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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 51

Psalms 51

DAVID, after his adultery with Bathsheba, aroused from his sleep in sin by the admonition of the prophet Nathan, humbled himself before God, and gave utterance in this Psalm to his heartfelt desire for forgiveness and renewal. It falls into two main divisions, of which the first completes itself in the number twelve, the second in the number seven. In the first, Psalms 51:1-12, the Psalmist asks for that, which the Lord must grant him, in Psalms 51:13-19, he represents how he will show his gratitude to the Lord for the love conferred on him. The first division falls again into two halves. In the first, Psalms 51:1-6, the Psalmist gives, after a short and rapidly uttered prayer, Psalms 51:1 and Psalms 51:2, the grounding of it, he acknowledges his sin, Psalms 51:3 and Psalms 51:4; and: to man conceived and born in sin can divine truth and wisdom come only from God, Psalms 51:5 and Psalms 51:6. In the second, Psalms 51:7-12, there is raised out of the thus laid foundation the enlarged prayer, first, for forgiveness of sin, Psalms 51:7-9, then for the restoration of the gift of the Spirit, Psalms 51:10-12. In the vowing portion, the Psalmist first declares, how he will personally show himself grateful, when the Lord hears his prayer, by inviting all sinners on the ground of his own experience to repent, he praises. God’s righteousness and makes known his praise, as that has been manifested in his reception to favour, Psalms 51:13-15; then proclaims this, and the broken heart, which is the source of such a celebration of God’s praise, to be the true thank-offering, while the external sacrifices, as such, are not acceptable to God, Psalms 51:16 and Psalms 51:17. Then he promises the thanksgivings of the whole church, to be displayed in a fulness of hearty sacrifices, when God had showed himself gracious to them in their head, and further took them as the object of his supporting and sustaining agency, Psalms 51:18 and Psalms 51:19.

That the Psalm was composed by David on the occasion in question, shows, besides the superscription, (the authenticity of which is evidenced both by its own internal character, and also, perhaps, by the circumstance, that, by including it, the Psalm falls into three decades), and also from the wonderful agreement of the subject with 2 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 12. That we have to do here as there with a sinner of high rank, is already probable from Psalms 51:13-15, according to which, the compassion to be shown to the Psalmist should operate beneficially through an extensive circle, but quite certainly from the conclusion, Psalms 51:18 and Psalms 51:19. That the Psalmist there passes on to pray for the salvation of the whole people, pre-supposes, that this salvation was personally connected with himself, that the people stood and fell with him, as was rendered palpable by the history of the numbering of the people. That the Psalmist was a king, Ewald also concludes from these verses, although he denies the composition of it by David. In Psalms 51:14, the Psalmist prays for deliverance from blood-guiltiness. Such guilt David had incurred through the death of Uriah, occasioned by him, and of those who fell with him, and Nathan had threatened him in the name of God with the divine vengeance for it; comp. 2 Samuel 12:9-10. This is the more remarkable, the more singular the case is in its kind. Of a true worshipper of God, the whole history of the Old Testament contains nothing similar. It is a poor shift to maintain, that blood might also be taken generally for guilt and punishment. That in the passage Isaiah 4:4, upon which alone stress is laid, the discourse is of blood in the proper sense, appears from the comp. of Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 1:21.

Psalms 51:4 is quite replete with references to 2 Samuel 12. As David there says: I have sinned against the Lord, so here: against thee only have I sinned. The words: “This evil have I done in thy sight,” is seen at once to be an echo of the address of Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:9, “Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do this evil in his sight?” Finally, in the words: “that thou mightest be justified in thy speech, pure in thy judgment,” respect is had to a sentence which the Lord had passed in the case of the Psalmist, of a judgment which he had exercised upon him. We swim in mid-air so long as we do not perceive the reference to the discourse of Nathan.

Besides, the correctness of the superscription is still farther evidenced by the relation of our Psalm to Psalms 32 which refers to the same matter, and which is only distinguished from this by the circumstance, that while here the Psalmist prays for the pardon of sin and strives for it, there he has respect to the already finished conflict, and invites all his companions of faith to enter into the participation of the like salvation through an unfeigned confession of their sins. What the Psalmist there does after the received forgiveness, that he here promises to do in case he received it, Psalms 51:13-15, comp. especially Psalms 51:13 with Psalms 32:8.

With the other Psalms of David also the Psalm presents close resemblances. Thus the relation of the first part to the second here is quite similar to that in Psalms 22; and Psalms 40:6-10, presents an extraordinary agreement with Psalms 51:13-17.

The grounds which many have brought forward against the correctness of the superscription, and for the assumption, that the Psalm was composed during the Babylonish captivity, (De Wette, Hitzig,) or shortly before it, (Ewald,) may be very easily disposed of. It is said, 1. That the Psalm is not worthy of David; its “melting language” indicates a later age. But the Psalm must still carry in it somewhat of concealed glory, which they only can recognize who read it with the heart, out of which it issued, comp. Psalms 51:17. How, otherwise, were the fact explicable, to which already Luther alludes? “This Psalm has been named by every one a Psalm of penitence, and there is no other in the Psalter which is oftener sung and prayed in the church.” The “melting language” is perfectly natural to a broken and bruised heart. 2. “The Psalm does not quite suit the situation indicated in the superscription. According to the narrative in 2 Samuel 12 David had announced to him immediately the pardon of his sin; here he first implores this most earnestly.” But that David was enabled instantly to appropriate to himself the pardon, of which Nathan assured him, is not so much as hinted in 2 Samuel 12. This must have been so much the more difficult to him, the deeper his fall had been in proportion to the grace already conferred on him. It was certainly a great deal, if, through the external announcement, he was kept from utter despair, and only received as much confidence as was needed for striving after the internal assurance of pardon. With justice does Calvin already remark: “Although God, through the promise of forgiveness, freely invites us to peace, we are still to lay to heart our guilt, that deeper pain may penetrate our hearts. Hence it comes to pass, that with the small measure of our faith, we cannot at once take in the entire fulness of the divine grace, which has been brought to us.” 3. “Here the discourse is not of one, but of many sins, ( Psalms 51:1-3) and prayer is made for improvement generally,” ( Psalms 51:6-10, ss.) But David had then actually committed more than one sin. Besides his adultery with Bathsheba, which again comprehended many particular acts of sin, upon him rested the death of Urias, and the death of those who perished with him. And then, in how many respects did these acts represent themselves as sinful, so that each might appear as a sort of assemblage of sins, for ex. it is urged on David in the books of Samuel, that he had given occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. The impenitence and hypocrisy of David also, continued through a whole year, is to be taken into consideration. But that he “sought for improvement in general,” is a necessary consequence of this, that David, like every one who seriously grapples with sin, did not stand at the mere outward appearance of sin, but pressed into its secret workshop, to its troubled fountain. Whenever the knowledge of sin extends so far, the prayer for forgiveness and sanctification must necessarily be more comprehensive. Luther: “In this sin, as in a mirror, David sees his whole impure and corrupt nature, so that he arrives at this thought: Lo! I, who have governed so well after God’s command, I, who have so finely ordered the church and service of God, how have I fallen into such an abomination, into so many great and horrid sins! Therefore was David led, from knowledge of one sin, to the knowledge of his whole, sinful nature. As if he would say: Because I, so great a man, endowed with so much grace, have fallen at once as from heaven into hell, must not so grievous a fall be to me and to all others a palpable sign, that there is no good thing in my flesh.” 4. “In Psalms 51:4, the Psalmist says, Against thee alone, O Lord, have I sinned! These words are difficult, if we hold to the correctness of the superscription. David’s adultery and murder were crimes against men.” But that we must not conclude from these words, that the Psalmist had committed sins only against the first table of the law, appears from Psalms 51:14, where the Psalmist prays for deliverance from blood-guiltiness. The difficulty vanishes as soon as it is perceived, that what makes an offence against a neighbour a sin, is his relation to God, that is, his bearing God’s image, and having God for his redeemer, so that in him God is wounded. The more lively and faithful the conviction of sin is, the more readily will the soul penetrate through the shell in these transgressions against the neighbour into this kernel. Besides, David speaks substantially the same in the books of Samuel. For there also he continues to stand only at the transgression against God, and the “alone” is merely awanting in form. 5. It is alleged, that Psalms 51:18 and Psalms 51:19 could only be written when Jerusalem had already been prostrated. For the prayer, “build the walls of Jerusalem,” presupposes that they were laid down; and, “then wilt thou have pleasure in sacrifices of righteousness,” implies that then, without a temple, and far from the holy land, sacrifices to God could not be acceptable. But the Psalmist does not pray that God would build up again the walls of Jerusalem, but simply that he would build them. We would only then have to think of a rebuilding, if, in the preceding context, mention had been made of a prostration, from which בנה might derive the restricted sense of rebuilding. But that we are to take the expression figuratively, in the sense of protecting, is clear from the entire context, from the parallel “do good,” and the analogy of that, which the Psalmist sought for himself. On the words: “then shalt thou have pleasure in sacrifices of righteousness,” to gloss: “Now with a prostrated temple are sacrifices to God unacceptable,” is quite arbitrary. The sense is simply this: then, when thou grantest our prayer, will we show our gratitude to thee by sacrifices. That in the time of the Psalmist, no external hindrance existed to the presentation of sacrifices, appears from Psalms 51:16, “else would I give it thee,”—which has no meaning, if at that time the offering of sacrifice was rendered impossible by the overthrow of the temple. To offer elsewhere than in the temple, was a thought that could have occurred to no Israelite.

