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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Psalm 6

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A Confident Answer to an Agonized Plea

Psalm 6 is known as the first of the seven penitential psalms — songs of confession and humility before God. It was a custom among some in the early church to sing these psalms on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Resurrection Sunday. The title of this psalm is To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments. On an eight-stringed harp. A Psalm of David. The title tells us the recipient of the psalm – the Chief Musician, whom some suppose to be the Lord GOD Himself, and others suppose to be a leader of choirs or musicians in David’s time, such as Heman the singer or Asaph (1 Chronicles 6:33, 16:5-7, and 25:6). Not only was it written for stringed instruments, but specifically for the eight-stringed harp.

A. The agonized plea.

1. (Psalm 6:1) A plea to lighten the chastening hand.

O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.

a. Do not rebuke me in Your anger: We don’t know what the occasion of this song was, but because of his sin David sensed he was under the rebuke of God. Therefore, he called out to God to lighten the chastisement.

i. There may be times when we believe we are chastened by God’s hand when really, we suffer trouble brought upon ourselves. Nevertheless, there are certainly times when the LORD does chasten His children.

b. Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure: We know that God’s chastening hand is not primarily a mark of His displeasure, but rather it is a mark of adoption. Hebrews 12:7 makes it clear that chastening is evidence of our adoption: If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? When God corrects us it doesn’t feel pleasant, but it is good and it is for our good.

i. Anger...hot displeasure: Living before the finished work of Jesus, David had less certainty about his standing with God. On this side of the cross, we know that all the anger God has toward the believer was poured out on Jesus at the cross. God chastens the believer out of correcting love and not out of anger.

2. (Psalm 6:2-3) Two kinds of trouble.

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled;
But You, O LORD–how long?

a. I am weak...my bones are troubled: David knew the trial of physical weakness and pain. In the midst of this kind of chastisement, he cried out to God for mercy.

i. “So we may pray that the chastisements of our gracious God, if they may not be entirely removed, may at least be sweetened by the consciousness that they are ‘not in anger, but in his dear covenant love.’” (Spurgeon)

b. My soul also is greatly troubled: David knew the trials of spiritual weakness and pain. The difficulty of these trials drove David to seek mercy from God.

i. These trials of body and soul were amplified by David’s sense of God’s anger against him. When we are not confident in God’s love and assistance, even small trials feel unbearable.

c. How long? David sensed he was under the chastisement of God, but he still knew he should ask God to shorten the trial. There is a place for humble resignation to chastisement, but God wants us to yearn for higher ground and to use that yearning as a motivation to seek Him and get things right with Him.

i. David seems to smart under the result of his sin, more than the sin itself. Ideally, we are all terribly grieved by sin itself, but there is something to be said for confession and humility for the sake of the result of our sins.

3. (Psalm 6:4-5) The urgency of David’s plea.

Return, O LORD, deliver me!
Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake!
For in death there is no remembrance of You;
In the grave who will give You thanks?

a. Return, O LORD, deliver me: In his agony David pleads for deliverance — but on the ground of God’s mercy, not his own righteousness. David knew that the LORD’s chastisement was righteous, but he also knew that God is rich in mercy.

i. The plea “return” also shows that David felt distant from God. This was part of the agony of the trial. When we sense that God is near us, we feel that we can face anything. But when we sense that He is distant from us, we feel weak before the smallest trial.

b. Save me for Your mercies’ sake: The note of confession of sin is not strong in this psalm of penitence, but it is not absent. The fact that David appealed to the mercy of God for deliverance was evidence that he was aware that he did not deserve it.

i. “David’s conscience is uneasy, and he must appeal to grace to temper the discipline he deserves.” (Kidner)

c. In death there is no remembrance of You: It would be wrong to take these agonized words of David as evidence that there is no life beyond this life. The Old Testament has a shadowy understanding of the world beyond. Sometimes it shows a clear confidence (Job 19:25), and sometimes it has the uncertainty David shows here.

