Like Psalm 3, this is a morning psalm (v. 3). David may have written it during the crisis caused by Absalom, but we have no indication that he did. However, the description of David’s enemies given in verses 4–6 and 9–10 suggests the period prior to David’s flight from Jerusalem. The New International Version translates verse 10, "Let their intrigues be their downfall," and there was certainly a great deal of deception and intrigue going on at that time.8 The Hebrew words for "house" and "holy temple" (v. 7) are also used for the tabernacle in Exodus 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:18, Joshua 6:24, 1 Samuel 1:9, 3:3, and 3:15, so we don’t have to date the psalm from the time of Solomon. "Nehiloth" in the title is a musical instruction that probably means "for flutes."
Because of the prayer in verse 10, Psalm 6 is classified as one of the "imprecatory psalms" (see 12, 35, 37, 58, 59, 69, 79, 83, 109, 139, and 140). In these psalms, the writers seem to describe a God of wrath who can hardly wait to destroy sinners. The writers also seem to picture themselves as people seeking terrible revenge against these enemies. But several facts must be considered before we write off the psalmists as pagan brutes who cannot forgive, or God as a "dirty bully." To begin with, the enemies described are rebels against the Lord (5:10), and in some instances, against the Lord’s anointed king. The Jews were a covenant people whom God promised to protect as long as they obeyed Him (Lev. 26; Deut. 27–29). In His covenant with Abraham, God promised to bless those who blessed Israel and to curse those who cursed them (Gen. 12:1–3). When the Jews asked God to deal justly with their wicked enemies, they were only asking Him to fulfill His covenant promises. "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16), but God is also "light" (1 John 1:5), and in His holiness, He must deal with sin. Ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, there has been a battle going on in the world between truth and lies, justice and injustice, and right and wrong; and we cannot be neutral in this battle. "If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans," wrote C. S. Lewis in Reflections on the Psalms, "this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim" (p. 30).
Those who have difficulty accepting the "imprecations" in The Psalms must also deal with them in Jeremiah (11:18ff; 15:15; l 17:18; 18:19ff; 20:11ff) and in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3) and Jesus (Matt. 23), as well as in the requests of the martyrs in heaven (Rev. 6:9–11). However, no one will deny that these servants of God were filled with the Spirit and wanted the Lord’s will to be accomplished. Perhaps our problem today is what C. S. Lewis pointed out: we don’t hate sin enough to get upset at the wickedness and godlessness around us. Bombarded as we are by so much media evil and violence, we’ve gotten accustomed to the darkness.
If this psalm did grow out of the time in the wilderness when David was fleeing from Absalom, then he teaches us an important lesson: no amount of danger or discomfort should keep us from our time of morning fellowship with the Lord. In this psalm, David gives us three valuable instructions to encourage our daily fellowship with the Lord.
We Prepare to Meet the Lord (vv. 1–3)
If we had an invitation to enjoy a private visit with the President of the United States, or perhaps Queen Elizabeth, we would certainly prepare for it; yet many believers rush into their morning devotional time as if no preparation were necessary. David was open with the Lord and admitted his inward pain ("meditation" can be translated "groaning") and his prayer was a cry for help. David was King of Israel, but he saw the Lord alone as his King (Ex. 15:18). David was a man with a broken heart, but he knew that the Lord understood his sighs and groanings (see Rom. 8:26). We may come to God’s gracious throne with "freedom of speech" ("boldly" in Heb. 4:16, and see 10:19, 35) because the Father knows our hearts and our needs and welcomes us. Like our Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1:35), David kept this appointment "morning by morning" and allowed nothing to interfere. (See 55:18, 59:17; 88:14 and 92:3.)
David was not only faithful in his praying each morning but he was also orderly and systematic. The word translated "direct" in verse 3 was used to describe the placing of the pieces of the animal sacrifices in order on the altar (Lev. 1:8). It also described the arranging of the wood on an altar (Gen. 22:9), the placing of the loaves of bread on the table in the tabernacle (Lev. 24:8), and the setting of a meal before the guests (Ps. 23:5). David wasn’t careless in his praying; he had everything arranged in order. The word also has a military connotation: a soldier presenting himself to his commander to receive orders, and an army set in battle array on the field. In past years, many soldiers had presented themselves to David to get their orders, but David first presented himself to the Lord. In order to exercise authority, leaders must be under authority. "I will look up" conveys the idea of waiting expectantly for God to come and bless (see niv). In our daily morning meetings with the Lord, we should come like priests bringing sacrifices to the altar and soldiers reporting to our Captain for duty.