Many, latterly Maurer and Tholuck, have unjustly surrendered Psalms 51:18 and Psalms 51:19 for the removal of this objection, and declared them to be a later addition. It is a groundless assumption, that these verses stand in opposition to Psalms 51:16 and Psalms 51:17. It rests upon this, that one overlooks the word צדק in Psalms 51:19. In Psalms 51:16 it is not sacrifices generally, but heartless sacrifices that are rejected, and in Psalms 51:19, hearty ones are promised. The reason suggested by Tholuck for the addition of the two verses, that as sacrifices appeared to be too much depreciated in Psalms 51:16 and Psalms 51:17, it was attempted to re-establish, as it were, their importance by this addition, is untenable, because it is not supported by a single analogy from the whole of the Old Testament. Besides, what could any one think of making by any such rectification, so long as Psalms 50 existed, and so many other strong declarations against sacrifices! Positive grounds for the genuineness of both verses are also to be found in the consideration, that Psalms 51:17 forms a quite unsatisfactory conclusion, and that the retrospect taken in these verses of the general weal, is precisely characteristic of David, and has already had preparation made for it by Psalms 51:13-15.—6. “The idea of an original corruption in man” is later than David. But allusions to the doctrine of a hereditary corruption are to be found even in the oldest portions of revelation. The account of Adam’s fall can be understood in its full compass only if in it the whole human race fell, which can no otherwise be conceived than on the supposition of the propagation of sin by generation. That Adam’s fall is the fall of the human family, is implied in the punishment, which affects not the individual, but the entire race. Everything which stands immediately connected with the account of the fall, the narrative of Cain’s fratricide, etc., is inexplicable, if we limit the fall merely to the individual Adam, and there is a breaking down of the bridge formed in the generation between him and his posterity, to which express allusion is made in Genesis 5:3, “And Adam begot like him and after his image,” (in every respect, and hence also in reference to sin, which had now become a property of his nature.) The whole subsequent relation is designed to show, how fruitfully the principle of sin, implanted in nature through Adam, developed itself. According to Genesis 8:21, the thoughts and imaginations of the human heart are only evil from his youth.

This Psalm owes its position beside Psalms 50 to the circumstance of their both alike expressly declaring the worthlessness of merely external sacrifices,—a fact from which Hitzig has rashly concluded, that they were composed by one hand.

Some passages from Luther’s very extended exposition will best prepare for its deeper understanding of it. “But that we may lay hold of the Psalm, we must know, that we have here set before us the doctrine of a true repentance. Now, to true repentance there belong two parts: first, that we acknowledge sin, then grace. That is, we must, on the one hand, have a real fear of God, and terror on account of our sin, and on the other, must also know and believe, that God will be gracious and compassionate to all who believe in Christ. These two parts of repentance has David here most strikingly delineated to us in this prayer. For he first, in a masterly manner, presents sin before our eyes, and thereafter the grace and compassion of God, without the knowledge of which men must sink into despair. But this knowledge of sin is no speculation or fine imagination, but an earnest feeling, true experience, and a great conflict of the heart with sin. As his conviction then is, so he speaks: for I confess my transgression, that is, I feel it so, that my conscience trembles for God’s indignation, and faints at the thought of death. For this is what the Hebrew word properly signifies: not that one thinks and considers with himself alone, what he has done or not done, but feels the great load and burden of the wrath of God upon his heart, and the knowledge of sin is nothing else than to feel and experience sin. And he is a sinner, who is so pressed and disquieted by his conscience, that he knows not where to turn himself. So that when one feels and experiences thus, he must obtain the further knowledge, and that also not as a poetical fancy, but as a matter of true and solid experience, whereby he learns, hears, and sees what is the grace, what the righteousness, what the will of God toward him is, who has not given him the knowledge of his sin to sink him to hell, there for ever to remain, but to raise him up again through Christ, his own dear Son. These are the two kinds of knowledge with which theology and Scripture has to do, and which David teaches us in this Psalm, so that the sum and substance of the Psalm is, that man must learn to know himself according to theology and holy Scripture. Likewise, that he must learn to know and regard God according to Scripture: not in his majesty, that he is eternal and almighty, for to a poor sinner such knowledge is terrifying and not comforting; but that he is willing to make the sinner holy, righteous, and blessed. This is the sum of all Scripture, and whosoever thinks or teaches in another manner of God and man, he errs. . . But now that such an excellent exalted man, full of the Holy Spirit, replenished and adorned with all high and great works of divine wisdom, and endowed above all others with the gift of prophecy, should make so grievous a fall, this happens to us for an example, that when at times we have been overtaken in a fault or in sin, or when our consciences frighten us with God’s wrath and judgment, we may have consolation. For in his great example appears manifestly the goodness and compassion of God, which is ready and prepared to forgive sin, and to make us holy and righteous. And in order to prevent us from resorting to the pretext, that we have not sinned, we behold this man, though he has sinned against the command of God, yet finding pardon for such sins as he did not seek himself to justify.”

