Prayer of Agony
- To the choirmaster, with stringed instruments, at the octave, a psalm to David.
- O Yahweh, rebuke me not in anger. Do not chasten me with rage.
- Be merciful to me, O Yahweh, for I am languishing ; heal me, O Yahweh ! For I am frightened down to my bones,
- and my soul also is deeply troubled. But You, O Yahweh, how long ?
- Return, O Yahweh, save my soul. Save me for the sake of Your mercy.
- For in death there is no remembrance of You ; who will praise You in Sheol ?
- I am exhausted from moaning ; every night I bathe my couch ; with my tears I drench my bed.
- My eye is dimmed from grief, it grows old amidst all my foes.
- Depart from me, all you evildoers ! For Yahweh has heard the din of my weeping.
- Yahweh has heard my supplication ; Yahweh will accept my prayer.
- Let all my enemies wither and be struck with fear ; may they turn back, and wither in a moment !
THE dedication of this psalm « to David » once again turns our gaze towards the Messiah, whose emblematic figure is David, the sole hope of faithful Yahwists of the fourth century BC in their dealings with the Samaritan false brothers whom Psalm 5 revealed.
Psalm 6 was accompanied by string instruments and was sung an « octave » below by bass voices. The expression « at the octave » (’al ha-shshmînît) gave rise to many interpretations. It becomes clear, though, in the light of the Book of Chronicles, where we see Levites « playing harps to accompany young girls (’al ’alâmôt ) » while others have citharas « at the octave » below (’al ha-shshmînît), that is as a bass accompaniment (1 Ch 15.20-21).
2. O Yahweh, rebuke me not in anger. Do not chasten me with rage.
As in Psalm 4, this prayer is once again inspired by the Prophet Jeremiah, who had also asked : « Correct me, Yahweh, but with moderation, not in Your anger, or You will reduce me to nothing. » (Jr 10.24; cf. Ps 4.2) The psalm must therefore date from after the Exile. It expresses the complaint of the Messiah who Himself has become the object of the « anger » and the « rage » with which Yahweh took His defence against the kings and rulers united against Him in Psalm 2 : « He speaks to them with wrath, and He terrifies them with His fury » (Ps 2.5)
Yet, He does not refuse to be « corrected », according to His own recommendation to the « judges of the earth » (Ps 2.10), by fulfilling the promise made to David and his sons by the Prophet Nathan : « I shall be a Father to him and he a son to Me ; if he does wrong, I shall punish him with a rod such as men use » (2 S 7.14), that is, with moderation, with “ humanity ”. This is what the Messiah, son of David, demands here.
3. Be merciful to me, O Yahweh, for I am languishing ; heal me, O Yahweh ! For I am frightened down to my bones,
In his “ languishing ”, He personifies the land of Israel afflicted by drought in the time of Jeremiah (Jr 14.2). The “ healing ” that is implored recalls King Hezekiah who was struck with a mortal illness and said this prayer to God : « “ Ah, Yahweh remember, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight. ” Hezekiah shed many tears. » (Is 38.3)
Verse 3 repeats the cry of supplication of Psalm 4 : « Be merciful to me, and hear my prayer. » (Ps 4.2) Why does He feel such anguish ? The son of David is struck with « fright », like the powerful in revolt against Yahweh and His Anointed (Ps 2.2) ! There is only one explanation to give : the reason that He languishes, the reason that He suffers this mortal illness, the reason that He undergoes this frightening agony is that the Messiah bears their sin, according to the prophecy of him whom Fr. de Nantes calls the Unknown of the Exile :
« He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Upon Him was the chastisement that brings us peace ; by His bruises we were healed. » (Is 53.5)
4. and my soul also is deeply troubled. But You, O Yahweh, how long ?
In the presence of the Greeks who had come to see Him after the triumph of Palm Sunday Jesus will apply this verse to Himself and evoke His imminent death on the Cross. At the thought of this death that through divine knowledge He realises is very close, Jesus goes through an agony that anticipates what the Synoptic Gospels relate happened in Gethsemane : « Now is my soul troubled. What shall I say : Father, save Me from this hour ? » (Jn 12.27-28) The author of Psalm 6 experienced in advance this agony of the Messiah to come.
