Psalm 6: Introducing the Structure of a Lament Psalm

Introducing the Two Forms of Lament Psalms

As mentioned earlier, I am preaching through the Psalms this year. In my introduction, I explained that there are several genres or forms of Psalms. Psalm 6, that we are studying today, is in the form of a “Lament Psalm”.

[learn_more caption=”What Are the Different Types of Psalms?”] The three most common types of psalms are the hymn, the lament, and the thanksgiving. These songs of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation are by far the most common, but we can also recognize four less frequently attested types: psalms of confidence, kingship, rememberance, and wisdom. Quora[/learn_more] The superscription reads: To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

We are not entirely sure what words like Sheminith or Shiggaion mean. Likely they were some kind of musical direction or a meter of some sort for the poem.

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.

2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.

3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long?

4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.

5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.

7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.

10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. Psalms 6 (ESV)

David is not particularly chipper or upbeat in this psalm is he?

The genre of this Psalm is what we call a “Lament.” You will be familiar with the term because there is an entire book of the Bible, “Lamentations”, devoted to lamenting before God. The author of Lamentations is traditionally thought to be the prophet Jeremiah and he was known as the weeping prophet. This designation was given to him because he asked that his eyes might be made a fountain of tears to weep for the death of his people.

Lamentations and the Lament psalms alike are focused on being sorrowful about something. You may be surprised to learn that 67 of the 150 Psalms are categorized as “Lament Psalms”. Α bunch of what David wrote was in this genre.


[box] With the Lament psalm genre making up more than a third of all of the Psalms, I think it is safe to say that the tone of the book of Psalms is in large part one of sorrow–Sorrow over sin and calling out to God for deliverance from one thing or another. [/box]


Even in the Psalms which are not a part of the lament genre, there will often be a prayer for deliverance from enemies. And so many times the mood in the Psalms is a somber one. I wanted to spend some time looking at the form of a Lament psalm, because this is the first one of these that we are covering in the book. With there being 67 total, I am sure it won’t be the last one.

Two Forms of Lament PsalmThere are two different types of lament Psalms. There are the individual laments like Psalm 6 this morning, and then there are the communal or community type laments.   These are where the worshiping community corporately approaches God for deliverance from a shared predicament.

Psalm 12 is a good example of the communal type of lament. In verse 2 of Psalm 12 David confesses the specific sin that the community is guilty of. It says:

Psalms 12:2 (ESV) 2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.


When this was used in a worship setting, it would mean that the entire congregation is confessing to these sins. So this is quite different than the individual laments like we are dealing with today.

Lament Psalm: Address or Invocation

The Structure of a Lament Psalm: Address or Invocation

The lament psalm uses a structure as it goes through. And I want to point this structure out to you in Psalm 6 this morning. That way you can know, as you read and study on your own, that you have come across a Lament psalm, because it will contain these elements.

First, the Psalm typically begins with an address or invocation. In other words you invoke the presence or the attention of God. If you look in your bibles at Psalms 3, 4 and 5, you can see evidence of this typical opening address.

Psalm 3: (ESV) 1 O LORD, how many are my foes!

Psalm 4: (ESV) 1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!

Psalm 5: (ESV) 1 Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.

And then today in Psalm 6: 1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger…

So this is the standard address for a Lament psalm. You can know in your studies that you have come across one when you see this kind of opening line.

The Complaint or ‘Lament’

Then comes what is really the focal point of the psalm itself. This is the lament or complaint. In this section, the psalmist defines the distress or describes the crisis that serves as his reason for his cry to God.

In this section, the prayer is aimed at getting relief from God as well as venting the emotion that the Psalmist is feeling at the time.

In Psalm 6 today, the lament is found in verses 2 and 3. Now keep in mind that we are going to go back and look at what is being said in a little while but for now I am just focusing on the form.

The lament in Psalm 6 is:

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;

heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.

My soul also is greatly troubled. Psalms 6:2-3 (ESV)

The distress that typically prompts the writing of a lament psalm varies from psalm to psalm. In today’s case it looks like sickness. It can also be accusation, loneliness, persecution, fear, guilt or other severe personal challenges. Communal laments would arise out of corporate sin or something catastrophic such as a military attack on the nation.

Many times, unfortunately, the language is general and generic enough that we are left wondering exactly what is going on. That is more or less the case today. We are not 100% sure that this is sickness but it looks like it could be.

The Petition

The next section in the form of a lament psalm is the petition.


[box]The petition would ask God for deliverance. In the petition section, you will see language at this point such as the words, “hear”, “look”, “pay attention.” In our particular case today, we see the phrase “Turn O Lord and deliver my life”[/box]


We know that he already is paying attention. But this is poetry we are dealing with here, so sometimes the rules go out the window a little bit. The poet may not be as buttoned up and proper in his theology as the teacher might be.

Form of Lament

The Praise

The last section of the form of a Lament Psalm is praise.


[box] The Lament, in almost all instances throughout the Psalms, will turn at the end to praise for God. This made the Psalm especially appropriate for use in the worship service. And it points to David’s realization that if he is delivered from the trouble that he is in, it will be because of the Lord.[/box]


In Psalm 6, the Praise section begins in verse 8 when it says:

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.

Again, if you take the time to examine the Lament Psalms you will almost always find that they end with a section of praise. There is a rare occasion or two where it doesn’t but only one or two.

The Beauty of Praise in the Psalms

One of the things that make lament psalms unique is the choice of words used in them. They are very intimate with the Lord. They are very creative.

One of my favorite praise sections in all of the Psalms ends like this:


[box] The poetry and the beauty of the praise that is offered to God in the Psalms is without parallel. This is one of the reasons that it can ignite worship in all of us.[/box]


I hope it is of interest to you that you can look through these and see a form that is used. I personally find it fascinating because it shows part of the artistry that is used in composing the psalms. They are working within a framework and yet inside this frame they are very creative.

Another reason I think these are interesting is related to the fact that there are those who are constantly looking for hidden messages and numbers and meanings in the scriptures. They may claim that there is some kind of code that is given and it sends us a message. I’m sure you have all seen or heard of the Omega Code.

Well, here in plain sight is a pattern that can be followed all the way through the pages of the Psalms. It is consistent. And when you see it, you can know for certain that the psalm that you are reading is a Lament Psalm.

So just briefly as review, there is the address, the lament, the petition, and finally the praise.

Continued in Psalm 6 Suffering is Not Retribution: Our Father Cares!

Watch the full sermon live here: Psalm 6 The Lament by Pastor Dan Woody


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Pastor Dan Woody is a founding elder for Koinonia. He has been serving churches as a pastor for the past 13 years. He and his wife Peggy are the parents of two sons, Chris and Jonathan. Pastor Dan is currently studying for his Mdiv with The North American Reformed Seminary. His interests include music, and most outdoor sports like golf, hiking, tennis and fishing.[/author_info] [/author]