Saturday, June 18, 2016

Psalm 6: Hope in the midst of Agony

1. Plea (2-3a BHS, 1-2a ESV)
- Verse 2: the plea is different from all previous Psalms but is similar to that in for example, Ps 38. This is a plea for God to withhold his punishment towards David. Two verbs suggest that David might have done something unpleasing to the Lord and deserves at least a correction (yasar, discipline, mild slapping) or a more severe rebuke (yakhach). Yakhach in Hiphil can refer to judge which means to make a decision in a legal dispute or to rebuke or punish. In this context the latter meaning is intended. The question now is whether this seems to contradict Heb 12:5-11 that speaks of the goodness of God’s fatherly discipline. It is true that the author says God’s discipline is never pleasant (v.11). But notice that David does not ask God to withhold his discipline altogether. He doesn’t ask God to do nothing when David sins and goes down a dangerous path of habitual disobedience. But he asks God negatively in regards to the manner he executes his fatherly discipline, not in anger (af) and heat (chemah). This is evident from the fact that af and chemah appear first after al (don’t) which doesn’t necessarily mean, “God, do not rebuke me”, but I think what David meant was “not in your anger, may you rebuke me.” In other words, David asks God to mingle his disciplinary actions towards David with mercy by not exercising the full-measure of punishment that he deserves unlike the punishment that the Lord will execute at the consummation on the ungodly. So for God not exercising any discipline at all is a dangerous sign (Heb 12:8) that one is not a member of his people bound by his covenant of grace and therefore his judgment is reserved to the end. On the other hand, who can bear God’s exercise of the fullness of his wrath against sin even as believers intended to correct his wayward children (cf. Ps 90:11)? Sadly David actually tastes a glimpse of the severity of God’s discipline as a result of the grievous sins he committed: adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Here is some insight. David understands the value of discipline but he also understands the pain of being stricken by a righteous God because of his sins. For those of us struggling with habitual sins, do we have the courage to ask God to do everything necessary to stop this behavior in order to further our sanctification? Do we pray like David, “Lord, please do everything necessary to bring about a greater holiness in my life and this may involve a painful disciplinary action but please mingle this with grace out of your fatherly love to your people”?

- Verse.3a: Be gracious to me Lord for I am feeble (umelal – fading away, physically weak and sick, ESV-languishing). When believers sin, not only will they experience pangs in their conscience as the Holy Spirit issues a warning that what they have done is sin, but they may also experience physical discomfort including sickness. Does this sound like prosperity gospel that one is sick because he doesn’t have enough faith in God? No. Prosperity gospel is all about personal fulfilment, how to manipulate God to make me rich, healthy and famous. This verse speaks of sanctification, what effects sin brings upon believers to wake them up, to take action, to repent and reform their lifestyle, in order to vivify their walk with the Lord. Something to keep in mind is that physical weakness is not necessarily a sign of an effect of sin. Job and Paul experienced tremendous pain (2 Cor 12:1-10) not because they sinned. But we should not exclude the possibility of sin when we experience it because Psalms speak of it as an effect of the sin(s) we have committed at least three times (here and Ps 32:3-4, 38:3-10). Another insight from this verse is physical weakness is not necessarily bad because it can be God’s means to bring about a greater sanctification. It is a reminder of our unrepented sins that we need to deal with before God and possibly with those we have hurt. But even it has nothing to do with our sins, it can still be God’s means of sanctification like what he does to Job and Paul.

