Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Behold, I was shapen . . .—Better, Behold, I was born in iniquity.
The later rabbis, combining this verse with the mystery hanging over the origin and name of David’s mother, represent him as born in adultery. (See Stanley, Jewish Church, chap. ii., p. 46, Note.) The word rendered conceived is certainly one generally used of animal desire. (The marginal warm me is erroneous.) But the verse is only a statement of the truth of experience so constantly affirmed in Scripture of hereditary corruption and the innate proneness to sin in every child of man. The argument for a personal origin to the psalm from this verse seems strong; but in Psalm 129:1, and frequently, the community is personified as an individual growing from youth to age, and so may here speak of its far-back idolatrous ancestry as the mother who conceived it in sin.Psalm 51:5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity — Hebrew, חוללתי, cholaleti, I was born, or brought forth: for it does not appear that the word ever signifies, I was shapen; and then the ensuing words will contain the reason of it; the sense being, because in sin did my mother conceive me, therefore I was brought forth in iniquity; that is, with great propensities and dispositions to sin. This verse is, both by Jewish and Christian, by ancient and later interpreters generally, and most justly, understood of what we call original sin; which David here mentions, not as an excuse for, but as an aggravation of, his transgression, inasmuch as the knowledge which he had of the total corruption of his nature, and its tendency to evil, ought to have made him more on his guard, and to have watched more carefully over his sensual passions and affections. And the sense of the place is this: Nor is this the only sin which I have reason to acknowledge and bewail before thee; for this filthy stream leads me to a corrupt fountain. And, upon a serious review of my heart and life, I find that I am guilty of innumerable other sins; and that this heinous crime, though drawn forth by external temptations, yet was indeed the proper fruit of my own vile nature, which, without the restraints of thy providence or grace, ever was and still will be inclinable and ready to commit ten thousand sins as occasion offers. Thus, as Dr. Dodd, after Chandler, justly observes, “The psalmist owns himself to be the corrupted, degenerate offspring, of corrupted, degenerate parents, agreeable to what was said long before he was born, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one, Job 14:4. Nor is it unusual with good men, when confessing their own sins before God, to make mention of the sins of their parents, for their greater mortification and humiliation.”
Of course, the idea here is not to cast reflections on the character of his mother, or to refer to her feelings in regard to his conception and birth, but the design is to express his deep sense of his own depravity; a depravity so deep as to demonstrate that it must have had its origin in the very beginning of his existence. The word rendered "I was shapen" - חוללתי chôlaletiy - is from a word - חול chûl - which means properly, "to turn around, to twist, to whirl;" and then it comes to mean "to twist oneself with pain, to writhe;" and then it is used especially with reference to the pains of childbirth. Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 23:4; Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 66:7-8; Micah 4:10. That is the meaning here. The idea is simply that he was "born" in iniquity; or that he was a sinner when he was born; or that his sin could be traced back to his very birth - as one might say that he was born with a love of music, or with a love of nature, or with a sanguine, a phlegmatic, or a melancholy temperament.
There is not in the Hebrew word any idea corresponding to the word ""shapen,"" as if he had been "formed" or "moulded" in that manner by divine power; but the entire meaning of the word is exhausted by saying that his sin could be traced back to his "very birth;" that it was so deep and aggravated, that it could be accounted for - or that he could express his sense of it - in no other way, than by saying that he was "born a sinner." How that occurred, or how it was connected with the first apostasy in Adam, or how the fact that he was thus born could be vindicated, is not intimated, nor is it alluded to. There is no statement that the sin of another was "imputed" to him; or that he was "responsible" for the sin of Adam; or that he was guilty "on account of" Adam's sin, for on these points the psalmist makes no assertion. It is worthy of remark, further, that the psalmist did not endeavor to "excuse" his guilt on the ground that he was ""born"" in iniquity; nor did he allude to that fact with any purpose of "exculpating" himself. The fact that he was thus born only deepened his sense of his own guilt, or showed the enormity of the offence which was the regular result or outbreak of that carly depravity. The points, therefore, which are established by this expression of the psalmist, so far as the language is designed to illustrate how human nature is conceived, are
(1) that people are born with a propensity to sin; and
(2) that this fact does not excuse us in sin, but rather tends to aggravate and deepen our guilt.
