Penitential Psalms 1: Psalm 6

In this space over the weeks leading up to Easter I’ll be talking about some Lent-related things. I’m starting with the penitential Psalms as I’m interested in the Psalter in general, and Lent is a penitential season. The penitential Psalms are usually listed as Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.

Psalm 6 is a short poem of 10 verses (in translation, 11 in Hebrew where the header is numbered as the first verse). In it the Psalmist asks God to be merciful to him and heal him. (I’m assuming a male author as it is a l’David psalm, so David is often thought to be the author — but it could be for David or like David’s psalms not by David.) He gives reasons for God to listen — God’s unfailing love and the inability of the psalmist to praise God from the grave. It seems the psalmist has been asking for God’s deliverance and help for some time as he is worn out with the process and asks God “How long?”

It doesn’t seem that long to us as after only seven verses there is a turn in the Psalm — the psalmist turns from weeping before God to speaking to others around — his enemies — and declaring that God has heard his weeping and has accepted his prayer. The compression of the poem makes it seem like this turn, this hearing and knowing that God has answered the psalmist, has happened before much weeping and crying out has occurred. I wonder how long the Psalmist repeated verses 1-7 before being able to make the turn found in verses 8-10?

What is a take away from this Psalm? There are probably loads. In terms of penitence and Lent, I find it interesting that this Psalm strongly links penitence, repentance, a plea for mercy, with healing. Penitence can be a healing process.


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