The Catholics called this Psalm, with 33, 38, 51, 102, 130, 140 and 142, the seven Pentitential Psalms. They considered that it was to be used, like Naaman at the Jordan and lepers at purification, as a sevenfold washing or sprinkling.
Hitherto, the harp of Judah, and the sacred instruments of varied chords, have sounded little concerning the Just One's inward sorrows. But now the Psalmist points "the Chief Musician" to the "Neginoth" mentioned in Psalm 6, and at the same time to "Sheminith" of some eight-stringed instrument, as if both together must be used for a theme so intensely melancholy as these verses handle. Augustine has a long passage in which he discussed whether there is a reference in the eight to the Last Day, the Eternal Day.
We might at once say to the reader, This is not David, it is the Son of David; the grief is too deep for any other - "you never saw a vessel of like sorrow"
David may have been led by the Holy Spirit to write it when in anguish of soul, as well as suffering of body; through such a bruised reed the Spirit of God may have breathed. But surely he meant to tell of One greater than David, - "the man of sorrows." Perhaps David had some seasons of anguish in his wanderings in the wilderness of Judah that furnished a shadow of the grief of Him who was to come, "bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows."
Awakened souls experience sorrow of soul and alarming apprehensions of divine indignation, such as this Psalm expresses. A clear sight of sin, while the face of the Mediator is hid, produces this state of soul. Occasionally too, believers feel, from peculiar causes, glooms that may be expressed in the words of this Psalm more fitly than any other.
And particular clauses in it will express many of a believer's frames, even as v6, "Lord, how long?" was Calvin's favourite utterance. Still, it is chiefly of the true David that this is written. We may suppose every word used by Him in some of those nights which he passed in desert places, or in the garden of Gethsemane.
What cries are these? "Lord, rebuke me not in your wrath." Is not this the same voice that cried, "Father, if it is possible, remove this cup from me?" Again "have mercy upon me O Lord, for I am weak" Is this not the same who said "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak?" (Matt 26:34
We listen, and again He cries "my soul is deeply vexed." Is it not the voice of Him who, as He entered the garden spoke with such affecting sadness to his disciples, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful" (Matt 27:38). Yes, He said "even to death."
In this Psalm we hear Him tell some of his foreboding of death. It seems to be the very hour referred to in Hebrews 6:7 - the hour of "strong crying and tears to Him who was able to save him from death." For here are his strong reasonings with God - "in death there is no remembrance of you; in the grave who will give thanks to you?"
This expostulation is undoubtedly one a member of Christ could use; for Hezekiah used it (Isaiah 38:18), pleading that if taken away, he could do no more to make known God's name and glory among people. But how peculiarly forcible it becomes in the lips of Jesus! If he is to be given over to death, left under its power, then neither He, nor any one of all those whom the Father had given Him, can ever give praise.
The dark night becomes darker. It is midnight, "I am weary with my groaning. My eye is consumed with grief. It waxes old, because of my enemies." "The eye is the mirror and the gauge of soundness, not merely as respects the soul, but the body also," says a well known commentator. On his brow, anguish had shed more snows (John 8:57) than threescore winters, in their natural course, might else have sprinkled there; for inconceivably stupendous must His view of sin have been, and his sense of its loathsomeness, his discovery of its hurt to God and man, and his sorrow under the wrath due to it.
But all at once there is a change. The angel from heaven strengthens him (Luke 22:43.) He is revived by the Father's promise, "I have glorified you and will glorify you again. He sees his foes "confounded and terrified by the look of that very face, which they once could spit upon (v10).
It is only at this one point that this Psalm presents anything bearing on the prophetic future. But certainly it does at this turn present us with a glimpse of the Second Coming of Him whose First Coming was so full of woe.
"The voice of the turtle is heard again" says a German commentator; and truly it is so. For at v8, the Suffering One sees "the glory that is to follow" and exclaims, "Depart from me you workers of iniquity" words which are employed by himself in Luke 13:27, in describing the terms in which, as judge, He will address the multitudes of the unsaved on the Great Day, when He has risen up and has shut the door.
Was it not designed that this ending should draw more attention to the beginning? Let the sinner now consider the Suffering One, lest the sentence pass on him, "Depart." Come, and see here what a price was paid for the soul's redemption' and if you have felt anguish of spirit under a sense of deserved wrath, let it cease when you find the Man of sorrows presenting all his anguish as the atonement for your soul.
Thus will the reader use aright this most emotional Psalm in meditating on which he is shown the comfortless night of the Righteous One.