if He does not rescue and save him, but allows him to perish (Psalms 6:5). When David dies, there is no testimony of God’s lovingkindness, no remembrance of Him and no thanksgiving to Him (Psalms 30:9; Isaiah 38:18). In death and in Sheol, deathly silence reigns (Psalms 115:17). Surely that is not God’s intention with David, is it? Surely He wants Him to be remembered and given thanks, isn’t it (cf. Isaiah 38:19-Proverbs :)?

We see here the Old Testament believer’s limited knowledge of the state of the hereafter. Through the full revelation of Christ we know that a believer who dies is with the Lord Jesus in paradise (Luke 23:43). He is at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) and enjoys His presence (Philippians 1:23). Man is fully aware of his situation after death (Luke 16:25). It is a conscious state. The teaching of so-called “soul sleep” is contrary to what Scripture teaches.

David is weary of his sighing, of his inner struggle (Psalms 6:6). He cannot sleep, for he can only cry, all night long. His sorrow is deep. His bed and his resting place, places where he should rest, are soaking wet with his tears. In Psalm 3, he can sleep peacefully while surrounded by numerous enemies (Psalms 3:5-Joshua :). Now that his conscience torments him because of his sins, he struggles and does not come to rest.

His “eye has wasted away with grief” (cf. Job 17:7) and “become old” because of all his adversaries (Psalms 6:7). His eyes, because of his deep sorrow, no longer have the sharp sight on God (cf. Psalms 38:10). He grieves over his sins. He has become old in his gaze because of the opponents who painfully remind him of his sins. His conscience is overwhelmed by this. He has come to an end with himself. This is at the same time the turning point, as the last verses of this psalm show.

Verses 8-10

David Regained His Confidence

David is convinced that the LORD – three times he mentions His Name in Psalms 6:8-1 Samuel : – has answered his prayer of Psalms 6:4. From this faith he speaks to his opponents. By grace, the LORD has heard David’s “the voice of … weeping” (Psalms 6:8) and received his prayer (Psalms 6:9). Now He is going to intervene (Psalms 6:10).

After his profound confession in the previous verses, David speaks in Psalms 6:8 to “all you who do iniquity”. These are the people God has used to discipline Him. When God has accomplished His purpose with His discipline, He can tell them to leave him alone. David is not saying this in a superior manner, but in the awareness that the LORD has heard his “weeping”.

It can be compared to the boldness with which Peter says to the men of Israel that they have denied Christ, even though he himself had previously done so. Peter, however, wept bitter tears of repentance over it. He has received forgiveness on the basis of his confession (1 John 1:9). As a result, he can say this without hesitation and without posturing. This is also true of the believing remnant of Israel. After they have repented and separated themselves from the sins of the people, they have boldness to point out to the people their sins.

We can and should point to people their sins, even if they are sins we have done ourselves. We point out people’s sins not because we are better, but because they can be confessed and forgiven, just as we have confessed them and they have been forgiven us (cf. Titus 3:3-Joshua :).

In Psalms 6:10, David turns to himself. He knows that the LORD has heard his “supplication”. He has begged for mercy and healing (Psalms 6:2). Supplication is intense and sincere prayer from a sorrow that can only be taken away by God. Those who go to God in this way can confidently say: “The LORD receives my prayer.”

The effects of David’s confidence in the answer to his prayer and the LORD’s forgiveness are also seen in the reaction of the enemies (Psalms 6:10). They will be ashamed. They thought God was against David, but He turns out to be for him. As a result, they will be greatly dismayed. Instead of attacking him again they recoil. They no longer have to deal with David, but with the great and awesome God Who is not against David, but for him. In a moment their enmity changes to shame.

This will happen to all the enemies who will attack God’s people in the future. They will be used to judge the apostate people and purge the faithful remnant. When God has accomplished His purpose with His people through that discipline, all hostile nations will be ashamed, for they will see that God is not against, but for His people.

Even in the lives of believers, it can seem that God is against them. Their enemies mock them. But there will come a time when the roles will be reversed. Then the persecutors will be ashamed and the persecuted will rejoice. The oppressors will be oppressed, while the oppressed will have rest (2 Thessalonians 1:6-Judges :).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 6". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.