First for the superscription: To the chief musician, a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, as he came to Bathsheba. On the: chief musician, the Berleb. Bible remarks: “See there a public penance by a king of Israel! For David wrote this Psalm not for himself alone to be used as a prayer, but for those also who had charge of the temple music, that he might again edify, by his repentance, the people of God, whom he had offended by his sin: and till then he had no rest in his bosom, as he confesses in Psalms 32:2.” This publicity in the confession of sin was just as great a work of God’s grace in David, as the depth of his knowledge in regard to it. Nature must have struggled hard against it. But the design of the publicity he gives us in Psalms 51:13. He would, through his repentance, lead others to the same. With justice does Luther always come back to this, that every thing in our Psalm is an indirect instruction, that David when confessing teaches, and when teaching confesses, that he only reads the Psalm in the right spirit, who in the words: be gracious to me, etc., thinks preeminently of himself, and of David merely as his prototype. The כאשר cannot fitly be taken as a particle of time. When so used it stands like our “as” only in actions, which were quite or nearly contemporaneous to those previously mentioned, comp. for example, Genesis 20:13; 2 Samuel 12:21, But Nathan’s coming to David was certainly a, year distant from his adultery with Bathsheba. The use of בוא אל also in both members shows, that the author was desirous of indicating the internal reference, which had place between the coming of Nathan and the coming of David. Nathan came to David, just as David came to Bathsheba. Where sin has found an entrance, there inevitably follows, especially with the faithful, who, more than all others, are the object of God’s avenging and delivering righteousness, comp. Leviticus 10:3; Amos 3:2; 1 Peter 4:17, the divine punishment first, that of the word, and then, when that has failed, by deed. Precisely so stands כאשר in Micah 3:4, “Then shall they cry to the Lord, but he will not hear them, he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have made their actions bad,” where Michaelis: causalis significatio includitur, magis tames justitia talionis in relations poenae ad culpam consimilem innuitur.

In reference to the relation between David’s sin and the coining of Nathan to him, Calvin makes the following profound psychological remark: “We are not to suppose, that he was so devoid of all feeling, as not in general to acknowledge God as the judge of the world, to pray daily to him, and not only to exercise himself in his worship, but also to endeavour to have his life and behaviour conformed to the prescriptions of the Law. Let us therefore understand that he was not wholly destitute of all fear of God, but only blinded in one respect, so that he lulled to sleep his sense of God’s anger by perverse flatteries. Thus his piety, which had sent forth many bright emanations, was in this department quenched.” It is only in this point of view, that David’s conduct, after the reproof of Nathan, admits of explanation. It pre-supposes, that in him along with the evil, the good principle had also been in existence, which, though long overborne, now at length immediately started into vigorous operation, as also appears from the prayer in Psalms 51:11: take not thy Holy Spirit from me. For this implies, that the Holy Spirit had not wholly left him, as it had previously done Saul. It was with David, therefore, precisely as with Peter, in whom, notwithstanding his previous fall, still faith did not utterly fail, as it did in Judas, ( Luke 22:32).

Verses 1-2

The two first verses contain the preliminary prayer: Be gracious to me, O God, according to thy goodness, according to the greatness of thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. David still does not venture again to call God his God, but in the simple word “God” there yet is for him a rich fulness of consolation and confidence. “The heathen (says Luther) speak with God after the thoughts of their heart, without and away from his word and promises; but the prophets speak with God, as clothed with his word and promises, and revealed through these. This God, if he is attired in the corporeal and beautiful form of his promises, can be known and apprehended by us, and can be seen by us with the joy of faith. But the mere God, without the word, is like an iron wall, which the more we strike at and storm it, we shall but hurt ourselves the more. Therefore Satan never dares to, ply us, that we would run against the mere God, and so do ourselves hurt. Hence David does not speak with God merely as such, but with his fathers’ God, that is, with the God, whose promise he knows and regards, and whose compassion and grace he has tasted. Now, if on this account a Turk, a false worshipper, or a Monk should say: God be gracious to me according to thy goodness, it were just as good as if he remained silent and said nothing. For he misses God, not apprehending him in such a form as that, in which he can be apprehended by us, and properly understood, but he regards God in his high majesty; from which nothing can happen but despair and the fall of Lucifer from heaven into the abyss of hell.” On the words: be gracious to me, according to thy goodness, comp. on Psalms 6:4. In regard to the plural: my transgressions, Stier thinks, that it is quite wrong to take into account, how often David may have sinned in the matter of Uriah. We have here to think of the entire impurity and apostacy of heart in general, now become evident to him. But against this speaks פשע , which always denotes a particular sinful act, and indeed a sin of such a heinous stamp, that excepting in this case David did nothing like it, in which he acted wickedly toward his neighbour’s wife and life, comp. on Psalms 19:14. Then it is also opposed by the “blood-guiltiness,” in Psalms 51:14, and the great stress laid on the particular transgression in the rebuke of Nathan. It is also by no means a sound state, it would rather be an irregularity, if the particular here at once fell back behind the general. This then acquires too readily an attenuated character. Then, according to Stier, in the “blot out,” prop. “wash off or out,” must not merely forgiveness be prayed for, which makes the done become as undone, but “at the same time the removal of the reproach, 2 Kings 21:13, or the purification, which only comes prominently out in Psalms 51:2.” But, that the prayer: blot out my transgressions, which raises itself on the ground of Nathan’s: the Lord hath made to pass away, האביר , thy sin, refers simply and alone to forgiveness is evident from the nature of the thing, as the transgressions or misdeeds, (impurity and apostacy of heart in general is not the subject discoursed of here, as was shown already), can only be the object of pardoning mercy; and from Psalms 51:9, where we have, parallel to the “blot out my transgressions,” “hide thy face from my sins,” as also from the parallel passage, Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22. Psalms 51:2 also refers only to the forgiving grace. This Psalms 51:7 shows, which resumes the subject, so that in the preliminary prayer the discourse is only of the chief, and fundamental blessing, forgiveness. The extended prayer also employs itself first of all exclusively with this, Psalms 51:7-9. Then in Psalms 51:10-12 it turns to the second, which necessarily follows from the reception of the first, the experience of the sanctifying grace of God. By the words: according to the greatness of thy compassion, David shows, that he recognizes the entire compass of his guilt. For there lies at bottom a silent contrast to the greatness of his sins. If he had felt himself to be a sinner only in a small degree, he would have satisfied himself with: according to thy compassion. But he feels, that he has need of the entire riches of the divine compassion, if he is not to be hopelessly lost. Jo. Arnd: “This is the property of true repentance, that one rightly apprehends God’s grace and God’s word, and indeed does not make God’s compassion smaller than our sin, or our sin greater than God’s compassion. For that is no right knowledge of God, and gives rise to despair, as Cain said: my sin is greater, than that it can be forgiven me. Thou liest Cain, says St. Augustine, for God’s grace is greater than all man’s misery. The holy Sirach says in the ( Sir_2:1 ) 2d chap. that God’s grace is as great as he himself is, but God himself is infinite, immeasureable, therefore is his grace also infinite; Isaiah 4 there is much compassion with him; Psalms 130 there is much redemption with him; therefore will he redeem Israel from all his sins. Now, because David fully apprehends the richness of God’s grace, therefore he says, blot out my sins according to thy great compassion. As if he would say: great sins require great compassion, I have great sins, and so thou must show toward me great compassion.” In Psalms 51:2, the reading of the text הרבה is to be taken as inf. absol. in Hiph. from רבה . The rule is that the verb, which stands impersonally, indicating only a subordinate circumstance, is placed after the chief verb, comp. Ew. § 539. But here the Psalmist has placed it before, because it is upon the much, that the emphasis must rest. This occurs the earlier, that the inf. הרבה might come the more freely and entirely to occupy the position of an adverb. The Masorites, who could not find themselves at home here, would read הֶ רֶ ב , as imper. apoc. in Hiph., a conjecture, which is to be unscrupulously rejected.

As כבס , in accordance with its primary meaning, comp. Gesen. in Thes., is always used only of clothes, and never of persons, comp. especially Numbers 19:8, where the כבס of clothes, and רחץ of persons, are united, so we must suppose, that here and in Psalms 51:7, an abbreviated comp. is found: cleanse me, as one washes a stained garment, comp. Isaiah 64:5. In both members sin is considered, in explanation of the Mosaic washings, as staining and impurity, and the sin-extirpating grace of God as purifying water.

