Title. This Psalm is commonly known as the first of the Penitential Psalms, (The other six are Psalms 32:1-11, 38:1-22, 51:1-19, 102:1-7, 130:1-8, 143:1-12) and certainly its language well becomes the lip of a penitent, for it expresses at once the sorrow, (Psalms 6:3, 6, 7), the humiliation (Psalms 6:2, 4), and the hatred of sin (Psalms 6:8), which are the unfailing marks of the contrite spirit when it turns to God. O Holy Spirit, beget in us the true repentance which needeth not to be repented of. The title of this Psalm is “To the chief Musician on Neginoth upon Sheminith (1 Chronicles 15:21), A Psalm of David,” that is, to the chief musician with stringed instruments, upon the eighth, probably the octave. Some think it refers to the bass or tenor key, which would certainly be well adapted to this mournful ode. But we are not able to understand these old musical terms, and even the term “Selah,” still remains untranslated. This, however, should be no difficulty in our way. We probably lose but very little by our ignorance, and it may serve to confirm our faith. It is a proof of the high antiquity of these Psalms that they contain words, the meaning of which is lost even to the best scholars of the Hebrew language. Surely these are but incidental (accidental I might almost say, if I did not believe them to be designed by God), proofs of their being, what they profess to be, the ancient writings of King David of olden times.
Division. You will observe that the Psalm is readily divided into two parts. First, there is the Psalmist’s plea in his great distress, reaching from the first to the end of the seventh verse. Then you have, from the eighth to the end, quite a different theme. The Psalmist has changed his note. He leaves the minor key, and betakes himself to sublimer strains. He tunes his note to the high key of confidence, and declares that God hath heard his prayer, and hath delivered him out of all his troubles.
The Treasury of David.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak. Though I deserve destruction, yet let thy mercy pity my frailty. This is the right way to plead with God if we would prevail. Urge not your goodness or your greatness, but plead your sin and your littleness. Cry, “I am weak,” therefore, O Lord, give me strength and crush me not. Send not forth the fury of thy tempest against so weak a vessel. Temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Be tender and pitiful to a poor withering flower, and break it not from its stem. Surely this is the plea that a sick man would urge to move the pity of his fellow if he were striving with him, “Deal gently with me, ‘for I am weak.'” A sense of sin had so spoiled the Psalmist’s pride, so taken away his vaunted strength, that he found himself weak to obey the law, weak through the sorrow that was in him, too weak, perhaps, to lay hold on the promise. “I am weak.” The original may be read, “I am one who droops,” or withered like a blighted plant. Ah! beloved, we know what this means, for we, too, have seen our glory stained, and our beauty like a faded flower.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord. To fly and escape the anger of God, David sees no means in heaven or in earth, and therefore retires himself to God, even to him that wounded him that he might heal him. He flies not with Adam to the bush, nor with Saul to the witch, nor with Jonah to Tarshish; but he appeals from an angry and just God to a merciful God, and from himself to himself. The woman who was condemned by King Philip, appealed from Philip being drunken to Philip being sober. But David appeals from one virtue, justice, to another, mercy. There may be appellation from the tribunal of man to the justice-seat of God; but when thou art indicted before God’s justice-seat, whither or to whom wilt thou go but to himself and his mercy-seat, which is the highest and last place of appellation? “I have none in heaven but thee, nor in earth besides thee.”… David, under the name of mercy, includeth all things, according to that of Jacob to his brother Esau, “I have gotten mercy, and therefore I have gotten all things.” Desirest thou any thing at God’s hands? Cry for mercy, out of which fountain all good things will spring to thee. Archibald Symson.
For I am weak. Behold what rhetoric he useth to move God to cure him, “I am weak,” an argument taken from his weakness, which indeed were a weak argument to move any man to show his favour, but is a strong argument to prevail with God. If a diseased person would come to a physician, and only lament the heaviness of his sickness, he would say, God help thee; or an oppressed person come to a lawyer, and show him the estate of his action and ask his advice, that is a golden question; or to a merchant to crave raiment, he will either have present money or a surety; or a courtier favour, you must have your reward ready in your hand. But coming before God, the most forcible argument that you can use is your necessity, poverty, tears, misery, unworthiness, and confessing them to him, it shall be an open door to furnish you with all things that he hath… The tears of our misery are forcible arrows to pierce the heart of our heavenly Father, to deliver us and pity our hard case. The beggars lay open their sores to the view of the world, that the more they may move men to pity them. So let us deplore our miseries to God, that he, with the pitiful Samaritan, at the sight of our wounds, may help us in due time. Archibald Symson.
Heal me, etc. David comes not to take physic upon wantonness, but because the disease is violent, because the accidents are vehement; so vehement, so violent, as that it hath pierced ad ossa, and ad animam, “My bones are vexed, and my soul is sore troubled, therefore “heal me;” which is the reason upon which he grounds this second petition, “Heal me, because my bones are vexed,” etc. John Donne.
My bones are vexed. The Lord can make the strongest and most insensible part of a man’s body sensible of his wrath when he pleaseth to touch him, for here David’s bones are vexed.—David Dickson.
The term bones frequently occurs in the Psalms, and if we examine we shall find it used in three different senses. (1.) It is sometimes applied literally to our blessed Lord’s human body, to the body which hung upon the cross, as, “They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones,” (2.) It has sometimes also a further reference to his mystical body the church. And then it denotes all the members of Christ’s body that stand firm in the faith, that cannot be moved by persecutions, or temptations, however severe, as, “All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee?” (3.) In some passages the term bones is applied to the soul, and not to the body, to the inner man of the individual Christian. Then it implies the strength and fortitude of the soul, the determined courage which faith in God gives to the righteous. This is the sense in which it is used in the second verse of Psalm 6, O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. Augustine, Ambrose, and Chrysostom; quoted by F. H. Dunwell, B.A., in “Parochial Lectures on the Psalms,” 1855.
The argumentum ad misericordiam.
First sentence—Divine healing.
The Treasury of David.
A Godly and Fruitful Exposition on the Sixt Psalme, the First of the Penitentials; in a sacred Septenarie; or, a Godly and Fruitful Exposition on the Seven Psalmes of Repentance. by Mr. Archibald Symson, late Pastor of the Church at Dalkeeth in Scotland. 1638.
Sermones on the Penetential Psalms, in “The Works of John Donne, D.D., Dean of St. Paul’s,” 1621-1631. Edited by Henry Alford, M.A. In six volumes. 1839.
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