Psalm 6: How To Proceed When You Can't See Your Way Forward
How do we honor God when we feel convicted and guilty? How can we honor God when our guilt combines with the sins and pressures of this world to crush us? We Christians desire to honor God, help others, and live for his glory in our painful, pandemic-filled, and broken world. But the sin, brokenness, curse, and devils press on our souls the way gravity continually presses us to the earth's surface. It never stops.
David is distraught because his enemies are opposing and attacking him. "I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my bed and drench my couch every night. My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies" (6.6-7). David is weary. He can't stop crying. He's overwhelmed with grief. He's facing depression. Discouragement. Loneliness. Fear. Anxiety. Exhaustion. How can we, like David, proceed when we are debilitated by the pressure and pain from our enemies?
David's problem is deeper than what is on the outside. It goes all the way to the inside. "Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror" (6.2-3a). For one's whole being to be shaken with terror has the sense of being "terrified out of one's senses." In the flow of Psalms 1-7, it begins with everything neat and orderly in Psalms 1-2. Then in Psalms 3-6 David faces trials and gets progressively more distraught and disoriented. He can't see his way forward. How can we proceed when the problem is no longer out there but in us? In our minds? In our bodies? In our souls? What if we get stuck in this inner turmoil forever? It is scary to think that we may shrink back and abandon Jesus.
The good news is that we don't have to be passive and pushed far away from God in our pain. We can draw near to God and get confidence to move forward. David experienced this grace and his Psalm helps us experience something similar. The Psalm is broken down into two major sections. In verses 1-7 David addresses God in prayer and in verses 8-9 David addresses his enemies. Here is the main goal of Psalm 6 for readers and hearers: Proceed with God when you can't see your way forward so that you experience his salvation. How shall we proceed? 2 responses to pressure: pray under pressure (6.1-7) and pronounce until punishment (6.8-10).
Pray Under Pressure (6.1-7)
David prays to God and exemplifies faithful prayer to the believers of both old and new covenants. In this section David's prayer models 3 lessons for prayer: (1) pray for mercy (v. 1), pray with lament (v. 3b), and pray for salvation (vv. 2-7).
Pray for Mercy (6.1)
David prays for mercy: Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger; do not discipline me in your wrath. He asks that he not be rebuked in Yahweh's anger or be disciplined in his wrath. So David is asking for mercy from both angry rebuke (v. 1a) and from wrathful discipline (v. 1b).
Mercy from Angry Rebuke (6.1a). David needed mercy from God's angry rebuke. The word for "anger" here is the same word for anger used in Psalm 2:5, "He speaks to them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath." God's anger in Psalm 2:5 is not the parental anger of a parent but the righteous anger of a judge who justly punishes sin. David seems to be suffering due to his sin. So he prays for mercy. This prayer response to apparent sin is why many classify this Psalm of lament as one of the seven penitential psalms (along with 32; 38, 51; 102; 130; 143). We should pray for mercy from God's righteously-judgmental anger toward us for our sin.
Mercy from wrathful discipline (6.1b). Secondly, David prays for mercy from wrathful discipline. Again, in contrast to God's fatherly discipline in love and grace (Heb 12.5-11), David fears God's righteous wrath in disciplining him. Indeed, God's wrath is the scariest prospect in the universe.
David feels his guilt. David is convicted and senses his guilt. What sin was in David's mind in Psalm 6? Certainty alludes us unlike in Psalm 51 where the situation is given in the prescript. Since there is no situation given we should not force onto the text one specific episode from David's life. The anonymity of the situation makes this Psalm feel applicable to many kinds of situations in which we feel guilt and conviction. Still, if the Psalter is meant to be read from beginning to end, it seems reasonable to imagine this Psalm in light of the Absalom story, just like the prescript says in Psalm 3: "A psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom." If we recall the Absalom story (2 Sam 15.13-17) then we can see why David is distraught over his sin and his enemies. David's sin cannot be the excuse for Absalom's sin. Yet David's sin in some sense caused this rebellion. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and was likely guilty of sexual coercion as the king. He proceeded to lie and try to cover up the pregnancy by murdering Uriah. Part of God's discipline included the sword never leaving David's house and David's wives being adulterated in public (2 Sam 12.10-12). Then, when David's son Amnon raped his half-sister, David's daughter Tamar, David passively parented. He failed to lead his family toward justice in that situation which frustrated Absalom and tempted him to unjustly take matters into his own hands. Then when Absalom is welcomed back in Jerusalem, David's foolish indecision to fully embrace Absalom further tempted Absalom to rebel. Whether this is the particular set of sins burdening David, or another sin, Psalm 6:1 helpfully instructs us to pray to God for mercy.
