Our Hidden Faults

26 January 2024

4.8 MINS

As I was walking the dog this morning, I was thinking about other believers – as well as myself. We all have issues, and we all are far from where we should be. Some sins are open to all, while others might lie covered up – at least for a time. As we read in 1 Timothy 5:24. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.”

I thought of how some well-known Christians have fallen from grace, and I was reflecting on how we never really know what is going on in the life of another person. Indeed, we often do not know what is really going on in ourselves as well. The passage about ‘keep me from hidden faults’ sprang to mind.

Seeking Strength

In my series on “Difficult Bible Passages”, I have looked at a number of texts which can be confusing or misleading. Sometimes, this is simply because of not utilising the best translations for the passage. Older and familiar translations such as the KJV have this for Psalm 19:12-13:

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

But newer translations can give us a somewhat differing look at what the original text is actually trying to say. For example, the ESV puts it this way:

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.

One main difference here has to do with the idea of cleansing, with older versions somewhat obscuring the meaning. As Old Testament scholar John Goldingay comments:Psalms - on hidden faults

The verb is not one meaning “cleanse” but (piel), “acquit.” The OT makes a number of references to acquitting the guilty, but always to affirm that God does not do so and that human beings should not (e.g., Exod. 34:7; Job 9:28; 10:14).

One person can certainly forgive another, and kings can pardon wrongdoers, and God can both forgive and pardon, but the OT does not use the law-court image in this connection because acquitting the guilty is an immoral act and one destructive of the community’s foundations. It is therefore unlikely that the psalm is asking for cleansing in the sense of acquitting existent wrongdoing, even (or especially) secret or hidden wrongdoing.

But piel (niphal) can denote being free or empty, and the peil verb here seems to have an equivalent meaning. The cleansing for which the psalm is asking is not forgiveness, but the removing of the inclination to wrongdoing. That makes for a good link with the verse’s opening question and a good lead-in to the parallel colon.

Further, without a plea for acquittal for past sin, vv. 12-14 have more coherence. Their concern throughout is with a life of obedience that issues from the right attitude to God’s expectations that vv. 7-11 have lauded. They are asking for strength, not forgiveness.

There may be two sorts of “secret acts” (lit., “hidden things”) from which the psalm asks for such cleansing, both being aspects of what Yhwh’s teaching forbids. They may be the secret plots that precede actual wrong deeds; hiding is involved when people are planning acts of deception or malice (cf. the cognate nouns in 10:8-9; 101:5).

Hiding can also be involved when people are seeking help from other deities, especially since this often involves household rites rather than temple rites. The account of secret rites in Ezek. 8 includes reference to people bowing down to the sun, and such reference to temptation to seek help from other deities would follow well on w. 1-6. The challenge of vv. 7-11 then concerns a religious life lived by Yhwh’s word rather than one that follows the religious practices of other peoples.

As always, while we need to get as close as we can to the interpretation that best captures the intention of the original author, there is always still a place for secondary applications. Here, we need to finish then on a more personal note. If there are secret sins or hidden faults, they will likely be unknown to others. But the point is, they might even lie hidden from ourselves.

Lifelong Process

So, we need to keep asking God to show us our hearts as He sees them. And thankfully, we do not have to depend on sinless perfection in order to be made right with God. Salvation is a free gift of God received by faith. But after that initial act of justification, there is the lifelong work of sanctification. And that is something we are as much a part of as God is.

As James Johnston remarks:

David is not asking God to forgive his sins. Forgiveness is not mentioned in these verses at all. David is asking God to review his inner life and declare him innocent. As God examines him, a fair review of the evidence will lead to his acquittal.

None of us could say that. Our secret sins are no secret to God. Only Jesus alone obeyed God faithfully in the depths of his heart; as a prophet, David spoke for him. If we have hidden sins, and we do, we need a Savior like Jesus who obeyed with every thought and every glance of his eyes. He can forgive our sin and teach us to obey from the heart.

Gerald Wilson says this about the practical application:

How does the Torah lead to right living? Through some sort of slavish obedience? Jesus counsels us no when he admonishes his followers to have a righteousness that “surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law’ (Matt. 5:20).

The Pharisees excelled in seeking and demanding perfect adherence to the Torah. How could anyone hope to surpass their efforts?

Jesus’ point is that the law is not about sinless perfectionism but about acknowledging sin and committing one’s way wholly to God. Psalm 19 agrees when its references to inadvertent sin put legalism in its place. Torah drives those who know they are sinners to rely only on the gracious mercy of God. That is the Old Testament gospel — not that humans can keep the demands of Torah perfectly, but that God graciously provides a way for sinners to be restored to right relationship with Him.

In sum, Jesus alone saves us. But we work with God in seeking to become more Christlike and more obedient. So, we do need to always keep humble before God and keep asking Him to show us areas in our lives that need to be dealt with. This will be a lifelong process. As David could say elsewhere:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

That is the sort of prayer we could pray daily, and it would not go amiss. The revelation of God’s word and God’s Spirit is what helps us to live a life pleasing to Him. And do not forget the help of others. We all have blind spots, and others can point things out in our lives that we may not be seeing or are not aware of.

We need all the help we can get in keeping our inner house in order.


Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Lucas Pezeta.

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