Feelings, Reason, and Experience: Psalm 6: Part I
Improper Interpretative Tools
Introduction: man left to his own devices tries to interpret life – facts – through the grid of feelings, reason, and experience. The three-part series: Feelings Experience Reason: Psalm 6 gives God’s proper interpretative grid for life: His Word which man sadly ignores.
Psalm 6 is often labeled as one of the so-called seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). The confession of sin is considered fundamental for Israel’s (and the Church’s) restoration, blessedness, and prosperity. Each of the five books of the Psalter contains individual psalms that include confession of sin. Those specific psalms present a plea for forgiveness by a penitent sinner and include Psalms 6, 28, 32, 38-41 from book I; Psalms 51, 65 from book II; Psalms 78, 85 from book III; Psalms 103, 106 from book IV; and Psalm 130 from book V. However in Psalm 6, the psalmist falls short of actual confession of sin and there is no recorded repentance in the Psalm.
Context is important in understanding the Psalms and is often overlooked. Psalm 6 is located in book I of the Psalter. The theme of book I is confrontation and conflict with enemies as David, God’s agent, worked to establish the messianic kingdom of peace and righteousness. He was attacked by those within Israel and from without. David is the author of all the psalms in book I with the possible exception of Psalms 1 and 2. Psalm 6 is a prayer of someone who is deeply troubled but is in relation to God. Whatever the circumstance, his vertical reference to life events (actually God’s providence) took center stage. Consequently, he prayed to God. His prayer was an expression of his gifts of saving faith and his relationship with God.
Psalm 6 is deeply relational. David goes to God in prayer. The blog: Feelings, Reason, and Experience: Psalm 6 gives a picture of David, a man after God’s own heart gives insight into how his heart is expressed. He relies on biblical truth about God and him. The trio of feelings, reason, and experience as guiding lights are fraught with difficulties, are unreliable, and self-defeating. David learned early to rely on God. This activity was part of a habitual, patterned lifestyle. David knew that God had a relationship with him and he had a relationship with Yahweh. It was from that vantage point that David sought Yahweh as his refuge and strength.
The situation is not clearly stated but David was in trouble. He was burdened in response to God’s providence. The trio of feelings, reason, and experience were every before him. What would he use to interpret himself in his situation? There was no indication that his situation was a direct or an indirect consequence of personal sin.
As noted above, there was no mention of confession of sin and repentance. It is noteworthy that the psalm is full of feeling words. The words in the original language used in verses 2 (bones in agony), 3 (soul in anguish), 7 (mine eyes are troubled), and 10 (my enemies will be troubled) indicate an internal agitation, a disturbance, a churning within, and even “noise in the soul.” The Septuagint translates Psalm 6 (v.2-3, 7, 10) uses the same word (tarasso) as does John in his gospel. He frequently used the word to indicate an inner-man response in a number of people including Jesus (John 11:33.38; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27).
In Psalm 6, the many feeling words are variously translated as dismayed, terrified, groaning, agony, worn out, and troubled. However, it is best to understand the words in the original as a powerful expression of inner-man angst. David’s inner-man turmoil and agitation had physical consequences. He may have had bodily afflictions such as a sickness (see verse 2) as part of his response to his situation.
David expressed himself in terms of feelings/affections but predominantly in thoughts, desires, and actions. David’s whole person – body and soul – was involved (see verses 2-3). David wanted desired to praise God while on this earth (verse 5). He thought vertically. Therefore he prayed (verses 1-2, 4-5, 8-10). He concluded that God was a rightful Judge, a merciful Father who heard and answered prayer. David knew his relationship with God warranted his prayer. Any feelings that David flowed from proper thinking about himself and God. David know feelings, reason and experience for understanding life was no match for God’s truth. David knew where to direct his attention and in what format. Not any old prayer would do! At that the time, he was without material and personal resources. As Paul did, David looked upward and beyond himself. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 4:8-10; 12:7-10; Philippians 4:13).
Verse 4 records a turning point. David pleads with God based on His chesed – covenantal faithfulness and unfailing love – to return to him. He did not rely on feelings, reason or experience! Had God left him? David knew God made promises and kept them. This was a cornerstone for David’s life. No, but circumstances, feelings, and experience seemed to say otherwise. David’s request of God’s return carried the idea of deliverance. The word in the Septuagint is a powerful one found in Colossians 1:13. There the believer is rescued supernaturally from the kingdom of darkness and delivered to the kingdom of darkness. It, too, is a powerful word as well. David had not denied God’s control, power, authority, and His use of it. In fact he assumed it. This knowledge and David’s gift of saving faith and its use motivated him to pray to God as his Deliverer. David wanted help not simply good feelings. He asked God to do a seemingly about face.
