Christ, our Light

CQOD Special Archive


by John R. Cogdell

I. Introduction
II. Psalm 34
III. Psalm 6
IV. Psalm 22
V. Psalm 69
VI. Summary and Critique of Thesis

III. Psalm 6

A. As of David
    In the Jerusalem Bible this psalm bears the subheading "A sick man speaks to God," which seems fitting. David draws a pathetic picture of his state. He feels under God's heavy hand of anger (v 1) as evidenced by affliction of body and soul (vv 2,3). Death is near and he pleads with God to spare him that he might again offer praise (vv 4,5). The picture of David's state which he describes in vv 6 and 7 reveals extreme grief and weeping to the point of soaking the bed with tears and weakening the eyes. The source of this lamentation proves to be a multitude of enemies (v 7).
    The tone of the psalm turns in v 8 assurance and victory as David banishes his enemies and proclaims his certainty that the Lord has heard and received his prayer (v 9). Thus is David sure to prevail over those who hate and trouble him.
    It is difficult to identity the period in David's life or the specific circumstances leading to this psalm. We get the picture of elderly King David, sick and discouraged, threatened by the intrigue of an oriental court. The aging monarch, losing his control over ambitious and ruthless competitors, is like the wounded deer surrounded by jackals and carrion birds. Yet David looks to the same God who raised him up to be king to protect and preserve him in that position.

B. As of Christ
    Jesus quoted Psalm 6 on three occasions. The most familiar is in Matt 7:23: "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful words? And then will I profess unto them I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:21-23).
    In this passage Jesus is speaking of the condition for entering the kingdom of Heaven. Note that those who enter are relatively few (vv 13,14). There will be false prophets and teachers who, at first looking genuine, later show through bearing the wrong kind of fruit that they are the wrong kind of tree (vv 15,20). But the most disturbing are those who call upon Jesus as "Lord" and evidently wield great authority in his name, and yet are to be banished from the presence of the King because he never knew them personally. The context suggests that one comes to be known by Jesus through doing the will of the Father (vv 21,24-27), not through the exercise of spiritual gifts and powers.
    We might note that the issue is not "knowing Jesus" but rather being known by him. Jesus has made himself available to all men; he is the most knowable of all men of history. The ultimate question is, how knowable have men made themselves to him?
    A similar, though clearly distinct, quotation of the psalm appears in Luke 13:27:

"And he [Jesus] went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know not whence you are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence you are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." (Luke 13:22-28)
This parable makes the same points as the Matthew passage. The main difference is that while in the previous passage the outcasts were depending on their spiritual successes to get them in, here they are counting on their natural proximity to Jesus and familiarity with his teaching. The passage goes on to make it clear that Jesus's intention was to teach the Jews that they had no monopoly on the kingdom and that their racial, geographical, and cultural commonality with the Messiah would not necessarily admit them into his kingdom.
    The same teaching appears in a more potent force in Matthew 25. In vv 1-13, we have the parable of the ten virgins. The five who find themselves shut out from the marriage feast entreat "Lord, Lord, open to us;" and his reply is "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you." (v12) The passage then builds up to a description of the final judgment scene (vv 31-46). There, as the surprises are revealed, the damned are banished to everlasting punishment with the words "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angles (v 41). This echo from Psalm 6 is perhaps the last message of Jesus to those unhappy souls.
    From these three quotations of Psalm 6:8 in the New Testament we note the following:
  1. All three have to do with judgment. In all cases the judgment was that of exclusion from the presence of the Messiah and banishment from his kingdom. In the final passage it is explicitly stated that such banishment is to a place of torment.
  2. In all cases, the banished ones are surprised. They expected to enter because of their works or general exposure to spiritual things. In the last passage, failure to offer simple acts of love and sympathy to Jesus' "brethren" is cited as grounds for excluding them from the kingdom.
  3. In two of the three cases, it is made quite clear that the overwhelming majority of mankind will be lost, and this grim fact is not contradicted by the third passage. This would appear to be true even for those who nominally are in the "church" (see point 2, above), and hence expecting the privilege of entering.
    A dramatic incident took place at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament tradition, sent forth the call to repentance, and people throughout the land came to him and submitted to his baptism. Among the Pharisees, Sadducees, tax collectors, and soldiers came Jesus. John, receiving the testimony of the Hold Spirit that Jesus was the spotless lamb of God, was reluctant to baptize him, but Jesus convinced him in saying "it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." Thus we have the amazing picture of Jesus turning aside from identifying himself with the righteous prophet and choosing rather to be identified with the sinful people. It was this choice that set his feet on the path that led eventually to the cross. No wonder God spoke audibly, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," (Matt 3:17) and sent the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to empower Jesus for his path of suffering. Thus, in the words of Isaiah, "he was numbered with the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12) Note that the Devil soon tempted Jesus to break this identification by using his divine powers or prerogatives to elevate himself above sinners. So from the beginning of his public ministry to its end on the cross, Jesus chose to identify himself as the friend of sinners.
    When we combine this close identification with man's need with Jesus' awareness that the overwhelming majority of mankind would in the end be shut out, we begin to appreciate the cause of the pitiful sadness portrayed in Psalm 6. Jesus, who wept over individuals and cities, surely was often in grief over all the lost of mankind. Not just at his death but throughout his life he was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3) So it is that in Psalm 6 we get a glimpse of Jesus's prayer life and private thoughts during his work as, one by one, various individuals and groups turned away from him. Surely each such rejection broke his heart anew: his entire life was the episode of the rich young ruler, over and over again.
    From Jesus' quotation of Psalm 6, as we showed above, many of those who expect to get in will be shut out. This means not only many Jews, but many of those who are nominally in the Christian church have in store a terrible surprise on that day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. Thus many who, in the flesh, are close to the things of Christ will in the end be separated greatest: the "first" shall be last.
    We still might wonder why in the first verse of the psalm the writer speaks as if God were angry at him. "O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure." These words seem strange coming from Jesus. We see two possible answers:
  1. This may be substitutionary. Of course, on the cross Jesus gave himself as a substitute in the ultimate sense, but it may be that Jesus identified himself so completely with sinful mankind that he felt in himself the judgment of God at other times in his ministry. Of course, we all know what it feels like to be a sinner; according to the scriptures Jesus knows that feeling perfectly. If you can imagine yourself saying Psalm 6:1, perhaps you can imagine Jesus feeling that way.

  2. Jesus speaks on behalf of his church. Our Lord identifies himself so closely with his church that he told Saul that he had been persecuting "me [Jesus]," (Acts 9:5) when in fact it was the church Saul had been persecuting. According to Matt. 7:13-23, as compared with the understanding of this psalm as offered above, many of Jesus' enemies, to whom he must in the end say, "Depart from me", are in the church and suppose they are serving well. As his church suffers, Jesus suffers. Perhaps this explains the first verse.
    Most commentaries divide Psalm 6 into two parts: vv 1-7, a lamentation, and vv 8-10, a proclamation of victory. This is valid, for the Old Testament establishes the righteousness of God; thus the righteous of David is to be vindicated and his enemies put to shame. But in the New Testament, the theme of God's victory over wickedness is balanced with the theme of God's love for the wicked. In Jesus, the two parts of the psalm juxtapose and unify these themes: Jesus is sad precisely because he will eventually be victorious over all sin. What in the Old Testament was a victory to celebrate is in the New Testament a source of grief and sorrow. David cried for himself; Jesus for his enemies.

IV. Psalm 22


Christ, our Light

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Last updated: 06/05/09