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Speaking in the most general sense, the confession of sins has three primary purposes: acknowledging sin’s power in our lives, stating that God’s power is greater than sin’s inﬂuence, and reorienting our lives towards God. Psalm 51 contains each of these ideas. Psalm 51:1 blot out Blotting, erasing, or obliterating away sin is found in the verb .1
Psalm 51:2 Wash me – The verb wash ( ) is used ﬁfty-one times in the Old Testament. The primary use of this verb is associated with the cleaning of clothes by walking on them in water.2 The use of this verb to indicate washing in the psalm is only ﬁgurative.3 The use of wash in this psalm indicates the speaker’s desire to have sin’s depravity removed (Psalm 51:2, 7). The psalmist also uses other phrases for removing sin’s stain. In verse 2 along with the image of washing clothes, we have another verb , which carries the idea of being pure or of being made ritually clean.4 Before that in the ﬁrst line, the author speaks of obliterating marks. These three different verbs all bring slightly different meanings to the concept of sin’s removal. Sometimes sin might be easy to remove, just like wiping up a spilled drink and at other times, the removal of sin’s stain might require a more work. Psalm 51:3 my sin is ever before me – Sin is our condition. In the ﬁfty-ﬁrst Psalm, the author uses poetry’s power to portray thee different images of sin.5 The ﬁrst image of sin found in verses 1, 3, and 13 is one of rebellion. The psalm’s inscription gives us the background of that revolt. King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. When she reported her pregnancy to the king, he devised a scheme to have Bathsheba’s
F. Brown, S. Driver and C. Briggs, editors, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999), p. 562. 2 Ibid., p. 460. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid., p. 372. 5 James Limburg; Patrick D. Miller and David L. Barlett, editors, Psalms, (Westminister John Knox Press, 2000), Westminister Bible Companion, p. 172.
husband killed on the battleﬁeld. The king thought that he had gotten away with murder, but the prophet Nathan told David of his sin. The second picture of sin is located in verses 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 13. These verses use the Hebrew word that can mean either to miss a mark or to sin.67 This ambiguity is useful in the poem since poetry can hold both ideas together. David not only lost his way when he had an affair with Bathsheba but he also did something that was against God’s law. The third concept of sin is found in verse 2, 9, and 15. Sin is also perverse. It goes against God’s laws whether they are found in the Decalogue or the Torah. Sin bends us out of shape so that we no longer ﬁt in God’s creation. Psalm 51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned – The great Jewish teacher Abraham J. Heschel clearly tells us that when we sin we have sinned against God.8 The psalmist clearly agrees in verse 4. The danger of a na¨ve interpretation of verse 4 is obvious because when we ı appear to say that sin is a personal matter between the sinner and God we dramatically limit sin’s power. In other words, we make “cheap” sin. The idea that sin is only against God is completely “inconceivable in the Old Testament” because each and every sin damages the community in one way or another.9 . One concrete example of this understanding can be found in the psalm’s inscription. When King David states in II Samuel 12:13 that he has not sinned against the Lord, this assertion does not mean that David did not sin against Uriah and Bathsheba but instead David is acknowledging that it is God who calls us to account for our sin.10 Psalm 51:5 I was born guilty – Christians have traditionally interpreted this verse in a way, which assumes sin is transmitted from parent to child through reproduction.11 According to Mays, the view that procreation is sinful appears
Brown, Driver and Briggs, BDB, p. 306. Limburg, Psalms, p. 172. 8 Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Volume I, (Harper Torchbooks, 1975), p. 217. 9 James Luther Mays; Idem, Jr. Patrick D. Miller and Paul J. Achtemeir, editors, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching edition. (John Knox Press, 1994), p. 200. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid., p. 201.
