This Psalm is written by David to the “Chief Musician on Neginoth upon Sheminith”. ‘Neginoth’ is to do with stringed instruments. “upon Sheminith” could be an instruction that the music be played on a special eight-stringed instrument (as many believe).
However, the word can also refer to an octave (a musical notation), and this is the meaning here, for ‘octave’ in this context means the lowest and most solemn notes sung by male voices (bass). Given the subject matter, it makes sense, particularly as the root means ‘eighth’ (lowest note), confirmed by further root words of the same meaning.
Modern Jewish rabbis, whose faith in their own religion is blighted by liberalism, do not accept the prominence given to musicians and singers in the Davidic period, when they had an authority and status equal to, if not greater than, the ordinary priests. Yet, at that time the singers and musicians did have prominence! Singers and musicians came from the tribe of Levi; they had duty rotas, and even their genealogies were listed and examined… they were an elite band of men.
This degenerated in later centuries to a position of pomp and vanity, but in David’s time we can expect they were truly chosen and properly pious. Sadly, modern Jewish scholars are just as prone to the heresies of Higher Criticism as anyone else, so we cannot trust their interpretation of their own history. We must adhere only to scripture, and use rabbinical information wisely, as background, dividing error from truth.
After the return from Babylonian exile, well after the time of David, the Second Temple used the orchestras of Mesopotamia as a model. Then, there was a very large musical section that used only one or two types of musical stringed instrument (kinnor and nevel); a pair or a small group of cymbals, and a large choir. The priests used trumpets, but these were not part of the orchestra; they were blown ritualistically and not musically. At times of war victory, these trumpets were blasted, and women were allowed to sing, drum and dance.
In total, there were about 20 different kinds of instruments. The nevel was a kind of lyre; the kinnor was also a lyre but constructed differently to produce a deeper tone, the player plucking 12 strings made of sheep’s intestines. Extra-biblical historical sources, calling it the nabla, speak of its tone as ‘rumbling’. Though large, both types of lyre were box-shaped, with one side shorter than the other, and able to hung around the neck. They were thought to have been about two feet tall. David played this instrument with a plectrum, which was the second most important in the First Temple, and most important in the Second Temple.
O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
This Psalm was written at a time when David knew immense sorrow and grief because of his enemies. We may assume from this that he was not in his usual kingly position but was being chased from pillar to post by his son and others. I say this because, at his height of power, he was afraid of no-one and knew only success against his enemies.
David, aware of his fall into fear, expected God to be angry with him, for sustained fear can be a product of unbelief. It is possible, even for David, that his fear was prolonged because of his enemies attacks, but we have much evidence that his fear dissipated when he praised God and called upon Him truly. This is what we see in this Psalm.
Even so, David begs God not to strike him down for having fear. The “anger” David speaks of is the wrath of a long-suffering God, suggested by the meaning of the nostrils flaring out. Such anger could lead to “rebuke” – judgment and chastening. “Chasten” means to discipline and correct someone.
David did not fear chastening or correction, but he did fear God doing so in “hot displeasure” or rage, when one can expect even greater punishment. Just as the hot anger of a wife will bring a husband low in spirit, because he knows he has caused her upset and reproof, so David does not want to anger God, Who was His friend and sustainer. If a believer can fear God in this way, how much more should an unbeliever fear God! Sadly, he will only know this fear of God when it is too late to do anything about it.
David, then, cries out to God for mercy, because he is “weak”. Mercy is the goodness of God towards an undeserving person. It is an act of pity by the Almighty towards creatures of no strength, a favour and not a right. David recognized that he was, at that time, “weak” or feeble in body and soul. We are all like this at some time or other. We become affected by fear or anxiety and ‘languish’. In today’s parlance this could be likened to a form of reactive depression (depressed by something known).
The thing we are depressed by does not actually cause the depression, but aggravates it. Thus, no Christian can ‘blame’ depression itself for his low condition. The ‘blame’ for sustained depression is within the person’s soul (mind and heart). In other words, it is sin. This is why David was scared that Jevovah would punish him. He pleaded with God to heal him, because his “bones are vexed”. It is unhealthy to be depressed, not because the condition is physical but because it harms the mind and heart with thoughts unworthy to present before God, or before others.
