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.
Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed. This is rather a prophecy than an imprecation, it may be read in the future, “All my enemies shall be ashamed and sore vexed.” They shall return and be ashamed instantaneously,—in a moment;—their doom shall come upon them suddenly. Death’s day is doom’s day, and both are sure and may be sudden. The Romans were wont to say, “The feet of the avenging Deity are shod with wool.” With noiseless footsteps vengeance nears its victim, and sudden and overwhelming shall be its destroying stroke. If this were an imprecation, we must remember that the language of the old dispensation is not that of the new. We pray for our enemies, not against them. God have mercy on them, and bring them into the right way.
Thus the Psalm, like those which preceed it, shews the different estates of the godly and the wicked. O Lord, let us be numbered with thy people, both now and forever!
Let all mine enemies be ashamed, etc. If this were an imprecation, a malediction, yet it was medicinal, and had rationem boni, a charitable tincture and nature in it; he wished the men no harm as men. But it is rather predictorium, a prophetical vehemence, that if they will take no knowledge of God’s declaring himself in the protection of his servants, if they would not consider that God had heard, and would hear, had rescued, and would rescue his children, but would continue their opposition against him, heavy judgments would certainly fall upon them; their punishment should be certain, but the effect should be uncertain; for God only knows whether his correction shall work upon his enemies to their mollifying, or to their obduration… In the second word,
Let them be sore vexed, he wishes his enemies no worse than himself had been, for he had used the same word of himself before, Ossa turbata, My bones are vexed; and Anima turbata, My soul is vexed; and considering that David had found this vexation to be his way to God, it was no malicious imprecation to wish that enemy the same physic that he had taken, who was more sick of the same disease than he was. For this is like a troubled sea after a tempest; the danger is past, but yet the billow is great still; the danger was in the calm, in the security, or in the tempest, by misinterpreting God’s correction to our obduration, and to a remorseless stupefication; but when a man is come to this holy vexation, to be troubled, to be shaken with the sense of the indignation of God, the storm is past, and the indignation of God is blown over. That soul is in a fair and near way of being restored to a calmness, and to reposed security of conscience that is come to this holy vexation. John Donne.
Let all mine enemies or (all mine enemies shall) be ashamed, and sore vexed, etc. Many of the mournful Psalms end in this manner, to instruct the believer that he is continually to look forward, and solace himself with beholding that day, when his warfare shall be accomplished; when sin and sorrow shall be no more; when sudden and everlasting confusion shall cover the enemies of righteousness; when the sackcloth of the penitent shall be exchanged for a robe of glory, and every tear becomes a sparkling gem in his crown; when to sighs and groans shall succeed the songs of heaven, set to angels harps, and faith shall be resolved into the vision of the Almighty. George Horne.
The shame reserved for the wicked.
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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