Pray with Lament (6.3b)
David laments his situation and cries out to God, "And you, Lord—how long?" The question "how long?" is common in lament (cf. Psalms 13.1-2, 35.17, 74.10, 79.5, 80.4, 89.46, 94.3). David gives an example for believers to imitate in lamenting. Though laments vary, typically "laments have three parts, moving from negative to positive. The pattern is: 1) Crying out to God; 2) Asking for His help; and 3) Responding to the Lord in trust and praise." In crying out to God we may cry out over the sin and brokenness in our lives, community, and world. Jesus encourages us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt 5:4).
We cry out to God and wait. God's timing is always perfect, wise, and good. Our perception of the right time for a particular action is always missing part of the bigger picture and plan of God. God has not revealed his plans to us in comprehensive specificity. So we can't know the specific reasons why he might delay in bringing final restoration and peace. But based on God's love for us and promise to do good for us we can know this: God delays for our delight.
Pray for Salvation (6.2-7)
David calls on the Lord to save him: Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror. And you, Lord—how long? Turn, Lord! Rescue me; save me because of your faithful love (6.2-4). David asks God to be gracious to him in his sin. He asks for healing for his sickness and lack of health physically, psychologically, and emotionally. David pleads with the Lord to turn to him because he perceives that God has turned away from him due to his sin. He prays for rescue and salvation from his difficult situation personally and with his enemies (v. 7b). Why should God save sinful David? Why should he rescue sinners like us from our difficulties? David gives 3 reasons for his prayer requests that serve as a rationale for why God should turn toward sinners like us: God's compassion, covenant, and centrality.
Based on God's Compassion (6.2-3a, 6-7). David gives the reason why he asks for God to be gracious, "For I am weak" (6.2a). David asks for healing because his bones are shaking; his whole being is shaken with terror. We already considered the distress David faced as verses 6-7 expand on the tribulation. David is asking God to be gracious and heal because he trusts God will be compassionate to him in his pain. David said elsewhere, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust" (Psalm 103.13-14). David trusts that God cares about his struggle. Peter promises Christians that God cares and commands Christians in that light to pray to God: "cast all your cares on him because he cares about you" (1 Peter 5.7).
Based on God's Covenant (6.4). David continues to reason with God for his request asking for salvation because of your faithful love. The word for faithful love is chesed, referring to God's covenant love promised to Israel. This word has been translated lovingkindness, steadfast love, loyal love, and faithful love. Sally Lloyd-Jones calls it the "never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love." The idea is that God's love promised to Israel and David is a love that is faithful despite the failures of his people. Furthermore, David addresses God as the Lord which translates the name Yahweh. This is God's covenant name as he has revealed himself as the one who is and will keep his covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 3.13-15).
Based on God's Centrality (6.5). God is passionate for his praise. He desires his name to be remembered and for his goodness to be thanked. Therefore, David states why God should save him: For there is no remembrance of you in death; who can thank you in Sheol? (6.5). Since God wants to be remembered and thanked, he should preserve David's life and deliver him from Sheol, which is the place of the dead. This is good news. God is passionate for his glory. God's passion for his remembrance and praise is the foundation of his faithfulness to his covenant and his overflowing bounty of love toward sinners not only to save them but also to pour our joy and happiness to the point where they will almost burst in excitement.
Why do the Psalmists argue that God should save them based on the fact that the dead won't remember or thank him? So the Psalmists pray, "Do you work wonders for the dead? Do departed spirits rise up to praise you? Will your faithful love be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Abaddon? Will your wonders be known in the darkness or your righteousness in the land of oblivion?" (Psalm 88.10-12). The Psalmists have an accurate yet incomplete understanding of the afterlife. Their point is true and valid about not being able to praise God before others on earth. Psalm 30:9 says, "What gain is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your truth?" The Psalmists lack the New Testament revelation later revealed about the coming of Christ and how dying with Christ under the new covenant before the consummation is better and gain for the Christian since they would be with Christ now (Phil 1.21ff). The Psalmists seem to say that there is a particular benefit and opportunity to praise God here on earth. Once you die you can no longer praise God on earth. Similarly, Paul said departing is far better but to stay here is more beneficial for the Philippians (Phil 1.24-26). So the Psalmists reason with God that delivering them from death gives them continued opportunity to praise him in the assembly. Praising God among his people on earth evaporates when one dies. Though their view not a deficient view of the afterlife it seems to lack the new covenant joy of being with Jesus before the consummation.
