Penitential Psalms 4: Psalm 51

Psalm 51 has an interesting header. It doesn’t only tell us that the Psalm is a David-psalm, but associates it with a notorious episode in David’s life: “When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” This little note makes this penitential psalm rather famous. Possibly infamous. Sections of this particular Psalm are often quoted “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God,” is one bit that is well-known. I wonder if the Psalm would be as often quoted if it were not associated with an infamous moment in the life of King David? We’ll never know will we.

One friend of mine told me that she found this Psalm hard to relate to as it was so strongly connected with a particularly male sin. She wondered whether she could make use of the confession modelled in it. I’d never thought of this. I’d heard the Psalm preached as a model of confession, but hadn’t thought that it might exclude women from confessing because of the particular association. I see how that might be the case. I don’t feel excluded by it, rather use it with my own particular failings in mind. It seems that asking God for a clean heart is a good prayer no matter what our particular sinful acts might be.

I noted yesterday that bones are mentioned in 5/7 of the penitential Psalms. Bones are here too — the penitent asks God that his formerly crushed bones rejoice. I’m still digging around on the whole bones thing. It might take a bit, but something will come of it.

Yesterday I said that I was struck by the connection of physical health/healing with sin and repentance. Just to clarify — I don’t think that all physical illnesses are a direct result of sin, rather, I think that the spiritual and physical are connected much more strongly than we sometimes think they are.


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