I have been thinking about how clearly the imagery of blood was understood in Ps. 51. In fact, not once in the Bible is black associated with sin. And in the 16th century, Psalm 51 was particularly popular among the poets. I have been looking at this psalm through the ages, when I suddenly realized that the plot had been borrowed by no less than Shakespeare.
The story of David and Bathsheba becomes the background for Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet. King Claudius, however, does not feel that God will forgive him for the murder that he has committed,
- What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And Shakespeare makes it very clear that the hand is stained with blood. Here is Lady MacBeth,
- Out, damned spot! out, I say!
Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!
So, the vividness of blood as the colour of sin should be kept in mind when reading this psalm.
- Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD:
though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool. Is. 1:18.
Blood is mentioned explicitly in verse 14,
- Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,
O God, thou God of my salvation:
and my tongue shall sing aloud
of thy righteousness. KJV
But I feel that this word, bloodguiltiness, comes across as an abstraction of what the Hebrew actually says, which is “bloods,” דמימ . Much better than “bloodguiltiness,” is the simple and effective “bloodshed” found in the NRSV and Alter’s version.
- Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. NRSV
The concrete presence of blood is much better expressed using this word. What I have been writing about in the last few posts is not watering down the language in this psalm but making it more vivid. What is surprising is that Spurgeon seemed not to have a vivid image in his mind of sin as red and not black. He was not familiar with his Shakespeare.