Verses 3-4

Upon the prayer follows the grounding of it, first in Psalms 51:3-4: the Psalmist acknowledges his sin, and is therefore in the condition in which the compassion of God can unfold itself. Ver. 3. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Ver. 4. Against thee only have I sinned, and done what is evil in thine eyes, so that thou mayest be righteous in thy speech, pure in thy judgment. According to many, the Psalmist must here mention what impelled him to seek for pardon: he can no longer endure without this. So Jo. Arnd: “This is a conclusion of the following sort: whosoever is properly alive to the vileness of his sins, and has the horribleness of these always before his eyes, he is most anxious and concerned to be set free from the evil. I acknowledge my iniquity. Therefore purify my conscience from this abomination.” According to others again, the Psalmist must point to a reason for the granting of his petition: forgive me my sin, for the indispensable condition of forgiveness is now found in me. If we take into account the high importance which is attached to the confession of sin, in reference to the same event in Psalms 32, the inseparable connection in which forgiveness is there placed with it, (comp. especially Psalms 32:5) as also in the history, 2 Samuel 12:13, and in other declarations of holy writ, for ex. Proverbs 28:13,” who covers his sin shall not prosper, and he who confesses and forsakes it, finds mercy,”—we shall be inclined to give the preference to the latter exposition. But those, who follow it, with one voice draw attention to the point, that the acknowledgment of sin is not to be considered as the efficient cause of forgiveness—as such David had already mentioned the divine grace and compassion—but only as its indispensable condition. So Luther: “That little word for must be understood so, as not to imply that his sins must be forgiven him because he had confessed them; for sin, is always sin, and deserving of punishment, whether it is confessed or not; still confession of sin is of importance on this account, that God will be gracious to no one but to those who confess their sin; while to those who do not confess their sin, he will show no favour.”

On the words: my sin is always before me, Luther remarks: “That is, my sin plagues me, gives me no rest, no peace; whether I eat, or drink, sleep, or wake, I am always in terror of God’s wrath and judgment.” Jo. Arnd: “Sin and iniquity, where the conscience is evil, stand always before the eyes; one cannot lose sight of it and forget it—as the historians of the Gothic king, Theodoric of Verona, describe how having in Italy caused the two valiant men, Symmachus and Boethius, to be killed, and a large fish- head being soon afterwards set before him at a banquet, he could not get rid of the conviction, that it was the head of Symmachus, and was so shocked at the thought, that he soon died. So did the images of the people, whom Nero had murdered, come before him.”

How well grounded and deep his knowledge of sin is, the Psalmist shows in Psalms 51:4, while he elevates himself from his fellow-creatures, whom he had primarily offended, to God, who had been offended in them, and indeed so, that he only views him in them, that his whole sin changes itself, in his view, into a sin against God. This manner of considering sin, which everywhere discovers itself, where there is true knowledge of sin, must immediately heighten the pain connected with it. How must David have trembled, how must he have been seized with shame and grief, when he referred every thing up to God, in Uriah saw only the image of God, the Holy One, who deeply resented that injury, the gracious and compassionate One, to whom he owed such infinitely rich benefits, who had lifted him up from the dust of humiliation, had so often delivered him, and had also given him the promise of so glorious a future! The same manner of considering obligation and sin already appears in the books of Moses, so that it is incomprehensible how expositors should have so often stumbled here. The arrangement of the Decalogue proceeds on it: thou must honour and love God in himself, in those who represent him on earth, ver. 12, in all who bear his image, Psalms 51:13 and Psalms 51:14, comp. my Beitr. P. III. p. 604. The love of God appears constantly in Deuteronomy as the ἑ?́?ν καὶ? πᾶ?ν , as the one thing, which of necessity carries along with it the fulfilment of the whole law, for ex. Deuteronomy 10, Deuteronomy 12. In Genesis 9:6, the punishment of murder is grounded on this, that man bears God’s image. When in other passages of Scripture, the command of brotherly love is made co-ordinate with that of the love of God, this is done only for the sake of hypocrites. What, besides, immediately serves to deepen the pain connected with sin, has also, at the same time, a consolatory aspect. If David had sinned against God alone, it is with him also alone that he has to do in regard to forgiveness, and therefore he must not consume himself in inconsolable grief, that he can make no restitution to Uriah, who has been long sleeping in his grave, and cannot seek forgiveness from him.

Those, who have missed the right sense, have taken up with many erroneous modes of explanation. Thus many expound: before thee have I sinned, though חטא with ל always means: to sin towards, or against any one, comp. 1 Samuel 19:4, 1 Samuel 2:25. After the example of Arnobius, Cassiodorus, Nic. of Lyra, and others, Koester remarks: “So could only a king properly speak, who was raised above all responsibility toward man, and could easily make compensation for any injustice done to his subjects.” But before the judgment-seat of God the king is not less responsible for offences done to a neighbour, than the meanest of his subjects, and of this responsibility alone is the discourse here. De Wette endeavours to help himself in the matter, by alleging that the “thee only” expresses the inwardness of the feeling, not a contrast to the understanding.

In the words also: that thou mightest be righteous in thy speech, pure in thy judgment, the greater number of expositors have lost themselves. It appears to them incredible, that David’s sin here must be applied to the purpose of bringing to light God’s righteousness. Many, latterly Stier, have sought to get rid of this oppressive feeling by supposing that the למען stands ekbatically: so that thou mayest be righteous, for: so that I must thus perceive thy judgment, as it has been pronounced upon me by Nathan, to be a perfectly righteous one. But למען never signifies so that, always as a particle of aim, in order that, comp. Winer, and Gesen. in Thes. In the pass. Isaiah 44:9, Deuteronomy 29:18, the sig. that, in order that, is quite in place, as soon as we do not overlook the allusion to the secret efficacy of God. Others refer the declaration here, not to the sin, but to the confession of it, through which David gave God the honour of it, and vindicated his judgment from all unrighteousness: I make declaration, that I have sinned against thee alone, only that, etc. But it is hard and arbitrary to supply: I confess, especially as in Psalms 51:3, the discourse was not of the confession but only of the knowledge of sin. But, if we will only grant to the declarations of Scripture, and the facts of experience, their due weight, we shall be obliged to lay aside the aversion of imputing to God some kind of participation in sin, which had also in many other passages given rise to manifestly false expositions—comp. the investigation regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, in P. III. of my Beitr. p. 462, ss. The sin, indeed, belongs to man. In this point of view he can only escape from it by repentance. But if he does not repent, the forms in which it is to appear are no longer in his power, they are subject to God’s disposal, and God determines them as it, pleases him, as it suits the plan of his government of the world, for his own glory, and at the same time also, so long as the sinner is not absolutely hopeless, with a view to his salvation. He appoints the sinner to situations, in which he shall be assaulted by this or that particular temptation; he binds the thoughts to some determinate object of sinful desire, and secures, that they continue wedded to this, and do not start off to some other. It is from the consideration of sin in this point of view, that David proceeds, when, in 1 Samuel 26:19, he derives the hatred of Saul from the Lord’s having stirred him up, and when, in 2 Samuel 16:10, ss. he says of Shimei, “the Lord has said to him, Curse David, and who will say, Wherefore hast thou done so? Let him curse, for the Lord has bidden him.” So also elsewhere was such a concealed influence maintained upon David, as linked the sinful inclination already existing in him to a determinate object, comp. 2 Samuel 24:1, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” In the matter here referred to such a co-operation of God is quite undeniable. That David, through his own guilt, filled with sinful lust, must see precisely Bathsheba, that she became pregnant, that Uriah did not comply with the wishes of David, who, that believes in a providence generally, can overlook such a cooperation in the circumstances? Pointing now to this co-operation of God, David says here, that he must have committed so heinous a sin, that in the judgment, which God primarily held upon him through Nathan (it is only of this, not of “an internal word of judgment,” that we must think; for the result, which alone is spoken of here, could only be called forth by means of a public and generally known act), his righteousness, purity, and holiness were disclosed, and hence his name glorified land his honour increased; Gesen. in Thes. p. 1052: eum in finem peecari, ut illustretur justitia tua. It might be objected, that this allusion to the co-operation of God in the matter does not suit with this connection, because it softens the guilt of David, which must here be represented in the strongest light. But this circumstance could only appear of a mitigating character when superficially considered. There can be no stronger accusation against the sinner, no stronger testimony against the depth of his sinfulness, than his being used by God as an unconscious instrument for the glorification of his righteousness. For this is only done with those, of whom nothing can be made by kindness. Besides, the Apostle in Romans 3:4, has already followed the exposition now given, whose commonly misunderstood words are first made clear by it. He must have taken the passage in a sense, which appeared to yield the result, that human unrighteousness was not punishable, because it brought to light God’s righteousness, so that one must sin for the honour of God—allegations, which he partly refutes in the following context, ( Romans 3:6), and partly rejects with abhorrence.