2. Reason – Personal situation (3b-4 BHS)
David gives us a hint on his situation by saying that he experiences bodily weakness (umelal in 3a). Naturally the plea for the Lord to intervene follows as David asks God to heal him. Rafa is the verb used and in fact is one of the names of God: Adonai Rofekha (the Lord who heals you, Exodus 15:36). The basis of David’s prayer is God’s attribute that he reveals to his forefathers in the wilderness after they were brought up out of Egypt. There is a subtle hint here about the usefulness of grateful reminiscence of God’s past faithfulness to encourage us and bring conviction of his present and future faithfulness. God reveals himself as the God who heals his people. That promise still rings true in David’s days. It is still true today. Unlike fickle human beings, God never changes (Mal 3:6). And again, Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What has God done in the past that motivate us to trust him with our present situation(s)? May this be a worshipful exercise overflowing with all praise and love and reverence to him and may the Lord be pleased to grant us strength to endure whatever circumstances that challenge us and however difficult they are by his grace as a result of this spiritual workout. David then provides more details on his personal situation beginning with 3b: for troubled are my bones. The verb for troubled (bahal in niphal) are used 3 times in this Psalm. The word bone in Hebrew is the same word used for tree (Indeed if we look at human bones they kind of resemble trees). As we will see later David is describing physical and spiritual anguish. Here he begins with the physical one, his bones. Psalm 38 emphasizes physical pains more but this Psalm exposes spiritual agonies over the physical ones although David begins with what he goes through bodily: an experience of discomfort in his bones. Verse 4 uses the same word bahal applied to David’s soul except there is an intensification here with the addition of meod (very): my soul is very troubled. What I observe is it may be easier to deal with bodily pain by controlling our mind, directing it away from what our body goes through. But the opposite is not true. If the mind is troubled, we can’t control our body in such a way that diverts us from the unpleasant struggle we have in our mind. The only thing we can do is to use our mind to try to overcome what troubles it. The intensity of David’s agony is evident by the second part of verse 4 that literally says, “but (vav – can be translated as “and” as well  I think) you Lord, until when?”  ESV translates “ad-matay” as “how long?” It is not wrong to question God or to complain. “But you O Lord – until when?” or “how long?” is a question following David’s complaint. David just described his plight: I’m suffering. Then he turns to God, “What are you going to do Lord?” “How long should I endure this suffering?” David wasn’t rebuked for his complains and questions. In fact we may observe that some Psalms are full of complaints and questions. On the other hand there are unacceptable complains and questions. For example, Zechariah was rebuked when he demands an evidence of God’s promise of giving him a son (Luk 1:18). Paul rebukes an imaginary audience (which may include us as well) in Rom 9:20 who questions God’s righteousness in exercising his divine freedom in determining human salvation in 9:19. But Mary wasn’t rebuked when she asked how it was possible that she was pregnant without having had any sexual intercourse in Luk 1:34. Is God a capricious God then? When he is in a good mood, he doesn’t rebuke those who complain or question him. Otherwise, his rebuke can be pretty severe to those who annoy him with questions and complains. No. The difference has to do with the attitude by which the complaints and questions were brought before him. Mary’s question was a humble inquiry, so was David’s. Beware of questioning and complaining to God in anger or while riding our high horse like Zechariah or Paul’s Romans 9:19 audience. David and Scripture in general give us a balanced view between two extremes. One extreme says it is OK to be angry with God, to lash out at him, to express ourselves freely to God as if he were our equal. Don’t worry: God can handle it. The other extreme says that we should never question God at all (some theologians believe this is what Paul means in Rom 9:20 – discussed in for example John Piper’s “Justification of God” – Piper doesn’t hold this view and my view is in agreement with his). We should never complain and express our anguish to God. No. Scripture says there is a place in our fellowship with God to express our concerns, to ask questions but they need to be done in child-like reverent humility. If there is one thing we ought to remember about the manner in which we have to conduct ourselves before God is this: child-like reverent humility, whether it be when we are reading the Bible, during corporate worship, in our quiet time, during family devotions, in all our interactions with the Lord, it is necessary to remind ourselves who is Lord, who is Creator and who is creature and this would help shaping our posture before him. On the other hand let us also remember that he is our gracious heavenly Father. By virtue of the work of Christ we are invited to come at any time, 24/7, before his presence that Heb 4:16 calls the throne of grace with confidence, with reverential and humble freedom to express our love, adoration, petitions, questions, repentance to him.