So the Lord is calling you, like David, to pray to him when under pressure. Don't rely on your own strength. Call out to God for help the way Peter cried out to the Lord Jesus when he started to drown (Matt 14.29-31). Call out to the Lord to save you like the fisherman cried out to Jesus in the storm. Trust God to save you from your grief, even if that means trusting him to heal you from bereavement after the resurrection on the last day like Martha trusted Jesus (John 11.24). You can sing with the saints in your tears:
Through this world with toils and snares
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee?
Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it Jesus is my plea
Daily walking close to thee
Let it be dear Lord let it be
What is your reaction when you are in a mess? What is the first thing you do? Who is the first person you run to? How many things do you do before you go to God and lay yourself bare before his Word and ways? You will face trials in your family, church, work, mental health, relationships, finances, or health. God is calling you to pray to him first in your trials. Go to him in your pain. Banish the "God later" mentality. God is not the "break in case of emergency" last resort, he is your first call, your first friend, your first security.
Children. Children, always pray to God in you pain, even as you run to your mommy and daddy. God gave you parents and other church family to help you, but we parents only help you because God helps you through us and even apart from us.
Christian. Pray to God. Take your tears to Jesus. “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.” When you go to God stay there. Remember that he will deliver you in his time. The good news is that God cares. He promises and fulfills. He saves sinners. He forgives sinners. He is patient and merciful.
Non-Christian. God invites you to salvation from your sins. He invites you to a relationship with him where you can join his family. God invites you through his faithful covenant love to bless you even though you’re a sinner deserving his curse. The gospel message is that God created humans, including you, to know and enjoy him. But we rebelled against him in our sin so all of us are condemned to eternal death (Rom 6.23). God sent his Son Jesus to live for us, die for our sins, and rise from the dead so that all who repent from their sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone will be forgiven and saved from the final judgment to come. God will give you his Holy Spirit to progressively transform you until he comes to finally save all of his people. Repent from your sin and trust in Jesus today.
Church. As a church family, your group must not only do one but both of these: (1) Walk together; (2) Walk toward God. If you walk together in pain but not toward God you may extend some comfort but it won't finally comfort them. Apart from God we will not provide the stability our fellow church members need in the storm. If you walk toward God but not together with those under pressure then you may leave them behind when God calls you to patiently bear their burdens, keep them company, and walk alongside them.
To recap, the main goal of Psalm 6 calls you to proceed with God when you can't see your way forward so that you experience his salvation. We proceed with God first by praying to him under pressure (6.1-7) and secondly by pronouncing the coming punishment on God's enemies (6.8-10).
Pronounce Coming Punishment (6.8-10)
Your pain is not only about what God is telling you. It is not just for you to pray and draw closer to God. Your pain is designed as a platform for proclamation and pronouncement. David pronounces coming punishment directly to his enemies: Depart from me, all evildoers, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and shake with terror; they will turn back and suddenly be disgraced (6.8-10). David pronounces separation from God's king, future terror, and future shame.
Separation from King of God's People (6.8a)
David addresses his enemies directly commanding them to depart from him (6.8a). David gives 3 reasons why they will be separated from him and face future terror and shame.
Because God hears the king's weeping (6.8b). David's first reason why his enemies must depart from him is for the Lord has heard the sound of his weeping. David has wept incessantly (6.6b). God knows David's tears. He hears David's weeping. Remember, your tears are liquid prayers as Spurgeon said. God hears and answers David's tears which means salvation for David and judgment for David's enemies.
Because God hears the king's prayer (6.9a). Secondly, God has heard David's plea for help. God answers David's specific requests. Even Jesus tells us not to merely pray generalities but to ask for particular requests from God that we might receive, seek something specifically from God that we might find it, knock on a specific door of opportunity that it may be opened to us (Matt 7.7-10).
Because God receives the king's prayer (6.9b). It is a sweet confidence to know that the Lord accepts our prayers. He receives it and responds to it with favor and love. What joy! God accepts David's prayer based on his covenant faithfulness and that gives David confidence.
Faith is the key to comfort. David trusts God's covenant to Israel and his covenant to Abraham (Gen 12.1-3), threat to the serpent (Gen 3.15), and how that is all invested in his covenant to David in 2 Sam 7. When we trust God's unshakable promises we can have confidence and moments of strength in the pain, in the trial, while we wait on him. Faith comes by hearing, so we meditate on God's promise to us in Christ. Confidence comes before comfort. It comes by God's word. This confidence is due to "an answering touch from God," a pouring of grace through faith as he prays and meditates on God's truth. As we meditate on God's word and exercise Spirit-empowered supernatural faith, God's love pours out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit in affliction (Rom 5.5). Doubt deteriorates before deliverance.
