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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 51

 

 

Introduction

BOOK II.—PSS. XLII.-LXXII.

Psalms 42-83 are Elohistic, i.e. they use the word God (Elohim) and avoid the proper name Yahweh, probably from motives of reverence. Here and there, however, the name Yahweh has crept into the text by a natural slip of the scribes.


Verses 1-19

LI. A Penitential Psalm.

Psalms 51:1-12. Prayer for pardon and inward renewal.

Psalms 51:13-17. A promise to proclaim God's mercy and bring sinners back to Him.

Psalms 51:18 f. Prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem, which will make sacrifice possible and popular once more.

The Ps. was not written by David, and still less by David after his double sin of murder and adultery. How could David have said, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned"? Besides, the Ps. shows the influence of exilic and post-exilic literature. The mention of the Holy Spirit occurs here only and Isaiah 63:10 in the so-called "Third Isaiah." Again the conception of a "new heart" is found here and also in Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26.

It has been held by many scholars that it is the nation or church of Israel which speaks. This opinion finds some argument in its support from the missionary activity which is to follow the Psalmist's pardon, and which reminds one of the Second Isaiah. But the words "Against thee only have I sinned," are nearly as unsuitable in the mouth of collective Israel as they would be in the mouth of David. They have been taken to mean that Israel had indeed been unfaithful to its God but had done no harm to other nations, e.g. the Babylonians. What evil could Israel do the mighty power of Babylon, and what scruple would Israel have felt on such a point of international morality? Nor, again, could Israel, in spite of Ezekiel 16:3, confess that it was "conceived in sin." True, the prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem fits in with national rather than individual pardon, but probably Psalms 51:18 f. is a liturgical addition. On the whole, therefore, we may assign the Ps. to one who in Persian or Greek times had sinned against his God by undue compliance with foreign worship, but was otherwise blameless.

Psalms 51:1-12. The Psalmist "acknowledges" his sin in order that God's justice in punishing him may be clearly seen. He comes, like all men, of a sinful stock. The reference is to actual and not to original sin. True, he inherited sinful tendencies, but this is quite a different thing from inheriting guilt.

Psalms 51:6. inward part: of doubtful meaning.

Psalms 51:7. Hyssop, a plant of uncertain identification (Exodus 12:22*), was used in purification of a leper and of one who had touched a corpse (Numbers 19:6*).

Psalms 51:8. joy and gladness are the signs that God has forgiven the suppliant.

Psalms 51:10. Render "steadfast spirit" (mg.), and in Psalms 51:12 "a willing spirit" (mg.). The Holy Spirit in Isaiah 63 leads the people through the wilderness and directs them by the prophetic revelation of Moses; so also it admits the Psalmist to God's presence, i.e. the Temple worship.

Psalms 51:13-17. — Psalms 51:14. bloodguiltiness has been understood of Uriah's murder by David. That, however, was a sin already done; prayer could then only avert the consequences of the murder, and the Heb. dâmîm ("blood-guiltiness") never has the sense of punishment for homicide. It is, however, not unlikely that the word here used was misunderstood, and led to the account of the psalm's origin given in the title. It is best then to take the word as meaning "Save me from the shedding of my blood," from death brought upon me by God or man. The word dâmîm need not mean actual bloodshed (cf. Psalms 30:9): it may refer to death by disease which God sends.

Psalms 51:16. The poet does not repudiate legal sacrifice. But God, he thinks, does not accept sacrifice as in itself a proof of piety: a broken spirit is the sacrifice which He loves.

Psalms 51:18 f. is from the hand of one who did not approve the low estimate of sacrifices just given. God did not indeed allow them in the evil time when altars and temples were gone, but these being restored, sacrifices will be restored also.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Psalms 51:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/psalms-51.html. 1919.

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