Church Write-Up: Psalm 51; Rod and Staff

Here are some items for church this morning:

A. The Bible class was about Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba. There are two psalms that relate to this: Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. Psalm 32 is an intense lament, whereas, according to the pastor, Psalm 51 is calmer: David in Psalm 51 has more assurance that God has forgiven or will forgive him. The pastor implied that Psalm 52 was composed long after David’s adultery with Bathsheba: David has suffered under intense feelings of guilt and the weight of God’s law for a long period of time. The superscription of the Psalm places it, however, to “When Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” One might think that this was immediately after Nathan confronted David about the adultery in II Samuel 12:1-14, rather than long after the event. The pastor was suggesting, though, that this was when Nathan was trying to encourage David after David’s long funk. The closest to this in the story that I can find is in II Samuel 12:25: God through Nathan instructs David to name his second child with Bathsheba “Jedidiah.” There is a new beginning here. As far as Nathan interrupting David’s funk is concerned, well, maybe. David likely still felt guilt, but, after his first child with Bathsheba died, and before Nathan told him to name his new child with Bathsheba “Jedidiah,” David had washed, eaten, and felt a little better. He was moving on before Nathan’s second encounter with him in II Samuel 12, at least somewhat.

B. II Samuel 12:1 and Psalm 51:2 state that Nathan came to (bva el) David, and II Samuel 12:24 and Psalm 51:2 affirm that David came to (bva el) Bathsheba. The pastor argued that this implies that David had an intimate relationship with Nathan. David and Nathan did not have a homosexual relationship, but it was a close friendship. Nathan often appears by David’s side, as when Nathan helped Solomon to become king. I am ambivalent about the pastor’s argument from the Hebrew. When Psalm 52:1 states that David came to the house of Abimelech, for example, is that saying that David and Abimelech were intimate? Well, David perhaps was entering a state of intimacy by coming into Abimelech’s house and serving Abimelech, but I doubt that, were I to do a search of “bva el” on my BibleWorks, it would always imply intimacy; it would probably indicate simply going to someone. Then again, “come,” as opposed to “go,” even in English conveys some intimacy. I lack the energy to plod through a search right now, as I see that “bwa el” is a widely-used phrase in the Hebrew Bible. The pastor may have a point because the same phrase is used in Psalm 52:1 for Nathan coming to David and David coming to Bathsheba: the author could have easily decided to use different Hebrew words for “go to” but chose not to do so, so he may, in some manner, equivocate the two. The pastor’s proposal is intriguing in that Nathan comes to David and confronts him as a close friend, not simply as one laying down the law on David.

C. Psalm 51:7 states: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (KJV). Hyssop was used to ritually cleanse people and objects (Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49-52; 19:6, 18; Hebrews 9:19). David is asking for God to ritually cleanse him such that David can be acceptable to God. David still comes before God just as he is, however, as a broken sacrifice (Psalm 51:17). David’s request that God wash him relates to deep scrubbing, not just getting wet. Scrubbing is necessary, as David acknowledges that he was conceived in iniquity: it is impossible for him, as a human being, not to sin.

D. Someone asked about the usage of Psalm 51 in Lutheran liturgy. It appears right before the offertory. The pastor explained the rationale for the order of the liturgy. Up to the prayer of forgiveness and the absolution, people are seeking God and expressing a desire for God’s mercy. After the absolution, people respond by affirming the creed and by giving to God. Now that their hearts have been set free, they act as people set free, giving their sacrifices to God. Then, they pray to God and that is followed by communion.

E. David in Psalm 51:18-19 prays for Jerusalem, and the pastor says this was because David’s sin had affected Jerusalem, as David was king. The Psalmist asks God to build the walls of Jerusalem, and historical-critical scholars say that was added during or after the exile, when the walls of Jerusalem needed to be restored. These commentaries here, which believe in Davidic authorship, try to explain that in different ways. One way is to say that David was building the walls of Jerusalem prior to his sin with Bathsheba, and David afterwards was asking for God to resume God’s blessing on that project. Another way is to treat the statement figuratively: David is asking God to protect Jerusalem spiritually and physically.

F. The pastor said something that overlapped with my own quiet time this week. I was wondering if, when the Bible tells us to confess our sins, God requires us to confess each and every sin. That would take a very long time. I reflected that, in the Bible, there are times when people confess specific incidents of sin, but, overall, the sins that they confess are general. They do not confess every particular time that they worshiped Baals and Ashtoreths, for example, but they simply refer to their general act of worshiping Baals and Ashtoreths. When we confess our sins in liturgy, we are confessing an accumulation of sins: the ones we know, and the ones God alone knows.

G. Psalm 51:13 states: “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (KJV). The pastor referred to Tim Keller’s comment that, when we grasp the depth of our sins and God’s forgiveness of us, we will be more likely to lavish forgiveness on others; otherwise, we will be miserly with our forgiveness. I myself am miserly with my forgiveness. And, yes, perhaps I fail to grasp the depth of God’s mercy to me: With some exceptions, I tend not to feel guilty about my sins but to shrug them off as human imperfections.

H. David in Psalm 51:10 asks God to create in him a clean heart. The pastor applied that to I Peter 3:21, which affirms that baptism is not cleansing the flesh but rather the conscience. The pastor said that the English translations of “conscience” for that Greek word is weak, for the Greek word refers to one’s inner being, their soul. God cleanses our insides—-our thoughts and motivations. Looking at Strong’s on my BibleWorks, the Greek word can mean consciousness or conscience. Seeing its occurrence in I Peter, however, the term seems to refer more to conscience: feeling all right before God because one has walked in integrity (I Peter 2:19; 3:16). There is also the question of whether baptism truly cleanses our inner selves, since we are still inclined towards sin. It does mark a progression towards internal righteousness, however.

I. In Psalm 51:16-17, David essentially affirms that God values spiritual sacrifices rather than animal sacrifices. The spiritual sacrifice is a change of heart. The pastor then referred to the Greek word logikos, which, in the New Testament, occurs only in Romans 12:1 and I Peter 2:2. Logikos in Romans 12:1 is often translated as “spiritual,” in reference to spiritual sacrifices. Overall, the pastor’s point appeared to be that Christians receive a right heart that serves God voluntarily, from the inside, rather than by requirement, which was the case with animal sacrifices. The one who makes this possible is Christ, the logos, according to John 1. God breaks up our hard hearts so that light can shine through. “Logikos” may indeed refer to the logical and righteous order of the Christian heart and of God’s word.

J. Moving on to the service, the theme there was Psalm 23:4b: his rod and staff comfort me. Shepherds used the staff to bring in and comfort their sheep. They used the rod to protect their sheep from enemies, but also to discipline their sheep when they erred. The pastor told two personal stories that stood out to me. First, he talked about when his car broke down, and a mechanic told him that he would be able to arrive at his destination. The pastor trusted that, even though there were times when he doubted that the car would make it, and the car indeed did make it. Second, he talked about when he was in high school and had a stammering problem, and he was in a forensics group. His mother made sure to go to every one of his forensics meets. Through all of these perils, his mother was with him, giving him the encouragement of her presence.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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