Psalm 6: Entering the Psalm


A Cry for Healing

In this brief but stirring poem, the psalmist gives voice to the pain and terror of embodied vulnerability. The image of the poet’s tear-soaked bed speaks to us across the ages. Where can we find healing? Is the the act of crying out itself a step toward restoration?

Andrew Davis, PHD

Whether we hear it simply as a cry for divine help or analyze its poetic form, the psalm offers us honest words of lament for the times when hardships in our own lives leave us speechless.

לַמְנַצֵּ֣חַ בִּ֭נְגִינוֹת עַֽל־הַשְּׁמִינִ֗ית מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִֽד׃
יְֽהוָ֗ה אַל־בְּאַפְּךָ֥ תוֹכִיחֵ֑נִי וְֽאַל־בַּחֲמָתְךָ֥ תְיַסְּרֵֽנִי׃
חָנֵּ֥נִי יְהוָה֮ כִּ֤י אֻמְלַ֫ל אָ֥נִי רְפָאֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י נִבְהֲל֣וּ עֲצָמָֽי׃
וְ֭נַפְשִׁי נִבְהֲלָ֣ה מְאֹ֑ד ואת [וְאַתָּ֥ה] יְ֝הוָ֗ה עַד־מָתָֽי׃
שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה חַלְּצָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י ה֝וֹשִׁיעֵ֗נִי לְמַ֣עַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ׃
כִּ֤י אֵ֣ין בַּמָּ֣וֶת זִכְרֶ֑ךָ בִּ֝שְׁא֗וֹל מִ֣י יֽוֹדֶה־לָּֽךְ׃
יָגַ֤עְתִּי ׀ בְּֽאַנְחָתִ֗י אַשְׂחֶ֣ה בְכָל־לַ֭יְלָה מִטָּתִ֑י בְּ֝דִמְעָתִ֗י עַרְשִׂ֥י אַמְסֶֽה׃
עָֽשְׁשָׁ֣ה מִכַּ֣עַס עֵינִ֑י עָֽ֝תְקָ֗ה בְּכָל־צוֹרְרָֽי׃
ס֣וּרוּ מִ֭מֶּנִּי כָּל־פֹּ֣עֲלֵי אָ֑וֶן כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֥ע יְ֝הוָ֗ה ק֣וֹל בִּכְיִֽי׃
שָׁמַ֣ע יְ֭הוָה תְּחִנָּתִ֑י יְ֝הוָ֗ה תְּֽפִלָּתִ֥י יִקָּֽח׃
יֵבֹ֤שׁוּ ׀ וְיִבָּהֲל֣וּ מְ֭אֹד כָּל־אֹיְבָ֑י יָ֝שֻׁ֗בוּ יֵבֹ֥שׁוּ רָֽגַע׃

1 For the leader; with instrumental music on the sheminith. A psalm of David.
2 O LORD, do not punish me in anger, do not chastise me in fury.
3 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I languish; heal me, O LORD, for my bones shake with terror.
4 My whole being is stricken with terror, while You, LORD—O, how long!
5 O LORD, turn! Rescue me! Deliver me as befits Your faithfulness.
6 For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim You?
7 I am weary with groaning; every night I drench my bed, I melt my couch in tears.
8 My eyes are wasted by vexation, worn out because of all my foes.
9 Away from me, all you evildoers, for the LORD heeds the sound of my weeping.
10 The LORD heeds my plea, the LORD accepts my prayer.
11 All my enemies will be frustrated and stricken with terror; they will turn back in an instant, frustrated.

1 For the leader; with stringed instruments, “upon the eighth.”

A psalm of David.

2 Do not reprove me in your anger, Lord,
nor punish me in your wrath.
3 Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are shuddering.
4 My soul too is shuddering greatly—
and you, Lord, how long…?
5 Turn back, Lord, rescue my soul;
save me because of your mercy.
6 For in death there is no remembrance of you.
Who praises you in Sheol?

7 I am wearied with sighing;
all night long I drench my bed with tears;
I soak my couch with weeping.
8 My eyes are dimmed with sorrow,
worn out because of all my foes.