David knew that God does not leave or forsake His people, corporately or individually. David knew he was not truly forsaken. However, David felt as if God had forsaken him. What would David chose to rely: feelings or God’s truth? Even though David’s feelings told him that God had withdrawn His favor and presence, David knew better. Therefore, he held tightly to truth and he did not give up by giving in to feelings (see Paul’s exhortat6ion in 2 Corinthians 4:1, 16 -18 and the psalmist’s (one of the sons of Korah) in Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5 – he counsels himself in regards to true hope and the Giver of true hope). God’s truth trumped feelings, reason, and experience
1. Compare David’s inner-man angst in Psalm 6 (v. 2, 3, 7, and 10) with John’s use of the same term in his gospel: 11:33; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27. What do you learn?
2. Jesus’ simple and yet profound answer for inner-man angst is what? Trust – see John 14:1, 27.
3. Two truths: the twin pillars of love are trust and obey and trust flows from a relationship that involves knowledge and results in obedience: John 14:15, 21, 23, 31; 1 John 5:3:
a. How do these truths appear in your life when faced with God’s providence that is unpleasant?
b. Record the results.
The Proper Interpretative Tool: God’s Truth: Psalm 6: Part II
v.1: O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
v.2: Be merciful to me Lord for I am faint/languished; O Lord, heal me for my bones are in agony.
v.3: My soul is in anguish. How long O Lord, how long?
I continue the series: Feelings, Reasons, and Experience. David is under duress and describes himself as distressed (see verses 2-3, 7, and 10). His exact situation and reasons for it are unknown. Conflict and confrontation is the theme of book I. Throughout book I of the Psalter two groups of people are set forth, the godly and the ungodly. God’s messiah is the prototypic godly person. He professes saving faith and practices a corresponding lifestyle in response to Yahweh’s Torah (instruction and teaching). In contrast is ungodly, wicked, and unrighteous that are opposed to and determined to defeat God and His messiah.
David as the lesser messiah and God’s agent did what any believer should do and what the greater Messiah always did – he communicated with God. He knew he had a relationship with Yahweh but at that moment God’s presence or assumed lack of it was a burden. This picture fits Job. Job out of a vital, working relationship with God could not understand his situation. He came to view his circumstances from the perspective of God’s presence as a burden (Job 6:4; 7:17-20; 13:25-25; 14:16; 19:13-22; 30:16-19). Both Job and David were speaking as a person who had a loving relationship with God. They desired to know the how and why of their situations. Further, David prayed to God for a light hand of compassion in contrast to a heavy hand of God’s providence. Job and David never denied God’s sovereignty. Unlike Job who initially prayed for and later demanded an explanation, David prayed for mercy as he explained the reasons for his requests (v.3).
v.4: Turn O Lord and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love.
v.5: No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?
v.6: I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears
v.7: My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.
As I said previously, verse 4 represents a turning point in the psalm and in the psalmist. As part of God’s chesed (covenantal trustworthiness), David acknowledged God’s sovereignty and control. David was aware of Yahweh’s dealings with people – friend and foe alike. He was aware of sin: his own, those against him and those against God. David described himself in terms of his whole person: thoughts, desires, and actions in both his inner and his outer man (body). We are not told what precipitated this request. It is a bold request as David asked God to do an about-face
David made an about-face as these verses demonstrate. David was praying for deliverance and not necessarily relief. Better feelings were not David’s goal. They would come but he embraced the bigger picture. He would come to understand circumstances from God’s perspective and not understand Yahweh from the circumstances. He was faced with living the falsehood that Yahweh was impotent and or uncaring or living the truth that Yahweh is in control and His control is good.
David adds a reason for his request for God’s deliverance: David can’t praise him if he is dead (verse 5). In verses 6-7, David honestly assessed his own frailty and weariness. We are not the source of his weariness. His foes must have many and their attacks multiple and relentless. Jesus spoke of that situation in John 15:18-21; 16:20-22. The world does not like God and His people!
David perceived himself as a man without resources. Yet through it all David knew Yahweh was with him and he had Yahweh although it did not feel like it. He relied on truth and not on feelings. Thus, he was able to live by truth about Yahweh and himself.
v.8: Away from me all who do evil; for the Lord has heard my weeping.
v.9: The Lord has heard me cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayers.
v.10: All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.
David closes the Psalm with a note of confidence. His confidence was based on the fact that relationships do matter. Circumstances must be interpreted in that context. David knew that he was heard. He was a man of wisdom. He knew that God was in the problem, up to something, and that something was a good.
There was no vengeance on David’s part. He was satisfied that the Lord hears and he was heard. Paul echoed David’s reasoning as recorded in Romans 8:35-37 when he said (paraphrased): if God is for me and I am building His kingdom who can be against me? The answer that David and Paul gave is no one. Only a believer can separate himself from God but the separation will never be complete or permanent. God holds on to His people to the end and into eternity (John 10:28-30). Because Christ was forsaken in the place of individual sinners, God will never forsake those who Christ bled and died as their substitute. God did not forsake David.