The language goes no further than this in regard to the question of original sin or native depravity. The Septuagint agrees with this interpretation - ἰδού γὰρ ἐν ανομίαις συνελήφθην idou gar en anomias sunelēfthēn. So the Vulgate: in iniquitatibus conceptus sum.
And in sin did my mother conceive me - Margin, as in Hebrew, "warm me." This language simply traces his sin back to the time when he began to exist. The previous expression traced it to "his birth;" this expression goes back to the very beginning of "life;" when there were the first indications of life. The idea is, "as soon as I began to exist I was a sinner; or, I had then a propensity to sin - a propensity, the sad proof and result of which is that enormous act of guilt which I have committed."
Conceive me, Heb. warm or cherish me in the womb, before I was
shapen or formed there. Psalm 139:13; and cannot design any sinfulness then infused into him by his Maker, seeing God cannot be the author of sin; but of original sin and corruption, derived to him by natural generation: and the sense is, that as soon as ever the mass of human nature was shaped and quickened, or as soon as soul and body were united together, sin was in him, and he was in sin, or became a sinful creature;
and in sin did my mother conceive me; by whom cannot be meant Eve; for though she is the mother of all living, and so of David, yet could not, with any propriety, be said to conceive him: this only could be said of his immediate parent, not even of his next grandmother, much less of Eve, at the distance of almost three thousand years. Nor does the sin in which he was conceived intend any sin of his parents, in begetting and conceiving him, being in lawful wedlock; which acts cannot be sinful, since the propagation of the human species by natural generation is a principle of nature implanted by God himself; and is agreeably to the first law of nature, given to man in a state of innocence, "increase and multiply", Genesis 1:28. Marriage is the institution of God in paradise; and in all ages has been accounted "honourable in all, when the bed is undefiled", Hebrews 13:4. Nor does it design his being conceived when his mother was in "profluviis", of which there is no proof, and is a mere imagination, and can answer no purpose; much less that he was conceived in adultery, as the contenders for the purity of human nature broadly intimate; which shows how much they are convicted by this text, to give into such an interpretation of it, at the expense of the character of an innocent person, of whom there is not the least suggestion of this kind in the Holy Scriptures; but on the contrary, she is represented as a religious woman, and David valued himself upon his relation to her as such, Psalm 86:16. Besides, had this been the case, as David would have been a bastard, he would not have been suffered to enter into the congregation of the Lord, according to the law in Deuteronomy 23:2; whereas he often did with great delight, Psalm 42:4. Moreover, it is beside his scope and design to expose the sins of others, much less his own parents, while he is confessing and lamenting his own iniquities: and to what purpose should he mention theirs, especially if he himself was not affected by them, and did not derive a corrupt nature from them? Nor is the sin he speaks of any actual sin of his own, and therefore he does not call it, as before, "my" iniquity and "my" sin; though it was so, he having sinned in Adam, and this being in his nature; but "iniquity" and "sin", it being common to him with all mankind. Hence we learn the earliness of the corruption of nature; it is as soon as man is conceived and shapen; and that it is propagated from one to another by natural generation; and that it is the case of all men: for if this was the case of David, who was born of religious parents, was famous for his early piety, and from whose seed the Messiah sprung, it may well be concluded to be the case of all. And this corruption of nature is the fountain, source, and spring of all sin, secret and open, private and public; and is mentioned here not as an extenuation of David's actual transgressions, but as an aggravation of them; he having been, from his conception and formation, nothing else but a mass of sin, a lump of iniquity; and, in his evangelical repentance for them, he is led to take notice of and mourn over the corruption of his nature, from whence they arose. The Heathens themselves affirm, that no man is born without sin (c).Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)5. Behold, I was shapen] Better, Behold, I was born. Acts of sin have their root in the inherited sinfulness of mankind. It does not appear, as some have thought, that the Psalmist pleads the sinifulness of his nature as an excuse for his actual sins. Rather, in utter self-abasement, he feels compelled to confess and bewail not only his actual sins, but the deep infection of his whole nature (Job 14:4; Romans 7:18). Moreover this verse forms the introduction to Psalm 51:6, which, as the repetition of ‘behold’ indicates (cp. Isaiah 55:4 f; Isaiah 54:15 f), stands in close connexion and correlation with it. He contrasts his natural perversity and liability to error with the inward truth and wisdom which God desires, and which, he is confident, God can communicate to the pardoned and regenerate soul.