9 Away from me, all who do evil!
The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
10 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord will receive my prayer.
11 My foes will all be disgraced and will shudder greatly;
they will turn back in sudden disgrace.

Al director musical. Acompáñese con instrumentos de cuerda. Sobre la octava. Salmo de David.
1 No me reprendas, Señor, en tu ira;
no me castigues en tu furor.
2 Ten piedad de mí, Señor, porque desfallezco;
sáname, Señor, porque mis huesos están en agonía.
3 Muy angustiada está mi alma;
¿hasta cuándo, Señor, hasta cuándo?

4 Vuélvete, Señor, y sálvame la vida;
por tu gran amor, ¡ponme a salvo!
5 En la muerte nadie te recuerda;
desde los dominios de la muerte, ¿quién te alabará?

6 Cansado estoy de sollozar.

Toda la noche inundo de lágrimas mi cama,
¡mi lecho empapo con mi llanto!
7 Se consumen mis ojos por causa del dolor;
desfallecen por culpa de mis enemigos.

8 ¡Apártense de mí, todos los malhechores,
que el Señor ha escuchado mi llanto!
9 El Señor ha escuchado mis ruegos;
el Señor ha tomado en cuenta mi oración.
10 Todos mis enemigos quedarán avergonzados y angustiados;
su repentina vergüenza los hará retroceder.

Entering the Psalm

By Andrew Davis, PhD


Good poems often seem spontaneous. It feels like we’re catching the poet right as she is pouring out a heartfelt emotion or drawing a sudden insight from something in her everyday life. This is the Romantic ideal we find in poems like William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” which invites us to walk beside the poet and share the joy he feels when he stumbles upon the unexpected flowers. We know, however, that very few poems are wholly spontaneous creations. Rather, poets usually draft and redraft their work, revising their poems many times over. The immediacy we feel is the result of poetic skill; the impression of spontaneity is part of the poem’s art.

This mix of craft and feeling is found also in biblical poetry, and Psalm 6 is a good example. Simply reading the poem, we are struck by speaker’s anguish. Images such as terror-stricken bones, a tear-drenched bed, and weeping eyes evoke our pity and compassion for the speaker. Arousing such compassion is the aim of the poem.
A closer look at the psalm, however, reveals that along with this outpouring of pain and lament is a carefully constructed poem. Consider these structural features:

These details show that the text of Psalm 6 canonized in the Hebrew Bible is more than an extemporaneous outcry; it is a refined piece of writing that expresses, and aims to evoke in the audience, the desperation and hope of a person in crisis.

A key point to take away from this analysis of Psalm 6 is that poetic artifice doesn’t diminish the emotional and spiritual power of the poem. It may be tempting to suppose that the most genuine expressions of lament (or joy for that matter) are the ones that comes straight from the heart, but countless examples from Jewish and Christian tradition show that, far from constraining the poetry of faith, liturgical or literary rubrics provide a framework for its authentic expression. Psalm 6, which as early as St. Augustine (d. 430 CE) was part of a group of penitential psalms in Christian tradition, is one such example. Whether we hear it simply as a cry for divine help or analyze its poetic form, the psalm offers us honest words of lament for the times when hardships in our own lives leave us speechless.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which words or images in Psalm 6 are most striking to you?
  2. How do you imagine the ancient poet pieced this text together?
  3. Is this a source you have turned to, or might turn to, in a time of crisis?
  4. If you were to write your own version of this psalm, what might it look and sound like?

Featured Commentaries

Psalm 6: Prayer & Healing by Jerome E. Groopman, MD

For more than four decades, I have cared for very ill people with cancer, blood diseases, and AIDS. And for several years during those decades, I also experienced my own medical illness in the form of prolonged pain from failed spinal surgery. The words of Psalm 6 speak deeply to the psychological core of patients’ fears, and to how prayer can surmount fears and provide focus and direction when we are most bereft.

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Adam: The Glory Departed By C. Malcolm Powers (Sculpture)

C. Malcolm Powers is an accomplished bronze sculptor living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He trained for one semester at the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit (1951), earning a BS in Design (1959) and a MA in Fine Arts with a focus on Sculpture (1961) from the University of Michigan. To see other examples of Malcolm’s work, please visit here.