Future Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Terror (6.10a)
David pronounces more details of the coming judgment: all my enemies will be ashamed and shake with terror. The terror they will shake with is similar to the terror that shook David to his bones in verses 2-3. The difference is that while David felt this terror to some degree he ultimately receives God's grace. The terror that will physically, emotionally, and spiritually terrorize David's enemies is God's wrath. God will terrify his messianic king's enemies in his wrath (Psalm 2.5).
Future Disgrace and Shame at the Judgment (6.10b)
David further describes the future coming judgment: they will turn back and suddenly be disgraced. David speaks of what is to come, though he does not know how long it will take (cf. 6.3b). We pray, How long, Lord? It may still be many years until the future judgment and vindication and salvation. David's enemies will be disgraced. They will be ashamed because they, like all humanity, will stand at God's judgment and every work of every person will be exposed and judged (Rev 20:11-15).
What Makes these People God's Enemies?
This coming judgment is a scary fate for David's enemies. But what makes them God's enemies? First, David says they are "evildoers" (6.8). So they do and approve of evil. Secondly, they oppose David (6.10). David, as God's anointed king (messiah), is the dividing line between who's on God's side and who's against him because he is God's messiah. Psalm 2 binds Yahweh and his Messiah together so that you can't be for one without the other. Those who are on the messianic king's side and Yahweh's side will be blessed and those who are against Yahweh or his messiah will be cursed.
What word do you have for your enemies, God's enemies, when you are in your pain? Is it warning of the judgment? Or silence? Or encouragement? Politics? Work? Family? Pronounce coming punishment while under your own personal pressures.
Christian. Seize your pressure as your platform for your gospel pronouncement. I say gospel pronouncement because as we proclaim judgment to the Messiah's enemies like David does here, we do it with the new covenant commission to disciple all nations (Matt 28.19), unlike old covenant Israel. We tell the enemies to lay down their weapons and receive pardon if they surrender in faith. Therefore, use your pain as your pulpit to preach judgment and salvation in Christ. Like Paul boasting in his weakness in prison (Phil 1.12-18) or with thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:9), let your words to God's enemies in your pain exalt Christ and spread the gospel.
Church. Pray for each other to pronounce boldly. Pronounce together as a church. Pronounce in pairs scattered across LA County. What does our church confess to this confused world from this passage?
The Judgment. God has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world by Jesus Christ when everyone shall receive according to his deeds. The wicked shall go into everlasting and conscious punishment; the righteous, in their glorified bodies, into everlasting life in the new creation (Article 23, Bethany Baptist Church Confession of Faith ).
Non-Christian. If you are not a Christian you may wonder, why are Christians so pushy saying if I don't do it their way I'm going to be judged. That sounds so closed minded and judgmental. Why can't they just be peaceful and let people believe their own thing? That's a great question. We want others to know that Christians gospelize and warn neighbors out of love and concern for what we believe to be the truth. For example, if you were greeting a friend from you balcony and did not realize a brush fire behind you was coming down your hill and would burn up your home and anyone inside, you would not understand the urgency and passion your friend had in warning you of the fire that is quickly coming. If the friend did not warn you because he did not want to offend you, hurt your feelings, or have you upset at him, you would say he's failed as a friend and hasn't loved you with the truth. That is what Christians understand themselves to be doing when they warn you of the coming judgment.
Christian. We may consider this Psalm too quickly and presume that we are on the right side. But you need to ask yourself, are you really on the side of the Messiah? Or do you actually do things that oppose the messiah, belittle the messiah, displace the messiah, marginalize the messiah, or heartlessly honor the messiah (Matt 15.8). It is possible that there are fake friends of the Messianic King Jesus who actually oppose him. Jesus quotes Psalm 6.8 in Matt 7.23. But we must consider this quotation in context:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. 15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. . . . 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’ 24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash” (Matt 7.13-27).
Are you really on Christ's side? Do you trust him? Do you hear his words and follow him or do you just hear his words? Is there something right now in your life that you know the Lord wants you to follow him in and you refuse or disobediently hesitate? Repent. Trust in Jesus. And follow him where he leads you instead of just hearing and hesitating.
