Black thoughts – Psalm 6

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

When asked how I have my coffee I often say, “As black as my thoughts and as bitter as my memories,” The irony in that statement is obvious by the grin on my face and tone of voice, but there is something in that, I miss the mobility I once had.

Storm clouds gathering over a wheat field.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
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.

Psalm 6 ESVUK

Again David is in a pickle, it is his own fault and he knows it.

Psalm 6 is a very dark song, if I were to set it to music I’d probably use E flat minor, said by the musicologist Rita Steblin as having “feelings of anxiety and the soul’s deepest distress.” But I’d also choose it because E flat minor is the easiest key to improvise a blues over as the minor pentatonic scale is just the black notes on a piano.

Looking at how the psalm is structured accentuates its bleakness. Again in the quote above I have added paragraphs and have also added emphasis. The psalm is in three parts. vv. 1-3, vv. 4-7 and vv. 8-10. Each of these parts has three units:

  • unit 1 contains an imperative, rebuke, turn and depart in each part of the psalm.
  • unit 2 starts with the word translated ‘for’ in the ESV. I have put this in italics in the text.
  • unit 3 is freeform, different in each part.

The second and third units of part 2, vv 5-7 form the centre of the psalm which is the bleakest part and unlike the rest of the psalm which is full of mentions of God, God is absent from this area. That God is not mentioned here is a deliberate ploy in the writing.

Parts 1 and 3 of the psalm, vv. 1-3, and vv. 8-10, are similar instructions, both using parallelism, lines meaning the same thing, both parts also mention being troubled although they are dealt with differently, because part 3 is the opposite of parts 1 and 2, being positive in outlook rather than the negativity of the first two parts. Here is a look at the structure

  1. Do not forsake me, LORD
    • for I am languishing
      • I am troubled
  2. Turn to me, LORD
    • for in death you are not remembered
      • I am weary and weeping
  3. Depart, workers of evil
    • for the LORD has heard
      • you will be troubled

So now we know the careful structure, how do we interpret this psalm?

I would have expected a palm like this to turn from being negative to positive in the second part, but instead, it goes deeper into despair. David has turned back to God after doing some sin, what that sin is is not mentioned because although an individual lament this psalm can be also used by others as their personal lament when they realise they are sinning against God. David has turned to God in verse 1 and asked God to turn to him in verse 4, so why does he not turn to something positive here and not go deeper into his dark moods?

The turning point is when David tells the evildoers to go. This is how repentance works, repentance means turning, but there need to be two turnings in true repentance, a turning to God and a turning away from the things you did. The people who were leading David into sin have to go. We know when someone has repented because we see the fruit of repentance.

Confession is just the first part of repentance. If you have turned to God and confessed that is a very good thing but turning away from the things or people that caused you to do the bad things is another step, often the most difficult step, that also needs to be taken.

Have you taken both steps?


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