David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Ps 51:5.
Now the Calvinists turn to this passage as proof text that man is born sinful. But is that what David is saying? In the middle of a Psalm of repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness, does it make sense that David says, “I was born this way.” Wouldn’t that be a justification of the sin? Such an interpretation sounds like justification to me. And so I can’t imagine that David would turn to blaming his parents, or Adam, or even God for his coming into the world sinful. Wouldn’t that be like saying, “God, this is how I was born and so I couldn’t help it.”?
In a Psalm where David is laying his heart out to God and speaking true words of repentance, this verse must mean something different.
Ezekiel says a son does not bear his father’s iniquity, Ezekiel 18:20. Only my sins are relevant. What I was born with or who what my parents did have not relevance to the words of repentance in the 51st Psalm.
Hyperbole is “obvious and intentional exaggeration”. A similar statement is used by David in Psalm 58 which says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.” Ps 58:3. This verse says something similar about wicked people. They are liars from the womb. Obviously this is exaggerated speech. It’s like saying, “that boy has been rotten from the day he was born.” It’s exaggeration. So why would David be exaggerating. Well, David feels utterly sinful. David feels like the worst human being on earth. And in such a low condition, it’s not self-pity, but more like utter grief that leads a man to confess there’s nothing and never has been anything good about me.
We can recount the history of David and see that he was special to God. God said to Samuel in the selection of David, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7. God saw a good heart in David. But we know that the best of men have their weaknesses. It’s not that men are perfect and sinless that makes them so pleasing to the LORD, but it is the love and faith that does. David could surely look back into his own life and feel utterly sinful. Perhaps he saw the seeds of his grievous sins all the way back to his youth. In David’s broken estate, confronted by his sin, doesn’t feel pride for how good and righteous he’s been all of his life. It would be out of place at this time for David to say, “I’ve always been righteous up to this sin.” Men can fool men and try that, but God knows everything. So the repentant man might as well humble himself utterly, even with exaggerated words.
Psalm 22:9-10 says “9 Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. 10 Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” If taken literally, this passage is a direct contradiction to the literal interpretation of Psalm 51.
In such a Psalm where we are presented with David opening up to God about adultery and murder, blaming his mother and ancestors would be wrong theology and a distraction and departure from the tone. Humbly I offer this. Dan