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Reflection on Babyonian Talmud Berakhot 5b by Debbie Friedman

Debbie Friedman z”l, a American singer-songwriter, teaches, “We are not just the recipients of blessings, but the messengers of blessings as well. Remember, out of what emerges from life’s painful challenges will come our healing. And ultimately, our greatest healing will come when we use our suffering to heal another’s pain—’to release another from their confinement’ (Babyonian Talmud Berakhot 5b).”

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More Multimedia Resources

For endurance through all melodies
I sing this song for my Beloved
Please, my G-d
Let my self-judgement not be coded as Your anger
Let my pain not be coded as Your rage
Be gracious with me, my G-d
I am so sad
Heal me, my G-d
My bones are shaking in fear
My soul is so scared
So very scared
I know You are still G-d
But still, G-d
How much longer must I endure?
Return to me, my G-d
Release my soul
Save me for the sake of all things Loving and Kind
Because I cannot remember You if I am dead
I cannot thank You from my grave
I am so over this, my G-d
Swimming in tears night after night
Melting my bed
And leaving me no place to rest
And I know my anger only makes things worse
My eyes tell the stories of the narrowness they have endured
Go away, oh forces of evil!
Because G-d has heard my cry
Thank You G-d
You heard my plea
And carried me on my prayer
Thank You G-d
Now my Oy’s can bear the burden of terror
In an instant
They are banished
In an instant
The melody of serenity returns

Discussion Questions

  1. Compare and contrast Rassler’s interpretation of Psalm 6 with the original. Are there particular hermeneutical choices that you find helpful?
  2. How does the poet use the term “coded” in lines 4 and 5?
  3. What do you think Rassler means when she writes, “Now my Oy’s can bear the burden of terror”?

Dr. Brielle Paige Rassler is a therapist, spiritual artist, and ALEPH Rabbinic/Hashpa’ah student from Weston, FL. She is currently the coordinator and lead therapist of the Penn Medicine PMC Grief Counseling Program. Brielle has released two albums of original music, with prayer-songs that have been shared at holiday and Shabbat services across the country. She is currently working on an interpretive translation of the Book of Psalms. Learn more at her website.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are there literary choices in the translation that you find helpful or meaningful? (Compare with NJPS and NARBE here).
  2. How does the musical arrangement attempt to capture the shift in mood in Psalm 6?
  3. Are there particular words or images that have become more vivid in listening to this musical interpretation and performance of the psalm?

Poor Bishop Hooper is Jesse and Leah Roberts. Both hailing from small towns in central Kansas, we began writing, recording, and performing together after our marriage in 2013. What began as a duo, weaving together a patchwork of melodies atop an upright bass and a guitar, has since blossomed into numerous, multi-faceted expressions of the technicolor story we call life. Our most recent project is our most ambitious yet. EveryPsalm began January 1, 2020, and releases a psalm-based song each week… until all the psalms are sung again.

According to the Kabbalah, redemption is not an event that will take place all at once at “the end of days” or something that concerns the Jewish people alone.

It is a continual process, taking place at every moment. The good deeds of men and women are single acts in the long drama of redemption, and it is not only the people of Israel, but the whole universe, that must be redeemed.

There is longing for peace in the hearts of men and women. But peace is not the same as the absence of war.

Peace among people depends upon a relationship of reverence for each other.

Peace will not come until people return out of their exile from each other, and Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, can embrace upon peaceful shores.

Peace will not come until we renounce excessive self-concern and allow our hearts to be moved enough by the misery of our fellow human beings to dare what must be dared.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does “redemption” mean to you—individually, communally, globally?
  2. How do you interpret Heschel’s use of the term “reverence” in this context?
  3. What can we as individuals do to promote peace even in the midst of political conflict and/or warfare?
  4. When have you experienced empathy or sympathy in conflictual situations?

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) is one of the foremost Jewish theologians and social activist of the modern period. Quote from his book The Earth Is the Lord’s: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe.