Psalm 6: Our Analysis

Dear Reader,

This week in our homeschool we continued our study of Hebrew poetry by analyzing a selection from Psalm 6 (for a little background see this post). Here is the text we were working with:

Lord, how long in your anger will you reprove me?

and   how long in your wrath will you chasten me?

Be gracious to me, Lord, for bereaved am I;

Heal me,                Lord, for terrified are my bones;

And my soul is terrified greatly.

But, You, Lord, how long?

Return,    Lord, deliver my soul;

Save me for the sake of your loving-kindness.

For there is in death no remembrance of you;

In the pit who will praise you?

[Psalm 6:1-6; my translation]

Once again, I have tried to be as literal to the Hebrew as possible and to keep its word order when possible. When the same word is used more than once, for example “terrified”, I have translated it the same way so this comes across in English.

If you have followed these posts, I hope that you, like my children, are becoming adept at seeing at least the most obvious parallels. It should be noted that the original Hebrew text had no capitalization, verse divisions or punctuation. I have tried, however, in my translations to use punctuation and line divisions in such a way as to make the parallelism and the meaning of the poem more obvious.

The first thing we saw in this psalm is that the first two lines have clearly parallel. “How long” is in both. “in your anger” corresponds to “in your wrath” and “will you reprove me” to “will you chasten me?” The children quickly noted that “how long” also appears in the sixth line. This serves to draw the psalm together and give it more unity. But it also emphasizes what is foremost in the psalmist’s heart–which is this plaintive cry to God: “How long??” In our times of greatest distress, I think this is often the case. Our prayers become the simplest, often a meer cry to God of “how long” or “why.”

Lines three through 5 form a second section. Lines three and four more closely parallel each other. “Be gracious to me” corresponds to “heal me.” Then they both have the vocative “Lord,” and then “for bereaved am I” parallels “for terrified are my bones.” It is hard to find a synonym for “I”, isn’t it? But here the psalmist does so by using a part (my bones) for the whole (I). The fifth line parallels the latter part of lines 3 and 4. It does not contain an element to correspond to   “heal me” or “Lord.” This I think emphasize the psalmist’s focus on his own distress. As does his use of the word “terrified” again. Hebrew has a lot of words for distress or to be terrified. There was certainly no reason for the psalmist to repeat this word. I think the fact that he does shows us that this word is what first comes to his mind when he thinks of his situation. There is also the added “greatly” to emphasize his condition. As a side note, I would not make too much of the word “soul” here. It is my best translation in this context of the Hebrew nephesh. Hebrew does not have as Greek does the concept of a soul apart from the body. Nephesh in other contexts may be translated as “self”, “life”, or even “throat.”

Lines seven ane eight also form a parallel pair. “Deliver my soul” corresponds to “save me” (again “me” and “my soul” are just two ways of saying “me” without having to be too repetitive). The first part of line seven “return, Lord” is balanced out by the addition in line 8 of “for the sake of your loving-kindness.” This is a mouthful in English. It is not so much in Hebrew. What I have translated “loving-kindness” is the Hebrew word hesed which is usually taken to refer to God’s covenant love, that ism God’s love which He bears to His people because of His covenant with them. Now that would be a mouthful!

Finally, lines nine and ten are parallel. “in death” corresponds to “in the pit” and “no remembrance of you” parallels “who will praise you?”

I see this portion of psalm 6 in tw sections. The first six lines focus on the psalmist’s state, bounded by and culminating in his cry in line six “how long??!” The second part calls on God to help and gives reasons why he should do so. In the eighth line, His loving-kindness, that is His covenant, is invoked. In the last two lines, God is called on to act for the sake of His own glory and praise, for in death there are none to praise Him.

One observation my children had is that there are  a lot of “I”s, “me”s, “you”s, and “LOrd”s in this selection. And I think this is a wonderful point. We have seen that the psalmist is calling to mind God’s covenant which establishes the relationship between the Lord and His people. So too these “I”s and “you”s emphasize the relationship between the psalmist and the Lord. The psalmist asks for help and expects God to help because they have a relationship. Because he is counted among God’s people.

I am impressed with how quickly my somewhat young children seem to be able tp pick up on a psalm and make good observations.

Please feel free to share and observations you make too.


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