Thus, David’s call for healing is figurative, meaning that he asks God to relieve him of his enemies actions that led to his distress. In a secondary way it also refers to healing the nation of the many strifes it was enduring at the time. The constant harassment led to David feeling disturbance in his body as well as in his soul. If allowed to continue, this kind of psychological damage, bahal, can lead to physical strain and symptoms.
Today, these would be called ‘psychosomatic’. None of us is immune to such effects coming about because of unresolved stress from outside. The trouble comes when external stresses are allowed to take hold of our minds and hearts, leading to depression and anxiety, both of which lessen faith and reduce Christian resolve.
David was at that point when he wrote this Psalm. The major factor in resolving inner turmoil is not the cause, but what we do about it. To do something about it we must recognize that the cause is within ourselves. In other words WE are the ‘cause’, not any external factor. This is why any action taken by God to help us is of His mercy and not a ‘right’. Therefore, in this text, we are seeing David throwing himself at God’s feet and begging for mercy, knowing that his own heart caused him to feel so wretched. It is this awareness of self that opens the door to God’s help. Without it we remain in our own misery, refusing to come out of it for any reason.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?
Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Hence, David says: “My soul is also sore vexed”. He is assaulted mentally time and again by his own depressions and fears, which affect his very being, his thoughts and actions. On the other hand, David recognizes that God is ‘other’ and does not suffer likewise; this is found in the words “But thou…”, indicating the opposite to human ability. So, any action or thought by God is pure, unadulterated by emotions, fears and other signs and symptoms of human failure. That is why David asks “how long” will God take to answer his pleas for help.
The first step in dealing with any inner turmoil is to be aware of one’s failing and calling it what it is - sin. Only then can we start the process of climbing back up out of the dark pit we have created within by a reverse of faith. Many Christians fondly think of their neuroses as being somehow a kind of noble activity. They sigh bravely and ‘accept’ their condition as from God! How wrong can people be? It is not noble or acceptable, but sin! David understood this, and this is why God gave him help. We MUST, of necessity, start to climb out of our self-imposed condition, repent of it, and only then expect God to help us continue to reach the light again.
David correctly assumes that God has turned His back on him because of his sin (fear and depression). He correctly assumes that unless he starts to fight his own emotions, God will be angry. This is why he says “Return, O LORD”. That is, turn back towards me to “deliver my soul”. To ‘deliver’, chalets, is to rescue and equip David with what is needed to be strong. Only God can do that… but we must firstly recognize our condition and repent of it. The idea of chalets is very close to sozo, the Greek word used to imply salvation of the soul.
Delivering the soul involves not simply removing the enemy, but altering the nature of our inner being, our spirit or soul, so that it is in-line with God’s Spirit, in harmony with Him. Thus, our thoughts and emotions must all comply with what God requires of us. Then will He come and “save… for thy mercies’ sake”. That is, not because of any merit in ourselves, but just because God wishes to help out of pity.
This is an important lesson for all those Christians who think there is power in their prayers, so the more they pray the more likely it is that God will respond. No, the power is in God, not in us. Our prayers are only the appointed means of communication. They have no power in themselves, but are proper responses to situations transferred to God for help. He already knows what our problem is and how He will respond.
We cannot demand anything from God, because everything He does is based on His “mercies’ sake”… His goodness and kindness, which is guaranteed to all who repent but not given at all to the unsaved (except in broader ways: the seasons, sun, rain, etc).
I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
In ordinary terms there is nothing better than being “weary of my groaning”, because when we reach the end of our tether, we can start, at last, to grab the line given by God! Often, we are so busy being miserable and depressed that we concentrate on the external factors rather than on God. We moan and groan, maybe with tears, as our soul is clouded by darkness. But, when we become weary of it, we start to look up to the Lord. Sadly, this is often our ‘last resort’ rather than our first port of call.
We suffer needlessly… unless God wants us to suffer, so as to force our attention back to Himself. If we live as we ought and yet still suffer the grief of depression, it can only be because God, rarely, is pushing us along a holy path towards Himself, for His own reasons. In many cases it is because we think we are true to Him, but are deluded, so He brings us to a point of failure and self-reproach, and we begin to see our ways are useless. But, when that path leads nowhere and does not end, we can readily assume the depression is of our own making.
David has had all the tears and depression. He has feared and cried all night and day. His whole mind (“mine eye”) is filled with grief and depression, and is making him old before his time. More importantly, he knows the cause – his own self. If you are in this position, do you blame your enemies or circumstances? It is very easy to do. Instead, recognize that the fault is in yourself, not in others. Enemies can certainly cause us grave misery, but they cannot cause is to respond with faulty emotions and reactions. And bear this is mind – if the cause is ourselves, then we have hope of recovery.
