Psalm 51

A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had come to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, as befits Your faithfulness; in keeping with Your abundant compassion, blot out my transgressions. (51:1-3)

When President Clinton was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, as the question of impeachment was swirling around and before the President had made any statement of contrition, the Reverend Billy Graham famously appeared on the “Today” show and said, “I forgive him.”

The Clinton/Lewinsky story resonates with the Biblical story of David and Batsheva, in which David slept with Batsheva, then married to Uriah, and upon discovering that she was pregnant, brings Uriah back from a battle to sleep with his wife and thus cover up the adultery. Uriah refuses to sleep with her, saying “[Your soldiers] are camped out in the open, how can I go home and eat and drink and sleep with my wife?” Thereupon, David sends him back to the battle with a note to the general to place Uriah in the front line, and then fall back and let him be killed. David was later told by his prophet Nathan that God would forgive him, but only after Nathan condemned him for what he had done and David, as related in 2 Samuel 11 and in this Psalm, acknowledged his guilt.

I have always been troubled by the fact that the Rev. Graham forgave the President even before he admitted that his actions were wrong. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, on the other hand, didn’t come out publicly in support of the president for several more days, until the president’s “I have sinned” speech. The example of King David demonstrates that one needs to fully acknowledge one’s guilt before the process of repentance and restoration can begin.

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3 thoughts on “Psalm 51

  1. Oh, I see. The parallel struck me after reading your commentary, and I was curious. Thanks so very much for taking the time to explain.

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    • You would think so, but the only two verses of Psalm 51 that are liturgical are 51:17, “Adonai, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise” (precedes every Amidah, the main Jewish silent prayer); and 51:20, “May it please You to make Zion prosper; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem” (part of a set of verses recited while taking out the Torah on Shabbat and Holidays).

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