 3. Plea (5-6 BHS)
- Verse 5: the second round of prayer after laying before the Lord David’s bodily and spiritual anguish is highlighted by three insistent imperatives: shuv (turn), chalatz (deliver) and yasa (save).Note the ending ah in the first two imperatives is equivalent to “please”, as in “please help”. The plea for God to return or turn back to David implies a sense of lack of his presence. In the Aaronic blessing in Num 6:24-26, two of the benediction lines call on the Lord to make his face shine and lift up his countenance upon his people. And again Ps 4:6, “Let the light of your face shine upon us.” David experiences a sense of being abandoned by God that explains his bodily and spiritual misery. It is true that God is ever-present, anywhere, but there are times when we experience spiritual drought, when we are overcome with worldly anxieties and our prayers are cold and languishing, when we don’t feel the holy zeal, the joy of the Lord, when the holy flame of love to God and his love to us in our hearts seems to be barely there. There are two possible reasons. First, perhaps we have become lax in our use of the means of grace. The blessings are there, the means of grace of prayers, God’s Word, fellowship, corporate worship, but perhaps we have a lack of discipline in their diligent use. Second, it is possible that the Lord for a time withdraw the bestowal of joy. One reason I can think of why he would do this is to remind us of how precious his presence is, his joy, his love, so when we don’t have them we are miserable. In other words, the goal is a greater appreciation, a greater cherishing of God in our hearts. The second reason may be caused by prolonged disobedience as well and this sense of abandonment by God continues in order to lead us to repentance. It appears that for David’s case, it is the second reason, although there is no explicit confession of sin like that in Ps 51 – against you alone I have sinned - restore to me the joy of my salvation. So David begins with asking God to return, to deliver his soul from anguish and restore the joy of his presence, of fellowship with him. When we are spiritually dry, we feel like wandering in the wilderness until we find water to refresh us as we nearly pass out of exhaustion. So David ends this second prayer section of the Psalm with the call to God to save him as someone who nearly faints because of the pains he’s going through (cf. Ps 63:2b BHS, 63:1 ESV), the basis of which is his covenant faithfulness (chesed). David understands that God has the right to exercise fatherly discipline but he will never forsake his covenant people bound by his covenant of grace. Again, the Lord reminds us in Heb 13:5b, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What do we learn from this? Never give up hope. Never think that our case is hopeless, whatever it is. Keep praying, keep seeking the Lord, keep using all available means of grace and keep hoping. Hope doesn’t disappoint us (Rom 5:5, lit: put us to shame).

- Verse 6: David then gives the reason why God should hear his prayers. This verse gives us the impression of the intensity of his agony, namely to the point of death. David feels that he is dying from the use of the words death (mavet) and grave (sheol). The remembrance and praise of God are done with body and soul with our whole being. Literally this verse says, for there is no, in death, your remembrance, in sheol, who will praise you? Perhaps David is thinking of the end of his earthly existence when he will be silenced, his thoughts and heart. We know that disembodied saints will still be able to communicate with God (e.g., Rev 6:10) where they cry out to God to execute his justice. So David is not promoting the doctrine of annihilation, the complete cessation of existence after death. What he is saying is that if God doesn’t come to rescue and David dies, he will no longer be able to meditate upon God like what he has been doing in all phases of his earthly life, from when he was a shepherd boy (Ps 23), or even earlier. Psalms are full of David’s thoughts of God and his praises to him. David says he will not be able to do these anymore when he dies. Do we value our time in which we reflect upon God, who he is, his glorious attributes, what he does? Do we savor the moments we praise him in our reflections, in our prayers, in the reading of his holy Word?