i. “Churchyards are silent places; the vaults of the sepulcher echo not with songs. Damp earth covers silent mouths.” (Spurgeon)

ii. 2 Timothy 1:10 says that Jesus brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The understanding of the afterlife was murky at best in the Old Testament, but Jesus let us know more about heaven and hell than anyone else could. Jesus could do this, because He had first-hand knowledge of the world beyond.

iii. David’s point wasn’t to present a comprehensive theology of the world beyond. He was in agony, fearing for his life, and he knew he could remember God and give Him thanks now. He didn’t have the same certainty about the world beyond, so he asked God to act according to His certainty.

iv. “At rare moments the Psalms have glimpses of rescue from Sheol, in terms that suggest resurrection, or a translation like that of Enoch or Elijah (c.f. 16:10; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24).” (Kidner)

B. The determined resolution.

1. (Psalm 6:6-7) A vivid description of David’s agony.

I am weary with my groaning;
All night I make my bed swim;
I drench my couch with my tears.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows old because of all my enemies.

a. I am weary with groaning: God’s chastising hand was heavy upon David. His life seemed to be nothing but tears and misery. David’s trial had at least three components.

  • David felt God was angry with him.
  • David lacked a sense of God’s presence.
  • David couldn’t sleep.

b. All night I make my bed swim: This is a good example of poetic exaggeration. David didn’t want us to believe that his bed actually floated on a pool of tears in his room. Because this is poetic literature, we understand it according to its literary context. This is how we understand the Bible literally — according to its literary context.

c. My eye wastes away: David’s eyes were red and sore from all the tears and lack of sleep.

i. “As an old man’s eye grows dim with years, so says David, my eye is grown red and feeble through weeping.” (Spurgeon)

d. Because of all my enemies: David was brought so low that the presence of his enemies no longer prompted him to seize the victory. At this point, David seemed depressed and discouraged.

2. (Psalm 6:8-10) David’s confident declaration.

Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity;
For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my supplication;
The LORD will receive my prayer.
Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled;
Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.

a. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity: It may be that the sin that led David into this chastisement was association with the ungodly. Here we see David acting consistently with his change of heart and telling all ungodly associates to depart.

i. It is important to separate from ungodly associations. J. Edwin Orr describes some of the work among new converts in Halifax during the Second Great Awakening in Britain: “Among them was a boxer who had just won a money-prize and a belt. A crowd of his erstwhile companions stood outside the hall in order to ridicule him, and they hailed the converted boxer with a shout: ‘He’s getting converted! What about the belt? He’ll either have to fight for it or give it up!’ The boxer retorted, ‘I’ll both give it up and you up! If you won’t go with me to heaven, I won’t go with you to hell!’ He gave them the belt but persuaded some of them to accompany him to the services, where another was converted and set busily working.”

b. The LORD has heard the voice of my weeping: David ended the psalm on a note of confidence. He made his agonized cry to God, and God heard him.

i. Weeping has a voice before God. It isn’t that God is impressed by emotional displays, but a passionate heart impresses Him. David wasn’t afraid to cry before the LORD, and God honored the voice of his weeping.

ii. “Is it not sweet to believe that our tears are understood even when words fail! Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers.” (Spurgeon)

iii. Once Luther wrestled hard with God in prayer and came jumping out of his prayer closet crying out, “Vicimus, vicimus” — that is, “Victory, victory!” David had the same sense of prevailing with God at the end of this prayer.

c. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled: David knew that when God heard and answered his prayer, it would be trouble for his enemy. David now saw that his temporary agony and trouble gave way to a permanent agony and trouble for his enemies.

© 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik — ewm@enduringword.com


  1. Kidner, Derek "Psalms 1-72: A Commentary" (Kidner Classic Commentaries) (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
  2. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The Treasury of David: Volume 1" (Psalms 1-57) (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1988)

Updated: August 2022

Study Guide for Job 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Proverbs 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Psalm 5 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Psalm 7 Next Chapter →
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