The main goal of this Psalm for the hearer is: Proceed with God when you can't see your way forward so that you experience his salvation. How shall we proceed? By praying under the pressure and pronouncing the coming punishment.
How can we expect to experience God's grace and salvation? We have not prayed faithfully under pressure. We have not pronounced punishment in love to God's enemies. Yet as sinners we are encouraged to pray, "save me." David as a sinner prayed, "Save me." And God would save him even though he sinned. Why would God save sinful David? A sinful king where justice demands punishment to fit the crimes? Because when Jesus had come to the end of his ministry with his disciples he told them a grain of wheat must die to bear fruit. He said the one who loves his life will lose it but the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (if they lose their life to serve and follow Jesus). Jesus felt the burden of needing to die to bear fruit. So, very interestingly, he says, "'Now my soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' Jesus continued… 'If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.' He said this to indicate what kind of death he was about to die" (John 12.27-33). Jesus would not finally pray "save me from this hour of judgment and death" so that we could pray, save me from my hour of judgment in the second and eternal death! Praise the Lord Jesus!
So, how do we honor God when we feel convicted and guilty? How do we honor God when our guilt combines with the sins and pressures of this world to crush us? If there's one thing you can do to apply this Psalm today here's my call: have a time of prayer with another member where you confess sin to the Lord, lament, mourn, ask for help, and remember his covenant promises to you in Christ. If you don't pray to God in confession and lament you may continue to despair, be dominated by guilt, and feel distant from the Lord. But if you pray with another church member crying out to the Lord in confession, lament, and faith, God will save you. He will meet you in his time and way when it is perfect as you wait on him, trust in him, and pray to him with your covenant community.
Pray to the Lord under pressure. Pronounce the coming punishment.
By PJ Tibayan, pastor of the pulpit, Bethany Baptist Church. This sermon was preached to the saints and friends of Bethany Baptist Church online on April 26, 2020.
Verse 6 structurally stands at the center of the Psalm, highlighting David's despair. NIV BTSB note on Psalm 6:6.
Gerald Wilson, NIVAC, 179.
"Compositionally, the reader moves from an orderly world, represented by Psalms 1 and 2, to a world full of disorientation in Psalms 3-7. The Psalter opens with the expectations of the vindication and protection of the righteous (1:6; 2:12), the judgment of the wicked (1:5-6), and the success of the messianic agent (2:9-12a). But in Psalms 3-7 the messianic agent is beset by problems and surrounded by enemies, encounters ferocious opposition, and experiences God’s distance. In the midst of the conflict the response of the psalmist changes. The psalmist of Psalms 3-5 is quiet and confident, is not overcome by the reality of evil, and is confident of Yahweh’s protection. Psalm 6 finds the psalmist overcome by his circumstances. He is weak, but he renews himself in the vision of God’s victory. In Psalm 7 David comes home. He finds refuge with Yahweh and reorients himself by seeing Yahweh as the righteous King who will deal with the wicked. The psalm closes on a note of thanksgiving. Psalms 3-7 move from mild lament to lament, from orientation to disorientation, and from disorientation to thanksgiving (reorientation)," Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms (The Expositor's Bible Commentary), Zondervan, Kindle Edition, (Kindle Locations 4854-4862).
Dawn Wilson, "A Helpful Tool for Navigating Life's Emotions," Revive Our Hearts, 5/11/16, accessed on 4/25/20, https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/helpful-tool-navigating-lifes-emotions/
"It had special meaning for God’s people coming out of Egypt (Exod 15:13; 20:6; 34:6-7), and God promised this love to many generations of Israelites, including David (89:24,28,33; 2 Sam 7:15; Isa 55:3)." David M. Howard Jr., "Psalms" in NIV Zondervan Study Bible:Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message, ed. D. A. Carson et al., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015) on Psalm 6.4.
"Sheol (the grave) was viewed as a pit in the depths of the earth (11:8; Deut 32:22; Ezek 31:16). It was a place of nothingness (Eccl 9:10) and decay (Isa 14:11). However, God’s presence was not absent there (Psa 139:8)—He could bring people back from Sheol (1 Sam 2:6; Psa 30:3; 49:15)." John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Job 14:13.
Anonymous, The Baptist Hymnal, ed. by Wesley L. Forbis, (Nashville, Tenn.: Convention Press, 1991), hymn 448.
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 1/1:59
I believe David knew he was part of the fulfillment that the scepter would not depart from Judah in Gen 49.10 in light of the fact that the serpent would be crushed.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary, Vol. 15 TOTC, (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1973), 79.