Psalm 51 (C)

Create in me a clean heart

Psalm 51:


Psalm 51 is a beautiful prayer of confession and is used throughout Lent (although typically on Ash Wednesday) as a model for repentance during this season of preparation. If we take seriously that Psalm 51 is attributed to David as a prayer after the prophet Nathan tells him that what he did to Bathsheba and Uriah is wrong, we might expect to see David making amends with Bathsheba since she is the only surviving victim of his disgusting behavior, but the only person David seeks forgiveness from is God. This confession does not include the restitution we would hope a king after God’s own heart would provide. 

But perhaps this psalm is more about God’s character than David’s. Maybe, like David, we didn’t know how to seek forgiveness from anyone other than the God who loves steadfastly and graciously no matter what. And maybe, the experience of that kind of divine forgiveness will strengthen us to make amends with those we have wronged.

I can’t help but think of Bathsheba too. God’s love is enough for Bathsheba to express the hurt, loss, and anger, without fear of God forsaking her. God provides a place to scream and cry until there is nothing left. And God will comfort those who cannot find comfort elsewhere.

Have mercy on all of us, O God, according to your steadfast love.

The Lord’s Prayer:

Breath Prayer:  

If you are new to breath prayer, I’ve recorded some examples:

Here are some simple breath prayers to accompany this psalm:

Meditate on repentance

A simple prayer with one word on exhalation and one on inhalation: God fill me with your Holy Spirit. I receive your love and release my unrighteousness. 

Or you can split a longer phrase between inhalation and exhalation or put a phrase on both.  Here is an example: Create in me a clean heart O God and Renew a right spirit within me.

Do what is most comfortable to you.  Breath prayer is a practice not something we do perfectly.  Some days will be easier than others.

Ok, everyone, take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.

I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom.  It is a practice I have continued since.  Many churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C).  Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C.  Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others.  While we were using Psalms in year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A.  In Advent of 2020 we rejoined those who use the lectionary in year B.  Advent of 2021 follows year C of lectionary pattern with Psalms in year C.    

I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections.

Other Year C Psalm blog posts:

Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 25, 2nd Sunday in Advent instead of a Psalm the lectionary gives Luke 1:68-79, 3rd Sunday in Advent instead of a Psalm the lectionary gives Isaiah 12:2-6, 4th Sunday in Advent Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96Psalm 97Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 35, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 19, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 71, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 138, 6th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 1, 7th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 37, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 99

Lent: Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 91, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 27, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 63, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 32, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 126, 6th Sunday in Lent (Palm or Passion Sunday) Psalm 118 or 31

Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Maundy Thursday Psalm 116, Good Friday Psalm 22, Holy Saturday Psalm 31

Easter: Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 150, 3rdSunday of Easter Psalm 30, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 148, 6thSunday of Easter Psalm 67, Ascension Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 97, Day of Pentecost Psalm 104

Season After Pentecost (Ordinary Time): 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 or Psalm 22, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 77 or Psalm 16, 4th Sunday after Pentecost  Psalm 30 or Psalm 66, 5th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 82 or Psalm 25, 6th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 52 or Psalm 15, 7th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 85 or Psalm 138, 8th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 107 or Psalm 49, 9thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 50 or Psalm 33, 10th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 80 or Psalm 82, 11th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 71 or Psalm 103, 12th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 81 or Psalm 112, 13th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 139 or Psalm 1, 14th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 14 or Psalm 51, 15th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 91 or Psalm 113, 16th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 91 or Psalm 146, 17th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 137 or Psalm 37, 18th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 66 or Psalm 111, 19th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 121, 20thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 65 or Psalm 84, 21st Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 32, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 145 or Psalm 98 or Psalm 17, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 98, 24th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 46.

Sources and notes:
I think Marilyn Pagan-Banks says it best: Really, David? Thought and prayers seeking forgiveness from God alone are not enough Your transgression was not simply an affront to God. What about Bathsheba? Where is your apology to her? Why are there no words of remorse for the shame, pain and sorrow you caused this woman? You raped her Then summarily sent her back home — the stench of your semen between her legs. What about Uriah? Where is his apology? You tricked him– created an illusion of camaraderie, brotherhood, safety, You sat with him, broke bread with him, and then ordered his murder. And David, what about the child? The unnamed baby Bathsheba carried next to her heart? What about your baby–the one that became an offering for your sin? Where is the child’s apology? Oh David, King David. You’re sorry? Your confession is sorry. Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.

