I was alerted to a tradition, probably maintained for thousands of years, a daily prayer of repentance said by orthodox Jews but not on Sabbaths and other significant festivities. It turns out I had written of the event that caused King David to write this prayer – Psalm 25 and I didn’t know it, so my fascination with it was immediately invoked. Every day this psalm is read as a personal plea for forgiveness, but I question its broader implications. Strangely this psalm is read following the most sacred point of the daily prayer ritual, so the reader is expected to immediately traverse the highest point of spiritual elevation to the lowest point of repentance. It seems odd these extremes would be juxtaposed; perhaps to draw the reader back to the reality of their human condition. So why this psalm when many others could have been selected?
The event that inspired its writing, toward the end of King David’s reign, immediately caused the death of 70,000 people who lived outside Jerusalem. David’s ill-fated sinful decision to conduct a national census was singled out and blamed. In the aftermath David sighted the angel of death poised to destroy Jerusalem, but it was stopped well short of the three brutal days David had agreed, via his Prophet Gad, to endure on his people as punishment for his census oversight. Immediately the Prophet told him to build an altar where David had seen the feet of the angel on the threshing floor, which belonged to the King of the Jebusites who was still coexisting with his people in Jerusalem in the City of David. David had chosen this divinely inflicted plague over punishments by human hands, but why was the nation inflicted when the fateful census was his decision alone?
Here we must turn to commentaries that also ask whether the altar was for personal or national use. In those days it had already been decreed that no national altars could be built outside of the national sanctuary. Furthermore elements of the temporary sanctuary had already been transported to the City of David many years prior, but an altar had not been formally erected. Custom has it that the location of David and Gad’s altar, on the threshing floor, became the beacon by which plans for the permanent temple were finalized by David, which his son Solomon completed and which was once east of today’s golden Dome of The Rock on the Temple Mount. According to Jewish law the future permanent altar can only ever be at the very same location Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
Although it may be logical to argue the daily recitation of Psalm 25 reminds that national disloyalty or disrespect for the nations leader could cause a decision that will bring harm, these traits do not constitute sin. It’s more likely the daily recitation is for a recurring event that specifically requires repentance. As you will see from my papers (linked in the article body), I maintain a view consistent with commentaries that each day’s absence of Israel’s national temple is as if each day each person individually destroyed it. Therefore I conclude, in addition to the many other proofs I have already brought, that Psalm 25 was written because King David knew the altar’s location he selected would lead to the temple’s destruction.
Until we discover the permanent altar and rectify the problem, this psalm will continue to be recited by and for each reader and for that fateful national decision.