We come now to one of many penitential psalms — psalms expressing grief and sorrow over sin, with a cry for God to extend His mercy and grace. “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger . . .” (Ps. 6:1-10).
Again, this is a psalm of David. We are not given the occasion for the psalm. This psalm is also for the strings, and it is to be “upon the eighth.” This could refer to an eight-stringed harp, but another possibility is suggest by the literal translation, “upon the octave.”
The psalm begins with a prayer for restraint. David knows that he has sinned, and that he merits punishment. At the same time, he prays that God would not discipline him according to his deserts. He does not want God to be heated or angry with him (v. 1).
David’s bones are vexed; he pleads with God on the basis of what he has already received and felt. He does not want God to assume that any more was needed (v. 2). He felt his weakness; his bones were vexed. In addition, his soul was vexed (v. 3). His prayer was a question— “God, how long do You think all this will remain necessary?” The answer is usually much longer than we want and much shorter than we fear.
Does God return? We know that God is omnipresent, and so in this sense, He cannot “return” anywhere. But to resort to metaphor, God can remove His blessing, and the psalmist assumes this and asks Him to return. Any return would save him, and would deliver his soul (v. 4).
David then deals with the silence of Sheol. David is still concerned with the glory of God (v. 5). Sheol was a land of forgetfulness, and who would render thanks to God from there? David does not overlook the final resurrection, but still argues that nothing should diminish (even temporarily) thanksgiving to God.
The psalmist is wasted in his grief. He is weary with groaning; he floods his bed and couch with tears (v. 6). He has cried out his eyes (v. 7). He has been sick, he has sinned, and he must also deal with all his enemies.
Our God answers the prayers of sinners. The lament and prayer of David is answered while he is in the midst of offering his prayer. He is languishing under the hand of God, and then suddenly in v. 8, his confidence returns. This confidence returns because God, as requested, has also returned. God will hear, David affirms (v. 9). A corollary to this is that his enemies will be abashed (v. 10). What was happening to David’s bones will now happen to his adversaries.
Scriptures teach that sin flatters at the beginning, but wrecks at the end. Godly discipline is no fun at the time, God says, but afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of an upright life (Heb. 12:11).
This teaches us something interesting about pain and pleasure. Sin and righteousness both inflict pain, and they both bring pleasure. But when, where, and for how long? The pain brought by discipline can turn minutes into hours, and hours into days. David cries out here — how long? But the pain brought by sin is everlasting.
In addition, the pleasures brought by sin are momentary. Moses preferred to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy certain pleasures for a season (Heb. 11:25). But the pleasures of God? At His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).
The psalm also instructs us on the nature of truth and lies. We cannot enjoy being lied to without coming in a very short time to an enjoyment of lying. People who listen to lies about sin will soon be telling lies about sin. And here is the point: people who tell lies about sin don’t like singing the psalms because it makes them tell the truth about sin.
Those who love the truth love to say it, sing it, talk about it, and hear it. And fundamentally, they love to maintain the dividing wall between the truth and the lie. Repentance necessarily banishes those who work iniquity. Put another way, the Bible requires that you choose and maintain your friends wisely.
David knows that he needs forgiveness. He knows that if God chastised to a full extent, it would destroy him. But he does not answer God in a resentful or angry way. He is humble, fully humble.
The transactions of grace are gibberish to the carnal mind. They make no sense because in a very important way, they are not transactions at all.