Psalm 51:1-17

Psalm 51:1-17
Ash Wednesday ABC


To the leader.A A PsalmB of David,C when the prophet NathanD came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.E

Notes on the superscription

A “leader” = natsach. Properly, something that glitters from a distance. So, something that stands out, excels, has status/standing (such as a chief musician or superintendent of Temple services). This can also mean to be permanent or enduring.
B “psalm” = mizmor. From zamar (making music; used specially of music to worship God; music with singing, singing praise, singing psalms); may be from zamar (to trim or prune). This is a melody or a psalm.
C “David” = David. From the same as dod (beloved, love, uncle); the root may mean to boil, which is used figuratively to describe love. So, this implies someone you love such as a friend, a lover, or a close family member like an uncle. David’s name likely means something like “beloved one.”
D “Nathan” = natan. From natan (to give, put, set, offer; to give literally or figuratively). This is Nathan, meaning “given” or “[God] gives.”
E “Bathsheba” = bath-sheba. 11x in OT. From bath (daughter in a literal or figurative sense; can also be branch) {from ben (son literal or figurative; also, grandson, subject, nation); from banah (to build or obtain children)} + perhaps shaba (to swear, curse, vow, make a covenant; properly, to be complete; this is to seven oneself – as in affirming something so strongly it is as though it were said seven times) {perhaps from sheba (seven – the number of perfection/sacred fullness)}. This is Bathsheba, perhaps meaning “daughter of oath.”

1 Have mercyF on me, O God,G
    according to your steadfast love;H
according to your abundant mercyI
    blot outJ my transgressions.K

Notes on verse 1

F “have mercy” = chanan. This is to beseech, show favor, be gracious; properly, to bend in kindness to someone with less status.
G “God” = Elohim.
H “steadfast love” = chesed. From chasad (being good, kind, merciful; may mean bowing one’s neck as is done in the presence of an equal for courtesy’s sake; so, if one in a superior position is treating you like an equal, that is what is captured here). This is favor, goodness, kindness, loving kindness, pity, reproach, or a good deed. When done by God to humanity, this is mercy/loving kindness. When done by humanity to God, it is piety.
I “mercy” = racham. From the same as rechem (womb); from racham (to love, have compassion, have mercy); from racham (compassion, tender love, womb, compassion; the womb as that which cherishes the fetus). This is compassion, mercy, or tender love.
J “blot out” = machah. Properly, wipe or rub, which implies erasing. It can also mean greasing something with oil or fattening it. This can be wipe out, blot, or destroy.
K “transgressions” = pesha. From pasha (to rebel, offend, quarrel; making a break from proper authority so can also refer to an apostate). This is transgression, rebellion, or sin. It could be a revolt on a national scale or an individual moral one.

2 WashL me thoroughlyM from my iniquity,N
    and cleanseO me from my sin.P
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is everQ before me.

Notes on verses 2-3

L “wash” = kabas. This is wash or fuller. Properly, it means to trample so washing by stomping with feet. Can also be washing in a figurative sense.
M “thoroughly” = rabah. Generally, this word means to be or become much or many, to enlarge, excel, or increase. Here it is in a causative form (so, more literally “cause to increase the washing of me.”)
N “iniquity” = avon. Perhaps related to avah (to bend, twist, be amiss). This is sin, mischief, guilt, fault, punishment for iniquity, or moral evil.
O “cleanse” = taher. This is properly being bright, which implies being pure or clean. This word can also mean purge, cleanse, or purify. It can be clean in a ritual sense or a moral one (i.e. moral or holy).
P “sin” = chatta’ah. From chata’ (to miss or go wrong and so to sin, bear the blame; it can also include the sense of forfeiting or lacking). This is sin itself as well as punishment for sin. It is sometimes used specifically to refer to sin that is habitual.
Q “ever” = tamid. May come from a word that means to stretch. This word means an indefinite period of time. So, it could be regular or daily. It could also be constantly, continually, always, or perpetually.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,R
    and done what is evilS in your sight,
so that you are justifiedT in your sentence
    and blamelessU when you pass judgment.V

Notes on verse 4

R “sinned” = chata. Related to “sin” in v2. See note P above.
S “evil” = ra’. From ra’a’ (to be evil, bad, afflict; properly, to spoil – to destroy by breaking into pieces; figuratively, to cause something to be worthless; this is bad in a physical, social, or moral sense; that which displeases, to do harm or mischief, to punish or vex). This is bad, disagreeable, that which causes pain, misery, something having little or no value, something that is ethically bad, wicked, injury, calamity. This refers to anything that is not what it ought to be – a natural disaster, a disfigurement, an injury, a sin.
T “justified” = tsadeq. From tsedeq (rightness, righteousness, just cause, vindication; that which is right in a natural, moral, or legal sense; abstractly equity; figuratively prosperity). This is being just or righteousness. It refers to right in a moral or legal sense. So, it can be doing justice, clearing oneself, or turning to righteousness.
U “blameless” = zakah. 8x in OT. This is being clear or see through, so figuratively it means being innocent or blameless. It can also be clear, cleansed, justified, or pure.
V “pass judgment” = shaphat. This is to judge, defend, pronounce judgment, condemn, or govern. It can refer to God judging or to human judges. This is pronouncing a verdict in favor or against so it implies consequences or punishment. It can also mean to litigate or govern as one with authority.

