Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Psalms 6

Verses 1-10

Psalms 6:0

To the chief Musician on Neginoth upon Sheminith. A Psalm of David

1          O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger,

Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

2     Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak:

O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.

3     My soul is also sore vexed:

But thou, O Lord, how long?

4          Return, O Lord, deliver my soul:

Oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

5     For in death there is no remembrance of thee:

In the grave who shall give thee thanks?

6     I am weary with my groaning;

All the night make I my bed to swim;
I water my couch with my tears.

7     Mine eye is consumed because of grief;

It waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

8          Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity;

For the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.

9     The Lord hath heard my supplication;

The Lord will receive my prayer.

10     Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed:

Let them return and be ashamed suddenly.


Respecting the title, compare the Introduction. The Church has with propriety made this Psalm the first of the seven penitential Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.). For we recognize here, not the prayer of one who was greatly troubled (Francke Introductio p. 64), but the supplication of a man who has been brought by Divine chastisements (Psalms 6:1) to the border of the grave (Psalms 6:5-7), who yet is assured of being heard (Psalms 6:8-9), directed (Psalms 6:2), and sustained (Psalms 6:4) by grace. And yet he feels the wrath of God not in sickness (Aben Ezra, Ewald), but in distress through ungodly enemies (Psalms 6:7-8; Psalms 6:10), and he grieves so much, that bodily weakness is the consequence of his anguish of soul (Psalms 6:2-3; Psalms 6:6-7). The opinion, that the description of sickness is only a highly colored illustration of trouble (to which Hupfeld inclines), is not supported by the text, still less the conjecture that the sufferer is the Jewish nation, or the better part of it which was in exile (Aben Ezra prophetically, De Wette historically). The points of contact with Jeremiah (Hitzig, Maurer, Olsh.) are of the kind that they presuppose rather the greater antiquity of the Psalm; for Jeremiah 10:24, corresponding with this Psalm, is directly followed, Psalm 6:25, with words from Psalms 39:6 sq. (Delitzsch). Hengstenberg, very properly against Hitzig, refers to 1 Samuel 30:6; 2 Samuel 12:16 sq.; 1 Samuel 15:30, as historical proofs of a similar disposition in David, and Delitzsch reminds us of the consequences of his intercourse with Bathsheba, whilst Ruding refers to the rebellion of Absalom. Not a few of the penitential hymns of the Church have grown out of this Psalm.

Str. I. Psa 6:1. Rebuke me not in Thine anger.—The position of the words shows that an emphasis is to be put upon “anger.” But in the course of the Psalm the Psalmist supplicates for the deliverance of his soul and body, and is finally convinced of his complete deliverance from the power of those who afflict him. He prays moreover not for a loving chastisement (Psalms 94:12; Psalms 118:18; Proverbs 3:11 sq.), for the sake of training the favored one, in contrast to a chastisement in anger as it comes upon the unconverted ungodly; so also not for a moderate punishment in contrast to a severe passionate treatment; but simply for a prevention of the chastisement, which because it is received as the punishment of sin, has an essential connection with the wrath of God, and would bring about the ruin of the one thus punished, unless it should be prevented by grace, Jeremiah 10:24 sq. (Calv., Hengstenberg, Hupf.). Domine quousque? was Calvin’s motto.1 [Riehm: “In his present condition it is as if he prayed, ‘punish me no longer.’ ” Perowne: “The Psalmist prays that the rod may altogether be removed, and that because body and mind are alike growing weary. The chastisement has been so heavy and has endured so long, and his sense of sin is so grievous, that he begins to fear lest God should shut up His tender mercies in displeasure and should consume him in His wrath.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 6:2. [I am weak—אֻמְלַל אָנִי, umlal ani. The pronoun ânî was supposed by Gesenius to be for the affirmative = אֻמְלַלְתִּי first pers. perf. of the pulal of אָמַל = to languish, to droop as plants and flowers, and thus by transfer, of trouble and care. Others (Hupfeld, Hitzig) regard it as part. pulal = מַאֻמְלָל, the מ being omitted, as not unfrequently in this participle, and the kametz shortened into pathach on account of the accentuation, the two words having in fact but one accent. It is better, however, with Ewald (Lehrbuch, § 157 b) and Delitzsch to regard it as an adjective, like the form רַעֲנָן, with the same change in the kametz, kindred to אֲמֵלָל, Neh. 3:34. Barnes: “Here applied to a sick person whose strength is withered and gone. The condition of such an one is beautifully compared with a plant that withers for lack of moisture; and the word is here used in this sense as referring to the Psalmist himself when sick, as the result of his outward and mental sorrows.”—C. A. B.]

