John T. Willis

Monday, December 19, 2016

Confession of sins, Prayer for Cleansing and God's Acceptance--Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of the most powerful prayers of confession of sins in the Bible. The Superscription of this psalm connects it with David's confession of his sins about adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband at the time when Nathan the prophet approached him with a court case to condemning him for his sins (2 Samuel 12:1-5, 13). However, there is a problem with this in Psalm 51:18 in the prayer: "Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem," which suggests the period between the Babylonians tore down the walls of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. At the same time, it is possible that after David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, he began to build a stronger wall and to repair the old wall of the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-9). Psalm 51 fits well into the account of 2 Samuel 12. Psalm 51 falls into three parts.

1. David prays Yahweh for forgiving him for his sins. Psalm 51:1-9.
    a. Here the poet uses THREE terms for SIN:
        1. Transgressions--51:1, 3. The Hebrew term for "transgression" comes from the practice of deliberately stepping over a boundary line into another person's property and trespassing on that piece of property. So, transgression means to deliberately rebel against God. Exodus 20:13-14 specifically forbid adultery and murder. David knew this very well. But he deliberately committed these sins.
        2. Iniquity--51:2, 9. The Hebrew term for "iniquity" comes from the practice of violating an established standard.
        3. Sin--51:2, 3, 4, 5, 9. The Hebrew term for "sin" comes from the idea of missing the mark as when someone shooting an arrow at a target and misses it or missing the path or road when one is traveling from one place to another.
    b. The poet uses THREE terms for God's attitude toward sinners.
         1. Mercy.
         2. Steadfast love.
         3. Abundant mercy.
All three of these terms in Psalm 51:1 are synonyms emphasizing Yahweh's compassion and grace on sinful people.
    c. The poet uses THREE terms for Yahweh's FORGIVENESS.
        1. Blot out--51:1, 9. The Hebrew term "blot out" comes from the ancient practice of removing or striking something from a record or a tablet by scraping it off or rubbing it down or washing it off-- see Exodus 32:33; Numbers 5:23; Isaiah 43:25.
        2. Wash--51:2, 7. The Hebrew term for "wash" comes from the practice of washing clothes in a stream that has large rocks as a bed by treading them with the feet--see Exodus 19:10.
        3. Cleanse--51:2. The Hebrew term for "cleanse" is a ceremonial word used in connection with the cleansing of leprosy--see Leviticus 13:6. David seems to be thinking of his sin as spiritual leprosy connected with 51:7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." Hyssop is a small plant used in the ritual of cleansing a person from leprosy--see Leviticus 14:4, 6. Furthermore, the statement in 51:15, "Open my lips," is probably connected with the practice of cleansing a person from leprosy. Leviticus 13:45 says that when the priest determined that a person had leprosy, that person had to let the hair of his/her head hang loose, cover the upper lip, and cry out loudly to all around: "Unclean, Unclean!" To open or uncover the lips means to cleanse a person from his/her spiritual leprosy.
    d. To emphasize the genuineness of his repentance, David uses FOUR expressions.
         1. David knows his transgressions; his sin is ever before him. He acknowledges that sin has gained control over his life. 51:3.
         2. David recognizes that he has ultimately sinned against God, not against himself of others even though that may be involved. 51:4.
         3. David accepts full responsibility for his sins. 51:3-4.
         4. David avoids any suggestion of his own merit. 51:1, 5.
    e. 51:5 poses a controversial problem: "Indeed, I was born guilty,
                                                                       a sinner when my mother conceive me."
Some argue that this means that a child inherits son from his/her parents traced back to the so-called "original sin" of Adam and Eve. Others argue that this verse means that David's mother sinned by committing adultery or fornication to conceive David. The true meaning of Psalm 51:5 is that David, like all human beings, is PRONED to sin because he was constantly surrounded by sinful people.
     f. David declares that Yahweh desires TRUTH in the inward being. Truth hear does not mean correct facts, but Genuineness or Honesty. David desires Yahweh to teach him wisdom in his SECRET HEART, not mere external acts of religion. Right attitudes and motivations are of paramount importance. 51:6.
     g. When Yahweh forgives a sinner, that person will be WHITER THAN SNOW. 51:7. The Bible portrays SNOW for different reasons. Here, snow denotes purity. See Isaiah 1:18.

2. David beseeches Yahweh to CREATE in him a CLEAN HEART. Psalm 51:10-13.
    a. No human being is able to mold or make a pure heart.True cleansing of the heart is a MIRACLE. The verb CREATE appears ONLY of God throughout scripture. There are certain things which God alone can do. One of these is CREATE a clean heart. 51:10.
    b. A leper was banished from normal society--Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 12:15; 2 Chronicles 26:21. As a sinner, David beseeches Yahweh to thoroughly forgive him and not cast David from God's presence. In 2 Samuel 7:15, David prays that Yahweh will not take his kingship from David as Yahweh did with Saul. The prayer, "Do not take your holy spirit from me," does not refer to the Holy Spirit as in the New Testament, but is a circumlocution for God himself--Do not take yourself from me. 51:11.
    c. By forgiving David and creating in him a clean heart, Yahweh restores the joy of Yahweh's salvation and sustains him. Naturally, by this divine action, David will be able to teach others Yahweh's ways of forgiveness. 51:12-13.

3. David beseeches Yahweh to accept him in public worship. Psalm 51:14-19.
    a. David does not offer Yahweh his gifts; rather, David offers himself to Yahweh. Yahweh has no delight in sacrifice or burnt offering. This has always been the case. There is a spiritual sacrifice to Yahweh, namely, a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. 51:14-17.
    b. David concludes by asking Yahweh to do good to Zion, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and then Yahweh will delight in RIGHT SACRIFICES, that is, external acts of religion offered from genuine hearts and penitent lives. 51:18-19.

Share YOUR experiences and questions and reconsiderations and confessions and anxieties with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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