11 July 2020 – How long O Lord

We cannot be certain of the exact dating of this Psalm and the Bible commentators do differ in their reconstruction of the context in which it was written. However, I think there is still a good case for placing it in the context of the rebellion of Absalom and the trauma experienced by David and others as they fled for their lives to the safety of a city state (Mahanaim) across the Jordan River where they were warmly welcomed in their time of need. I see this Psalm as an evening Psalm continuing the pattern from Psalm 3 of alternate morning and evening reflections as they made their escape to safety. My understanding of the context here is that they have either reached Mahanaim or are within sight of doing so safely. (See II Samuel 17:24-29 for more details of the journey).

Therefore, the physical dangers that David and his companions feared have greatly diminished, but the mental and emotional struggles were increasing rather than decreasing. It was as if coping with the stress and trauma of his ordeal had almost been suspended until the worst physical danger was over. But as soon as there was an opportunity to rest and relax a little the waves of inner anguish began to sweep over him. What do we learn from David and possibly also about ourselves as we go through this Psalm? 

1.The agony he experiences (Psalm 6:1-3) Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger or discipline me in Your wrath. Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish. How long Lord, how long?
 David at his best was incredibly sensitive to God’s promptings about the way he was living, especially when he had done wrong. When he was guilty of wrongdoing he was usually quick to acknowledge his error and seek God’s forgiveness. In this context outlined above the aged David acknowledges past failures, but there is no known immediate misconduct or sin for which he needed to repent.

He is in a place of compete emotional and mental exhaustion and in such times our patterns of thought are not necessarily always an accurate guide to our circumstances. We can be right with God and in good relationships with other people and still feel emotionally very low or suffer from clinical depression or the debilitating consequences of uncontrolled pain or loss of sleep. There are times when a family member or friend is in a dark place where we cannot fix their difficulties. At such times we need to show we care and love them enough to stand by them as long as it takes. David’s cry was: How long Lord, how long? Many of us at one time or another have uttered such a cry in these or similar words. Maybe some of the people reading these daily messages have spoken them with respect to the current Covid-19 virus pandemic.   

More often than not God doesn’t remove the situation, instead giving us the grace we need to stand and keep persevering through our tough times. 

2. The appeal he makes (Psalm 6:4-7) Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of Your unfailing love.Among the dead no one proclaims Your name. Who praises You from his grave? I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. His plea goes to the right person to help him. The name for God here in this Psalm (Yahweh) is ‘God in relationship with His people’. It is the covenant name for God. It is the name of One who will never leave us nor forsake us. It is the name of One who promises to provide for our needs. It is the name of One who is with us on our faith journey through the good times and the tough until that day He calls us home forever.

When we grasp the security God’s children enjoy in His amazing love it enables us to trust implicitly in our amazing heavenly Father. This truth is especially precious when we feel as weak and vulnerable as a little child as David does here. At such times as this when emotionally at rock bottom we think and say things that would not be given time in our minds or pass our lips in better times. Our heavenly Father knows our weaknesses and has compassion on us. We cannot require God to act in a particular timescale, but can be assured because of Your unfailing love. This enables us to keep going in the darkness and to pray through our tears.   

3. The assurance he finds (Psalm 6:8-10) Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame. The songs in the book of Psalms are deeply open and honest about how their author was feeling at the time the songs were being composed.

This fact is in large measure the reason why the Psalms have been so popular in Jewish and Christian praise and prayer over the centuries. David can declare: The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. This did not mean his problems had vanished like the morning mist. On the contrary, the crisis that caused him to leave his home was still being played out. What had changed was that God had helped David to grasp that He was ultimately in control of the lives of His children and sovereign over His created world. You and I don’t know how things will work out regarding the pandemic in our country, or any other country for that matter. However, we trust the God who sent His Son to die in our place on the cross and who by His Holy Spirit is there alongside us each day of our lives. We conclude with the prayer of praise written by the apostle Paul, and included in his letter to the Romans, in Romans 11:33-36: 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! 34‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor?’35 ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’36 For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever! Amen. 

Our song for reflection today is: ‘The splendour of the King’

Brian Talbot