Lenten Reflections, Psalm 6, the First Penitential Psalm
O Lord, Deliver My Life
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith.
A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
David has a way of capturing the terror and trouble sin causes us in our lives, how it works on our consciences, daily gnaws away at us. He recognizes in verse one that he, the King of Israel, is a sinner, and his actions are deserving of discipline and correction. He is languishing over the wrong he has done. His “bones are troubled.” The sin eats into the very core of him – no matter where he is, he cannot escape it. His guilt, anxiety, and worry sap all his strength. David feels death and hell close at hand. There is a separation from God, a gulf becaus of his sin. David is brought low under the weight of his sin. Humbled.
But David is sorry for his sins. What he has done causes him grief and sorrow, leading to physical pain and sleepless nights. David pleads with the Lord to spare him. He knows what he has done; he knows that he deserves punishment; he knows that he deserves the wrath of God. God’s words given through His servant David, bring to life what we feel when we are wracked with guilt and sorrow for the wrongs we have committed. This is the “anfechtungen” of Martin Luther: the trouble of the conscience that plagues believers. It is not a wrestling with God, but a battle with our sin – which is always with us – when confronted with the holiness and righteousness of God through the Cross of the crucified Christ. No matter how good we are, no matter how righteous we are sin remains with us and points to the obvious conclusion that apart from Christ we are dead, helpless and powerless. It is knowing what one should do, but, time and time again, giving into the desires of the flesh and doing something else. It is the paradox of being simultaneously a saint and sinner. It is the Spirit working through the Word of Life, driving us to our knees so that we may repent and call upon God.
David does not wrestle with God here in this Psalm. Rather, the king casts aside all pretense of power, ability and personal righteousness, and begs God to turn back to him and deliver his life. David knows that without God, without His grace and mercy, he is a dead man. Only God can save him. David’s faith leads him to call upon God for forgiveness, to call upon His mercy, and ask God for something that he does not deserve. His faith, which in itself is a gift from God, gives him the confidence and boldness to call upon God in his time of trouble. The mercy and love of God is placed before David, and it assures him, through faith, that God has heard his prayer and accepted it. That is, God has had mercy upon David, and forgiven him. God wants us to turn to Him; He wants to hear from us because we are He is our Father, and we are His children. And like any father working with a child, He desires that we be saved, that are ways be corrected. And so He turns to us and comes to us. We do not go to Him. Rather our Father comes to us and restores our relationship with Him because of His great love for us.
Because of God’s mercy and steadfast love, David is given the confident assurance that God will be with Him wherever he goes and in whatever he does. God will protect His children, guiding them and directing them. David will not be turned away by the wicked and those who wish to lead him into sin. Rather, they will be punished and put to shame. Without the healing power of the Word of God crushing them and working faith and forgiveness in them, the wicked will become angry, confused, and perish. The wisdom of the Cross confounds the wisdom of the wise, and becomes a rock of stumbling or offense to false Christians. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation.
Today more than ever we, who are in the church, need to be reminded that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Although His saving work was completed on the Cross, Christ’s work in us is not completed in this World. His Word continues to work on us, refining and purifying us. Lest we forget, we are steeped in it, SIN. It is a word that we do not use very often anymore. Along with SATAN and the DEVIL, it is almost a forgotten word. But all three are real and present, even in the lives of the redeemed. So long as we live on this earth, we cannot escape it.
David, the king of Israel recognized his own sinfulness, and expresses it in the Psalms where he confesses his sinfulness to God, and pleads with him for mercy. In this season of Lent, we are reminded not simply of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. We are also reminded of our constant NEED for a Savior. And this leads to REPENTANCE, another word that is not often used in the Christian life. It is often associated with the Law. And since we live under the Grace of God in Christ as redeemed heirs of the Kingdom, forgiven already, we do not need REPENTANCE. Yet David, who certainly had the favor of God, chosen by Him to be king over all Israel, repented and it was memorialized by God in this Psalm, and others like it. How much more should we who live in such a decadent, morally bankrupt society acknowledge our sinfulness and repent?
The Lutheran Confessions in the Smalcald Articles say this of repentance:
3] This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc.
4] But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise. And John, preceding Him, is called a preacher of repentance, however, for the remission of sins, i.e., John was to accuse all, and convict them of being sinners, that they might know what they were before God, and might acknowledge that they were lost men, and might thus be prepared for the Lord, to receive grace, and to expect and accept from Him the remission of sins. Thus also Christ Himself says, Luke 24:47: 6] Repentance and remission of sins must be preached in My name among all nations. SA III, III, 3-6.
Repentance and Forgiveness are brought together in the crucified Christ on the Cross and the Risen Christ as seen in the empty tomb. This is the Gospel message which God Himself delivers directly to us, coming into our midst, and drawing each one of us straight to the Cross. There we are left to carry the Cross with us to others in need of the Savior. The Cross never leaves the Christian. It is a constant reminder of our need for a Savior, what our Savior did for us, and the hope we have in the empty tomb. It is our strength, our source of life. It is not something that is abstract or far off, but it is real and with us every day – in the Word carried in our Bibles, on our lips, and on the lips of the preacher, in Baptism where we are marked by Christ Himself as one redeemed, and in the Lord’s Supper where we receive Christ’s body broken for us and His blood poured out for us.
Refine us, O Lord, this Lenten season. Remind us of our need for a Savior. As we walk to the Cross, dear Lord, show us our sin, that we may leave it at the Cross and die with Christ, to be raised up to new life in Him. Teach us Savior to follow you, that we may take up our Cross, and be made into Your disciples to carry the Cross into the world.