Psalms 51

Study the Inner Meaning

           

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.



Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 51      

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 51 is called "A prayer of repentance".

Its heading says it is a psalm of David from when Nathan the prophet reprimanded him after he had gone in unto Bathsheba. It's a cry of despair, full of deep repentance and the plea to be cleansed from the sins he has committed. The psalm shows a clear pattern through its words; by openly acknowledging the sin the speaker gets more understanding about the way of the Lord and about life. The psalm also shows a growing assurance and trust in the Lord and his acceptance of this cry.

This psalm, at a deeper level, also describes Jesus’ prayer to overcome the sins of his human nature which he took upon himself in becoming human. The Lord, unlike David, didn't give into temptations – John 8:46 has the Lord asking, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” – so His prayer is to have the strength to withstand the tendencies inherent in his human nature. The Lord was severely tempted in his humanity.

For us, this psalm is one we can relate to and feel is our own prayer when we see the ways in which our thoughts rise up out of our self-love or our proprium (our selfhood). True repentance is not remorse for some wrong we have done, although this can be part of our spiritual progress; it has far more to do with us giving our attention to thoughts and moods which suddenly rise up and plague our intention to be true to the Lord. (Divine Providence 121, 122)

This psalm mentions things which have to do with the Lord and things which have to do with us. Words like "mercy, loving kindness, just, judge, washing, presence, and good pleasure" speak about the Lord, while "transgressions, iniquities, evils, and sins" speak about us. The overall idea is that the Lord longs to give to us what is his, so that we know he is there with us and that he completely understands our human frailty. In being what we are like in ourselves, we will keep going astray. We continually need to bring ourselves before the Lord to be restored.

The Lord’s mercy is the His wish to save us and regenerate us, so that we will be drawn - and wish to be drawn - to heaven, which is where the Lord is. Mercy is not instant in its activity, but it is perpetual. (See Heaven and Hell 522)

‘Washing’ is another divine quality, but we need to be careful in understanding it. It is not the Lord washing our wrongs away as if they had never been done. Our wrongs may need to be brought back to us, not to taunt us, but to remind us of our need of the Lord and our wish to do no more wrongdoing. The true idea of washing is for us to ‘wash ourselves’ and to feel we have been washed, so that we can go forward stronger than we were. (See Divine Providence 151 and Apocalypse Explained 475.5)

‘Transgressions’ are evils we might do which come from a perverted understanding. (Arcana Caelestia 9156)

‘Iniquities’ are evils we do intentionally because we have twisted our thinking to justify doing them (Apocalypse Explained 475)

‘Evils’ are what we do because we are born with an imperfect human nature. (See The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 79 near the end)

‘Sins’ are evils we do intentionally because a love of evil has taken hold of us. (Arcana Caelestia 5726)

The phrase “Purge me with hyssop” means being cleansed by external truths or truths which we see and which confront us, demanding that we correlate our life to them. (Arcana Caelestia 7918)

The phrase “Let the bones which you have broken, rejoice” is describing the appearance to us that during temptation the Lord has broken us, whereas the very opposite is true, that the Lord is defending us and being our bones. So in truth, we may rejoice. ‘Bones’ spiritually mean truths because bones support the body and truths the spirit. (Arcana Caelestia 3812.8)

Overall, this is a psalm which, for us, can help us move on from seeing the number and range of our imperfections through to understanding, appreciating and acting on the truth that the Lord can and will lead us to restoration and wholeness if we go to Him.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 51      

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 51 is called "A prayer of repentance".

Its heading says it is a psalm of David from when Nathan the prophet reprimanded him after he had gone in unto Bathsheba. It's a cry of despair, full of deep repentance and the plea to be cleansed from the sins he has committed. The psalm shows a clear pattern through its words; by openly acknowledging the sin the speaker gets more understanding about the way of the Lord and about life. The psalm also shows a growing assurance and trust in the Lord and his acceptance of this cry.

This psalm, at a deeper level, also describes Jesus’ prayer to overcome the sins of his human nature which he took upon himself in becoming human. The Lord, unlike David, didn't give into temptations – John 8:46 has the Lord asking, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” – so His prayer is to have the strength to withstand the tendencies inherent in his human nature. The Lord was severely tempted in his humanity.

