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New American Bible

2002 11 11
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Chapter 51


1 For the leader. A psalm of David,


when Nathan the prophet came to him after his affair with Bathsheba.


Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.


Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.


For I know my offense; my sin is always before me.


Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight That you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn.


2 True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.


Still, you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost being teach me wisdom.


3 Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.


Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.


Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt.


A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.


Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit.


Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.


I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.


Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power.


Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.


4 For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.


My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.


5 Make Zion prosper in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.


Then you will be pleased with proper sacrifice, burnt offerings and holocausts; then bullocks will be offered on your altar.


1 [Psalm 51] A lament, the most famous of the seven Penitential Psalms, prays for the removal of the personal and social disorders that sin has brought. The poem has two parts of approximately equal length: Psalm 51:3-10 and Psalm 51:11-19, and a conclusion in Psalm 51:20-21. The two parts interlock by repetition of "blot out" in the first verse of each section ( Psalm 51:3, 11), of "wash (away)" just after the first verse of each section ( Psalm 51:4) and just before the last verse ( Psalm 51:9) of the first section, and of "heart," "God," and "spirit" in Psalm 51:12, 19. The first part ( Psalm 51:3-10) asks deliverance from sin, which is not just a past act but its emotional, physical, and social consequences. The second part ( Psalm 51:11-19) seeks something more profound than wiping the slate clean: nearness to God, living by the spirit of God ( Psalm 51:12-13), like the relation between God and people described in Jeremiah 31:33-34. Nearness to God brings joy and the authority to teach sinners ( Psalm 51:15-16). Such proclamation is better than offering sacrifice ( Psalm 51:17-19). The last two verses ask for the rebuilding of Jerusalem ( Psalm 51:19 [20-21]).

2 [7] A sinner, even as my mother conceived me: literally, "In iniquity was I conceived," an instance of hyperbole: at no time was the psalmist ever without sin. Cf Psalm 88:15, "I am mortally afflicted since youth," i.e., I have always been afflicted. The verse does not imply that the sexual act of conception is sinful.

3 [9] Hyssop: a small bush whose many woody twigs make a natural sprinkler. It was prescribed in the Mosaic law as an instrument for sprinkling sacrificial blood or lustral water for cleansing. Cf Exodus 12:22; Lev 14:4; Numbers 19:18.

4 [18] For you do not desire sacrifice: the mere offering of the ritual sacrifice apart from good dispositions is not acceptable to God. Cf Psalm 50.

5 [19(20-21)] Most scholars think that these verses were added to the psalm some time after the destruction of the temple in 587 B.C. The verses assume that the rebuilt temple will be an ideal site for national reconciliation.

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