5. Return, O Yahweh, save my soul. Save me for the sake of Your mercy.
The Prophets Hosea and Jeremiah promised that the exiles would « come back » to the homeland on the condition that their heart « come back », that is, convert to Yahweh : « Bring me back, let me come back », implored the people in exile, after having « been chastened » (Jr 31.18), the chastisement of the Exile. Alas ! This does not seem to be the case, since Yahweh has not « gone back » on His anger, which now falls on the Messiah Himself !
Nevertheless the Messiah knows that He can count on the mercy of Yahweh, as He said in Psalm 5 : « Even as through the abundance of Your rich mercy I enter Your house, I prostrate myself towards the Hekal, Your “ Holy ”, filled with fear of You. » (Ps 5.8) In fact, the healing that is implored here in Psalm 6 is the same as in the days of Hezekiah, when Yahweh sent Isaiah to say to the ill king : « Thus says Yahweh, the God of David your father. I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears ; behold, I will heal you ; on the third day you shall go up to the Temple of Yahweh. » (2 K 20.5)
6. For in death there is no remembrance of You ; who will praise You in Sheol ?
So, the Messiah is at death’s door, and it is the thought of death that afflicts Him. Like Hezekiah in the past, « after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness : “ I said : In the noontide of my days I must depart ; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. I said : I shall not see Yahweh in the land of the living ; I shall look upon man no more among the inhabitants of the world. ” » (Is 38.9-11)
For there is no gate of glory for the righteous of the Old Testament, until the day when Jesus would go to preach Salvation in Hell, « in Sheol », after having opened the gate of Heaven by the Sacrifice of the Cross.
7. I am exhausted from moaning ; every night I bathe my couch ; with my tears I drench my bed.
King Hezekiah, « shed many tears » (Is 38.3) to obtain his healing, and he obtained it.
8. My eye is dimmed from grief, it grows old amidst all my foes.
This pathetic complaint is harrowingly topical : « We are, in the New Testament, as were those poor of Yahweh in the Old Testament who waited for centuries and centuries the blessed fruit of the virginal womb, who died without knowing Him and passed on to the next generation the unquenched flame of their hopes. » (G. de Nantes, Mystical Pages, Vol. I, p. 110)
Then suddenly, there comes not healing, but the announcement of God’s intervention, as in the time of Baruch when the latter wrote these words in a book at the Prophet Jeremiah’s dictation : « Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch. You said : “ Woe is me ! for Yahweh has added sorrow to my pain ! I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest ! ” Thus shall you say to him : Thus says Yahweh : Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up, that is, the whole land. Do you seek great things for yourself ? Seek them not ; for, behold, I am bringing evil upon all flesh, says Yahweh ; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go. » (Jr 45.2-5)
Now, here is a conclusion that is a judgement :
9. Depart from me, all you evildoers ! For Yahweh has heard the din of my weeping.
We know this by Psalm 5 : Yahweh « hates » « all evildoers » (Ps 5.6). By appropriating this verse, Jesus has given us the key to this psalm : « On that day many will say to Me : “ Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name ? ” Then I will declare to them : “ I never knew you ; depart from me, you evildoers. ” » (Mt 7, 22-23)
10. Yahweh has heard my supplication ; Yahweh will accept my prayer.
As He had heard Hezekiah and cured him, as He had promised to Baruch to spare his life in the universal cataclysm, now Yahweh answers the Messiah.
11. Let all my enemies wither and be struck with fear ; may they turn back, and wither in a moment !
The Psalmist draws his inspiration from the warning given by Moses to the people of Israel just before the chastisement of Korah’s rebellion among the priesthood, which the author of Psalm 5 placed in parallel with the Samaritan schism : « Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment. » (Nb 16.21)
In order to understand this psalm correctly, it does not suffice to put it on the lips of « an ill person imploring his God », as Gelineau does in the Jerusalem Bible. It is the prayer of the Messiah in His Agony, that is, in His great combat, of which the psalms are a sort of prophetic chronicle. We understand this already, and we will remark it more and more, right up to their fulfilment by Jesus Himself : « Now is my soul troubled. What shall I say : Father, save Me from this hour ? Yet it is for this very reason that I have come to this Hour. Father, glorify Your Name !
« A voice came from Heaven : “ I have glorified it, and I will again glorify it. ” » (Jn 12.27-28)
Brother Bruno de Jesus
He is risen ! n° 24, August 2004