Bones.—Hupfeld shows that this in poetical usage denotes, not only the frame of the body or the entire body, in all that concerns the feelings of life, but also the entire man as a sensitive being, and indeed also in spiritual or ethical and religious relations and expressions of life, comp. Psalms 35:10; Psalms 51:8. Yet there is here a reference to a shaking of the body, because the still more violent commotion of the soul is directly mentioned (Psalms 6:3). Therefore also the soul (Psalms 6:3) is not a circumlocution for the person, or substratum of the suffering subject (Hupf.); so also not a designation of the life which is endangered (J. H. Michael., Hengst.); but that real soul, which after death continues its existence with departed spirits in Hades, but yet has no complete life in itself. [Wordsworth: “The Septuagint has here ἡ ψυχή μου ἐταράχθη. words adopted by our Lord Himself in His sufferings (John 12:27; Psalms 42:3-7).”—C. A. B.]

Str. II. [Psalms 6:4. Return.—Perowne: “For it seems to the sufferer as if God had been absent during his affliction; and there is no hope for him but in God. Therefore the repeated prayer, ‘Do Thou be gracious unto me: how long wilt Thou be absent? Return Thou,’ etc. And observe not only ‘be gracious for I languish,’ but ‘deliver me for Thy loving-kindness’ sake.’ Any man may use the first; only one who has tasted that the Lord is gracious can use the last.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 6:5. For in death there is no remembrance of Thee.—The petition has as its motive the fact that the Divine interest itself is concerned in the deliverance of the man who can render thanks well-pleasing to God, only as living and not as one lost in death and swallowed up in Hades. Yet this is only one side of the thought. The other side (which is frequently overlooked) is likewise brought into view, namely, that the petitioner has at heart, to render thanks and praise to the glory of God. The relation is therefore in no respect a selfish one, in which the interests of selfishness prevail, but a moral and religious one. The etymology of Sheol [incorrectly rendered in A. V. “grave.”—C. A. B.] is doubtful, but not the idea which the Old Testament has of it as the gathering-place of departed spirits in a gloomy and Sorrowful place under the earth, from which there is no possible escape by human help, and in which the departed lead a shadowy existence rather than a real and complete life. Christ has not only made a change in the ideas concerning the condition of the dead, but has also partly brought about and partly made possible a change in the condition itself.2

Psalms 6:6. I make of my bed a flood of tears [“I water my couch with my tears,” A. V.].—Camphausen literally: “I make my bed to flow away.” We are not to substitute countenance for eye (most interpreters since Vatabl ). The life of the soul as well as the body is mirrored in the eye; therefore in descriptions of bodily and spiritual condition and qualities it is often mentioned as the representative of the countenance and the entire man (Hupf.).

Psalms 6:7. Hupfeld justifies the signification grief against Hengstenberg as a poetical generalization of the word which certainly in Hebrew means primarily indignation and ill-will, particularly with respect to another’s folly and unfaithfulness. [Alexander: “Mine eye has failed, grown dim, a common symptom both of mental and bodily distress; from vexation, not mere grief, but grief mixed with indignation at my enemies.” Barnes: “It waxeth old, experiences the effects commonly produced by age in blunting the power of vision. This is not an uncommon effect of grief and sadness.”—C. A. B.]