For us, this psalm is one we can relate to and feel is our own prayer when we see the ways in which our thoughts rise up out of our self-love or our proprium (our selfhood). True repentance is not remorse for some wrong we have done, although this can be part of our spiritual progress; it has far more to do with us giving our attention to thoughts and moods which suddenly rise up and plague our intention to be true to the Lord. (Divine Providence 121, 122)

This psalm mentions things which have to do with the Lord and things which have to do with us. Words like "mercy, loving kindness, just, judge, washing, presence, and good pleasure" speak about the Lord, while "transgressions, iniquities, evils, and sins" speak about us. The overall idea is that the Lord longs to give to us what is his, so that we know he is there with us and that he completely understands our human frailty. In being what we are like in ourselves, we will keep going astray. We continually need to bring ourselves before the Lord to be restored.

The Lord’s mercy is the His wish to save us and regenerate us, so that we will be drawn - and wish to be drawn - to heaven, which is where the Lord is. Mercy is not instant in its activity, but it is perpetual. (See Heaven and Hell 522)

‘Washing’ is another divine quality, but we need to be careful in understanding it. It is not the Lord washing our wrongs away as if they had never been done. Our wrongs may need to be brought back to us, not to taunt us, but to remind us of our need of the Lord and our wish to do no more wrongdoing. The true idea of washing is for us to ‘wash ourselves’ and to feel we have been washed, so that we can go forward stronger than we were. (See Divine Providence 151 and Apocalypse Explained 475.5)

‘Transgressions’ are evils we might do which come from a perverted understanding. (Arcana Caelestia 9156)

‘Iniquities’ are evils we do intentionally because we have twisted our thinking to justify doing them (Apocalypse Explained 475)

‘Evils’ are what we do because we are born with an imperfect human nature. (See The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 79 near the end)

‘Sins’ are evils we do intentionally because a love of evil has taken hold of us. (Arcana Caelestia 5726)

The phrase “Purge me with hyssop” means being cleansed by external truths or truths which we see and which confront us, demanding that we correlate our life to them. (Arcana Caelestia 7918)

The phrase “Let the bones which you have broken, rejoice” is describing the appearance to us that during temptation the Lord has broken us, whereas the very opposite is true, that the Lord is defending us and being our bones. So in truth, we may rejoice. ‘Bones’ spiritually mean truths because bones support the body and truths the spirit. (Arcana Caelestia 3812.8)

Overall, this is a psalm which, for us, can help us move on from seeing the number and range of our imperfections through to understanding, appreciating and acting on the truth that the Lord can and will lead us to restoration and wholeness if we go to Him.

From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 301


Other references to this chapter:

Arcana Coelestia 2180, 3147, 3812, 4007, 5385, 7918, 8339, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 140, 254, 378, 392, 507

Divine Love and Wisdom 383

Doctrine of the Lord 49

Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 87

True Christian Religion 143, 156, 158, 252, 573, 671, 773


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 167, 183, 196, 294, 391, 475, 660

Coronis (An Appendix to True Christian Religion) 23

Scriptural Confirmations 14, 89

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Numbers 19:18

2 Samuel 11:4, 12:1, 9, 13

2 Kings 17:18, 20, 23, 22:19

1 Chronicles 29:17

Job 9:30, 14:4

Psalms 24:4, 32:5, 34:19, 35:10, 40:7, 41:5, 58:4, 71:15

Isaiah 1:18, 43:25, 57:15, 66:2

Jeremiah 5:3, 12:1

Ezekiel 33:11, 36:25

Micah 6:7

Luke 1:64, 18:13, 22:32

Acts 15:9

Romans 3:4

Hebrews 10:6

1 John 1:8

Bible Word Meanings

mercy
In regular language, "mercy" means being caring and compassionate toward those who are in poor states. That's a position we are all in relative to...

God
When the Bible speaks of "Jehovah," it is representing love itself, the inmost love that is the essence of the Lord. That divine love is...

mercies
In regular language, "mercy" means being caring and compassionate toward those who are in poor states. That's a position we are all in relative to...

Transgressions
'Transgressions' or 'trespasses' denote such evils as are done against the truths of faith.

iniquity
In the Word three terms are used to mean bad things that are done. These three are transgression, iniquity, and sin, and they are here...

sin
In the Word three terms are used to mean bad things that are done. These three are transgression, iniquity, and sin, and they are here...

evil
'Wickedness' signifies evil, and 'iniquity' signifies falsities.

sight
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

mother
In general, mothers in the Bible represent the Lord's church on earth, or the church among those who know and follow the Lord. In some...

truth
There's a great deal of talk in Swedenborg about "truth" as a concept – it's how we learn the Lord's will, what we must seek...

know
In a general sense, men represent things of the intellect – facts, ideas, knowledge, everything from the deepest truths to the most pernicious falsities about...

