I have a problem with Psalm 6. I know I said the other day that it is beautiful, and it is. And how wonderful is it that we have a God who hears us? But I still have a problem with it. Do you know what my problem is? It is simply that the psalmist is asking God to heal him, but he is also blaming God that he is suffering. It’s in the first verse.
“O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.”
In this psalm, the psalmist is looking to God for deliverance, but they also acknowledge that God may be the source of the problem. Whatever is happening, the psalmist recognizes it as God’s discipline. We don’t like to think or talk about that. We like John 9 where the blindness is to bring God’s glory not because of sin. We like Romans 8:28 where all things work together for good. We like 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God only allows so much temptation. We don’t want to think that God who loves us might discipline us; maybe we don’t even like the word. But this psalm starts with the idea that God is disciplining the psalmist. And the psalmist isn’t asking God not to do that. He is just asking Him to do it in a manner that is just. Don’t discipline me in anger!
I’m a mom. And I know that I discipline differently when I am angry. (Or did. They are mostly grown up now, and discipline is no longer a daily thing.) Angry discipline is overly harsh. It doesn’t come across that you are doing it because you love and want to teach, but instead it looks like you just want to punish. That’s why the psalmist doesn’t want that type of discipline.
As I searched my Bible for examples of what the difference is, I went to Hebrews. In the book of Hebrews the story of the Israelites is retold, how they disobeyed in the wilderness, and how God disciplined them. In chapters 3 and 4, God is angry with the disobedient people, and he says, “I declared on oath in my anger, they shall never enter my rest.” The story of the Israelites in the wilderness is a cycle of disobedience, discipline, repentance, repeat. Their response to God’s discipline was usually temporary. And as a result, God was angry. That’s the kind of discipline (in God’s anger) that the psalmist doesn’t want. But if we read on in Hebrews, we learn that discipline is actually something that should be desired. In fact, according to Hebrews chapter 12 God’s discipline is necessary for our growth.
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,Hebrews 12:5b-11
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
God’s discipline is a blessing according to the author of Hebrews. Discipline as a blessing. Have you ever thought of it that way? How does that thought change your view of discipline?
As I was doing my study in Psalm 6, I found that Jesus quotes part of it. Can you guess which part? In Matthew 7 in the last few verses of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a warning for the people.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!‘”Matthew 7:21-23
Jesus is warning them that not everyone will enter God’s rest. Only those who know Jesus and do the will of God. And in this warning, he quotes Psalm 6:8: Depart from me all you evildoers! I may have mentioned this before, but when an OT passage is referred to in the NT, the Jewish method of teaching means we should look at more than just the words that are quoted. So back in Psalm 6, the words that follow Depart from me, are that the Lord has heard the prayers of the psalmist. And then, “All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.” That’s what happens to the evildoers who are disciplined in God’s wrath.
Psalm 6, Hebrews and Jesus’ words here, all talk about the permanent discipline of not entering God’s rest. But discipline that encourages growth helps us to mature in our faith and become more like Jesus.
So that’s my major problem with Psalm 6. I don’t like that God might be the source of suffering because He is disciplining us. I guess I need to take the view of the author of Hebrews. I want to produce a harvest of righteousness and peace. So I need to be trained. Training involves discipline. Just like physical training involves the discipline of exercise. So I guess I’m with the psalmist in asking God not to discipline me in anger, but I also should be like the author of Hebrews asking God to train me up.
I don’t know where you are with this concept of discipline, but can I just clarify something here? The authors of Scripture use anthropomorphic terms to describe God. They aren’t always literal (metaphors remember?). God is not human. And whatever He does is perfect. So the anthropomorphic term of anger here is just that, a way of describing God. Our language is limited. Our understanding is limited. But God is not limited to our words and our understanding. So please don’t walk away from this post thinking that God is angry with you because of whatever it is that you are going through. The psalmist is writing before Christ. The Israelites in Hebrews 3 and 4 lived before Christ. We are under a new covenant, one that we enter by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. My point is that we cannot and should not always blame God and His discipline for suffering in our lives. That comes through a process of discernment, and the Lord speaking to you. Don’t go around telling people that what is happening to them is God disciplining them. You don’t know. I don’t know. It may be. But it may not be. It may be just the life we live here in a world tainted by sin. Every natural disaster is not God’s judgment on people, unlike what some celebrity preachers tend to say. Those words can damage people. And we should be careful with our words.
I pray my words did not discourage you today, but rather encouraged you to see how much God loves you. He hears you. And he gave Jesus to die on the cross for us. The psalmist in Psalm 6 asks for God to turn, deliver him, and save him because of God’s unfailing steadfast love. And God did do those things through Jesus. So praise the Lord! As the first words of Psalm 7 state, we can take refuge in our God! Remember those things as we celebrate Easter this week.
May you be blessed by God’s word today.