A psalm of someone in deep trouble. This much is clear.
6:1: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.”
But what is not clear is whether the psalmist believes his troubles are from the actions and spiritual warfare of evil people or from the Lord himself. For verse one is a plea to God not to discipline him in his anger or wrath, thus crediting God for his hard times, while verse seven and eight point to the work of evildoers. Both can cause a person to experience demanding situations. But, of course, one–that caused by wicked people–is meant for harm, while the other–caused by God–will work for good in the sufferer’s life.
Paul experienced both of these and describes them thus:
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Ph. 1:15-20).
God does allow his servants, at times, to suffer at the hands of the devil’s servants. This is for their strengthening in faith and other good purposes. Even the evil that evildoers do is restricted to certain limits by God and he uses it for his own purposes.
“The Lord works out everything for his own ends–even the wicked for a day of disaster. The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (Ps. 15:4,5).
But just what is this agonizing trial afflicting the psalmist? Verse two points to a phyical or bodily affliction.
6:2: “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.”
But verse three then switches to his soul being in anguish.
6:3: “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?”
This does not, however, preclude bodily affliction, for certainly one’s soul (mind, will, and emotions) feels the effects of whatever touches the body. All the more so when that affliction continues over time. But whether long or short in duration, when we suffer, we just want to be free from the pain. So the psalmist cries out to God for deliverance.
6:4: “Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.”
The psalmist does not claim that God should heal him because of any merit on his part but solely because of God’s great mercy. The psalmist requests healing and deliverance not on the basis of who he is–a good person–but on the basis of who God is–the God of unfailing love.
Nevertheless, to strengthen further his plea, he reminds God that only the living can praise him in this world.
6:5: “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?”
Here we see an indication of the seriousness of his trial: He thinks he may die from it. Another indication of the intensity of his suffering is found in the next verse. This is a serious situation.
“6:6: “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”
Then, in verse seven, we see again a hint of what is causing him such severe testing; and again, he refers not just to physical affliction but to the attacks of his enemies:
6:7: “My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”
But suddenly, in verse eight, light breaks through. He knows that God has heard his prayers and he takes courage. Therefore he boldly speaks out against those who wish his downfall and death.
6:8: “Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.”
Whereas before, he felt weak and on the verge of being defeated by his enemies, now, because the Lord has heard his plea for help, he is strong enough to pronounce his enemies’ defeat: Depart from me.
The words of this verse go far beyond the psalmist’s current situation. They look forward to the time of final things, when Jesus will pronounce a similar sentence upon all who opposed him, just as the psalmist’s enemies opposed him:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Mt. 25:41).
6:9: “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”
This is the difference between the two main characters in this psalm, the psalmist and those who attack him. The psalmist cries out to God for mercy and deliverance, humbly beseeching him to act out his unfailing love (v. 4). And the Lord answers that prayer offered in faith and humility.
But the Lord rejects those who refuse to humble themselves before him and even dare to attack his servant. For them there will be no mercy and they will only hear the terrifying declaration of judgment upon them because they refused God’s offer of mercy and love during their allotted time on earth.
6:10: “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.”
These final words of the psalm apply not only to the psalmist’s situation but to that which will exist at the final conditions of the end of this world. Then all God’s enemies will be ashamed and dismayed and turned back from him and his abode in heaven in disgrace.
“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Ths. 1:8-10).
These are the two destinies of the two types of people in this world: everlasting destruction or everlasting glory. Both are seen in this psalm that holds hope and comfort for God’s people who suffer in this world, that they will find deliverance not only from their current trial but also final deliverance for all who entrust their bodies and souls to the One who created them. So the psalm hides within it matters of far greater portent than may at first be evident. Praise the Lord that he hides himself yet reveals himself to all who will humble themselves and look to him for all that is needed, in this life and the next.