Indeed,W I was bornX guilty,Y
    a sinnerZ when my mother conceivedAA me.

Notes on verse 5

W “indeed” = hen. This is a remark of surprise or excitement: lo! Behold! It can also mean if or though.
X “born” = chul. This is whirling around so dancing as in a circle or writhing in pain. It is used particularly for the pain of childbirth or from writhing due to fear. It can also be falling in pain or waiting.
Y “guilty” = avon. Same as “iniquity” in v2.
Z “sinner” = chet. Related to “sin” in v2 & “sinned” in v4. From chata (see note P above). This is sin and also the punishment for sin.
AA “conceived” = yacham. 10x in OT. Properly, to be hot. Used for mating and conceiving.

BBYou desireCC truthDD in the inward being;EE
    therefore teachFF me wisdomGG in my secret heart.HH

Notes on verse 6

BB {untranslated} = hen. Same as v5. See note W above.
CC “desire” = chaphets. Properly, this means inclined towards or bending to. Figuratively, it means to desire, delight in, or be pleased with.
DD “truth” = emet. From aman (to believe, endure, fulfill, confirm, support, be faithful, put one’s trust in, be steadfast. Figuratively, this is to be firm, steadfast, or faithful, trusting, believing, being permanent, morally solid). This is firmness or stability. Figuratively, it is faithfulness, truth, or trustworthiness. This is the same root that “amen” comes from.
EE “inward being” = tuchah. 2x in OT. From tuach (to coat, smear, overlay; to plaster over, especially with lime) OR from tachah (to hurl or shoot; stretching a bow to fire an arrow). This is the innermost being. Can refer to the kidneys specifically or used more generally.
FF “teach” = yada. This verb is in a causative sense so it is literally “cause me to know.”
GG “wisdom” = chokmah. From chakam (to be wise or teach wisdom; this is wisdom in thought, word, or action). This is wisdom, wit, or skillfulness.
HH “secret heart” = satham. 15x in OT. This is closed, stopped up, or shut up. This can imply repairs or figuratively it can mean keeping secret.  

7 PurgeII me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;JJ
    wash me, and I shall be whiterKK than snow.
8 Let me hear joyLL and gladness;MM
    let the bones that you have crushedNN rejoice.OO
9 HidePP your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

Notes on verses 7-9

II “purge” = chata. Same as “sinned” in v4. See note R above.
JJ “clean” = taher. Same as “cleanse” in v2. See note O above.
KK “be whiter” = laban. 8x in OT. This is to be or become white or to make bricks.
LL “joy” = sason. From sus (to rejoice, be glad; properly, to be bright or cheerful). This is rejoicing, cheerfulness, and welcome.
MM “gladness” = simchah. From samach (to rejoice, be glad; properly, to brighten up; also used figuratively). This is joy, rejoicing, pleasure, or glee.
NN “crushed” = dakah. 5x in OT. This is to crush, crouch, or break. It could mean collapsing in body or mind.
OO “rejoice” = gil. Properly, this is twirling around because of a strong feeling whether of rejoicing or from fear. This can be rejoice, be glad or joyful, or to cry.
PP “hide” = sathar. This is hide, conceal, or be absent. It is hiding because something is covered – used in a literal or figurative sense.

10 CreateQQ in me a cleanRR heart,SS O God,
    and put a newTT and rightUU spiritVV within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,WW
    and do not take your holyXX spirit from me.

Notes on verses 10-11

QQ “create” = bara. This is to create, shape, choose, or select. It is the word used in Genesis 1:1 when God created the heavens and the earth.
RR “clean” = tahor. Related to “cleanse” in v2. From taher (see note O above). This is clean, pure, or fair. It can refer to purity in a physical, ritual, or moral way.
SS “heart” = leb. May be related to labab (to encourage; properly, to be encased as with fat; used in a good sense, this means to transport someone with love; used in a bad sense, it can mean to dull one’s senses). This is the heart, courage, one’s inner self, the mind, or the will. Heart is only used in a figurative sense in the Old and New Testaments.
TT “put a new” = chadash. 10x in OT. This is renew, repair, restore, or rebuild.
UU “right” = kun. Properly, this means in a perpendicular position. So, it is set up in a literal sense – establish, fix, fasten, prepare. In a figurative sense, it is certainty, to be firm, faithfulness, render sure or prosperous.
VV “spirit” = ruach. This is breath, wind, air, cool, spirit. This is wind, which resembles the breath and so this can be used figuratively for life itself or being frail/mortal/impermanent. It can refer to the air of the sky or the spirit.
WW “presence” = paneh. Literally “face.”
XX “holy” = qodesh. This is set apart and so sacred. God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart. Things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy, etc.