Verses 5-6

There follows in Psalms 51:5 and Psalms 51:6 the second grounding of the prayer: sin is deeply implanted in human nature, “man is even in his first existence poisoned: but God desires true and internal righteousness, true and internal wisdom. What remains, therefore, but that he impart these imperishable goods to man, and that he first of all communicate to the Psalmist their foundation, the forgiveness of sin? Ver. 5. Behold in iniquity was I born, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Ver. 6. Behold, thou hast pleasure in truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part do thou teach me wisdom. The double behold manifestly points to the circumstance of there being an internal connection between the two verses, and such an one has place only according to the exposition we have given. In reference to Psalms 51:5 Luther remarks: “If one would speak and teach rightly of sin, it is necessary to consider sin more deeply, and to discover out of what root it and every thing ungodly proceeds, and not simply to stand at sin already committed. For from the error of not knowing, or understanding what sin is, there necessarily arises another error, that people cannot know or understand, what grace is.

Therefore is it a great part of wisdom, for one to know, that there is nothing good in us, but vain sin, that we do not think and speak so triflingly of sin as those, who say, that it is nothing else than the thoughts, words, and deeds, which are contrary to the law of God. But if thou wilt rightly point out according to this Psalm, what sin is, thou must say, that all is sin, which is born of father and mother, even before the time that man is of age to know what to do, speak, or think.” Calvin: “Now he does not confess himself guilty merely of some one or more sins, as formerly, but he rises higher, that from his mother’s womb he has brought forth nothing but sin, and by nature is wholly corrupt, and, as it were, immersed in sin. And certainly we have no solid convictions of sin unless we are led to accuse our whole nature of corruption. Nay each single transgression ought to lead us to this general knowledge, that nothing but corruption reigns in all parts of our soul.” The expression: in sin, refers, as the parallel: in iniquity was I born, does not refer in such a manner to the mother, as that the sinfulness of the Psalmist was derived from sinful lust in the parent at his conception—it is impossible to assign a place to sin in the birth. If we refer the, “in iniquity,” “in sin,” generally to the mother, we must explain: of a mother, who was a sinner, have I been conceived and born. Parallel is then Job 14:4, “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” But in this exposition it is strange, that the mother only is named, and not the father. Then, according to this view, no account can be given, why the rise is made from the birth to the conception. Finally, it is hard to explain: “I was born in iniquity,” of a mother laden with sin, as the mother in this first member is not, as in the second, expressly named. We must rather refer the expressions: “in iniquity,” “in sin,” to the Psalmist himself, q. d. I was even in my birth, nay in my very conception, laden with sin; in which case we are then to comp. Psalms 58:3, “the wicked are estranged from the womb, the liars go astray from their mother’s belly,” and Genesis 8:21, “the heart of man is evil from his youth.” According to this view, the doctrine of original sin, for which the church has always considered this verse as a peculiarly locus classicus, is not directly contained in it, as in Job 14:4, but still it is so indirectly, and that so plainly, that nothing but the most confused mind can deny it. For when David confesses, that even before the development of his consciousness, before the time of his distinguishing between good and evil, that even at his birth, nay at his very conception, sin dwelt in him, and had so poisoned his nature, that he was quite incapable of attaining to true righteousness and wisdom; he places himself in direct collision with those who consider sin merely as a product of the abused freedom of each individual, and leaves room for no other derivation of sinfulness, than this, that it goes down from parents to their children, according to the word, “what is born of the flesh, is flesh.” But that David considers the sin, which we bring with us into the world, not as a sort of blameless, overwhelming evil, that he considers it as guilt, in agreement with the testimony of our conscience, is evident from the עוון , which is never used otherwise, than of a delictum imputabile. In Psalms 51:6, in the expression: “thou hast pleasure,” there lies indirectly enclosed the prayer, which is expressly uttered in the second member, since, according to Psalms 51:5, man with a heart corrupt from its first origin cannot impart to himself the truth, q. d. so give thou me, therefore, the truth, in which thou delightest, and make known to me wisdom. In the exposition: thou hast delight in truth, and hence teach me wisdom, an improper distinction is made between truth and wisdom, and, at the same time, we destroy the synonymous parallelism, which from the analogy of the whole context we would have expected. The truth in contrast to lies, show, hypocrisy, is the true, upright, internal and sincere righteousness. So “the truth” is often found in the current language of Scripture, for example in Joshua 24:14, “And now, fear the Lord and serve him in righteousness and truth,” 1 Kings 2:4, “If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart, and with all their soul;” 1 Kings 3:6; “Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great kindness, according as he walked before thee in truth and righteousness,” comp. 2 Kings 20:3; Psalms 145:18; John 3:21; 3 John 1:3. טחות , prop. the covered, drawn over, denotes according to the parallel with סתם , the concealed, and according to the passage in Job 38:36, “who hath put wisdom in the inwards? or who gave to the understanding judgment?” the inward in opposition to the outward. The sig. adopted by many, reins, is without any foundation. The truth, which has its seat in the inwards, stands opposed to the appearance, which strikes out for itself a seat in the exterior.—בסתם , in the concealed, in the secret depth of the heart, which in the natural man is always pre-occupied by folly, however much he may outwardly glitter with wisdom, (comp. Romans 2:29, where τὸ? κρυπτὸ?ν stands connected with ἡ? καρδί?α ), must, from the accents and its position, be connected, not with Stier, with חכמג , the concealed heart-wisdom, but rather with the verb. In this way the parallelism with בטחות is not destroyed, which belongs to wisdom. For the region, where the instruction must take place,—that the ב is to be taken locally, is evident even from the parall. with בטחות—is at the same time that in which wisdom has its proper seat. Wisdom in connection with truth cannot be the theoretical, as many here very unseasonably think, of a spiritual understanding of the types of the Old Testament, but only practical wisdom for the life. The making known or teaching cannot refer to an external method of instruction, which might not reach to the heart, but it is internally wrought by the spirit of God.

The Psalmist points here immediately to the ultimate object at which God might help him, as it was unattainable by him with his own powers, the possession of wisdom and truth. In what follows, the way is more closely determined, by which he is to arrive at that, the method by which God is to conduct him thereto, viz. through pardon of sin and the communication of his Spirit.

