Psalms 51-57

psalm 51#51

We’re back to David’s writings for a while. Oh goodie. Supposedly David wrote this psalm while doing penance for his affair with Bathsheba. This masterpiece confirms David’s reputation as the ultimate politician, the master manipulator who lies through his teeth and always says what the people want to hear. He sure talks a good talk about repentance, but we know from reading about his exploits that his apology means nothing and his behavior will not change a bit. A few lines are worth consideration. Verse 5 “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” reinforces the concept of original sin. And how about the figures of speech from the KJV that are still part of our language today: “whiter than snow” (v 7), “broken spirit”, and “contrite heart” (v 17).

The words of verses 10-11 are so familiar to me that when I saw them, I could recite them from memory. But I can’t remember where I know them from. A search of google and YouTube resulted in many many hits for song lyrics and prayers. I suspect I have sung them as part of an anthem or choral work but couldn’t find the specific one.

Verse 15 is part of the opening of an Anglican Morning Prayer (Matins) service, sung in responsive fashion (the priest reads the first half of the verse and the congregation responds with the second half). I can sing it in my sleep. This psalm is a prime example of cherry-picking – I can guarantee that wherever I remember these familiar verses from, I was unaware of the context in which they were originally written.


This begins with an intro explaining that David wrote it after learning that Doeg the Edomite had betrayed Abimelech to Saul. This story is in 1 Samuel 21 and 22. Doeg’s betrayal led Saul to wipe out Abimelech and his whole family, as well as others, and David feels responsible. The words make sense in this context. Clearly David is vowing (hoping?) that Doeg will get his come-uppance in the form of divine retribution. But at the end, there is David playing teacher’s pet again, asserting that HE would never do anything like that!


Probably the most quoted psalm by apologists: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” Read the whole thing; it’s quite a diatribe.


David is ruminating about the Ziphites ratting him out to Saul (1 Samuel 1). This psalm follows a familiar and predictable pattern – David gets upset like this every time things don’t go his way. He becomes paranoid. He imagines in detail all the ways to inflict vengeance on his enemies. He frets and whines to Yahweh to bail him out. There are still almost 100 more psalms to go; this theme is getting stale already.


More of the same, mostly. But v 6-7 is another little banality that has been plucked out and used for memes and song lyrics.

And so is verse 22 – Mendelssohn used it for a chorus number in his oratorio Elijah, even though obviously it has nothing to do with the story of Elijah. But I didn’t know that, even when I sang it in a performance of Elijah! And funny how these composers always stop quoting when the words turn nasty – Mendelssohn didn’t continue the lyrics with v 23 – wonder why? (haha)


This follows the predictable pattern from #54. Nothing more to say.



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