Str. III. [Psalms 6:8. Alexander: “Here the key abruptly changes from the tone of sorrowful complaint to that of joyful confidence. No gradual transition could have so successfully conveyed the idea, that the prayer of the Psalmist has been heard and will be answered. The effect, is like that of a whisper in the sufferer’s ear, while still engrossed with his distresses, to assure him that they are about to terminate. This he announces by a direct and bold address to his persecuting enemies.” Perowne: “Mark the sudden change as of sunrise upon night. Already the prayer and the weeping have been heard. Already faith has triumphed.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 6:10. They will be ashamed.—The imperfects are not to be taken as optatives [“Let all mine enemies be ashamed,” etc., A. V.], but as futures, for the hearing of his prayer is so certain to the Psalmist that he has already, on this account, called out to those who afflict him in a tone of triumph: depart from me (Psalms 6:8).

שוּב [A. V., return] means not penitential turning back of his enemies to the Psalmist (Aben Ezra, Kimchi), is moreover not an auxiliary to express the adverb, again, anew (Venema, Paul), but it means the external side of the failure of their attack, as בוֹש [A. V., be ashamed], the internal. Delitzsch calls our attention to the musical cadence.


1. Sin draws after it punishment, and the judgment of an angry God is terrible; but only the impenitent sinner is lost, not the penitent. It is true, in bitter, heartfelt grief over his sins, he experiences a sorrow, which not only grieves the soul, but also withers the body; but he feels at the same time that he is mightily drawn towards God by this godly sorrow. He confesses his guilt and the justice of the punishment with which the holy God visits him, and makes known that he is well aware how richly he deserves the disfavor and wrath of God, and how he has forfeited his life with his sins. But he perceives in this very punishment that God is still interested in him, and he himself has still a longing after God. He can still believe in grace, and therefore pray for life; and in this consists the saving change which takes place in his condition. Ne desperando augeamus peccata, propositus est pœnitentiæ portus; rursus, ne sperando augeamus, datus est dies mortis incertus (Augustine)

2. As long as nothing is to be expected after death, but a realm of shades in the world below for the gathering of departed souls, so long fear of death is the prevailing power with the sinner, and his prayer for deliverance is chiefly directed towards the preservation of his life which is threatened. A germ of further development lies in the recognition of the fact that this preservation is a work of grace. But as long as communion with God is not yet recognized and desired as the true good in the life which has been saved by grace, and there is not found at the same time in this deliverance which is longed for, a restoration to this communion which has been destroyed by sin, so long there is lacking the assurance that there is a life higher than the earthly, and that life with, for, and in God is the only true life. But such assurance now forms the fruitful soil for thoughts of eternal life, and for faith in the resurrection of the dead. Yet this does not come into consideration here. However a step in this direction is taken by the expression of the conviction that God can receive the recognition, honor and praise due Him, only from the living, and not from the dead.

3. The relation of man to the world in general, and to other men in particular, very much depends upon the relation in which he stands to God. If a man is regarded as forsaken of God, the number and audacity of his enemies increase, he is regarded as an easy prey, and those who are themselves evil-doers think that they can judge, condemn and crush their opponent on account of his sins. But if God turns His grace upon the penitent, and accepts the contrite again, so that the hand of God is seen in his affairs delivering and blessing him, then people look more to the change of his condition than the reason for it, and but seldom does it accomplish their conversion; but they feel ashamed and retire. Quanto benignius de Deo, tanto indignius de me sentire cogor (Anselm).—Egrediente natura ingreditur Deus (Tauler).


The severest afflictions are turned into blessings, if they (1) remind us of our guilt by which we have drawn upon us the wrath of God; (2) if they urge us to the godly sorrow of repentance; (3) if they stir us up to believing supplication for the grace of God.—It is better to fall into the hands of God than of men, for God punishes earnestly in His righteous wrath; but He likewise is gracious towards those who turn to Him in repentance.—The most bitter part of affliction is the sense of Divine wrath; but this bitterness is a healing remedy, if it excites us to seek with penitence and lay hold of the grace of God by faith.—We learn to overcome even the peril of death, if we attain to the point of seeking life with God and gaining the preservation of life from God.Prayer and tears are the strongest weapons man can have; by them God allows Himself to be overcome.—The most fortunate turns in life take place (1) when we turn to God as converts; (2) when God turns again His grace upon us; (3) when our enemies turn away ashamed.

