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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 6
“How long, LORD, how long?” These are the most relatable words for one who is deeply anguished. I think if you were to use any sentence to summarize what lament psalms are, this sentence would do the trick. When you are in the thick of despair, crisis, anxiety, and fear you can’t help but cry out these words: “How long, LORD, how long?” Verse 3 can be the theme of this psalm: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long?”
Psalm 6 gives us a full experience of anguish. The psalmist expresses pain and turmoil both internally (v.2) and externally (v.7). This psalm encompasses the stress of a whole person. We experience trouble like this in our own lives: we have plenty of external trouble (attacks from others), but we also have internal trouble (attacks from within – illness, temptations, lies). The psalmist invokes God to restrain His “rebukes” and “disciplines” of “anger” and “wrath” while he is in turmoil (v.1). He then proceeds to anguish about his internal trouble – illness. The psalmist is completely vulnerable with us and reveals that he is “faint” and that his “bones are in agony” (v.2). This was a common way to express illness in the ancient world because one’s bones were often viewed as the seat of one’s physical strength and health. But this physical illness has also affected the psalmist psychologically because his “soul is in deep anguish” (v.3). Usually physical ailments and the broken psychological state of a person are interdependent. The key phrase in verse 3, “How long, LORD, how long?” indicates that the psalmist has been experiencing these internal troubles for a long period of time. When we experience this internal distress it could feel like an eternity. We convince ourselves – especially those struggling with chronic pain and distress – that it will never leave us, it’ll never end. That’s what our psalmist felt and believed. That’s what pushed him to cry out these words to God.
The psalmist describes, in brutal detail, the anguish that these internal troubles have inflicted on him (vv.5-6). The pain is so long and unbearable that he feels that he is going to die (v.5). He has drenched his bed and his couch in tears from this bitter anguish (v.6). And not only is the psalmist dealing with internal trouble, but he reveals that he is also dealing with external troubles (v.7). His eyes hurt from crying so much (v.7), and he is tired from it all!
But praise the LORD there is always hope! In the depths of his despair and long-suffering, the psalmist turns to the LORD: “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (v.4). Even in the thick of it, God’s attributes still come to the light – His “unfailing love.” And we see that the psalmist held on to this hope, and thus, the results of this steadfast patience. We see in verses 8b-9 that “the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” The psalmist’s tears were not for nothing. His tired eyes can rest now that his prayer has been heard. In the LORD, the psalmist can confidently declare, and even experience, that “all my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish” (v.10). The enemies here can include both external ones (foes) and internal ones (illness). Just as the psalmist was overwhelmed (v.5-6) and in deep anguish (v.3), because of the LORD his enemies are now the ones who are “overwhelmed” (v.10a) and the ones who experience deep “anguish” (v.10b). The “How long, LORD, how long?” (v.3) fades away and transforms into “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (v.4).

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 3
Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt sad, broken, and confused? Have you ever felt so heavy from the weight of life that the only gasp of air that you could muster is for a cry? You ever felt so vulnerable in the world that you did not want to step outside the confines of your house and deal with others? Well, then you would understand what it means to lament. The psalms can teach us this lost art of lamentation. To cry out and become undone by our pain and sorrow. To let out that which wants to burst forth. And God wants that. God wants to hear your lament because He cares so deeply for your heart. These words of lament are meant to empty out our hearts so that there is room for God to fill them with His peace and joy.
The first part of the Psalter is less a book of praises than a book of prayers for God’s help. Psalm 3 is this prayer of help. Psalm 3 has elements that make up the structure of a lament psalm: the complaint (vv.1-2), the confession of trust (vv.3-6), and a petition (v.7). This psalm also ends with a closing benediction or blessing (v.8).
The psalmist opens with the complaint (vv.1-2), which are words from his adversaries. There are “many” adversaries (v.1) and they declare negatively of the psalmist that “God will not deliver him” (v.2). This assumes that either God cannot or will not help the psalmist in the midst of trouble. Either God does not have the power to help or that God has no fidelity (relational covenantal faithfulness) to the psalmist. Either claim is an arrogant presumption against God (i.e., claiming to know what God does) and an attack against a fellow human. The adversaries are attacking the psalmist’s source of hope.
Verses 3-6 are a reassurance of the character of God and a confession of trust in his source of hope. The poem shifts at verse 3 with the words “But you” and the psalmist begins his counterargument of the negative assertion that “God will not deliver him” (v.2). Verse 3 gives three titles to God: “a shield around me”; “my glory”; and “the One who lifts my head high.” All these titles show that God protects His loved ones and shows them honor and respect. Verse 4 states that God will answer “from his holy mountain.” This is a reference to God’s faithfulness to His people in the past on Mt. Sinai. And then the psalmist moves from God’s past fidelity to what He is doing in the present and what he will continue to do in His faithfulness. He will “sustain” His people (v.5), therefore we ought not to fear “tens of thousands” (v.6). This is a reference back to verse 1 on the “many” who assail the psalmist.
The petition (v.7) and benediction (v.8) stems from the above confession of trust in who God is (vv.3-6). The petition, “Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God!” is a reversal of the enemies original claim (v.2). After confessing who God is, the psalmist can trust that the enemies are wrong in what they say about God and that God will indeed deliver His people. The psalmist ends his lament with a confession of what he believes of the LORD (contra the enemies) and then invokes God’s blessing on the people (v.8). In the trouble of life and against the attack of enemies, the psalmist finds true faith and trust in the faithful God of Israel.
Prayer: Father, we pray that in the midst of our trouble we can find deeper, faithful expressions of your character. We pray that our cries of lament can be transformed into laughs of joy and praise you. I pray that we receive your strength in the turmoil of life. Show us more of yourself.