Insightful, Not Rhetorical

Sometimes we gloss over questions the Scriptures raise. We glide right past them, not stopping to consider that maybe we should pause to answer. Jesus asked lots of questions—here is a list of 135 of them— and there are questions sprinkled freely throughout the Old Testament as well.

In the last part of the 19th Psalm, David asks, “Who can discern his errors?” (v 12) It sounds like a rhetorical device. I’ve read it dozens of times with the presumption that the answer is “no one, really,” but if that’s the case, self-examination and confession become fruitless exercises. For it to be difficult to discern my own errors is one thing; for it to be impossible is quite another.

If we reflect a bit on David’s question and examine it within the context of the Psalm, there is an answer to be had. Verses 7-11 are praising God’s law, his rules, precepts, commandments, and testimony. Then we come to the question in verse 12. Perhaps the one who can discern his errors is the one who is revived, is made wise, rejoices in, and is enlightened by the law. We must understand what the law is before we know if we have transgressed it or not.

For the rest of the answer, we should look on the other side of the question.

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19:12-14 (ESV)

Hidden faults and presumptuous sins. These are to be avoided, but how? To discover this, let us unpack what causes us to hide sins. In a word, shame. We don’t want someone else to know, so we keep it hidden. Either we fear discovery leading to humiliation or to punishment. From what does this shame stem? It is the dark side of pride. If we are infected with pride, then shame is ever-ready to pounce upon us. Someone with no pride cannot be shamed because they do not put forth a false sense of themselves that can be toppled.

Pride is also at work in the second class of sin David desires to be free from, presumptuous sin. I don’t know when David composed Psalm 19, whether pre- or post-Bathsheba, but that episode is a glaring example of presumptuous sin springing from pride. If David had spied Bathsheba as a palace servant instead of as the king, he would not have considered summoning her in order to sexually assault her. His sin, and his compounding of it in trying to do damage control, sprang from pride. David considered himself worthy of taking another man’s wife.

The antidote to pride (and the accompanying shame) is humility. Who can discern his errors? The one who is humble before God and before man. The one who is willing to look at the law and examine his own life by its light. The one who is willing to admit that he is not worthy, because he has sinned.

By working to cut out the root of pride, we can keep sin from having dominion over us. We may not be sinless, but the pride/shame cycle will be broken when we confess our sin before God and man. Who can discern his errors? The man who is willing to admit them in humility.


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