Luther: To realize sin aright is torment above all other torments.—To wait, is in all the movements of the heart very hard and irksome.—Starke: God lays hold of the ungodly with the punishment of His wrath, but the pious with the chastisement of discipline, in order that those who bring forth fruit, may bring forth more fruit.—No one can be strengthened by God, or rightly experience the grace of God, without first experiencing his own weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).—We do not deserve any grace by the toil and anguish of our penitence for sin; yet we can present it before God, because He has promised in such disposition of the bruised heart for Christ’s sake to bestow His grace.—How long? how long? are the usual words of lamentation of cross-bearers in general, but especially of those who are inexperienced, which God is ready to receive favorably, if only they are not without faith and tranquillity.—When God turns away with His grace from man, it is the soul’s greatest sorrow; when God turns again to man with His grace, that is the redemption and hope of the soul.—The children of the world desire a long life for the sake of carnal gratification: but the children of God in order to glorify the Divine name; and thus a Christian may ask for a prolongation of his life.—Christians should not be ashamed of tears; in those who are truly penitent they are the witnesses of a painful sorrow for sin.—It is not for the laughing mouth to be truly penitent; it demands the inner repentance of the heart, body, and soul, and all the powers.—O great folly to make so much of the external beautiful form of the body, and make a show of it! how soon may it be destroyed by sickness of body or of spirit.—What sad consequences sin has when conscience awakes!—Truly he must be a loving Father who hears the supplication, weeping, and prayers of His children, even when He seems to be angry and punishes them on account of their sins.—Let no one delay to repent and be converted; for God’s punishments descend suddenly.—August.: Woe to human life, be it never so estimable and precious, if the mercy of God is not there.—Osiander: We need the chastisement of God; but we should pray that this may not be too hard for us to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).—Thus it happens, that as good days swiftly pass, one day spent in trouble and anguish appears to be a year long. Trouble and internal vexation consume all the powers of body and spirit; but God can give us new powers again.—Bugenhagen: Only he who implores the mercy of God can escape the wrath of God.—Selnekker: When thou art frightened on account of thy sins, and know not how to get rid of them, flee to God, and confess thy sins to Him; uncover them to Him, in order that He may cover them.—Eccard: It is very dangerous for a man, when it comes to this, that God punishes him in His wrath, and scourges him in His fury.—Oh and woe are among all men the best teachers and tuners of prayer.—We should flee from the angry God to the reconciled God, and we should appeal from His strong righteousness to His paternal goodness and mercy.—Three heart breakers most violently assail us: (1) When God lays hold of that part of us which gives the most pain; (2) when many needs and sorrows come together; (3) when they last long, and as it seems to us, without end.—Baumgarten: As God’s grace is better than life, so is His wrath worse than death itself.—Renschel: God has two modes of punishment: (1) The punishment of wrath; (2) that of discipline.—We may very properly pray for the prolongation of temporal life, chiefly for this purpose, that we may declare the praise, honor, and name of God.—Frisch: God sees not so much the weeping eye as the broken heart.—Herberger: On the sick bed there is no work more sacred than con fession and repentance.—When misfortune hurts the body, the soul has its consolation; when it hurts the soul it only lasts a little while to the pious.—Not to be in favor with God is the greatest pain.—Thinking and thanking belong together.—The best and the most profitable sorrow in the world is for the sins we have committed.—The prayers of the pious do not vanish in the air, but press through the clouds of heaven.—Rieger: Where a man has not attained the experience of his nothingness and weakness, and that all carnal ability, strength, and wisdom, go to ruin in him, he cannot share in the grace of God.—The sighing of the soul includes the whole of repentance, painful regret, faith, desire of Divine grace, hunger and thirst after righteousness.—Tholuck: To the man of God the bitterest drop in the cup of trouble is the sense of the wrath of God, which he experiences in the chastisements of God—Guenther: It very naturally happens that when we will not humble ourselves under the strong hand of God, the first affliction is only the weak beginning of a chain of afflictions, in which we will at last be choked unto eternal death.

