From Self-deception to God-redemption
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I miss my dear departed father asking: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Then laughing, he would answer his own question: “The Shadow knows!” He was remembering a popular radio drama from his youth about an invincible crime fighter, known as ‘The Shadow’, who knew the evil of men’s hearts. Today’s psalm is written by a man who knows something about the evil lurking within the human heart. He is King David, a man who has sinned greatly and been greatly forgiven.
Long before Freud exposed the hidden, aberrant psychological impulses that rule our lives as the “Id”, David knew something about the dark, inaccessible parts of his personality. David never forgot his sins with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, or his horrible failures as a father.
David’s rhetorical question acknowledges the impossibility of truly knowing ourselves: “But who can discern their own errors?” Who can get to the bottom of their sinning? Even the apostle Paul expressed ignorance of his innermost self; Paul said that we have to wait until the Last Day when God “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart” (I Corinthians 4:5). It is difficult for us to see our sin, as sin. I have some nice names for my sins and some ugly ones for the same sins in others.
Knowing how capable he is of self-deception and delusion, David prays: “Forgive my hidden faults.” By definition no one can know their “hidden faults”, so David can only plead God’s mercy and forgiveness. The old Scotch preacher Alexander Maclaren cautioned about the dangers of self-deception:
It is the very characteristic of all evil that it has a stranger power of deceiving a man as to its real character; like the cuttle-fish that squirts out a cloud of ink and so escapes in the darkness and the dirt. The more a man goes wrong the less he knows it. (Maclaren, Exposition of Holy Scripture: Psalms)
David also knows that even as God’s “servant” and “the man after God’s own heart”, he is capable of “willful sins”, or outright, defiant disobedience of God. So David prays: “Keep your servant also from willful sins.” The Hebrew word chasak, translated as “keep”, has the idea of God holding back David like holding back a horse with a bit. David knows that without God keeping him, he is no match for either the Evil One or the unrest brewing within.
In this text David calls God “my Redeemer”. The word Redeemer, or the Hebrew goel, is another one of the key words of the Old Testament. The goel is the kinsman–redeemer, that member of the family who is the helper when a relative falls into distress (Ruth 2:1; 3:13, 18). Though sinful and broken, David claims God as “my Redeemer”. He knows that God is both able and obliged to protect and save him.
David closes this prayer looking at God not as his judge, but as his Rock and Redeemer who has saved him for a special purpose. He views his words and meditations as a sacrifice offered to God. This is the implication of the words “pleasing in your sight”.
David intends this prayer to be “a sacrifice offered by the inner man. The heart meditates and fashions it; and the mouth presents it, by uttering that which is put into the form of words.” (Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes) It can be a sacrifice we offer up to God, our Rock and our Redeemer.
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