THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL – Psalm 6

psalms

Ever feel alone, unloved, betrayed, lonely, frightened?  Ever suffer in the body and soul?  Ever sorrow and grieve?  In this Psalm, through prayer, the subconscious knowledge that God was real and present, suddenly took root and brought David to a sense of peace in the midst of pain.

Psalm 6

 O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.   Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.   My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?  Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.  For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?   I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.   Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.   Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.   The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.  

Some commentators have described this as the first of the Penitential Psalms. These are prayers which are written after a period of sin when the Psalmist has felt the chastening of God and is now repenting as the penitent sinner. The 51st is the best well known but Psalms 32, 51, 102 , 130 and 143 also belong to this category.

There is, however, some debate as to whether this 6th Psalm belongs properly to the Penitential category. Some prefer to see this Psalm as a prayer written in a time of sickness. I must confess that when reviewing this Psalm it is the thought of human suffering, whether it is sickness or sorrow, which came to my mind as the circumstances behind the writing of these words. Yes, it is true that he prayed for mercy and described the Lord’s hot displeasure towards him in his sufferings. This, however, does not mean that David is repenting of specific sins in his life, as he obviously did when he wrote Psalm 51. Already in the Psalter David prayed for mercy when he was suffering the assault if his enemies (Psalm 4:1) but this did not mean he could readily identify the specific sin that brought these circumstances about. Ancient people often associated their sufferings with the displeasure of God. They were aware of their depravity of their undeserving state. They were aware that God was dealing with them harshly. Therefore in times of trouble they would frequently come before God with humility because sins cried out for chastening.

Therefore while David is feeling the rod of God he is still one who is coming to God in a time of extreme grief. The verses 7-8 grant us a brief window into the cause of his suffering – his enemies, the “workers of iniquity”. It was not specific failures on his part but the vicious assault of those whose ambitions were different from David’s, that was the cause of his sorrow. Nevertheless he recognised that God in His sovereignty was teaching him serious lessons through his bitter experience. Therefore he cried out “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.”

It is the emphasis upon sorrow which comes to the fore as we study the Psalm 6 and this will be the theme of this particular study.

A Prayer for a Time of Sorrow

1: The Magnitude of David’s Sufferings

It is evident from the opening section of the Psalm that David’s sorrow had reached down into his inner being and had pierced his soul:

“…for my bones are vexed” (v2); “My soul is also sore vexed” (v3).

David’s sorrows had affected his emotions and had wounded his minded. Psychologically he was suffering as a result of his pains. One could quite justifiably employ the word “Depression” to describe David’s deep and intense sense of loss.

Spiritually he was also in the doldrums. He felt as if God had abandoned him in his sorrows. It is not unusual for Christians to suffer in this way. Martin Luther, William Cowper and C.H. Spurgeon are examples of prominent believers who experienced season of dark despondency when they doubted God and his grace in their lives. Very often physical pain, psychological suffering and spiritual infirmity come together as seek to come to terms with whatever our situation may be. Old Christian writers employed a phrase to describe such a season:

“The dark night of the soul”.

The full extremity of his pains is outlined in verse 6 and 7 where the description is heart breaking. Behind the locked door, in the stillness of the night his bed was being watered with tears. John Trapp wrote:

“That he had wept himself almost blind.”

This was the man who at other times had gone to bed and in times of anxiety had slept like a baby (4:8) yet in this instance he was kept awake by the noise of his own sobbing and by the taste of his tears as they course down his cheeks. There are times we will have have peace in the midst of the storms but there will be other occasions when sleep will flee and when our own grief will dominate the seasons of the night. Writer James Montgomery Boice quotes from P.C. Craigie who describes this phase of suffering:

“For most sufferers it is in the long watches if the night when silence and loneliness increase and the warmth of human companionship is absent, that…pain and grief reach their darkest point.”

2: The Ministry David Sought

Despite the fact, that he felt as if God had forgotten him, and that he was recoiling under the heavy hand of his Heavenly Father, David still sought God for His help and grace. He knew that when God intervened that would bring him the comfort for which he longed.

He acknowledged his weakness (v2) which is the starting point for one who is seeking God. True prayer must be built upon out own sense of inadequacy. How we need the Lord in our grief and our sorrow because our own weakness will drag us down. David was wearied and worn out by the heart break and by those sleepless nights. But he knew that he could cast all his care upon the Lord.

In his weakness he asked for healing. He was not at this stage asking for his external difficulties to be resolved. He knew that the impact of those problems had been devastating physically, psychologically and spiritually. Therefore he approached “The Healer.”

God is able to heal us of whatever pain and sorrow we experience together with the associated health problems that are caused by the onslaught. There is no situation for which he does not have the answer. Furthermore because he can do what no-one else can accomplish we must draw near to him carrying our burdens.

3: The Manner of David’s Supplication

Despite the acuteness of his situation David passed from hopelessness into faith as a result of his prayers. It was faith alone which drew him into the place of prayer but as he prayed his faith and intensified. As he reached the 9th verse he bursts forth suddenly into praise:

“The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer”

Don Baker, an American Pastor related his own experiences in a book called, “Depression: Finding Hope and Meaning in Life’s Darkest Shadow.” He suffered greatly and was hospitalised as a consequence of his illness. He believed that God healed him and he describes the moment he was brought to peace and contentment as he kneeled before God in prayer. Yet he had prayed many times before but this time it was all so different. He described the cloud lifting and the world suddenly appearing different. God had chosen that moment to come down into his life.

David had a similar experience in this Psalm because the change that has taken place between v1 and v9 is striking. No longer is he feeling abandoned and chastened; he now realises that God has received him.

Dr James Montgomery Boice, however, refers to Don Baker’s experience:

“Exceptional? Perhaps, but nevertheless real…he is still there! He is always there – even though for a time, we may not be aware of it.”

This for me, is the “clincher”. God was with David even when the Psalmist felt abandoned. If you feel abandoned by the God remember, the fault is in your feelings, not with God who never will leave us. Through prayer, however, David recognised that God’s presence was there. This is what prayer helps us to discover. The meaning of life, the reality of God presence and the tokens of His love. We pray because somewhere deep down we know that God is here with us in the darkness. Through prayer that hidden subconscious knowledge becomes so real and so resplendent.

“Steps unseen before me,

Hidden dangers near;

Nearer still my Saviour,

Whispering, be of cheer;

Joys like birds of springtime,

To my heart have flown,

Singing all so sweetly:

He will not leave thee alone.

No, never alone; no, never alone;

He promised never to leave me,

Never to leave me alone.”

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