Psalms Chapter 51:1-13 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, October 11, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:
1. Psalms Volume 1: NIV Application Commentary by Gerald Wilson

2. Psalms: Revised Expositor’s Commentary by Willem Van Gemeren

3. Baker Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas

Ps 51
This is the fourth of seven penitential psalms (Ps 6, 32, 38,51,102, 130, 142) where confession and repentance from personal sin are the focus. It also marks the introduction to the second set of Davidic psalms (51-71, skipping 66-67). (Wilson, Van Gemeren)

A Prayer for Individual Restoration (v.1-2)
B Confession and Contrition (v. 3-6)
C Prayer for Restoration (v.7-12)
B Thanksgiving(v.13-17)
A Prayer for National Restoration (v.18-19)(Van Gemeren)

Have mercy/be gracious: Hebrew verb hanan

Sin makes person’s access to divine blessing null. God promises to forgive, based solely on his love and compassion (Ex 34:6-7). Thus the psalmist’s appeal to God’s faithful or unfailing love (Hebrew hesed)(Van Gemeren, Wilson)

Forgiveness is an act of divine grace in which sin is blotted out and the sinner cleansed (Ex 32:32, Num 5:23, Ps 32:2). It is spoken of in verbs of cleansing: “blot out” (Hebrew mhh, wiping away dirt from the mouth or a plate), “wash away” (Hebrew kbs, a form of cleansing where things are cleaned by trampling on them in water) and cleanse (Hebrew thr, “sweep, scour”. Used with the preposition min, as here, the term is often used of ceremonial cleansing before temple ritual).(Van Gemeren, Wilson)

The psalmist also uses three nouns for sin: Hebrew pesa “rebellion, transgression”, awon “guilt, iniquity” and hattat”sin”. The use of multiple terms is comprehensive, including all sin. Verse 3 confirms this even though it only uses pesa and hattat. (Wilson)

Ps 51:3-4
Psalmist opens his heart in order to receive forgiveness. He confesses his knowledge of his sins “I am conscious” (Hebrew yada). As well as his contrition- sorrow mixed with a commitment to not repeat the offense. He understands that sin is ultimately against God, and that God is a just judge “you are right” (Hebrew sedeq).(Van Gemeren, Wilson)

Sin is when man ignores divine law and lives according to his own sinful nature (Job 14:4, Rom 7:18)(Van Gemeren)

Ps 51:4
Against you, you alone: This may seem to ignore the offense against Bathsheba, Uriah, and Israel, but the point is that God is the ultimate source of right and wrong, and judge of actions as well. It is He who metes out punishment for sin or forgives the sin. It is also possible on a political reading that David was limiting the right of attacking him for Uriah’s death to God, to prevent Uriah’s family or political enemies from using the incident against him.(Wilson, BBCOT)

You are right, you are blameless: For the psalmist confesses his sin, and also, as in v.5, the idea is that man is sinful by nature, thus judgment and punishment is only fair. (Wilson)

Guilty when born, sinful when conceived: Sexual activity was commonly held to make one ritually impure before gods in ANE, but within marriage was not considered sinful. The ancient Israelites did not have a conception of original sin, just man’s natural sinfulness. (BBCOT)

Ps 51:6
“Integrity/truth”, Hebrew emet is what God desires in man. Man is sinful by nature (Rom 3:9-20, 7:14)(Van Gemeren)

Verse 6 can be read several ways: “Surely you desire truth in the inner self, so teach me wisdom within” or “Though you hide truth in darkness, through that mystery you teach me wisdom” or even “Since you prefer truth to cleverness and secret knowledge, teach me wisdom”. The idea seems to be that only by receiving divine wisdom from outside himself can man become whole within. (Van Gemeren)

Inner self/ inner parts: Hebrew hattukhot, an obscure term. The meaning seems to be that the inner person, the secret self, should match the outward self we project for our fellows. David says God teaches men to be the decent people they act before their fellows. (Wilson)

Another notion is that the inner parts refers to fetuses, that men know the difference between right and wrong even while being born, and thus have no excuse for sin through ignorance.(BBCOT)

Ps 51:7-9
Hyssop:Not likely the actual hyssop, but members of the majoram and thyme families of aromatic plants, for true hyssop only grows in Southern Europe. Branches of these aromatic bushes with red or blue flowers would be bound together and dipped in water to then sprinkle people or things requiring purification.(Wilson)

“Wash”- trampling clothes or material in water to force out the dirt.(Wilson)

The sinner psalmist asks God to purify him as a priest would, sprinkling him with hyssop and declaring him clean.(Van Gemeren)

“Whiter than snow” describes clean clothes, and thus implies cleannes and newness (Is 1:18, Rev 3:4-5, 4:4)(van Gemeren)

Ps 51:8
Crushing bones is a metaphor for the effects of sin. God is one doing the crushing, meting out punishment for sin as cosmic judge. (Wilson)

Joy comes from God (Is 65:17-18). Joy is more than emotional elation; it is contented resting in God, knowing one has peace with Him. (Rom 5:1) (Van Gemeren)

Ps 51:9
Turn away/ hide your face from my sins: To hide the face is to ignore something. Usually hiding the face is used of God punishing people by allowing them to experience the effects of their sin. Here David asks God to ignore his sins, to blot them out, like erasing them from the ledger.(Van Gemeren)

Ps. 51:10-11
Communion with God and morality are not natural gifts but supernatural graces (Jer 24:7; 31:33, 32:39; Ezk 11:19, 18:31, 36:26; 2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10, 4:24). Isaiah uses similar language to describe the restoration of the world from sin and God’s judgment and condemnation (Is 65:17-18)(Van Gemeren)

Without internal renewal the psalmist fears divine rejection, as happened to Saul, with consequent failure of his political dynasty. (1 Sam 16:14). Spiritual renewal always leads to godliness and wisdom (Dt 5:29, 30:6: Is 59:21; Jer 31:33-34, Ezk 36:26-27)(Van Gemeren, BBCOT)

Ps 51:13
The psalmist’s expectation of renewal leads him to promise public acts extolling God that would educate other sinners by allowing them to learn from the psalmist’s example or redemption and renewal from sin by God’s grace. It is also that renewed godliness leads to concern about others’ relationship with God. (Wilson, Van Gemeren)


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