“We read in verse 17 that what God seeks from us is a broken and contrite heart. God does not expect us to be perfect, thankfully. What God does expect when we fall short is honest acknowledgement of our wrong, heartfelt regret when we hurt others, and a renewed willingness to learn and grow. Humility, it has been said, involves not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. In order to achieve the kind of honest contribution described in Psalm 51, we should stop thinking about ourselves at least long enough to consider how our actions might have affected someone else. We don’t always like what we see when we do this, but fortunately God stands ready to restore us and continue the long process of removing our shortcomings.” Dafler p. 57

“Most interpreters consider Psalm 51 the quintessential model of repentance and humility. Not surprisingly, the Revised Common Lectionary assigns Psalm 51:1-17 to Ash Wednesday for Years A, B, and C to mark the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. Traditionally, Jews pray v. 15 before the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy, the Amidah (or 18 Benedictions), a prayer of praise, petition, and thanks. Western Christian tradition has grouped Psalm 51 with six other so-called penitential laments: 6, 32, 102, 130, and 143, though only Psalms 32 and 51 actually offer confession. The superscription of Psalm 51 ties confession to a narrative moment in the life of David in 2 Samuel 12. In this intertext the prophet Nathan rebukes David by means of a parable after he rapes Bathsheba and arranges for Uriah’s murder.” W p. 71

“A striking rhetorical effect is produced by the repetition of the vocabulary of sin and forgiveness, expressed in twenty-one imperative petitions and used throughout the psalm to underscore the psalmist’s commitment to renewal. We are left with the image of a very humble David (if we take the superscription seriously as interpretive clue) who earns our sympathy. Interpreters have literally swooned over the emotional power of David’s confession.” W p. 73

“Unfortunately, the hyperbole of both text and interpreter serves to push the victims of David’s transgressions–Bathsheba, Uriah, and the chid born of rape who dies as punishment–into the background. This rhetorical effect is magnified by the appeals to God’s character that support the psalmist’s petitions. J. Clinton McCann, for example, things that Psalm 51 is “as much or more about God’s character than it is about human sinfulness.” God is merciful, full of grace and steadfast love, cleansing, justified, creator, restorer, sustainer, and deliverer.” W pp. 73-74

“The NRSV translates “mercy,” which obscures this feminine image of God; a better translation would be “womb-love” (Gen. 43:30; 1Kgs 3:16-28; Exod 33:19; Pss 25:6; 103:13; Jer 31:20; Isa 49:14).” W p. 74

“The psalmist names God’s womb-love as a warrant for forgiveness, which prompts associations with other God mages that challenge the dominant, violent Warrior-Deliverer God metaphor. The “disjunctive metaphor” of womb-love joins those of God as Mother in Labor and Nurturing Mother in the First and Second Isaiah (Isa 42:13-14; 45:9-10; 49:13-15; 66:10-13) to embody hope for the future of traumatized, exiled Israel. “Womb-love” also gives hope to the sinful psalmist. How ironic that the king who abused his power calls on womb-love that challenges abusive power in order to save himself!” W p. 74

“…Nathan’s parable in 2 Samuel 13:1-4 focuses on all the interpersonal sins David commits, drawing attention to all three offended parties–God, Bathsheba, and Uriah–but David in both 2 Samuel 12:13 and Psalm 51:4 names only God.” W p. 75

“The only punishment David accepts is purging with hyssop (v. 7), whose branches are used for sprinkling in purification rituals (see Num 19:6; Lev 14:4).” W p. 75

WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.

Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.

Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing. 

WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.

Creach Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.

W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020. 

W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016. 

NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Lewis, C. S. (2017). Reflections on the Psalms. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. 

Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.

McCann McCann, J. C. (1993). A theological introduction to the book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.Nashville, TN: Abington Press.

Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.

WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.

OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.

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