We Seek to Please the Lord (vv. 4–6)
God has no pleasure in wickedness nor can He be neutral about sin; therefore, rebel sinners couldn’t enter into His presence (15:1ff; 24:3–6). God delights in those who fear Him (147:11) and who offer sincere praise to Him (69:31). To please God, we must have faith (Heb. 11:6) and be identified with His Son in whom He is well pleased (Matt. 3:17). When you read verses 5–6 and 9–10, you meet a crowd of people who deliberately and repeatedly disobey God and think nothing of the consequences. It’s the crowd John describes in Revelation 21:8, the people who are going to hell. God loves the world of lost sinners (John 3:16) and sent His only Son "to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14, and see 1 Tim. 2:3–4 and 2 Peter 3:9). Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world (1 John 2:1–2), and His invitation to salvation is sent to all who will believe and come (Matt. 11:28–30; Rev. 22:17). Such are the vast dimensions of God’s grace and love (Eph. 3:18–19).
But the glorious truth of God’s love doesn’t change the fact that God hates sin and punishes sinners. He has no pleasure in them, and they cannot dwell with Him (v. 4) or stand before Him as they are (v. 5; see 1:5–6). He abhors murderers and liars and destroys them if they don’t trust His Son (v. 6). It isn’t necessary to dilute the word "hate" in verse 5 because you find it also in 11:5 and 45:7, and see 7:11. In fact, the Lord expects those who love Him to love what He loves and hate what He hates (97:10; 119:113; 139:21; Prov. 6:16–17; Amos 5:15; Rom. 12:9). There is no such thing as "abstract evil" except in dictionaries and philosophy books. Evil is not an abstraction; it’s a terrible force in this world, wrecking lives and capturing people for hell. God’s hatred of evil isn’t emotional; it’s judicial, an expression of His holiness. If we want to fellowship with God at His holy altar, then we need to feel that same anguish (anger plus love) as we see the evil in this fallen world.
We Submit to the Lord (vv. 7–12)
When he wrote "But as for me," David contrasted himself with the wicked crowd that rebelled against the King. David had come to pray, and he had three requests.
He prayed for guidance (vv. 7–8). Because he wasn’t a member of the tribe of Levi, David couldn’t actually enter the tabernacle as could the priests, but he used that phrase to describe his approach to the Lord. David was in the wilderness, but he came to the Lord with the kind of awe that the priests and Levites displayed in the tabernacle. In the worship of our great God, there’s no place for cuteness and flippancy. For believers to enter into the presence of God to worship and pray, it cost Jesus His life (Heb. 10:19–20), and to treat this privilege lightly is to cheapen that sacrifice. David knew he needed guidance from God, for he had to put the kingdom back together again. (See James 1:5.)
He prayed for justice (vv. 9–10). David didn’t issue orders to his officers to go out and slaughter his enemies; instead, he turned them over to the Lord. During that tragic battle in which Absalom was slain, "the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured" (2 Sam. 18:8). David’s prayer was answered: "let them fall by their own counsels" (v. 10). But it was not because they rebelled against David; their great sin was that they had rebelled against God. "The Lord loves righteousness and justice" (Ps. 33:5, niv; and see 36:6; 58:11; 97:2; Isa. 30:18; Luke 18:7–8; Rom. 1:32). Anybody who resents this kind of praying can’t honestly pray, "Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:9–10). In Romans 3:13, Paul quoted "their throat is an open sepulcher" as part of his proof that the whole world is guilty before God (Rom. 3:19)—and that includes all of us! Instead of being upset over God’s treatment of David’s enemies, we need to examine our own relationship with the Lord!
He prayed for God’s blessing (vv. 11–12). David didn’t rejoice because some of God’s covenant people were evil and were judged by the Lord, but because Israel’s God had been glorified and His king vindicated. The future of God’s great plan of salvation rested with Israel, and if the Davidic dynasty was destroyed, what about God’s gracious Messianic covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:8)? The outcome of our fellowship with the Lord should be joy in His character, His promises, and His gracious answers to prayer. Even though some of his own people had turned against him, David prayed that God would bless and protect them! This sounds like our Lord on the cross (Luke 23:34) and Stephen when he was stoned to death (Acts 7:60). Note that verse 11 emphasizes faith and love, and verse 12 gives the assurance of future hope. The shield in verse 12 is the large rectangular shield, like a door, and not the smaller round shield of 3:4.
David began his devotions seeking help for himself but ended by seeking blessing for all the people, including his enemies. That’s the way our devotional times ought to end.