Troubled Bones And The God Who Turns: Psalm 6 (Part 1)

How much does sin trouble us? I do not mean necessarily the sin we see in society. We are not thinking here specifically about the sexual revolution or the moral decay of our nation, though these are devastating. But rather, consider sin in and of itself—the interruption, perversion, and warping of the natural order of the world that comes through man’s disobedience to the law of God. Does it disturb us to our core?

Or is sin, more often than not, something which is assumed? Perhaps we think of sin as not exactly ideal, but something we take for granted, almost like traffic at rush hour. Nobody likes rush-hour traffic. It is hardly pleasant. It certainly is not the most efficient, convenient, or ideal situation for getting home at the end of the workday, but that is just how it is. It is simply a reality of life.

I suspect that is often our view of sin: troublesome, bothersome, not ideal. It probably ought not to be this way, but it has been this way for so long that nobody knows any differently. Sin creates inconveniences for us (e.g., apologies we have to offer to our spouses later, amends we have to make with our co-workers, and so on), but it is mostly just a fact of life we need to put up with until we get to heaven.

But here is the rub: sin has consequences. Sin has effects. The effects are not merely that the sin of Adam has plunged all of mankind into darkness and death such that we need salvation and ransom, which is entirely true. But more than that, sin has real mental, emotional, psychological, physiological, and relational consequences in addition to our judicial condemnation before God.

Here in Psalm 6, David is under the chastening hand of God because of his sin. Sin has had an effect on David’s life. He is reaping the fruit of it, and he feels it so acutely that he describes it as wearying, even down to his very bones. Whatever transgression David has committed has brought about God’s reaction such that God is afflicting David in order to move him to turn from his sin and turn back to the Lord.

This chapter is a window into David’s soul as we see him grappling with sin. By the grace of God, the Spirit of God moves David to despise his sin and to seek God in repentance and, ultimately, to experience refreshment.

When we meet David in this psalm, does he seem to give off a nonchalant view of sin—something that is irksome but unavoidable, like stiff joints? Or does he view it as something more insidious and sickening—something which saps the energy from the body, wears on the mind, and feeds like a parasite on the soul?

A number of years ago, I either read or heard a story regarding a minister and how he reacted to (at the time recent) decisions made by the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland General Assembly had determined that they were no longer going to forbid their ministers from officiating over same-sex marriages and that, eventually, they would even begin to permit their ministers to be involved in same-sex relationships.

This man who was sitting in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland as these decisions were being made finally had to excuse himself from the room; he went outside, all the way to the sidewalk, and he vomited. He was so disturbed and distraught by what the Church of Scotland was doing to disregard Holy Scripture and how it had opted to embrace and endorse sin that it made him sick. And he vomited on the street: not once, not twice, but three times that afternoon!

By comparison, when many of us receive news of various kinds of flagrant sins, it elicits, I suspect, barely a shrug. Too often in Christianity today we have far too casual a view of sin and far too low a view of the biblical grace of repentance.

Sin is pervasive. It warps (whether we realize it or not) every aspect of our lives: our bodies, our relationships, our minds, our health, our souls, and our hearts. We ought to be sensitive to the means and circumstances of loving discipline that our Father will use to correct us and prod us away from those things that are destroying our souls.

David knows this. His soul is sick and will not rest until the effects of God’s chastisement are lifted. This is a psalm about the nauseating effects sin has on the soul of a believer. This is a psalm about the Fatherly and loving discipline the children of God sometimes receive. And this is a psalm about the restoration of the soul that comes through the grace of repentance.

If you look at the text of Psalm 6, you may notice the structure of David’s prayer. Several scholars have suggested that it is almost like a poem with an A, B, A, C structure.

  • Verses 1–3: The Believer’s Distress
  • Verses 4–5: The Believer’s Prayer
  • Verses 6–7: The Believer’s Distress (repeated)
  • Verses 8–10: The Believer’s New Resolve

The Believer’s Distress

Here, unlike some of the other psalms near the front end of the Psalter, David is not suffering at the hands of his enemies (though they are in view here, as we see in verses 9 and 10). Instead, his problem is that he is under the chastening hand of God. It is weighing him down beyond the point he can bear. David is despairing because he is experiencing correction from the hand of God on account of his sin. David is miserable and believes that he cannot endure it if this chastening continues much longer

We do not know exactly what has happened, though Psalm 3 may provide us a clue. It may be that David’s own sins are coming back to haunt him in the rebellion of his son Absalom.

Note the graphic language David evokes in the first three verses. David is falling into the temptation to despair of being crushed beyond remedy. He forgets that as he receives these dealings from the hand of Almighty God, he is being treated as a child of God, not an enemy of God. The Puritans have this wonderful old saying: “When the rod of God is upon your back, remember the hand that holds that rod is the hand of your Father.” David is experiencing a kind of “dark night of the soul.” And yet, even in the darkness, the Lord is providentially directing the situation for the good of his soul; the Lord is charting the course of this dark night for David’s eternal good.