to be impossible to support using the Old Testament.12 Even when supporting this point, Mays and almost no one else would deny that the Old Testament tells us that humans are sinful. We hear in the ﬂood story, found in Genesis, that all are sinful (Genesis 6:15; 12). The Bible also informs us that no one can be viewed as righteous when compared to God (Psalms 143:2, Job 14:4; 15:14-16; 24:4).13 It is true that the prophets in exile have some references that associate sin with birth or a parent (Ezekiel 16; 20; 23; especially Ezekiel 16:3; Isaiah 43:27, 48:8, 50:1).14 However, the underlying message from these prophets seems to be that sin is a constant problem and not just an artifact that is located at a speciﬁc time or location. Thus, verse 5 in Psalm 51 is making a statement about the human’s sinful condition not how sin is transmitted from parent to child through reproduction.15 Psalm 51:6 You desire truth in the inward being – Confession of sins is present only in a very small percent of psalms of individual lament.16 Even rarer is making confession the psalm’s central focus.17 Psalm 51:7 Purge me with hyssop – The word translated as hyssop ( ) is only used ten times in Old Testament (Exodus 12:22; Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52; Numbers 19:6, 18; 1 Kings 4:33; Psalms 51:7). BDB notes that while the exact plant is not known, this herb is associated with cleaning.18 The ﬁrst and arguably most important use of this herb is found in the Exodus story. Here the Israelites are commanded to dip a bunch of this plant into the
12 Mays, Psalms, p. 201. The view that sin is a sexually transmitted disease is problematic today since we are in an age that humans can be reproduced in new ways that do not require one male and one female parent. Currently there is an embryo that has DNA from three humans. Will this child have more original sin? We now have the ability to clone individuals. Would a cloned child have less original sin since it only has one parent? In other words, do all humans have “original sin” or is this sin only transmitted in the act of sexual reproduction. Adding to this confusion is the mad rush to patent huge portions of our genes. In this rush to make money, has anyone thought of cornering the market on sin by patenting the gene that causes sin? I know if I had this patent, I would only want a fraction of a cent from everyone who sins. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content and Message, (Augsburg Fortress, 1980), p. 67. 17 Ibid. 18 Brown, Driver and Briggs, BDB, p. 23.
lamb’s blood and then throw the blood on the door’s lintel (Exodus 12:22). This blood was a sign that an Israelite lived in the house and death did not stop there to kill the ﬁrst born males. The use of hyssop in Leviticus is for cleaning the skin disease often translated as leprosy (Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52). Hyssop is mixed in the burnt offering of the red heifer (Numbers 19:6). Speciﬁcally, the heifer’s ashes are mixed with water and sprinkled on the tent using hyssop (Numbers 19:17-18). The herb is also used in cleaning a tent where a man has died (Numbers 19:18). In 1 Kings 4:33, Solomon speaks wisdom to the hyssop, a little cedar, the cedars, and other plants. The use in Psalm 51 then should remind the listener of two ideas: how death passed over the houses of the Israelites and how the unclean are made clean in the L ORD’s eyes. Psalm 51:8 let the bones that you have crushed rejoice – There is real pain and suffering caused in the world by the sin. This occurs because God continues to let sin exist. Despite the problems that we cause, the psalmist asks for joy to come into his life. So much in fact, that he sings about it. Psalm 51:9 Hide your face from my sins – The L ORD cannot stand the sin we create. The psalmist asks the L ORD to turn a blind eye to what he has already done. Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God – The confession of sin and God’s forgiveness brings us this dramatic change because in the psalm, the psalmist asks God to do something that only God can do, create a new heart.1920 Psalm 51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence – The reality is that the same One who created existence itself can also both stop reality and remove every trace of any individual. That is frightening. The psalmist asks for God’s grace by remaning in the L ORD’s house. Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation – For the psalmist, the actions of teaching, singing, and praising all occur because of God’s forgiveness.21 and put a new and right spirit within me – The transformation continues with confession seeking renewal.22
Mays, Psalms, p. 202. Limburg, Psalms, p. 173. 21 Ibid. 22 Mays, Psalms, p. 202.
Psalm 51:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways – With forgiveness comes the possibility of a new day, one where the psalmist can instruct others in the way of life. Psalm 51:14 Deliver me from bloodshed – Actions in this life can cause the death of others either directly or indirectly. The author realizes this fact and prays for deliverance. Psalm 51:15 O L ORD, open my lips – The only way that any individual can praise the L ORD is through God’s prior work. Psalm 51:16 For you have no delight in sacriﬁce – A true sacriﬁce restricts a person’s future by removing income or children from their ﬁnancial equations. God does not like to see anyone suffer. That is one of the reasons why the psalmist states that God takes no pleasure from the pain of another. Psalm 51:17 The sacriﬁce acceptable to God is a broken spirit – While the sacriﬁcial system is in place during the Old Testament, a correct attitude are enough for forgiveness.23 Psalm 51:18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure – The author’s attention turns to the people of Israel. Psalm 51:19
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b - 6:10
23 Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering Of God: An Old Testament Perspective, (Fortress Press, 1984), p. 138.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Matthew 6:1 piety – The Greek word translated as piety δικαιοσύνη is translated elsewhere as righteousness. Matthew 6:2 you give alms – The term translated as alms is from the Greek λεη οσύνην can mean either alms or mercy (see Matthew 9:13; 12:27).24 The context demands the translation of alms. The Old Testament tells us that we must aid the poor and it also contains methods for feeding those in need (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 24:19-22).25 trumpet before you More than likely this is hyperbole and not what actually happened.26 the hypocrites – This is an actor who plays behind a mask. In Matthew, it also carries a sense of having a greater importance than others and using different means to attract attention to yourself.27 Matthew 6:3 do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing – There is no record of this saying in any collection of proverbs.28 Matthew 6:4 your Father who sees in secret will reward you – When this reward is only taken to be sometime in the next life, Christianity degrades into a gambling match that pays out when you die. Matthew 6:5 they love to stand and pray in the synagogues – One could take this to mean that only private prayer is to be practiced by Christians. The section may instead indicate that Christians should not make private prayer into a public spectacle.29 Of course, what distinguishes public from private prayer? Matthew 6:6 Matthew 6:7-15 Missing from the lectionary section is the direction on how not to pray (do not make sounds like babies) and how to pray (Our Father).