Many expositors, recently Tholuck, explain: Behold, Thou lovest truth in the concealed, in the innermost Thou teachest Me wisdom. By truth and wisdom they understand the thorough knowledge of sin, as the Psalmist had represented it in the preceding context. “So manifestly does the Psalmist feel the resistance of his sinful nature, to yield itself unreservedly up under such a confession, that he owns himself indebted for his discernment to divine illumination.” But it appears doubtful the propriety of taking truth and wisdom in so straitened a sense, without any special intimation of this in the text, still more doubtful the taking of the fut. in the sense of the present, since all the following fut. are to be taken optatively. The latter doubt is removed if we expound: truth ( q. d. a thorough apprehension of sin,) desirest thou, and as this exists, so dost thou also teach me wisdom. But still the first doubt remains, so far as it respects the truth, the synonymous parallelism is destroyed, the wisdom appears strangely isolated, the: “in the inward,” and “in the concealed,” does not properly correspond, etc.

Psalms 51:7-9

After the grounding of the prayer, it breaks forth more at large, and, indeed, in Psalms 51:7-9, which carry an immediate respect to Psalms 51:1 and Psalms 51:2, the Psalmist again primarily prays for that, on which all the rest depends, for the forgiveness of his sins. Ver. 7. Purify me with, hyssop; that I shall be clean, wash me, that I shall be whiter than the snow. Ver. 8. Cause me to hear joy and gladness, the bones to rejoice, which thou hast broken. Ver. 9. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. That the fut. are to be taken optatively, appears from the imper. in Psalms 51:9. Psalms 51:7 has respect to the symbolical nature of the Mosaic law. He, who had rendered himself Levitically unclean by touching a corpse, was, according to Numbers 19:18, purified by a branch of hyssop, dipt into the water, which had the ashes of the red heifer. According to Psalms 51:4, the hyssop was significant of the divine condescension, ענוה , comp. on Psalms 18:35, which manifests itself in the pardon of sin, an ingredient of that purification water itself, and so also according to Leviticus 14:4, ss. of the blood with which the lepers were cleansed. The hyssop and the cedar, inseparably connected with it, stand opposite to each other in these laws, as in 1 Kings 4:33. The most extreme contrasts in the kingdom of the created image forth those in that of the Creator, which meet in the work of reconciliation, the highest exaltation and the deepest condescension, Isaiah 66:1-2, compare the illustration in “Egypt and the Books of Moses,” p. 183, which has not been overthrown by the objections of Kurtz, in his Mos. Opfer. p. 317. This author has not properly considered the inseparable connection, in which hyssop and the cedar stand with each other, and has treated too lightly the passage, 1 Kings 4:33, which points to the ground of this connection, nor has he reflected how invariably in Scripture the cedar is spoken of with reference. to its greatness and loftiness. The allusion of the Psalmist to the Levitical purifications appears so much the more suitable, when it is considered, that the law regards external impurity as the image of sin, and that everything, which was done in it, was a symbolical action, representing what must be done in reference to sin. This the Psalmist understood. When he speaks of purification through hyssop, he only changes, as the prophets often do, comp. for example, Isaiah 1:18, the symbol into figure. The declaration in Numbers 19:20, “and the man that is unclean and does not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from the congregation,” rung with fearful emphasis in his soul. He perceived, that it applied far more truly to him, than to the person of whom it was primarily spoken. It is false to speak in such cases of allegorizing the law. The Psalmist does not allegorize, but he discloses the great real allegory of the law.

The joy and gladness, for which the Psalmist prays in Psalms 51:8, are to come to him from that very purification, for the internal sealing of which, through the testimony of God’s Spirit, he only sought the more fervently, after he had received the external assurance of pardon through Nathan. Luther: “As if he would say: sprinkle and cleanse me so, that I may be joyful; that is, that through the word of grace I may have a peaceful, joyful heart, which shall not tremble for sin and thy wrath. I have hitherto heard long enough the law and Moses, who has a hard speech and an unpliant tongue, ill to be understood, of a very ungracious address. Deliver me now from hearing him; for nothing can be heard of him but only the anger of God. Therefore beg I of thee, dear Lord, to make me henceforth hear joy and gladness, which comes through the word of grace and forgiveness of sin, so that my bones, which thou hast broken, shall be gladdened,—the bones which were broken through the sense and terror of sin, that the law had produced in the heart.” Berleb. Bible: “When God deals with us regarding a word of life, the poor soul is brought up from the prostrate condition into which it had been plunged. That word consoles it, lifts it out of the grave, and redeems it from all its sufferings and distresses, as to it, then, this deliverance is an unspeakable word of joy. It would be very difficult to describe the joy of such a soul, which, like another Lazarus, sees itself at once drawn by means of the living word from the grave.” In regard to the words: that the bones might rejoice, which thou hast broken, see on Psalms 6:2. Luther: “The bones, however, are not alone spiritually, but also corporeally broken under such terror of the law, and anger of God, that is, all power and strength are thereby taken from the body, so that it becomes very much enfeebled.” Jo. Arnd: “What these broken bones are, no one can tell, but he who feels, in great temptations, the wrath of God, the curse of the law, the sting of death which is sin, and the power of sin which is the law. Then one experiences what the office and strength of the law is.

Verses 10-12

In reference to Psalms 51:10-12, Luther excellently remarks: “Hitherto we have handled and set forth that admirable portion of this Psalm, in which we have heard the highest articles of the Christian faith, namely, what repentance, what sin, what grace, what Christian righteousness, is, and how one may become blessed. What now remains to be considered in this Psalm, methinks, has respect to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which follow upon forgiveness of sin. Of such gifts the three next verses speak, as in the whole three the name of the Spirit is repeated, being called in the first a sure Spirit, then the Holy Spirit, and in the third the joyful Spirit.”