1. Compare verse 4 with Luke 15:17-18 and Psalm 73:16-17: how are they similar?
2. Did David live by feelings? Were they his guide?
3. What motivated David to go to God and plead with Him?
4. What was the basis for David’s confidence?
Feelings, Reasoning, and Experience: Psalm 6: Part III
David wanted to praise God while on earth (verse 5). In his situation, as in all situations, God’s glory was at stake. David’s desire to glorify Yahweh was a major reason for his request of deliverance (verses 4-5). This point is of extreme practical importance. Throughout the Psalm David expressed himself in terms of feelings but also in thoughts, desires, and actions. We must be careful not to miss the point that underlying his feelings were thoughts and desires. Actions would follow changed thought and desires. David’s whole person (inner and outer man) was involved (see verses 2-3). Earlier on, David learned that feelings, reason, and experience are not to his guide. Rather God’s truth is key. Thankfully, Jesus the greater David and Messiah relied on truth 24/7 to fulfill the covenant made in eternity past (John 6:37-43).
Throughout the Psalm, David thought vertically. His question of how long in verse 1 is often heard in the psalms. It is a bold statement that reflects the intensity of the trouble and flows from the perceived significance of God’s relationship to David and his relationship to God. David had concluded that God was a rightful Judge, a merciful Father who heard and answered prayer. Logically, purposefully, and willingly he prayed (verse 1-2, 4-5, 8-10). He knew where to direct his attention.
People are more motivated to look upward and beyond themselves when they are without resources but believers must be careful how they go (Luke 15:17-18; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 12:7-10; Philippians 4:13). God is still holy and His presence is still worthy of our humility.
In verse 4, David asks God to return to him. Had God left him? No. The idea of return is deliverance. David did not deny God’s control, power, authority, and His use of it. It was precisely that mindset that motivated David to pray to Yahweh as his Deliverer. He knew God was a kingdom builder who had plans for David. David eventually embraced these truths about Yahweh and himself.
David desired help not simply good feelings. He asked Yahweh to do an about face. The request is a bold one based on relationships: God to David and David to God. David knew that God does not leave or forsake His people. David knew he was not truly forsaken. However, he felt as if God had forsaken him. Even though David’s feelings may have told him that God had withdrawn His favor and even presence, David knew better. Therefore, he did not trust or follow his feelings. In fact, he knew that truth and right thinking trumped feelings no matter how bad things might be. He knew feelings were linked to thoughts and desires. David grasped the truism that biblical thinking grounded in the truth of Who God is produces a right view of God, self, and the circumstances. What follows is right doing and blessing (John 13:17; James 1:25).
If left to his feelings David would have believed the lie about God and himself. That mindset gives rise to several approaches. One, he could assume that God owed him (Yahweh was a debtor God) and he could approach and demand Yahweh to get busy. Two, he could consider Yahweh untrustworthy and that a relationship with Yahweh doesn’t count for anything but misery. Being the messianic king was not all it was cracked up to be. Living according to either expression of falsehood would perpetuate bad feelings and the burden of bad feelings would increase (Proverbs 3:5-8; 5:21-22; 13:15b; 26:11). Verses 1-3 can be understood from several vantage points but I think it is best to simple say David was a man of God in right relationship to Him. He knew the God of circumstances and he cried to God for help as a person who knew his God and His help.
Verse 4 is a turning point in the psalm. By training and discipline David had developed a lifestyle of confident trust in God and His purposes. David called upon God out of his relationship and knowledge of Him. David had come to his senses (see Psalm 73:16-17; Luke 15:17-18). David knew things about Yahweh and himself. He knew God was the ultimate Promise-maker and –keeper who heard and answered prayers. David spoke with his God! What a wonderful blessing that can be lost if one is depending on feelings.
David knew he was a special agent of God – the messianic king – sent to establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace. God would not let him falter in spite of David himself and those around him. David never attacked God’s sovereignty or goodness. He never attacked Yahweh. He prayed to be heard and for mercy. He word for mercy is the same word in Genesis 6:8: Noah found favor with the Lord. David was praying for grace and blessing in a time of need. David knew his resources were exhausted in terms of his own strength. His position was similar to that of Paul as documented in 2 Corinthian 12.
Paul did not ask for his vision into third heaven. He did not volunteer for the thorn in his flesh. Based o his relationship with God, he cried out to Him – remove it. God’s answer was no and gave him a reason. Strength is made perfect in weakness when you respond properly. Paul did: give me more he told God. Paul was no masochist. He desired to be strong in the Lord not himself. Such it was for David. He prayed that God would remove his enemies who were Yahweh’s enemies so he could complete his task as the messianic king. He had God’s business as a major concern.
The psalm closes on a confident note (verses 8-10). He knew that the Lord had heard. That settled it for David. Therefore he expected victory, not so much for himself but for God and His kingdom people. Trouble handled God’s way for His glory points to victory for the Church and individual believers in all ages.
1. What is the link between feelings, thoughts, desires, and actions?
2. What did David know that you know?
3. How did that knowledge influence David and how does it influence you? What are the results?
4. How does your relationship with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit influence you in times of pleasantness and unpleasantness?