Christ in Psalms – 6*
Whether you’ve gone through extremely dark seasons of depression or you’ve never thought about the shady side of the street, this passage can help each of us understand more of God’s mysterious ways in the lives of believers. This passage of Scripture can help us to heed the words of Spurgeon (a man who dealt with depression very deeply at times), “Reader, never ridicule the nervous and hypochondriacal, their pain is real; though much of the [malady] lies in their imagination [thought-processes] it is not imaginary.”
There was a man who lived in the 1700’s named William Cowper. He wrote many hymns: “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” and “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” are just two. Cowper was plagued with depression most of his life, and John Newton was a great friend of his – constantly coming alongside of him to encourage him in Christ. At one point in time, Cowper wrote the following: “Loaded as my life is with despair, I have no such comfort as would result from a supposed probability of better things to come, were it once ended … You will tell me that this cold gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful spring, and endeavour to encourage me to hope for a spiritual change resembling it – but it will be lost labour.” Some of you have felt that way before. Some of you might think that now – wondering if God will ever bring you spiritual vibrancy again.
Whether you are a John Newton personality or you tend to be more like Cowper, Psalm 6 can teach us much as we see how God works in individuals. And, as has been the goal throughout this study, we find ultimate hope as we are pointed to the Messiah!
Verses 1-3 deal with the psalmist’s plea for mercy on the basis of his own self. In verse 2, he declares that he is weak, and therefore in need of mercy. The phrases “in your anger” and “in your wrath” (v. 1) are emphasized in the Hebrew. The point is not that David thinks God shouldn’t discipline him. The point is that David seems to think that God has gone too far and he is experiencing God’s wrath. David seems to think that he may lose the salvation he was so confident he had (see Ps. 5:7). His depression is causing him to lose sight of reality.
What I find so amazing in all of this is that while he feels as though God’s wrath may be towards him, he cannot stop praying. This is very important in all believers. Even though they feel slain by God, they continue to follow after Him and seek Him through prayer. A believer’s faith is like a hot ember in their soul that cannot be put out completely.
In David’s initial plea for mercy, he asks on the basis of his weakness. The word “weak” in verse 2 metaphorically refers to strong things becoming weak. Think about the Titanic becoming weak, although it was built as an “unsinkable ship.” Think about the walls of Jericho. Think about people as they experience physical trauma like a stroke. David places himself in this category. He was very strong, but he has become weak in the midst of despair, and he cries out, “How long, O LORD?”
In verses 4 and 5, David makes a plea for God’s mercy on the basis of God’s mercy. This is vital for a believer to do in the midst of depression. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book on depression and he said one of the biggest problems he sees in the lives of believers is that they spend far too much time listening to themselves instead of preaching to themselves (read more here ). In this psalm, David focuses his attention, for a moment, off of himself as a reason for attaining mercy, and he calls on the faithfulness of God. He calls God to return to him. It is as if David feels like God has turned away from him, and he is pleading for God’s face to shine on him once again. In Psalm 5:7, David says God’s mercy is his security and hope in all abundance, and he is right. In the Hebrew, the word mercy has a lavish meaning. As one children’s book says, the LORD’s mercy is His “never stopping, never giving up, unfailing, always and forever love.” So, the logic follows that if God’s love is unfailing, then how could God leave David? God made a promise, and God must be true to His own character (see also Jas. 1:18).
David then says, in verse 5, that there will be no public worship of God (i.e. – “remembrance”) in death and no gratitude in Sheol. I believe that a man who is depressed and believes he is under the wrath of God also seriously thinks he is going to experience Hell. In verse 5, David is pleading with God, basically saying, “You saved me so that I would worship and declare You to others. Keep your promise.”
In verses 6-7, David describes a little bit of the background to the current situation he finds himself in. He is groaning, crying wherever he goes and his eyes are tired from the oppression he is feeling. Verse 7 indicates that his despair has arisen either because of enemies or it is being sustained because of his enemies. Either way, in many scenarios, depression has a spiritual and physical explanation. For the believer, we also have to remember that our enemies are not only past, present or future circumstances, but they are also demonic forces (Eph. 6:12). These enemies can cause extreme weight to our soul so that we are groaning – not even having words to speak because the pain is so deep.
