To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
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4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
“Lamentations” are the Psalmist’s genuine expressions of emotion in response to real life situations. For the Israelites, lamentations were a form of prayer and a language of faith and of suffering. A psalm of lamentation is a way of dealing with deep sorrow that gives the reader a sense of sympathy for the situation in which the psalmist finds himself. Each lament comes from the deepest place of the poet’s heart, painting the most realistic picture words can portray.
Sorrow is often inevitable in life. The distress, worry, or fear of the heart are caused by both internal realities and external factors. However, sorrow is an important part of life, and an inevitable process everyone must experience. For believers, faith motivates them to faithfully walk this journey of the heart by praying for a way out of their troubles. In the Bible, people in great distress compiled their painful situations into poems called laments.
In this poem of repentance, the psalmist was convinced that he has sinned against God. David, who had a close relationship with God since the time of Absalom’s rebellion, as a father, realized his debt to his family and children. He knew he had sinned against and displeased God, which had led him to this painful situation. He cried out: “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.” David confesses his helplessness and weakness, writing: “for my bones are troubled” and “my soul is greatly troubled.” His physical and spiritual pain drives him to the Lord: “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord?” “O Lord—how long?” When man is in such deep sorrow that even words cannot express the pain of his heart, he will call upon God, confess his sins, and surrender to the Lord. Then, he will utter a sincere prayer of repentance.
David saw that there is no greater pain than to be completely separated from God and to be an enemy of God. The greatest pain of all is to constantly act as the enemies of God (i.e., to dwell in the land of the dead). David earnestly begged God to turn back and cried out, “O Lord, how long before you save me?
The Weeping of a Wounded Soul
As Gregory of Nyssa said, “A wounded body bleeds, but a wounded soul sheds tears.” Have we had a similar experience to this one David describes? How long will it take for the moaning of the day to make you weary? How long before the sorrow in your heart causes tears to flow so that your eyes waste away because of grief? Does the way ahead seem bleak, as if God is against you? Have you ever had such an experience? Have you ever had such struggle and pain? Have you ever moaned or cried out like David?
If so, do we come to God like David, flooding our bed with tears of repentance?
Turning Sorrow Into Prayer
However, this darkness did not turn David away from God. Instead, he saw that turning back to God was the only way to escape the darkness. He believed God was full of grace, and that even though he was covered with filth, God would still have mercy on him, forgive him, save him, and hear his prayers. Do we have this kind of faith? Are we convinced that God alone is the only way out? Can we turn our sorrow into prayer?
In these verses the psalmist becomes more and more convinced of God’s salvation. He sees this from the time when “the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer” to the moment when he finally declares that God has heard his prayer, and that all his enemies “shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.” God’s intervention reduces his foes to shame and great fear, and at the blink of an eye they are completely defeated.
May David’s prayer also become our prayer, and help us to be humble and watchful before God. May we know that the only way out for those of us who trust in him is to take hold of and turn back to the Lord.
Shu Yan is a pseudonym for a pastoral intern at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.