Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
To the chief Musician on Neginoth upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David. O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.Psalms 6
This Psalm might have a history to itself. It has a wail of pain and sorrow, deepening into anguish, running through it; but comfort dawns at the close, like an angel turning the key of the prison. It is the first of the seven Penitential Psalms, the others being the 32nd, 38th, 51st, 102nd, 130th, 143rd. One of the strangest things, though not the happiest, in its records is, that, along with Psalm CXLII., it was the choice of Catherine de Medici, the Jezebel and Athaliah of the French monarchy. She was irreligious and superstitious, profligate and devoured by ambition; and the fact that she had no children seemed likely to deprive her of the control which she hoped to gain in the counsels of the kingdom. The Psalm was the expression of mere worldly disappointment. She became at last the mother of Francis II. (the first husband of Mary Stuart) and of Charles IX., whose character she corrupted by ministering to his vices, and whom she urged to the massacre of St. Bartholomew. 'Her desire was realized,' says a French historian, 'for the misery of France; and that family, which then took pleasure in the Psalms, put to death thousands of the Reformed for singing them.'
It has a more pleasing association with another princess, allied to the French royal family. Elizabeth Charlotte was niece of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and granddaughter of Elizabeth Stuart, after whom she was named. She had remarkable abilities, and was carefully educated by her aunt Sophia, under the eye of the great Leibnitz. Her father, the Elector Palatine, constrained her to a marriage with the Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV., in the hope that the union might save his principality from the aggression of the French king. But it helped Louis to fresh claims; and, when her beautiful native land, beside the Rhine and Neckar, was wasted by the French armies, its towns laid in ashes, the Castle of Heidelberg, the home of her childhood, undermined and shattered, and the people she loved driven out in winter to die houseless and famishing, she could not sleep for the visions of havoc, and for the thought that she had been cruelly sacrificed to a vain policy. Her letters are deeply interesting for the light they throw on the time, and on the Court of France. Her heart went back to her early Protestant faith, and to the old Castle of Osnabruck, where she had spent her happiest days with her aunt. In a letter to her she relates an incident connected with this Psalm. She was walking one day in the orangery at Versailles, and was singing it in the translation of Clement Marot, as an expression of her feelings. A noted artist of the time, warmly attached in heart to the Reformed religion, was engaged in painting the roof, and heard her. 'Scarcely,' she writes, 'had I finished the first verse, when I saw M. Rousseau hasten down the ladder and fall at my feet. I thought he was mad, and said, "Rousseau, Rousseau, what is the matter?" He replied, "Is it possible, madam, that you still recollect our psalms and sing them? May God bless you, and keep you in this good mind." He had tears in his eyes.' Another woman, of our own time, with trials in a different position, and yet like in kind to those of Elizabeth Charlotte, has put her heart into some of the words. The wife of Thomas Carlyle inserts verses 2-4 in her Journal, 1855, when in sore trouble of body and mind, amid weakness and weariness, sleepless nights, and wounded feelings. 'Oh, dear! I wish this Grange business were well over. It occupies me (the mere preparation for it) to the exclusion of all quiet thought and placid occupation. To have to care for my dress, this time of day, more than I ever did when young and pretty and happy (God bless me, to think I was once all that!), on penalty of being regarded as a blot on the Grange gold and azure, is really too bad. Ach Gott! if we had been left in the sphere of life we belong to, how much better it would have been for us in many ways! Ah, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak as water. Today I walked with effort one little mile, and thought it a great feat. Sleep has come to look to me the highest virtue and the greatest happiness; that is, good sleep, untroubled, beautiful, like a child's. Ah me! "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?"'
This same verse 3 was the common expression of Calvin when he was in trouble, 'Tu Domine usque quo?' 'Thou, O Lord, how long?' and parts of the Psalm, with the last verse of Psalm LXX., were among the dying words of Robert Rollock, the first Principal of the University of Edinburgh, a man remarkable for power of administration and deep piety.
References.—VI. 10.—Bishop Alexander, The Great Questions, p. 106. VII. 8.—H. Bushnell, Christ and Hit Salvation, p. 167. VIII. 2.—A. P. Manley, Sermons for Children, p. 44.
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.