The laments regularly begin with an address to God. Often, especially in the individual laments, this is only a brief invocation ("O Lord" in verses 1, 2a, 2b, 3, 4); sometimes, especially in the laments of the community, it is quite extended ("Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim…"; 80:1). The address is not a mere formality but a confession that God is the one who hears and responds to prayer, that the pray-ers have come to the right place. Unlike therapy--which, of course, has its good and proper place--the lament psalms do not scream into a vacuum or pour out their troubles to a trusted friend or counselor, but cry out to the God whom they know to be one with the power and inclination to act.
In the laments, the psalmists regularly complain of troubles in their relationship with God ("while you, O Lord--how long?"; v. 3), with themselves ("My soul also is struck with terror"; v. 3), or with the other ("…because of all my foes"; v. 7). These interrelate: if I am in pain or sorrow, my relationship with God and others will often suffer; if I am unjustly attacked by others, my self-confidence and my sense of God's presence will often be adversely affected.
Sometimes the psalms lament the hiddenness of God (see Theological Themes). The various uses of "hide" demonstrate the paradox of the psalmists' experience. Though the pray-er might call upon God to "hide" him or her "in the shadow of [God's] wings" (17:8), the same pray-er sometimes fears that God is so fully hidden that death seems imminent (143:7). Pray-ers sometimes hope God will not hide God's face from them (27:9); other times they hope God will hide God's face from their sins (51:9). The experience of the psalmists is real, never made prettier than life to make it "acceptable" for the Bible. The psalmist knows that God is always to be trusted (22:24), but God's people also know that God can never be taken for granted to provide exactly what they desire, when they desire it (44:24).
Following the various laments and complaints, psalms of this type turn to petition, perhaps the heart of the prayer, in which the pray-er asks God to intervene ("Turn, O Lord, save my life"; v. 4). The psalms trust in a God who can and will see, hear, and deliver God's people in times of distress. They know such deliverance is not guaranteed, but they pray because they know God desires their well-being.
The petition, like the address, is closely related to the confession of trust that occurs in many of these psalms (see, for example, 13:5--"But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation"). This trust is implied in Psalm 6 in the reference to God's steadfast love (v. 4) and in the appeal to deliverance from death, desired by neither the pray-er nor God, for there the relationship with God is cut off (v. 5).
Most often, the laments contain a turn in which the psalmist vows to praise God in anticipation of or because of deliverance (13:6); sometimes the psalm now offers that praise by bearing witness to God's deliverance (6:8-10). Sometimes the turn comes because a priest or prophet promises God's intervention (12:5; 60:6-8; 1 Samuel 1:17). As poetry and liturgy, the psalms compress experience and time into a few verses of language. We do not know whether the healing for which Psalm 6 prayed (v. 2) came as sudden surprise or over a period of time, perhaps with medical attention; but in either case, the pray-er attributes that healing to God (v. 9).
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
3 My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lordhow long?
4 Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can 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 eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow 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 supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011