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The missing verses also have a warning that forgiveness is contingent on forgiving others. Matthew 6:16 And whenever you fast – The only required fast in the Torah is on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:31; 23:26-32).30 Fasting also occurred at other times of the year. Some examples would include national emergencies or when these times were remembered.31 Matthew 6:17 put oil on your head – This means that one should anoint your head λειψαί σου τ ν κεφαλ ν. The pouring of oil indicated richness and happiness.32 Matthew 6:18 Matthew 6:19 Matthew 6:20 treasures in heaven – See 4 Ezra 7:77; 8:33; 8:36; 2 Baruch 14:12; 24:1; Tobias 4:8-9.33 Treasure in Matthew: ωκα λθόντες ε ς τ ν ο κίαν ε δον τ παιδίον ετ Μαρίας τ ς ητρ ς α το κα πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν α τ κα νοίξαντες το ς θησαυρο ς α τ ν προσήνεγκαν α τ δ ρα χρυσ ν κα λίβανον κα σ ύρναν Matthew 2:11 θησαυρίζετε ν θησαυρο ς π τ ς γ ς που σ ς κα βρ σις φανίζει κα που κλέπται διορύσσουσιν κα κλέπτουσιν Matthew 6:19 θησαυρίζετε δ ν θησαυρο ς ν ο ραν που ο τε σ ς ο τε βρ σις φανίζει κα που κλέπται ο διορύσσουσιν ο δ κλέπτουσιν Matthew 6:20 που γάρ στιν θησαυρός σου κε σται κα καρδία σου Matthew 6:21 γαθ ς νθρωπος κ το γαθο θησαυρο κβάλλει γαθά κα πονηρ ς νθρωπος κ το πονηρο θησαυρο κβάλλει πονηρά Matthew 12:35 οία στ ν βασιλεία τ ν ο ραν ν θησαυρ κεκρυ έν ν τ γρ ν ε ρ ν νθρωπος κρυψεν κα π τ ς χαρ ς α το πάγει κα πωλε πάντα σα χει κα γοράζει τ ν γρ ν κε νον Matthew 13:44 δ ε πεν α το ς δι το το π ς γρα ατε ς αθητευθε ς τ βασιλεί τ ν ο ραν ν οιός στιν νθρώπ ο κοδεσπότ στις κβάλλει κ το θησαυρο α το καιν κα παλαιά Matthew 13:52
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φη α τ Ιησο ς ε θέλεις τέλειος ε ναι παγε πώλησόν σου τ πάρχοντα κα δ ς το ς πτωχο ς κα ξεις θησαυρ ν ν ο ρανο ς κα δε ρο κολούθει οι Matthew 19:21 Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – People pay attention to where they put their investments.
Brown, F., Driver, S. and Briggs, C., editors, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999). Fretheim, Terence E., The Suffering Of God: An Old Testament Perspective, (Fortress Press, 1984). Heschel, Abraham J., The Prophets, Volume I, (Harper Torchbooks, 1975). Limburg, James; Miller, Patrick D. and Barlett, David L., editors, Psalms, (Westminister John Knox Press, 2000), Westminister Bible Companion. Mays, James Luther; Idem, Patrick D. Miller, Jr. and Achtemeir, Paul J., editors, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching edition. (John Knox Press, 1994). Westermann, Claus, The Psalms: Structure, Content and Message, (Augsburg Fortress, 1980), Original German edition published in 1967 under the title Der Psalter, copyright Calver Verlag Stuttgart.
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