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Psalm 51 -- Miserere mei, Deus -- Have mercy upon me O God in your great goodness

Hallelujah -- Leonard Cohen -- the lyrics

Verse 1:

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord.
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift;
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelu-u-u-jah.

... and here's another excellent version sung a cappella by Pentatonix ...

Verse 2 begins ...

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
...

... and she was very beautiful, so who was she?

Well, her name was BATHSHEBA.
And when David saw her bathing on the roof, he sent to find out who she was, and he learned that her husband was URIAH, one his soldiers away fighting with his troops.
So he sent for her; and when the king summons you, you go!

A while after, she sent a message to him to say that she was pregnant.

David arranged for Uriah to return home for a spot of rest and recuperation.
He sent for him and said "Go see your wife, and spend some time with her."
It didn't happen!
Uriah couldn't do this while the rest of the army was roughing it on active service!
So David sent Uriah back with a letter addressed to Joab, his commanding officer, by which David contrived to ensure that Uriah was killed in action.

"When Uriah's wife heard that her husband was dead,
she mourned for him; and when the period of mourning was over,
David sent for her and brought her into his house.
She became his wife and bore him a son.
But what David had done was wrong in the eyes of the LORD."

So the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront David about all that he had done.


About the psalm:

We know more about this psalm than most.

At the beginning of many of the psalms are instructions about how they may be sung or accompanied.
Psalm 51 has this additional information:

To the chief musician. A psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Nathan and David -- here's what happened:

" and the Lord sent Nathan to David.

He came to him, and said to him,
'There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor.
The rich man had very many flocks and herds;
but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.
He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children;
it used to eat of his meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him,
but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.'

Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man.
He said to Nathan,
'As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.'

Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! ... ' "

You can read the full story in 2 Samuel chapters 11-12.


Psalm 51: Miserere mei, Deus :

Psalm 51 is one of the psalms set for holy week. In the year 1638, one of the singers in the Sistine Chapel choir, Gregorio Allegri composed a setting, Miserere, which was so beautiful that it was jealously guarded, written down in only three copies; and the pope forbad anyone from transcribing any more.

In the year 1770 the Mozart family were in the sistine chapel on the Wednesday of Holy Week when the Miserere was sung. With them was their precociously musical 14 year old son, Wolfgang, who remembering the chant, wrote it down. And so it has come down to us today in it's various versions.

Psalm 51 is one of the Penitential Psalms. It is always set for some time in Lent. In the Anglican Communion, it's set for Ash Wednesday -- the first day of Lent.

Here it is, (top C setting) sung during the solemn moment of the imposition of the ashes in Salisbury cathedral:


After hearing the consequences of his actions, David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.'

The words of the psalm (verses 1-18):

1 Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness; //
according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness //
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my faults //
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned //
and done what is evil in your sight,

5 So that you are justified in your sentence //
and righteous in your judgement.

6 I have been wicked even from my birth, //
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

7 Behold, you desire truth deep within me //
and shall make me understand wisdom in the depths of my heart.

8 Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; //
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, //
that the bones you have broken may rejoice.

10 Turn your face from my sins //
and blot out all my misdeeds.

11 Make me a clean heart, O God, //
and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence //
and take not your holy spirit from me.

13 Give me again the joy of your salvation //
and sustain me with your gracious spirit;

14 Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked //
and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from my guilt, O God, the God of my salvation, //
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.

16 O Lord, open my lips //
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17 For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it; //
you take no delight in burnt offerings.

18 The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; //
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


 

... and here is the last verse of Cohen's Hallelujah (... it isn't often sung), which ends like this ...


... I did my best but it wasn't much,
I couldn't feel so I tried to touch,
I told the truth,
I didn't come to fool you,
and even though it all went wrong,
I stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
...

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelu-u-u-jah.


... of David's line

... and she became his wife and bore him a son ...

But in accordance with what the prophet Nathan had told David, the child born to Bathsheba became very sick
and there was nothing they could do to save him and he died -- we don't even know his name
-- but Bathsheba remained David's wife, and their next child was also a boy, and they named him SOLOMON.

And in the fullness of time ...

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, with a message for a girl betrothed to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David; the girl's name was Mary.


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