Theme: The Psalmist’s Hope and Prayer
In this week’s studies we learn about David’s great affliction, and how his confidence and hope in the Lord were restored through prayer.
Scripture: Psalm 6:1-10
Yet, in spite of the extremely black picture I am painting, the situation was not quite as hopeless as even the psalmist thought. Nor is it as hopeless as you might think. It may be that David felt under God’s fierce disapproval and wrath. I am sure he did. I am sure that he felt that God had hidden his face and was nowhere to be seen or found. But God was still there, and he was David’s God in spite of everything.
Have you noticed how often in this psalm, even in the midst of his great anguish, David calls upon God? Five times in the first four verses. That is, once or more than once in each verse! And the name he uses for God is Jehovah, which characterizes God particularly as our Redeemer or Deliverer: “O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (vv. 1-4, emphasis added).
If there is a turning point in this psalm, this is certainly it. It is when David, whether by training, habit or by sheer discipline, called upon the name of the Lord. In times of victory, call upon God. Praise him. In times of defeat, call upon God. Ask him for help. In times of temptation, call upon God. Seek deliverance. In the dark night of the soul, call on Jehovah. He is our one hope in life and in death. He is our hope even when we are unaware of his presence.
When we were studying the preceding psalm I noted that even when David is conscious of being set apart from evil doers, he still does not appeal to God on the basis of his righteousness but because of God’s mercy. It is the same here. David’s plea, uttered in the midst of his anguish, has nothing to do with merit.
What he asks for is mercy, and the basis of his plea, if it can be called a basis, is his need. He expresses it in three parallel statements: 1) “I am faint (weak)”; 2) “My bones are in agony”; and 3) “My soul is in anguish.” It is never wrong to ask for mercy on the basis of our weakness. We are told in Scripture, “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). In verse 4 the plea to God to “deliver me” and “save me” is on the same basis. It is “because of your unfailing love.” The reference to “the grave” or sheol in verse 5 parallels the references to the psalmist’s weakness in verses 2 and 3. It is because he is such a poor, perishing thing that he asks God to be merciful.5
What is the solution or turning point David discovered?
What does David ask for, and why does he ask for it?
Application: As an encouragement for the present and the future, in what ways have you experienced God’s mercy in the past?
5David’s gloomy statement, “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” has been taken by some commentators as proof of a lack of faith in an afterlife by the psalmist. But the conclusion does not follow from these words. Indeed, that would be strange in a psalm written by the same man who said, upon receiving the news of the death of Bathsheba’s child, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). What can be said about the expectation of life beyond the grave by the Old Testament saints is that it was not strongly developed or even much in their thoughts, which is not surprising since the fullness of the believer’s hope did not come until after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all hope in an afterlife was missing. In this psalm, what seems to be uppermost in David’s mind is that, if he should be allowed to die as a result of his agony of soul and body, his opportunity for praising God in life would be over, and that concerned him. C. H. Spurgeon says, “Churchyards are silent places; the vaults of the sepulchre echo not with songs” (The Treasury of David, vol. la, Psalms 1-26 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968], p. 57). For a fuller discussion of sheol and the ancient believers’ hope of an afterlife, see the chapter on “Death in the Psalms” in C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), pp. 34-43; H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 86-87; and Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), pp. 61-62.