5–8. He has inherited a sinful nature; and yet, so he is confident, God can and will make it conform to His desire. The emphatic ‘Behold!’ marks the beginning of a new stanza.Verses 5-12. - The prayer now makes a stride in advance. It has been hitherto for the first step in justification - the wiping out of past transgressions. It is now for restoration, for a renewal of spiritual life, for a return to God's favour, and to the spiritual joy involved in it. First, however, an additional confession is made (vers. 5, 6). Not only have I committed acts of sin (vers. 1-4), but sin is thoroughly ingrained into my nature. I was conceived in it; I was brought forth in it; only the strongest remedies can cleanse me from it (ver. 7). But cleansing alone is not enough. I need renewal (ver. 10); I need thy Holy Spirit (ver. 11); I crave, above all, the sense of a restoration to thy favour - a return to the old feelings of "joy and gladness" (ver. 8), even "the joy of thy salvation" (ver. 12). Verse 5. - Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; rather, in iniquity was I brought forth. And in sin did my mother conceive me. It is doubtless true, as Professor Cheyne says, that "the Old Testament contains no theory of the origin of sin" - no formulated doctrine on the subject. But the fact of congenital depravity is stated, not only here, but also in Job 14:4; Psalm 58:3; it is also implied in Isaiah 43:27 and Hosea 6:7.
(Note: In Vedic jag', old Bactrian jaz (whence jag'jas, the primitive word of ἅγιος), the notions of offering and of praising lie one within the other.)
and שׂם דּרך. It is unnecessary with Luther, following the lxx, Vulgate, and Syriac versions, to read שׁם. The Talmudic remark אל תקרי ושׂם אלא ושׁם [do not read ושׂם, but ושׁם] assumes ושׂם to be the traditional reading. If we take שׂם דּרך as a thought complete in itself, - which is perfectly possible in a certain sense (vid., Isaiah 43:19), - then it is best explained according to the Vulgate (qui ordinat viam), with Bצttcher, Maurer, and Hupfeld: viam h. e. recta incedere (legel agere) parans; but the expression is inadequate to express this ethical sense (cf. Proverbs 4:26), and consequently is also without example. The lxx indicates the correct idea in the rendering καὶ ἐκεῖ ὁδὸς ᾗ δείξω αὐτῷ τὸ σωτήριον Θεοῦ. The ושׂם דוך (designedly not pointed דּרך), which standing entirely by itself has no definite meaning, receives its requisite supplement by means of the attributive clause that follows. Such an one prepares a way along which I will grant to him to see the salvation of Elohim, i.e., along which I will grant him a rapturous vision of the full reality of My salvation. The form יכבּדנני is without example elsewhere. It sounds like the likewise epenthetical יקראנני, Proverbs 1:28, cf. Proverbs 8:17, Hosea 5:15, and may be understood as an imitation of it as regards sound. יכבּדנני ( equals יכבּדני) is in the writer's mind as the form out of pause (Ges. ֗58, 4). With Psalm 50:23 the Psalm recurs to its central point and climax, Psalm 50:14. What Jahve here discourses in a post-Sinaitic appearing, is the very same discourse concerning the worthlessness of dead works and concerning the true will of God that Jesus addresses to the assembled people when He enters upon His ministry. The cycle of the revelation of the Gospel is linked to the cycle of the revelation of the Law by the Sermon on the Mount; this is the point at which both cycles touch.
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