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.
Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.
We now see the godliness of David! He has poured out his heart to God, recognizing his part in the problem because of faulty emotions. Now, he acknowledges the supremacy and mercy of God, the God he loved with all his heart. Yes, he did awful things, and that is why he was now losing his kingdom. But, when he repented God came on his side again. Indeed, even in his sin, God was working secretly by keeping him safe. God does not throw aside His people whom He has elected to salvation. Remember that, even if you sin… you are still His child. Repent and know God’s mercy.
Suddenly, after bearing his soul to God, David sees God working. God does not ‘work’ just because we see Him doing so – He continually works for our good, even when we fail Him and deserve nothing. We can imagine David shouting audibly at his enemies… “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity”! Only moments before, David was bemoaning being surrounded by enemies. Now, the light of God shines through his darkness because “the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping”!
God does that. He waits for us to reach the end of our human attempts; He waits until we see at last that whatever we do, we need God, not our own efforts. Then, when we repent of it and shout out in a final plea, recognizing our failure, God steps in and helps… the help He has been keeping in reserve until we recognize our lack of faith. God hears us from the beginning! David does not guess God is ready to help – he KNOWS it. When God is there for us, we will KNOW, because His Spirit communes with our own spirit, filling us with assurance.
With this assurance deep in his heart, David cries out that his enemies are on the run and God is lending His hand. Yes, we must do whatever is necessary, but never think your humanity is what helps. No, it is God Who helps, sometimes through human agencies, but always by His power and mercy. Any help is His, not ours.
Thus, David says: “The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer”. Many, many Christians get prayer wrong, because they do not understand what it is. They think it is what they do to change God’s actions or mind. Prayer is not like that at all… rather, it is God prompting us to speak to Him, and we respond by talking to Him – giving back the words that He first gave us. That is true prayer, not the wishy-washy, traditional, human-based fakes we use most of the time… especially in unbiblical ‘corporate’ prayer meetings, whether in large groups or small.
Christ commanded (yes, commanded) us to pray on our own in our rooms. Never forget it. This is because we cannot join personal prayers with others, whose prayers will all be different. There are very special occasions (and they are rare, as scripture proves) when God prompts a number of people to pray at the same time. (See my study on the subject). These are rare occasions, not regular or usual. To pray corporately as a regular (and usually impotent) event is to ignore and reject Christ’s command.
David did not pray corporately, not even with his priests. Instead, he cried day and night in his depressed state, on his own. And, when he realized his folly, he cried out to God in repentance and God answered. “The LORD will receive my prayer”. David emphasizes the fact. In this way he shows a stark contrast between his former anxiety-ridden prayers and the ‘real’ prayers prompted by God.
Before, he was begging God to answer. Suddenly, when God broke through his gloom, David saw that God was showing him mercy continually. And at that precise moment his human prayers, unanswered because they were human and sinful, became real responses to God’s contact with his soul, and the tone changed remarkably. And so the LORD hath heard his pleas, and the LORD will receive his prayer!
Our sin prevents genuine spiritual life and godly contact, but, when we acknowledge our failure and repent, God immediately opens a direct channel to Himself in Heaven, and we KNOW He has answered. David then says that God will deal with his enemies, who will be troubled and torn down from the pedestal they made for themselves. They will be “sore vexed”, or, terrified, bahal, by what God will do. They will ‘return’, shuwb, or turn back, not necessarily back to God and away from attacking David. Suddenly, in a moment, they will be “ashamed”, buwsh, made to feel awful and disconcerted, disappointed that they could not achieve their aim of toppling David.
Our enemies are not just soldiers or thugs. They are anyone or anything used by Satan to derail our spirits, so that we become depressed or move away from holiness. It can be anyone or anything. If you become depressed by events and situations, look hard at what is behind it, so that you know your enemy. Then, repent of your depression, which is sin, and call out to God to build you in spiritual strength, so that the enemy will turn away and leave you alone. The only reason God allows an enemy to continue is so that we can be tested to the destruction of self. He is more faithful than we are! When we see an enemy we should not retreat into confusion or misery, but make a stand to fight and show mettle. It is a spur to action, not a brick wall of inaction! This is the end-message of Psalm 6.
© September 2010
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
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