Ver. 10. A clean heart make me, O God, and a fixed Spirit do thou renew in my inwards. Ver. 11. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not from me thy Holy Spirit. Ver. 12. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and with a joyful Spirit do thou support me. In reference to the make in Psalms 51:10, Jo. Arnd: “He confesses in this, that such purification and renewal of heart is the work of God, and that no one could do it but God, being beyond the ability of any man. For just as forgiveness of sin, and justification, is God’s work alone, therefore also renewal and sanctification, and because it is God’s work and gift, we must therefore pray to God, for we cannot have it by any power of our own.” Calvin: “By the word making he acknowledges, that if we are born again to God at first, or after having fallen are restored, what is good in us is the gift of God. For he does not pray that his weak heart might be supported by some measure of help, but he confesses, that there is nothing good and right in his heart, until it has come to him from without.” Parallel are Jeremiah 24:7, “I give to them a heart, that they may know me,” Ezekiel 36:26, “And I give to you a new heart,” etc. 1 Samuel 10:9. The clean heart, besides here, in Psalms 24:4, Psalms 73:1, Matthew 5:8, Acts 15:9. נכון , when it is used in connection with the spirit or heart, always means fixed, so that the exposition: a prepared, willing spirit, is to be rejected. A fixed spirit may either be such an one as is fearless from confidence in the Lord, comp. Psalms 112:7, “he is not afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord,” Psalms 57:7, or a true, constant one, ready for every assault, as contrasted with the spirit of the natural man, to which every temptation is a play-thing, compare Psalms 78:37, “and their heart was not steadfast with him, neither were they faithful to his covenant.” According to the connection and parallelism, we must here prefer the latter. Because the Psalmist had formerly possessed this fixed spirit, he prays that the Lord would renew him to the same. In the expression: cast me not away from thy sight, David seriously considers the mournful example of Saul, comp. 1 Samuel 16:1-7. John Arnd: “Here he first of all confesses, what he had deserved for his sins, namely, that God might have cast him off, and perpetually rejected him according to his righteousness, as it is written in Ezekiel 33 where it is declared, that if the righteous turn from his righteousness, and do evil, he cannot live; when he sins, his righteousness shall not be accounted of, but he shall die in his wickedness, which he has done.” How the Holy Spirit came upon David, is recorded in 1 Samuel 16:13, “And Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward,”—a passage, which has often been erroneously understood of peculiar and exclusively kingly gifts, and hence it has been inferred even here, that David’s prayer has respect only to such gifts, in opposition to Psalms 51:10, where he prays for a fixed, and Psalms 51:12, where he prays for a willing spirit: gifts which are common to him with all the faithful. The contrary, indeed, is shown in the very next verse of Samuel, “And the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrified him,”—we can as little think of the loss of kingly gifts in the one place, as of their bestowal in the other,—and the same also appears from the parall. pass. 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10, according to which Saul prophesies, when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and Isaiah 11:2, according to which, the Spirit of the Lord, which rests upon the branch of David, is not merely a spirit of counsel and strength, but also a spirit of discernment and of the fear of the Lord. This Spirit of the Lord David had indeed grieved, comp. Ephesians 4:30, and in consequence thereof, he had been deprived of the greatest part of his gifts, as his prayer in the following verse shows, that God would make in him a new heart, would begin anew the work, that had been as good as completely destroyed in him. But that he was conscious of having not wholly, and to the last residue, lost him, is evident from his prayer here, “take not thy Holy Spirit from me,” into which it has been vainly attempted to shove in a for ever, (Kimchi: ne auferas in perpetuam, sed reddas,) or again, (“he speaks as now converted, after having received the Spirit through true repentance and faith,” against the whole context, in which David prays for the pardon of sin and the gifts of the Spirit, as for gifts which he had still not received.) If David had entirely lost the Spirit, he could not have received him again. For the person who has altogether fallen from grace, cannot according to the doctrine of Scripture regarding the sin against the Holy Ghost, comp. Hebrews 6:4, ss. again come to the possession of the Spirit. However deplorable David’s sin was, it was still predominantly a sin of weakness, (comp. upon the difference between malicious, intentional, and presumptuous sinning, and sinning from weakness, [Note: David’s sin, however, was not an occasion for the presentation of sin-offerings. These belonged only to such sins as had not the punishment of cutting off appointed to them. But in the actual application of this principle, the law could maintain only an objective duration, on account of the short-sightedness of those who were called to administer it.] Vol. p. 341. ss.) which did not comprehend in itself an entire apostacy, but could only lead to this by degrees through a process of hardening, nay, must have done so, if mercy had not been again extended to him.

The joy of God’s salvation in Psalms 51:12, is the joy over his salvation, which had been experienced, of the pardon of his sins and ( over) the Holy Spirit, which he had received. סמךְ? here, as in Genesis 27:37, with double accus., because to support, is q. d. benevolently to present with, comp. Ew. § 479. With Luther and others, to raise the Spirit into the subject: and let the joyful Spirit uphold me, is not suitable, as the like forms in the preceding context are given as an address to God. נדיב prop. a driven one, such a person as has in himself a living impulse to good, an internal constraint thereto, therefore נדיבה רוה , a free, noble, inspirited sense. Liberal the word never signifies, and the gradation of meanings adopted by Gesenius must be abandoned. Arnd: “Because we are naturally disinclined and averse to all good, we must pray for a joyful and willing spirit. Accordingly, the works are here thrown away, which are done under constraint of law, for these proceed not from faith. Faith does nothing by constraint, but willingly from pure love and thankfulness. Such works are well-pleasing to God, though it were only the giving of a drink of cold water.” It is on purpose that the Psalmist brings in at the end the joyful spirit. For the spiritual thank-offerings must proceed from that which he promises to yield to God, comp. Psalms 54:7.

Verses 13-15

In reference to the second chief division of the Psalm, beginning with Psalms 51:13, Luther very justly remarks: “Here the prophet first begins to speak of his good works, after he has already been justified by faith, and through the Holy Spirit has again been born anew. For the tree must be made good before the fruit, as Christ says in Matthew 12:33. Therefore has David hitherto kept silence about his good works, and prayed only for the treasure which God was to put in him by his word and Spirit. But the works of which David speaks here, are, that thanks be given to the good and compassionate God for his gifts, that these should be much esteemed, and that through means of them also, other people might be taught, and induced to come for such grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit. As pious persons in the gospels did when they were made whole by Christ. For although Christ charged them to be silent, yet they could not but declare and celebrate the goodness of Christ, so that others might be drawn also to him. Those are the most excellent works, which show that the unfruitful tree has been turned into a fruitful one.” The division falls into three parts; first, the Psalmist says positively how he will display his gratitude, Psalms 51:13-15, then he abjures false thanksgivings, and sets over against them the true, Psalms 51:16-17, finally, he passes from personal expressions of thanks to those of Zion, Psalms 51:18-19.

Ver. 13-15. I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Ver. 14. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, thou God my Saviour, so will my tongue joyfully extol thy righteousness. Ver. 15. Lord open my lips, so will my mouth show forth thy praise. To the words: I will teach, in Psalms 51:13, a then is to be supplied. The Psalmist declares what he will do, when his prayer, uttered in the preceding verses, has been fulfilled. But that this is already to some extent unconsciously done, appears even from the purpose, which he here announces. For the wish to bring others to salvation, and thereby to promote the honour of God, cannot arise in a heart, which itself is quite alienated from the experience of salvation and from the glory of God. The expansion of the purpose, which the Psalmist here declares, of the vow which he here takes upon himself, is given in Psalms 32 comp. especially Psalms 32:8, “I will teach thee the way, which thou shalt go: be not as the horse and mule,” etc. The ways of God may be the ways which he himself goes, his course, his actions, here his conduct toward repentant sinners, which David from his own experience would teach, and thereby lead others to repent, comp. Psalms 18:30, and the pass. in Gesen. Thes. Then would this: thy righteousness in Psalms 51:14, and: thy praise, in Psalms 51:15, correspond; also at the close of Psalms 32 would God’s way be celebrated in this sense. Or, the ways of God may mean those which God wills that men should go in, the course of life which is well-pleasing to him, Psalms 18:21, here specially, that the sinner repents. The latter view is supported by Psalms 32 in which, what the sinner has to do, is throughout the predominant sentiment, comp. especially Psalms 32:8, then also here the second member: and sinners shall, (through my endeavours,) return to thee, where the way of God for the sinner appears to be more closely defined as the way of return to God.

The first member of Psalms 51:14, since the Psalmist, through the whole section, occupies himself exclusively with the question, how he will express his gratitude, is consequently to be viewed as in close connection with the second. The prayer for deliverance from blood-guiltiness has to do here only in so far as it is the condition of that influence which the Psalmist was to exercise upon others; therefore, q. d. if thou deliverest me, my tongue shall show forth thy righteousness. The blood comes here into consideration, according to the “deliver me,” comp. on Psalms 39:8, only in so far as it cries for revenge, as it pursues, like a ferocious enemy, him who shed it, Psalms 7:1, therefore, q. d. deliver me from the punishment of death, comp. with Genesis 4:10, “The voice of the blood of thy brother cries to me from the earth,” Genesis 9:5, “Your blood, wherein is your soul, will I avenge,” Genesis 9:6, “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,”—which passages fell heavily upon the soul of the Psalmist, and incessantly plagued him, 2 Samuel 9:10, “Urias the Hittite hast thou slain with the sword . . . . And now shall the sword not depart from thine house for ever.” רנן , to exult, stands here, as in Psalms 59:16, poetically with a double accus., to praise with rejoicing. The righteousness of God is here also the property, according to which he gives to every one his own—to those who penitently return to him, the forgiveness of their sins, which he must grant to them according to his compassion, and which he promises to them in his word, comp. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Falsely many: the righteousness which thou extendest to sinners. This is already refuted by the corresponding: thy praise, in Psalms 51:15.

