Monday, January 6, 2014

Introduction to Psalm 6

Psalm 6 is the second psalm in the first Nocturn of Matins of the Office of the Dead, and the final psalm of Monday Prime in the Benedictine Office.  It is also the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms.

Psalm 6: Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me 
Magistro chori. Fidibus. Super octavam. PSALMUS. David.
Unto the end, in verses, a psalm for David, for the octave.
Dómine, ne in furóre tuo árguas me, * neque in ira tua corrípias me.
O Lord, rebuke me not in your indignation, nor chastise me in your wrath.
2  Miserére mei, Dómine, quóniam infírmus sum : * sana me, Dómine, quóniam conturbáta sunt ossa mea.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3  Et ánima mea turbáta est valde : * sed tu, Dómine, úsquequo?
And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but you, O Lord, how long?  
4  Convértere, Dómine, et éripe ánimam meam : * salvum me fac propter misericórdiam tuam.
Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for your mercy's sake.
5.  Quóniam non est in morte qui memor sit tui : * in inférno autem quis confitébitur tibi?
For there is no one in death that is mindful of you: and who shall confess to you in hell?
6  Laborávi in gémitu meo, lavábo per síngulas noctes lectum meum : * lácrimis meis stratum meum rigábo.
I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears
7  Turbátus est a furóre óculus meus : * inveterávi inter omnes inimícos meos.
My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies.
8  Discédite a me, omnes, qui operámini iniquitátem : * quóniam exaudívit Dóminus vocem fletus mei.
Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity: for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
9  Exaudívit Dóminus deprecatiónem meam, *  Dóminus oratiónem meam suscépit.
The Lord has heard my supplication: the Lord has received my prayer.
10  Erubéscant, et conturbéntur veheménter omnes inimíci mei : * convertántur et erubéscant valde velóciter.
Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and be ashamed very speedily.

The central image of this psalm is of a man so racked by guilt for his sins that he floods his bed with tears each night.

King David's repentance

The original context for the psalm is generally agreed to be King David's adultery with Bathseba, wife of Uriel the Hittite (2 Samuel 11).  When Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to arrange it so it would look like Uriel could be the father.  He then arranged for Uriel to be killed in battle so he could marry Bathsheba.

David famously didn't even appear to realise that he had committed a sin until confronted with the story told as a parable by the Prophet Natham.  For this reason, in the New Testament, Verse 8 of this psalm (Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity…) is used by Our Lord, in Matthew and Luke, to refer to those who claim to be Christians, but don’t actually believe or act accordingly.

Yet despite his terrible crime, King David ultimately became one of the greatest of the Old Testament saints.  How did he go from great sinner to great saint?  The answer lies in large part in the intense sorrow for sin he felt, and so beautifully expressed in this psalm.

A plea for grace and mercy

In the psalm, David first asks God for grace and mercy; describing the agitation that comes from being in a state of sin (verses 1-3).  Its place in the Office of the Dead presumably reflects his plea for mercy here: once we die, he acknowledges, it is too late, our fate is fixed (verses 4-5).

Accordingly, David then describes the works of penance that he offers, in the form of the vast flood of cleansing tears, surely a (re)baptism of desire (verses 6-7), one of the key themes of the Office on Monday.  Yet the call to repent is always timely, and when we say this psalm in the context of the Office of the Dead it is surely addressed to us personally, reminding us not to leave it too late!

David then states that he knows God has heard and forgiven him his sins (verses 8-9).  The psalm does not end there though.  Instead, he concludes by asking that his enemies too might be converted (verse 10).  This plea for enemies to be overcome, to be ashamed, echoes through the psalms of Monday in the Benedictine Office, with variants on the phrase 'let the enemy be ashamed and turned back' appearing in several of the Matins psalms of the day, as well as in the last psalm of Vespers (Psalm 128).

And you can find the first part of verse by verse notes on this psalm here.

Alternatively you can jump straight to the next of the Seven Penitential Psalms, Psalm 31.

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