4. Reason (v.7-8 BHS)
-   The next section David returns to his personal situation. Earlier in verse 3b-4 he describes what is going on bodily and spiritual. Verses 5 and 6 speak of what David would miss if he ends up dying, namely, he would no longer be able to do what he used to do, his habitual meditation of the Lord and the offering of praise to him.  In verses 7-8, he describes the effects, what he happens as a result of the bodily and spiritual conditions he is in. This seems to be an expansion of what he describes earlier in 3b-4. First, he groans continually to the point of exhaustion (I’m weary with my groaning).  The suffering further leads to weeping; ascheh bekol-laylah, mithatiy; bedimeatiy arsiy amsah. It is curious why David uses imperfect verbs. They are not in waw-consecutive-imperfect form commonly found in narratives that describes past actions. So we may question whether this is what David actually did. I think it is: I would flood (ESV) my bed  with tears (ESV – the actual tears shows up in the next phrase dimeah but ESV wants to clarify what David floods his bed with which can be derived from “In my tears I water my couch” MM, ESV: drench). So bedimeatiy is positioned in the middle perhaps to cover both ascheh (I will flood) and ameseh (I will water). What David is saying in my view is, in his agony, he would flood his bed and water his couch with his tears and these expressions of groaning cause him to experience fatigue. Since “I’m weary of my groaning” is in the present, “I will flood and water” is not so distant past, namely it happened recently. David then further says that his eye wastes away (ESV), is dimmed (MM). It is interesting that David says only one of his eyes (eyniy) not his eyes (eynay) since the associated verbs have a “heth” (h) ending (third person feminine singular): the two verbs that describe what his eye does (asas and ataq). What does this signify? I think it signifies weakness (ESV translates ataq as grow weak) and desperation (MM translates ataq as grow old) although he is not in complete despair where he has given up all hope of resolution and deliverance. The reason is then given: bekol-tzoreray: in all (because) of all my enemies, or particularly because of those watching David waiting and expecting his demise (note again the word for enemy is not the usual word oyev or tsar but tsorer that gives a nuance of watching and expecting). The weakness and desperation are due to the pressure to give up hope altogether. The situation is hopeless. There is no more need to pray, There is no more need to call on God to help. This is the end of the world. The enemies are winning. They are watching and they will ultimately get what they wish for: the demise of God’s people. This is the temptation of those who have been struggling for a long time, whether the struggle is against sins, against bodily weaknesses, in relationships and other personal situations. Or it may be the struggle of God’s people going through persecution such as what the persecuted churches go through around the world in all ages.  We may not weep bitterly and loudly like David in the depth of our suffering. We may silently but genuinely and intensely weep nonetheless in our hearts, but what is in common is we also groan and sometimes grow weary in our groaning. As believers we may rest assured that God listens. Rom 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Here Paul reminds us of the Spirit’s faithful support, assistance in moments when we are too weak, we don’t have energy left to take our grief to God verbally. Even in those moments where we don’t feel like praying audibly, God knows. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of intercession. The Lord Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest who continually intercedes for us (Heb 7:24-25). He is a sympathetic High Priest (Heb 4:15) which means he truly understands and sympathizes with our circumstances. He brings our groaning and the situation behind it up before God and his perfect intercession is guaranteed to be heard and accepted by God. The heavenly Father will sooner or later respond and take actions. This calls for the faith, patience and submission of the saints. We may not immediately know what the solution of our plight or hardship is, but we know that it will be resolved sooner or later and ultimately it will be resolved in our favor although we may not realize it right away. So along with the call to wait and trust, there is also an assurance of God’s faithfulness, his gracious fatherly providence over his people as we will see in the next section of this Psalm. So the patient endurance of the saints is not based on a blind faith or confidence, but is buttressed by God’s promise in the revelation we find in his Holy Word that enables us to cling to hope in him with certainty, confidence and assurance of deliverance.