The two members of Psalms 51:15 are related to each other just as those of Psalms 51:14, q. d. if thou openest my lips to me, I shall, etc. God opens the lips of the sinner by imparting forgiveness of sin, in consequence of which he breaks forth into rejoicing. The proclamation of the praise of God, of his glory, which he has unfolded in the bestowal of pardon, appears here as the best thank-offering which man can present to God. Luther: “Therefore, if we have through faith in Christ received the righteousness and grace of God, we can do no greater work than speak and declare the truth of Christ. For what concerns external works, not only could any other persons, but even irrational beasts do, such as fasting, working, watching. It is also said, that in one respect Turks bear a very hard and laborious life. But when one is brought to confess Christ and his word, he is conscious of the joyful spirit of which David has spoken above.”

Verses 16-17

The relation of Psalms 51:16 and Psalms 51:17, to the preceding, has Luther already quite correctly indicated: “In the following context he shows the cause, wherefore he, after having now received God’s righteousness, could not refrain from praising God through the proclamation of his righteousness, and giving thanks to him.” Ver. 16. For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it thee, and burnt-offerings please thee not. Ver. 17. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart wilt thou, God, not despise. The for indicates the reason, why the Psalmist, in what precedes, offers to God spiritual thank-offerings, not because the corporeal are too good for him to give to God, but because they are too bad. In what respect it is said, that God did not wish sacrifices, is evident here, just as in the remarkably corresponding passage, Psalms 40:6, from the contrast with an actual rendering of thanks, in which the Psalmist was to take part with his mind and spirit. In this connection, the external sacrifices must have been regarded only as by themselves, and without respect to the mind of the offerer. Arnd: “Wherefore then? God himself has ordered it so. Do his own works, then, please him not? Nothing, we reply, pleases God, but what is done in faith, and from sincere love and thankfulness. Now, what God has appointed, that has he appointed for this end, that it be done in faith, in love and thankfulness. For God regards the heart, not the works.” Those who have failed to take this, the only correct view, divide themselves into various classes. Against the position, that sacrifices are not here absolutely rejected, but that a subordinate place merely is assigned to them, see what has been already said in Psalms 40:6. Against those who, following Abenezra, in an arbitrary limitation of what is said generally, make David say, that his sin was so great as to place him beyond the reach of the sin-offerings appointed in the law, it is a sufficient objection, that here, according to the connection, the discourse cannot be of sin-offerings,—the whole section is taken up with the kind of thanks the Psalmist is to offer—and in point of fact is not. The Psalmist does not speak particularly of sin-offerings, nor even of offerings in general, so that the former might have been comprehended in these, but only of the offerings, which the already justified presented, sacrifices and burnt-offerings. For that we must not render זבחים , as is too commonly done, by offerings, but rather by sacrifices, through the presentation of which the Lord was thanked for his goodness, bringing along with these the burnt-offerings, in which the man who had obtained deliverance devoted himself anew to the Lord and his service, is. Gousset, who has the merit of having gone deeper into this investigation than the recent lexicographers, must admit, that the sin-offering and the burnt-offering, are never expressly named זבח , and his position, that they are sometimes comprehended under the word, proves itself to be quite groundless in the passages brought forward in support of it, among which this here is included. Finally, the opinion of De Wette, who expounds: “thou hast now, while the temple lies prostrate, no pleasure,” has against it the complete arbitrariness of this insertion, the violence of tearing asunder the parallel passage, and the expression: I would give them, which presupposes the possibility of presenting them. On the ואתנה , and I would give them, if they were acceptable to thee, comp. Psalms 55:12. In Psalms 51:17 are the sacrifices of God, which are well pleasing to him, as appears from the contrast presented by this to ver. 16, compare the ways of God in Psalms 51:13. The plural is used to indicate more distinctly, that the sacrifice of repentance alone suffices instead of every other. The broken spirit, the contrite heart, denotes deep, but soft and mild distress, compare on Psalms 34:19, Psalms 143:3, the object of which here is the offence done to God by heinous sinning. It may be perceived, at the first glance, that the Psalmist delineates such a heart as forms the God-pleasing sacrifice and thank-offering. It might have appeared, according to Psalms 51:8 and Psalms 51:12, that the disquietude reaches its end with the experience of the forgiveness of sin. But the joy on account of received grace, which is there spoken of, does not exclude pain on account of sin. This must, especially after so grievous a fall, continue to remain. Its measure is at the same time the measure of thankfulness for the pardon of sin, of praise for the divine grace and righteousness, to which the Psalmist pledges himself in Psalms 51:13-15, so that substantially he promises here the same thing he does there. He, to whom much is given, loves much, and the consciousness, that much has been forgiven him, can only be preserved by him, who constantly mourns over his sins.

Verses 18-19

From the promise of personal thanksgiving the Psalmist turns himself, at the close, to that of thanksgiving on the part of the whole church, in order that God might the more readily grant to him, what would be gratefully acknowledged by so many. Ver. 18. Do good according to thy good pleasure to Zion, build up the walls of Jerusalem. Ver. 19. Then shalt thou have pleasure in sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt-offerings and whole offerings, then will bullocks ascend thine altar. To the prayer, that God would build the walls of Zion, and do good to it, David was led by the conviction, that his sin, in case it should not be forgiven, in case the sword should really be drawn, which, according to 2 Samuel 12:10, was not to depart from his house, must bring destruction upon the whole. The certainty of his prayer being heard for the whole, he received, when the word was addressed to him personally: “be of good cheer, my son, thy sins be forgiven thee,” and it is properly but this, for which he prays here. Then, in Psalms 51:19, when thou hearest this prayer, when thou, in showing favour to me, at the same time givest the assurance that thou wilt not throw down the walls of Zion,—this mode of speech figuratively in Psalms 89:40—but farther build them up. “Thou wilt have pleasure,” is, according to the connection, which shows that the verse must have a promissory character, and according to the parallelism, q. d. thou shalt delight thyself in them. Sacrifices of righteousness are such, as are presented by a righteous man, or upon the foundation of his righteousness, comp. on Psalms 4:5. Such sacrifices could never be without the soul, and only formally are they different from those that are purely spiritual. Only with them is God delighted, in the law itself declaring to the ungodly, that he “would not smell the savour of their sweet odours,” Leviticus 26:31. כליל , a perfect offering, is such an one as was entirely burnt. As this was done even in the burnt-offerings, of which the offerers had no part, as in the Schelamim and Sebachim, so כליל denotes the same class of offerings, as עזלה does. But it is not therefore employed in vain; for it indicates on account of what in particular burnt-offerings were promised, namely, just because they were whole offerings, in which alone the grateful mind found the corresponding expression of its feelings, the resolution of its complete and undivided surrender to God, its Saviour, of whom it was full. Berleb. Bible: “In the New Testament, such are brought, when the soul, as it were, burns with love to God, and spends itself wholly in his service.” Besides, the last words and verse, which still manifestly refer to the Olot,—יעלו1 Samuel 7:9: “and he offered it as olah wholly, כליל , to the Lord,” is against the separation of עלוה and כליל .

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 51". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-51.html.