To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to the Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long? 4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
This is the first of the seven so-called ‘penitential psalms’, viz. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143. When in tears and depression, says Derek Kidner, “this psalm gives words to those who scarcely have the heart to pray, and brings them within sight of victory.” This psalm encapsulates that “no excuse!” mentality.
Everybody has probably had to ask forgiveness from someone within their lifetime. We inherently develop different ways of asking for forgiveness, we self-excuse, we appeal to extenuating circumstances and sometimes we simply say “No excuse.” Often our apologies can actually be underhanded ways refusing to express repentance. Think of the phrase, “I am so sorry you felt that way.” Blame is shifted from me to you. It is actually not my fault but yours for misunderstanding me. This is not the case with David in this Psalm we are acutely aware of is his refusal to self pity and lie in despair.
After confessing and admitting that his actions have brought on these circumstances, David does some deep theologising, “Turn, O Lord, deliver my life, save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” When David‘s conscience is uneasy, and he appeals to grace to temper the discipline he deserves, whether in sheer mercy or in covenanted love; for these are the nuances of the words used in 2a(“gracious to me”) and 4b(“steadfast love”).
Depression and exhaustion as complete as this are beyond self-help or good advice. Even prayer has died away. The foes (7) who would normally have roused David only crush his spirit now. If anything is to save him it will owe nothing to his own efforts. Such is the extremity which God is about to transform. (6, 7).
David understands that his actions and intentions rightly deserve exclusion (“depart from me”), but greater than this is his understanding of Grace. It is this loyal love, this covenant steadfastness display time and time again by God and supremely on the cross that David exultantly says, “The LORD has heard my plea, the LORD accepts my prayer.”(v. 9)
Jesus quotes this Psalm in Matt 7:23. “Depart from me all you workers of evil,” is not merely a hard-pressed sufferer rounding on his tormentors, but a sovereign asserting his power to purge his realm of mischief-makers, as his kingly vow demanded; But how does this King execute justice? He suffers exclusion that we may suffer inclusion. He suffers the ultimate exclusion of death and the grave (v. 5 “in death there is no remembrance and in Sheol there is no praise.”) He comes to execute justice FOR you not ON you.
As Micah rightly puts it:
Micah 7:8-9 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.