In verses 8-10, David immediately turns the corner. I do not think that circumstances have changed, but I think David has been strengthened by God to preach truth to Himself. David’s looked at his situation. He’s recalled God’s faithfulness and in boldness he commands his enemies to depart. This is kingly speech that is much like Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:23. In Christ, believers can have that same humble boldness against our enemies through prayer. David uses the dynamic use of “three” in this psalm. To say something three times is a symbol of perfection and completion. So, David reiterates that the Lord has heard and will receive his prayer. In God’s timing, an answer will come that will result in David’s rescue. He does not know when, but he knows that it will come. As a result, his enemies ought to flee. God is for him, no one else can be against him (Rom. 8:31). John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress and a man who struggled with depression for at least 8 years of his life says this, “Say to your soul, ‘This is not the place nor the time for despair. As long as my eyes can find a promise in the Bible, as long as I have life and breath, I will wait for mercy, I will fight against doubt and despair.’”
Now, does this psalm point us to the Messiah? You may study this psalm finding a great source of encouragement that a man after God’s own heart struggled so deeply; however, do you realize that Jesus, and the pain He experienced, can minister to your soul in far greater ways than David and his pain?
Do you see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem? Do you see the Savior when He was hungry and tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself? Do you see Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane?
We humans sometimes tend to prefer to lighten the intensity of Jesus’ pain in the garden by saying, “Well, He’s God. Of course He knew He was going to be ok.” Our response to that thought ought to be, “He was fully human.” The Bible said that He was experiencing such trauma of soul that he bled out of the sweat glands on His face.
When I hear David saying, “Rebuke me not in your wrath,” I hear Jesus saying, “Lord, let this cup pass from me.” Yet Jesus was not going to experience being back at the right hand of the Father until He experienced the punishment for the sins of myriads of people. Then Jesus experienced the Father forsaking Him: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He literally experienced the horrors of Sheol on the cross. With that, He breathed His last. And, the Bible says that Jesus died.
How could Jesus have died? How can there be any remembrance of God in death – especially the death of the Messiah? How can there be any thankfulness given to God in the grave? These questions are legitimate, and they’re answered by Jesus’ resurrection just a few days later. He rose from the dead in order to give victory! And, for those who are despairing and despondent, the Word says that He ever lives to make intercession for us. Hebrews 7:24-25 says, “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus is the perfect High Priest and He is risen and lives to make intercession for you so that you would endure even in the midst of despair. And, if You are God’s child, He hears your prayers, too. We know this because as Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” His discipline does not seem pleasant at the time (Heb. 12:11). It is painful. Some receive that pain much more than others. If that is you. I desire to encourage you in the sovereign greatness of God, the all-sacrificing love of Jesus and the eternal power of the Holy Spirit to trust in God. He will sustain You. God’s grace is sufficient. Entrust yourself to Him and embrace whatever trials He allows. Remember that His wrath is never towards His children. He has heard your cries, and someday you will be with the Father in Heaven for all eternity and you will agree with the Apostle Paul’s statement, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Seeing God face-to-face and being encompassed by His glory in Heaven will overshadow your years of pain and despair.
So, whether you are a hurting, despairing Christian or a hurting, despairing unbeliever – turn to the Savior. Repent of trusting in yourself and things around you and trust in the loving Messiah who came to rescue you. He will give needed strength to endure. He does this because Jesus laid aside peace with God on the cross. Jesus laid aside the strength of being the Sovereign Lord by coming to this earth. He laid aside hope while He was enduring the wrath of God in your place.
Turn to the Lord. Your enemies will flee, and you will find that He has always been turned towards you.
*Depression affects people physically and spiritually. This overview of Psalm 6 primarily addressed depression from a spiritual standpoint. If you are experiencing or know someone who is experiencing depression, I would also recommend that you consider medicine as a viable option. Medicine can be a good, common grace of God to help some people in the midst of dark times. Read more about Christianity and depression from an author and professor, David Murray, in this book, “Christians Get Depressed, Too.”</em>