The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 51

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 7, 2013


THIS is a deeply humble penitential poem. The psalmist, after an introductory appeal for pardon (verses 3-4), makes a confession of his guilt. It is always before his eyes: he cannot get away from it. His sin which has sprung from his sinful nature, has been against God alone. It must be confessed that God’s judgment on him may be understood by men. Even in hidden things of the conscience God demands loyalty and truth (5-8). There follows a prayer for pardon (9-14) on the one hand for cleansing, purification from his sin (9-11), and, on the other, for the renewal of spirit, that fidelity in the future demands (12-14). The psalmist then makes a promise of active work to bring other sinners to God. If God will save him from bloodshed he will publish to the world God’s mercy and goodness towards himself. The bloodshed is probably the treatment he feared at the hands of his former associates. Verses 20 and 21 are a later addition made to the psalm in the exilic, or early post-exilic period, by a writer who attached more importance to the offering of animal sacrifice, than did the psalmist.

The poem is ascribed to David and its occasion is declared by ancient tradition to have been the penitential mood produced in David by the chiding of Nathan after the king’s adultery with Bethsabee (Bathsheba) (2 Sam 12). Apart from verses 20 and 21, which are abviously not a portion of the original psalm, there is nothing in the poem which might exclude Davidic authorship. The deep pathos of the psalm, and the great emphasis on the psalmist’s sense of guilt, seem to exclude the view first advanced by Theodore of Mopsuestia, and nowadays widely accepted, that the singer in the psalm is not an individual, but the nation of Israel.

3 Responses to “Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 51”

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