12 RestoreYY to me the joy of your salvation,ZZ
    and sustainAAA in me a willingBBB spirit.
13 Then I will teachCCC transgressorsDDD your ways,EEE
    and sinnersFFF will returnGGG to you.

Notes on verses 12-13

YY “restore” = shub. To turn back, return, turn away – literally or figuratively. Doesn’t necessarily imply going back to where you started from. This is also the root verb for the Hebrew word for repentance “teshubah.”
ZZ “salvation” = yesha. From yasha (to deliver, defend, help, preserve, rescue, be safe. Properly, to be open, wide or free, which implies being safe. Used causatively, it means to free). This is salvation, deliverance, rescue, safety, welfare, liberty.
AAA “sustain” = samak. This is to lean, rest, support, brace, uphold, sustain, or establish. It is to lean on in a positive or negative sense.
BBB “willing” = nadib. From nadab (to offer willingly, volunteer, freely give, be willing). Properly, this is voluntary and so it implies generous, noble, magnanimous, or a generous person.
CCC “teach” = lamad. Properly, this refers to goading (using a pointed stick to guide or prod one’s flock). By implication, it means teaching or instructing.
DDD “transgressors” = pasha. Related to “transgressions” in v1. See note K above.
EEE “ways” = derek. From darak (to tread, march, to walk. Can also mean affixing a string to a box since one needs to step on it to bend it in the process; so also an archer). This is a road as a thing that is walked on. Can be used figuratively for the path that one’s life takes or how one chooses to live one’s life.
FFF “sinners” = chatta. Related to “sin” in v2 & “sinned” in v4 & “sinner” in v5. 19x in OT. From chata (see note P above). This is sinful or sinner. It can be used for a criminal or for one who is considered guilty.
GGG “return” = shub. Same as “restore” in v12.

14 DeliverHHH me from bloodshed,III O God,
    O God of my salvation,JJJ
    and my tongue will sing aloudKKK of your deliverance.LLL
15 O Lord,MMM open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.NNN

Notes on verses 14-15

HHH “deliver” = natsal. This is to snatch someone or something away in a good sense – as rescue, defend, or deliver – or in a bad sense – as strip or plunder.
III “bloodshed” = dam. Perhaps from damam (to cease, be or become mute, silent, still, cut off, hold peace, be astonished, die). This is blood, bloodshed, bloodguilt, lifeblood, and death. It is used for people and animals. More often blood from a wound or the blood of the innocent. Used figuratively for violence or for wine. Closely tied to life and death.
JJJ “salvation” = teshua. Related to “salvation” in v12. From yasha (see note ZZ above). This is deliverance, help, safety, or salvation.
KKK “sing aloud” = ranan. This is a cry of joy or a joyful song. Properly, it is emitting a shrill sound, especially one of joy.
LLL “deliverance” = tsedeqah. Related to “justified” in v4. From the same as tsedeq (see note T above). This is righteousness, justice, righteous acts, and moral virtue.
MMM “Lord” = Adonai. From adon (lord, master, owner); root means to rule or be sovereign. This is the actual Hebrew word for Lord used (in a different form) of humans and (in the present form) of God. It means someone who is in control.
NNN “praise” = tehillah. From halal (to praise, be boastful). This is praise or a song of praise. It is to offer God a hymn, to boast in God. This shares a root with “hallelujah.”

16 For you have no delightOOO in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt offering,PPP you would not be pleased.QQQ
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a brokenRRR spirit;
    a broken and contriteSSS heart, O God, you will not despise.

Notes on verses 16-17

OOO “delight” = chaphets. Same as “desire” in v6.
PPP “burnt offering” = olah. From alah (to go up, climb, approach, bring; to be high or actively climb; can be literal or figurative). This is a step, stairs, or some kind of ascent. It is also used for whole burnt offerings, being the offering in which the whole things is burned and rises as smoke. Burnt offerings where the least common of the offerings: most were eaten, shared with the priest and the one bringing the offering.
QQQ “be pleased” = ratsah. This is to be pleased with, delight, take pleasure in, or accept with favor. It can mean to approve or consent regarding something. It can also be used specifically of satisfying debts or being pardoned.
RRR “broken” = shabar. This is break, collapse, destroy, break in pieces, tear. It is bursting in a literal or figurative sense.
SSS “contrite” = dakah. Same as “crushed” in v8.

Image Credit: “My Heart” by Olusola Tribble, 2007.

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