[Matth. Henry: Those heap up wrath who cry not when God binds them; but those are getting ready for mercy who, under God’s rebukes, sow in tears.—David, that could face Goliath himself, and many another threatening enemy, with an undaunted bravery, yet melts into tears at the remembrance of sin, and under the apprehension of Divine wrath; and it is no diminution at all to his character.—Spurgeon: This is the right way to plead with God if we would prevail. Urge not your goodness or your greatness, but plead your sin and your bitterness. Cry, “I am weak,” therefore, O Lord, give me strength, and crush me not.—Send not forth the fury of Thy tempest against so weak a vessel. Temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Be tender and pitiful to a poor withering flower, and break it not from its stem.—When we seek pardon, we are not asking God to do that which will stain His banner, or put a blot on His escutcheon. He delighteth in mercy. It is His peculiar, darling attribute.—Repentance is a practical thing. It is not enough to bemoan the desecration of the temple of the heart, we must scourge out the buyers and sellers, and overturn the tables of the money changers. A pardoned sinner will hate the sins which cost the Saviour His blood. Grace and sin are quarrelsome neighbors, and one or the other must go to the wall. Weeping is the eloquence of sorrow. It is an unstammering orator, needing no interpreter, but understood of all. Is it not sweet to believe that our tears are understood even when words fail? Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers, and of weeping as a constant dropping of importunate intercession which will wear its way right surely into the very heart of mercy, despite the stony difficulties which obstruct the way.—C. A. B.]


[1][It is said the most intense grief and trouble could not extract from him another word.—C. A. B.]

[2][שׁאוֹל. Gesenius, Ewald, Böttch., Maurer, e’ al., regard it as from the r*ot שאל = שעל = to dig, hollow out, like שׂעַל= hollow of the hand. מִשְׁעוֹל = hollow way, thus meaning a hollow, subterranean place. Germ., Hölle = Höhle = hollow, cavern; Eng., hell. Hupfeld derives it from שאל, an old root similar to נשׁל ,שׁלה ,שׁלל ,שׁוֹל, the radical letter being ל, with the idea of loose, lax, hanging down, in a double direction, expressing the idea of sinking down and separation (as χάω. hio χαλάω, etc.), hence the derivative idea of being swallowed up, abyss, depth (as in the poetical תַחְתִיוֹת הארץ), and also that of chasm. hollow empty space, as in Germ. Hölle and in χάσμα, χαος (also used for hell). So also Delitzsch. The former derivation is preferable. Delitzsch: “The Psalmist knows only one gathering-place for the dead in the depths of the earth, where they indeed live, but only a quasi life, because they have departed from the light of this world, and what is more lamentable, from the light of the Divine presence.” The Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades were alike. As the grave was the place of the dead body, Sheol or Hades was the place of departed spirits. This was taken for granted in the Old Testament, together with the doctrine of immortality, and there is a remarkable absence of revelation concerning it. The joy of God’s people was in the theocracy as existing in this world, and in the Messianic future, and it was not until the Messiah came, and died, and passed through the grave to a resurrection, that light shone upon the abode of the departed spirits, and even here a light only so far as that the light of a glorious resurrection shines through the riven grave and Hades (2 Timothy 1:10). Perowne: “The argument here employed is no doubt characteristic of the old dispensation. They who then feared and loved God, nevertheless walked in shadows, and their hope was not yet full of immortality. Hence their earnest clinging to life, so different from St. Paul’s ‘desire to depart,’ to which there is nothing parallel in the Old Testament. It was not that they dreaded annihilation, but rather a kind of disembodied existence apart from the light of God’s presence.—The Old Testament saints pleaded with God for life, in order that life might be consecrated to His service. And it is very touching to see how, with the weakness of man’s heart, trembling at dissolution, there mingles the child-like confidence which fears not to advance the plea that God’s glory is concerned in granting its request.” Compare Hezekiah’s sickness, Isaiah 38:18-19, also Moses’ prayer for the life of the people, Numbers 14:13-21.—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 6". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.