Psalm 51

When I was living on a reservation in northern Ontario, just after graduating from university, I came to realize that each culture has its own problem areas, but that those problem areas are often unique to each culture.

One of the problem areas of the dominant society of course is sex. One of the easiest ways to find out what problem areas exist in a culture is to listen for the silence – listen to what things are not talked about in public, or else are talked about with either of a lot of laughter (to reduce tension) or a high degree of stress (because of conflicting desires to adhere to cultural norms, and yet find relief through discussion in a sensitive topic).

Death, sex, power, and money are some of the problem areas in the dominant society. I find it interesting that in many churches, whenever sex is discussed in public, this Psalm is used as the illustration. The scenario is outlined in the note just prior to the Psalm, and it is found in 2nd Samuel chapter 11 and 12.

In short, David got messing around with his neighbor’s wife, and to cover up his misdeed, had his neighbor killed on the battlefield by arranging to have the rest of the Army pull back and leave him exposed. Nathan the local prophet came and confronted him about his little secret. The Psalm reflects David working through this particular incident in his life.

Although sex is certainly the focus of the incident, the Psalm itself rises above that and has found its way into many of our lives as we stumble through life.

I find it interesting that in the time when these particular Psalms were written, the hot new technology of the day was archery. Today its computers and social media. Poets often draw their images from the images currently being used by a group, and this is no exception. In Hebrew, the word for sin is an archery term which means aiming at a target and the arrow not quite getting there – to fall short of the mark. I believe the concept of righteousness also is an archery term relating to the trajectory of an arrow through the air, which of course determines its final destination.