Psalm 6, which calls for stringed instrument accompaniment, is the first “penitential” psalm (see David Guzik commentary; C.H. Spurgeon commentary). Per C.H. Spurgeon, the psalm “expresses at once the sorrow , the humiliation , and the hatred of sin  which are the unfailing marks of the contrite spirit when it turns to God” (Spurgeon id). We shift in the tone of the last few psalms from the external (David’s anguished mental state as a result of the threat of his enemies) to the internal (David’s anguished mental state as a result of his own sin and presumably guilt), although as we will see David is suffering from within and without. This is indicative of the walk of the saints. Every saint will sin (1 John 1:10), although we should not make a practice of it (1 John 3:9). We are always fighting a two-pronged assault, the threats of the physical world without and the negative effects our sins can have on our consciences within. We must walk on the tightrope between the two and make sure we are centered in Christ and taking refuge in him lest we should lose our footing. It is important to turn to God in the face of either to regain our center in him.
O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing,
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord – how long?
(Psalm 6:1-3 ESV)
The Lord chastises his children when they are not walking with him, but we should never chafe at this because the Lord chastises those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6). The chastisement may not feel pleasant at the time, but it is for a greater purpose, our sanctification. However, as Spurgeon notes, we should feel free to ask the Lord to stay his hand and, if it be within his will, not go too hard on us (Spurgeon id). Speaking for myself, I am guilty of trying to be tough and just taking whatever life throws at me without asking for help but this is a foolish thing to do. The Lord is a god of mercy, and if we don’t ask for it we are robbing ourselves of it and a deeper relationship with him. If we don’t pray for mercy (and then watch with delight and thanksgiving when we receive it) we are missing out on an opportunity to better understand and appreciate his mercy.
We also see that sin and guilt have consequences on our soul and body. We languish, our bones and soul are troubled. As one commentator notes it is one thing if just your body is troubled, but when your soul also is troubled it is extremely difficult to endure (Matthew Henry commentary). The final line of the verse speaks to how difficult it is to bear when we are in such a sick state. I think there are few things as powerful as sickness (particularly sickness of the soul) when it comes to motivation to draw closer to God. We realize our dependence on him and need for his lovingkindness and tender mercies. Spurgeon compares the cry of a sick man waiting for relief to the cry of all Christendom waiting in its sickness for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (Spurgeon id).
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
(Psalm 6:4-5 ESV)
Here David pleads to the Lord’s self-interest (if you could call it that). Who will praise the Lord if David is dead? I have read that this prayer has been used before to great effect (healing someone of their illness) and have used it myself and I must say, even though I know that God does not “need” me to praise him, I think this prayer is used as a pattern for us to follow so we should make use of it. Of course we also need to be praising God frequently in our prayer life so that we can make such a petition in truth.
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
(Psalm 6:6-7 ESV)
Here we see the very serious effects this sickness is having on David; it appears this plague is upon him not just as a result of his own sins but also vexation from his enemies. He is awash in his tears and figuratively drowning in his sorrows. The lightness of his eyes have been taken from him and they grow dim because of his sadness. This resonates with me because I know in times of melancholy sometimes my eyelids feel heavy and my vision grows dim. Sometimes when life becomes overwhelming in the amount of difficulties we have to face we feel like we don’t even want to get out of bed and as if our body is physically weak because of all of our problems, as David laments above.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
(Psalm 6:8-10 ESV)
But here we see David triumphs! I can imagine all of David’s enemies hovering around him like a bunch of vultures and he has risen from his bed and shoo’d them all away. They scatter and flutter and flap this way and that in their panic. David knows the Lord has heard him so he has reason to rejoice. Though David was troubled he knows the Lord has heard his plea and it is the wicked, his enemies, who will be put to shame very soon.
Lord, at times we are beset from within and without, but you are our comforter and our physician. I pray for all of us who are feeling down today or who are beset by ills that you heal us in our sickness that we may rise in triumph and praise your holy name. Hallelujah!
*ESV=English Standard Version