The Walls of Jerusalem: Psalm 51 (part 19)

“Do well, by your grace, in Zion,

you shall build the walls of Jerusalem.”

(Psalm 51:20 {Psalm 51:18 in English Bibles})


As David begins to close this prayer, the focus shifts from his personal guilt and needs to the needs of God’s people.  While David, as king of Israel, does have a responsibility toward the people of Israel, it is important that we not see this part of his prayer as flowing only out of his kingly obligation.  Believers in Jesus Christ are bound together in Christ as one body, and thus, ought to have a mindset that is focused on the whole of that body—something that many people call a “Kingdom mentality.”  When one member of your physical body is hurting, not only is that pain felt in other parts of the body, but also you find that other parts of the body will work to compensate for the weakness of the injured member.  So, too it should be with the body of Christ.  We are to rejoice when other members receive great blessing and our hearts should ache when a member of the body experiences great loss.  Sadly, this is an area in which the church often stumbles and falls.

Secondly, look at what David asks God to be the factor that determines such blessing.  David is not saying, do well to Zion because of your great wisdom or justice, nor is he asking blessings on the basis of Israel’s status as God’s people, their heritage, or good works—he pleads God’s good blessings on the basis of God’s good grace.  In many of our English Bible’s this is translated as “favor,” but the word that David employs, !Acr” (ratson), carries with it the connotation of blessing that can only come from the hand of God, often given in connection with faith.  Thus, the English term “grace” is probably a better translation in this context.  Israel certainly has not earned this blessing from God, yet David asks it for God’s people on the basis of God’s gracious character.

The last clause of this verse has caused some people to stumble, for they ask the question, how could this have been written during David’s time, for the walls of Israel were already built?  Thus, some are quick to attribute this to a much later era in history, after the wall had been destroyed.  Yet, there are two things that should be understood.  The first is the practical observation that during ancient times, city walls were always being added to, either in the area that they encompassed or in height.  The strengthening of the city’s walls was a sign of a city’s productivity and power.  In turn, the Hebrew word hn:b” (banah) is flexible enough to carry the connotations of “building up” in addition to “building from scratch.”  Yet, the best way to translate this is in the recognition that Israel’s safety did not come from stones and mortar but came from the very hand of God.  And with this in mind, particularly in the context of David’s request for blessing in the first part of this verse, we should see this language as a metaphor for peace in Israel and security from her enemies.

I wonder sometimes whether we sincerely long to see Christ’s church blessed and at peace.  We might have a yearning to see our local congregation grow or even our denomination, but what about Christ’s church?  Do you pray for the growth of Christ’s church as a whole?  Do you pray for God’s blessing on the other local churches in your neighborhood?  Do you plead with God that these churches would prosper for the gospel even if your own congregation is facing great trials?  So often jealousy shapes our prayers, and that is a sin we must repent of.  Though we have many divisions in the church as an institution, all true believers are bound together in Christ as a united and unified body—how good it would be if we could learn to let our prayers and actions reflect just that.

I love thy church, O God:  her walls before thee stand,

Dear as the apple of thine eye, and graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;

To her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.

-Timothy Dwight

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on April 30, 2008, in Expositions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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