Wisdom
Throughout the Word, a distinction is made between wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge. 'Wisdom' means from good, 'intelligence' is from truth, and 'knowledge' is in a...

Hyssop
'Hyssop,' as mentioned in Exodus 12:22, signifies external truth, which is a medium of purification. It also signifies external good. See Numbers 19:6, 18....

snow
'Snow' signifies truth in extremes, because it is water, which signifies the truths of faith. It also relates to truth because it is white. 'Snow,'...

hear
Thanks to modern science, we now understand that hearing actually happens in the brain, not the ears. The ears collect vibrations in the air and...

bones
Bones are strong and supportive, providing a framework for our bodies and making motion and action possible. They are also the least "alive" part of...

hide
'To hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains,' as mentioned in Revelation 6:15, signifies being in evils and in falsities...

face
“The eyes are the windows of the soul.” That’s a sentiment with roots somewhere in murky antiquity, but one that has become hopelessly cliché because...

sins
In the Word three terms are used to mean bad things that are done. These three are transgression, iniquity, and sin, and they are here...

iniquities
In the Word three terms are used to mean bad things that are done. These three are transgression, iniquity, and sin, and they are here...

Create
The creation of heaven and earth in the first chapter of Genesis means the new creation of the celestial church called 'Man'.

clean
To be "pure" in the Bible means - unsurprisingly - to be devoid of evil. Thus all the washing for purification prescribed in the Laws...

heart
The heart means love. A good heart means love to the Lord and to the neighbor while a hard or stony heart means the love...

holy
'Sanctuary' signifies the truth of heaven and the church. 'Sanctuary,' as in Ezekiel 24:21, signifies the Word.

Holy spirit
In the Word, the 'Holy spirit' means divine truth, and also the divine virtue and operation that proceed from God. (True Christian Religion 139)In another...

restore
Everyone knows the phrase "the natural order of things." It means that everything is in its proper place, occupying the niche it is meant to...

ways
'To set a way,' as in Genesis 30:36, signifies being separated.

tongue
'The tongue,' as an organ, signifies doctrine, but as speech, or language, it signifies religion. 'Tongue' signifies perception of truth with respect to speech, and...

righteousness
The word "righteous" has taken on a bit of negative shading in modern language. That may be because we hear it most often as part...

open
To open,' as in Revelation 9, signifies communication and conjunction.

lips
'A lip' signifies doctrine. A lip,' as in Isaiah 6:3, 7, signifies the interior parts of a person, consequently, internal worship, where adoration is grounded....

mouth
In most cases, "mouth" in the Bible represents thought and logic, especially the kind of active, concrete thought that is connected with speech. The reason...

shew
'Shew' signifies instruction to the life.

give
Like other common verbs, the meaning of "give" in the Bible is affected by context: who is giving what to whom? In general, though, giving...

broken
To “break” something creates an image that is much different from “attacking,” “destroying,” or “shattering.” It is less emotional, less violent in its intent; it...

despise
We tend to think of "despising" something or someone as just a strong way of expressing dislike, but there is a further shade of meaning...

pleasure
'To be satisfied with favor' signifies being filled with the good of love, and 'to be full with the blessings of the Lord' signifies being...

Zion
Zion, in 1 Kings 8:1 and Revelation 14:1 signifies heaven and the church where the Lord alone is worshipped. (Apocalypse Revealed 612). Zion, in the...

build
There are really two meanings for "build" in the Bible. When something is being built for the first time, or built in the most typical...

jerusalem
Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, signifies the doctrine of love to the Lord, and how it governs your life. Jerusalem first comes to our attention in...

altar
The first altar mentioned in the Word was built by Noah after he came out of the ark. On that altar, he sacrificed clean animals...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Create in Me a Clean Heart
This project can help us think about whether our thoughts and actions are creating a clean heart within us or not. If we are working with the Lord on having a clean heart, it can improve our marriage and our relationship with the Lord as well. 
Project | Ages over 11

 Lord Helps Us Have a Loving Heart
It is the Lord who gives us true marriage love and who helps us make our hearts "clean" so make a picture of the Lord in the center of a large paper heart and put gold glitter all around! 
Project | Ages up to 6

 Prayers for Adults: The Holy Supper
Activity | Ages over 18

 Prayers for Teens: The Holy Supper
Activity | Ages 15 - 17


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