Friends, there are deep clouds of dark shadow that the Lord would have us go through. And yet, here is the glorious mystery: not one of them is unplanned, not one of them catches God by surprise, and not one of them is wasted. Christian, when you are in such a dark night yourself, when all hell seems to be rising up and thundering against you, remember that even this pain and dire circumstance—even this rod—is held by the hand of your Father, and he does not wield it with scorn. Quite the contrary, he is working all things together for your eternal good. Your Lord is dealing with your sin not as his enemy, but as his friend and his child.

Here is the beauty of being a member of God’s covenant: even the fires of refinement are a grace. Even the moments of pain where the refining fire of the Lord is burning away and incinerating one’s impurities, even those moments are an act of grace as he seeks to mold his child more and more in holiness and into the image of his Son.

The hymn-writer puts it well when he says:

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply,
The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design, they dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.1

But David does not remember that in this moment. And, frankly, rarely do we when we are in the thick of those situations. Right now, David is fixated on and almost blinded by the discipline he is receiving. Yet in his despair, he gives us insight into three deep fears that can grip a person’s soul when he is under the chastening hand of God.

The first fear we might describe like this: as David experiences God’s chastening for his sin, he is deeply afraid that God is dealing with him in anger. David essentially says in verse 1, “I am not denying the fact that I deserve this chastening—I do! I’m a sinner and I have transgressed against you, But, O Lord, if you deal with me in anger . . . there will be nothing left.”

Christian, remember that when it comes to our present struggles with sin, God does not deal with us in anger; God deals with us in Fatherly love. He has already dealt with our sin in his anger—the crushing that we have merited has fallen on Christ instead of us. “He was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isa 53:5).

David’s second fear we might articulate like this: as he experiences God’s chastening for his sin, David is deeply afraid God has forsaken him, perhaps forever. We see that in verses 3–4. He is fearful that this period of forsakenness is going to go on forever, that it is going to be eternal. “How long, O Lord,” he says—how long?

And then, David’s third fear: as he experiences God’s chastening for sin, David is deeply afraid and in verse 5 is thinking along the lines, “I must be bound for death, apart from God.” One pastor describes this vividly when he says: “Here is death viewed from the prospect of one who is estranged from God and has strayed from God.”2 This thought absolutely wrecks David because in Sheol, the realm of the dead, nobody praises God. It is a place that, as Derek Kidner concludes, “brings an end to [God’s] saving interventions,” a place where God is not worshiped. For David to even contemplate the experience of an eternity not worshiping God is unbearable to him.3

Such a fear stands as evidence that this is no unregenerate heart we see in David. After all, the unregenerate heart does not care about the glory of God. Yet here is a man who cares more about a lack of worship toward God than he does for his own safety or pain. That concern itself is evidence of God working and willing his good pleasure in the life of David. What a comfort it is to see that, in union with the Lord, even our fears often reflect the new affections and desires he has wrought in us!

Nevertheless, these fears haunt David at night, as he says in verse 6. P. C. Craigie wrote, “For most sufferers, it [is] in the long watches of the night, when silence and loneliness increase and the warmth of human companionship is absent, that . . . pain and grief [reach] their darkest point.”4 David goes to bed at night, which he says has become like a swimming pool: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (v. 6). And as if that were not enough, David has double trouble: God is against him, apparently, and he has many enemies against him (v. 7).

We take all of this in with David, and everything seems absolutely overwhelming. But consider this: David’s experience is a kind of microcosm of the Christian life. In this songbook of the Bible, the Psalms, we see a picture of the Christian experience in David’s experience. There are going to be times in our Christian life when we are going to despair and even be tempted to fear death (hell, perhaps?) and abandonment. That is why these prayers are in the Bible. Christian, what do you do when everything is up against you, when you feel as if even God is against you, when you find yourself fearing eternal separation? Here is a prayer; here is a chapter of the Bible for you, beset Christian.

There is more for us to unearth in this sobering chapter of Scripture, and we will do just that when we return next week for Part 2 of our ongoing Saturday Psalm Series.

Notes

  1. George Keith, “How Firm a Foundation,” 1787.
  2. Original source unknown.
  3. Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72, Reprint edition (Lisle, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 78.
  4. P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1–50, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19 (Waco: Word, 1983), 93–94.

©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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    Post authored by:

  • Sean Morris
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    Sean was educated at Grove City College, Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), and the University of Glasgow (Scotland). He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and serves as a minister at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN. He also serves as the Academic Dean of the Blue Ridge Institute for Theological Education. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sean lives in Oak Ridge with his wife, Sarah, along with their children and useless beagle.

    More by Sean Morris ›

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2 comments

  1. God has His remnant!

    All through church history even where there have been those in leadership that have led the church for power and greed…

    Even when in the middle ages when many christians were illiterate and bibles were rare and only available to the privileged few

    And down to modern times when women are subjected to the hundreds of man-made rules coming from a few verses and that Scottish church (among others) allowing for same sex marraiges and relationships….

    God has always had and will continue to have His remnant. That is part of the good news!

  2. Thank you for writing this.

    In Psalm 79:9 it is striking that when the psalmist pleads for help, appealing directly to nothing less than the Lord’s own glory, the request he actually makes is, “purge away our sins.” Our sins are surely our biggest problem.

    I’ll look forward to the next installment.

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