5. Plea / rebuke (9-11 BHS)
In the previous verse David characterizes his enemies as tsoreray (those who are watching and expecting his demise). Here he calls them poaley-aven (doers of iniquity) that gives us an imagery that it is their habit to sin. Along with the rebuke “suru mimeni kol-poaley-aven” - depart from me all (you) doers of iniquity, he gives the reason, “kiy shama Adonai qol-bekhiyi” for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The word for weeping appears also in Ps 84:6 (emeq ha-bakha) which suggests despondence, discouragement, great sadness. So the enemies desire David harm. They want him to perish. What David says in return “Y’all go home. It’s not going to happen.” For God has heard his plea. The assumption and the assurance are of course that God would come to rescue David as he has done so many times in the past. Again, embedded in all these words are assurance of divine deliverance. The church of Jesus Christ shall never perish. Many have done and are still doing great harm to her. They are not merely watching and expecting her fall, but actively persecuting her in order to accomplish their aspiration. The dragon and his minions are working hard to bring God’s people to an end once for all (the woman in Revelation 12 – No, the woman is not Mary but the church). But like David, we can with assurance and holy confidence rebuke the enemies, “Depart from us. All your schemes are going to fail. God has heard us and will come to our rescue sooner or later.” The last two verses 10-11 BHS reiterate the confidence David has in his deliverance with the use of two similar and related nouns: techinah and tefilah – the Lord hears my petition, the Lord takes (laqach) my prayer. Why does David use laqach? Shama is more common, but I think laqach is more forceful. God doesn’t simply hear, but he does something about our prayers. Although God hearing doesn’t imply that he merely hears, the use of laqach here is emphatic. God takes the prayers of his people (ESV: accept). He owns them and will take actions on their behalf with respect to their plights. Let this be a motivation for us to continue steadfastly in prayer (Col 4:2) without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), without fainting (Luk 18:1) knowing that God doesn’t leave our prayers untouched on the table as we present them before him, but he takes them, owns them and will respond in such a way that his decision, what he is going to do about them, driven by his impeccable divine wisdom, will bring the greatest good to his people. This Psalm closes with an imprecatory prayer. Indeed one feature we observe in the first few Psalms we have gone through so far (1-6) is there is an explicit (e.g., ch.3 and 6)  and implicit (ch.2 and 5) imprecatory content. The last verse of Psalm 6 involves third person plural imperfect verbs which can be interpreted as jussive (let them) or future (they will). Both ESV and MM translate them as the latter. I’m leaning more towards the former but the difference is negligible in my view. The former implies the latter and vice versa. The former is a form of a prayer, the latter sounds like a more direct curse. The verbs used are bosh (be ashamed) – used twice at the beginning and the end of the verse and bahal (trouble) – David earlier complains that his bones and soul are troubled, now he wishes that his enemies are tremendously troubled (meod – cf. v.4 BHS). Another observation is here David calls out his enemies explicitly. We see a progression from David mentioning tzoreray – my watchers (v.8 BHS) to poaley-aven – doers of iniquity (v.9) and in the last verse: oyvay – my enemies. It seems that he desires the schemes of his enemies to be frustrated in disgrace from the two bosh encapsulating the verse. The second bosh (yeboshu) is modified with yashuvu (let them turn back) – which means that David desires his enemies to retreat in disgrace as their schemes are frustrated – and raga (right away, speedily) which suggests the minimization of the extent of the execution of their schemes as well as their impact: Let their schemes be broken immediately and thoroughly, even before they are executed. While there is a place for imprecation in Scripture and in Christian life, let us be warned of being consumed by hatred. The goal of imprecation is first, that God’s justice be displayed and second, through his judgment, sinners may be led to repentance (Rom 2:4 although here the context is God’s kindness). Regardless of the means God uses whether it be through mercy or severity, the desire of our hearts is that sinners be drawn to Christ that they may commit themselves to turn from sin to him through faith and repentance, submitting themselves under his lordship just as what he has done to each one of us Christians. So what is the overall theme of Psalm 6? We see David going back and forth pleading to God and explaining his situations and this interaction ends with a conclusion of assurance of God’s presence, involvement and favor (the Lord hears my petition and takes my prayer). God is not ignoring him. He is not silent. He is actively involved and in the process of delivering his response to David’s petition and intervening in his situation. Another assurance is the defeat of his enemies described as those who desire the demise of God’s people and the doers of evil. Unless God in Christ changed our hearts by virtue of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, we were like them (Eph 2:1-3) and powerless in and by ourselves to change our depraved condition. It’s all the miraculous work of God that brings about this radical change. Let us ever be grateful then and be desirous that God does the same to many more sinners as what he did to us.

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