Saturday, July 09, 2011

Penitential psalms

I am teaching on these tomorrow.

The seven Penitential Psalms have their own special poignancy as the psalmist in each one pours out his heart to God, many times in great distress over sins that have caused him much physical and emotional anguish. The authors mix deep contrition with the hope that God’s mercy will restore them to the joy of living in His grace.

Traditionally these seven psalms have been used for hundreds of years by the church at Lent or for confession. 

What do they have in common? 

·        Physical pain and suffering.  Emotional turmoil.  It’s gone on a while (which is probably the point—more hasty confession would have avoided the suffering). 

·        Assurance of forgiveness because of covenant relationship and God’s mercy and the human’s asking/contrition.  “According to your mercy…. “  or “According to your steadfast love”  are often repeated. 

·        Hope after despair

·        Sense of moral and spiritual cleansing, and desire for it.. 

·        The truth that one’s relationship is more important than ritual. 

·        The seriousness of sin.

·        The phrase “How long?”  What does that mean?  How long do I suffer?  How long do I hold onto my sin?  How long before you come?  How long before I sense/feel forgiveness and peace again?  We are linear creatures, in time. 

How do we come to the state of contrition, great sorrow for our sin?  From others?  From ourselves?  From consequences? 

Psalm 6.  David.  Rooted in experience.  He appeals to God to forgive him on the basis of God’s mercy’s sake.  V. 5 is odd to us.  Did the Jews in the OT see the afterlife differently from how we do?  Apparently.  Now, once our bodies are dead, so are our brains, so in that sense there is no physical life memory.  Once you are dead, you are dead.  It’s a different existence.  But other psalms clearly talk about eternal life, so this is taken as purely in physical terms.  Judaism as a whole, however, even today, does not worry about “heaven” like we do; they see a final resurrection as a hope, not an intermediate existence. V. 8:  the shift.  We often see this in a psalm, as if a light goes on, he gets a second wind, he achieves hope.  Hope comes after despair, sometimes.

Psalm 32.  David.  A Maschil:  instructions.  He is teaching.  V. 1 and 2 are prominently used by Paul in Romans—that forgiveness is better than “duty” or religion.  He starts with the lesson, then gives his testimony about how he learned it experientially, although it was already a truth.  His experience didn’t make the truth, it confirmed the truth for him.  That is important.  He communicates like a male, not a female.  A female would tell the long story first.  After the Selah the point of view shifts:  God now speaks.  Notice that God will instruct and teach, and that is the heading of the psalm.  What a neat term:  steadfast love.  Sturdy, unchanging, unaffected by circumstances love. 

Psalm 38.  David.  The ultimate question:  Does illness come from sin?  Sometimes, but how it works for others is not my business.  I am not talking about abuse of the body.  We have plenty of that today, but other than drunkenness it would have been rare—not all these drugs, not enough food for obesity, everyone was physically active, etc.  Illness from abuse of the body is a modern disease.  Then of course there is stds.  But here the question is, “IF I continue in sin, will God bring disease upon me?”  In David’s case, he believed so.  In James But not in Job’s.  Not in other cases.  Also, some of this is metaphorical.  The arrows may not be real arrows, but a word for affliction.
v. 9:  This is what God alone knows.
v. 18 shows he connects his sin to his suffering.  But this is not true of everyone.  Sometimes illness just is (genetic); sometimes it is to bring someone closer to God, humbler (especially those of us who are self-sufficient)
last two verses:  remind us of Christ’s suffering; David is a type, picture of it, as his ancestor

Psalm 51.  II Samuel 11 and 12.  David.  David had been put up to public ridicule/shame.  Everyone knew; that was part of Nathan’s message.  He had been in secret but it was known to all.  Does everyone struggle under a certain sin?  What if everyone saw it as it was, ugly as it was.  Our sin means a need for redemption.  Sin is so common we can’t imagine a world without it.

Wash me:  not just forgiveness for the sake of avoiding punishment.  Desire for cleanness again.   

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,  This verse seems untrue, because he sinned against other humans.  Perhaps the emphasis is that David was so taken up with what he had done to the people that he had lost sight of the vertical element of it, which is very possible.    Also, to sin against God is to sin against people; to sin against people is to sin against God; he so closely identifies with his own.

so that you may be justified in your words  and blameless in your judgment.  God will be just in all he does.  Nathan had pronounced a judgment on him; despite his repentance and forgiveness, there would still be consequences.  They were not pretty.  Some are natural—David’s children rebelled because of his poor leadership as a dad.  Some were direct—the child died.  The child would have grown up under bad circumstances.  He could have been worse than Absalom, etc.  The death of a child seems unjust; David verifies that God is just even when he doesn’t want the result. 

A lot of people have said, Casey Anthony would get her justice in heaven.  And she will, if she stays in her sin and selfishness and never follows Christ.  Yet she could.  As much as we despise what she might have done (and I think she was just guilt of child abuse, not first degree murder), she can still be forgiven.  We are confusing the court system with God’s justice.  I was as shocked with the verdict that she had nothing to do with the child’s death as anyone, but I also think the reaction was way over the top.  60 million children have been aborted, millions of them late term.  They are the victims of our society’s convenience, just like the Israelites sacrificed their children to their paganism. 

51:5 shows the Jews understand Adam’s sin

I could write a book on v. 6.  You desire truth in the inward parts.  We lie to ourselves so much.  Sometimes unknowingly, sometimes very deliberately. 

Hyssop:  esob.  Prominent in Jewish rituals, such as Passover, dipping blood.  So the idea of atonement is here—someone has to be sacrificed for his sin.   Interestingly, later he says the rituals are not the core of his forgiveness; his attitude is.   There is no record that David did rituals for his sin, only that he went to the House of the Lord and worshipped.  Perhaps it included that. 

v. 10-12.  David asks for renewal—to go back to where he was but more also.  The renewal is not self-generated, but Holy Spirit based.  A lot has been said about “Remove not the Holy Spirit from me.”  Yes, we Christians don’t pray that, but it’s interesting that David is not praying for the Holy Spirit to be restored, only that He not be removed.  That’s a switch.  He assumes the Holy Spirit is still with him, even though he has sinned.  He needs the indwelling power for his renewal to be accomplished.  He wants his joy back as well.

13-15:  If you do this, my actions will respond by testifying, teaching, and praising. 

16-19 shows us a different view of the Temple system.  The Jews wanted it to sacrifice for righteous living and true contrition.  “I can give the animal and that will be enough, my personal life doesn’t need any changing.”   Praise is sacrifice. 

Psalm 102.  Also Messianic, quoted in NT

Psalm 130 (also in songs of ascent)

Psalm 143.  David wrote five of the seven, as noted.

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