Thursday, August 30, 2007

Questioning God IV - Psalm 6

Continuing on in the questioning of God in the Psalms, I hope to explore several individual Psalms. Psalm 6 seems like a good place to start.

Peter C. Craigie calls Psalm 6 a psalm of sickness[1] that affects both body and soul. It is quite easy to imagine the state of the individual, near death, crying out to God for help and health. The question in vs. 3 says, “My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord, how long?” This question, among others, is particularly evocative. The psalmist, “gasping as a stammerer”[2] cannot even finish the question. It is a poetic portrayal of the psalmist desperation and critical state. However, Mays notes that this state of affliction is not “mutely accepted” but is opposed to it by saying, “‘Don’t…heal…turn…save,’ the prayer pleads, as though it were certain that God’s usual and preferred way with human beings favored health and life.”[3] Such fear of death and discipline has brought the psalmist to plea his case.

We see the theme of the righteous sufferer emerge in verses one and two for the request not to rebuke or discipline the psalmist in God’s anger. From this perspective, we can see the underlying question of protest. If the psalmist is innocent, and there is no direct confession of sin in the psalm,[4] then it seems to implicate Yahweh in his sickness. Craigie notes that the psalmist’s plea for deliverance in vs. 4-7, “Return, O LORD, save my life” is based on God’s “steadfast” or covenant love.[5] Yet the underlying implication is that God has deserted him.
Within Psalm 6 is the profound role of memory that was noted in the beginning. Verse 5 states, “In death there is no remembrance of you.” The question functions liturgically where Israel’s memory of God’s past action brings about praise. But the re-enacting of human memory before God, also reminds God of his past actions and covenant.[6] It is a reminding God to be God.
This psalm is also a fine example of Westermann’s three-fold typology of participants: Yahweh, humans, and enemies. Verse 8-10 introduces the enemies as the third participant. But in the course of the psalm, God has heard the plea and protest and come to the aid of the psalmist and thus vanquishing also his enemies. That which was offered in plea and protest successfully motivated Yahweh to act on his behalf.

[1] Peter C. Craigie, Psalms: 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 19, (Waco, TX: Word Books Publisher, 1983), 91.
[2] Artur Weiser, The Psalms, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 130.
[3] Mays, 60.
[4] Weiser states, “The recognition of the psalmist’s sinfulness indeed forms the background of the psalm and is implied within it, but the actual confession of sin is entirely lacking” (Weiser, 130). Craigie also mentions the possible sin interpretation but prefers the “righteous sufferer” interpretation (Craigie, 92).
[5] Craigie, 92-93. This is one of the generalizing adjectives that became normative for Israel’s speech about who Yahweh was. See Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 213 and note 12.
[6] Craigie, 93.