Psalm 51: David’s Prayer for Forgiveness

December 18, 2022

This week we continued in the book of Psalms. I am going to specifically discuss Psalm 51. It was written after the sin David committed with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. It was about one year after David committed adultery and murder, and he had already had a son. He was living with the sin, and did nothing about. The prophet Nathan approached David and told the story of 2 men in one city. One man was rich the other poor. The rich man had many flocks of sheep, the poor had one lamb who like a daughter to him. When a traveler came upon them, the rich man spared his sheep and took the poor man’s sheep for the traveler. David was angered and said to Nathan, “The man that has done this shall surely die.” Nathan did a brave thing. He told the King, “You are the man.”

Kings in those days could have someone killed, and could commit adultery and no one thought anything.  Thus, David had a choice. He could kill Nathan, deny the sin ever happened, or admit his sin. What did David do? He admitted his sin. Psalm 51 is David’s confession of sin (chapters 1-6), his asking for cleansing from the sin (chapters 7-12), and his communion with God (chapters 13-19).

Here is the Psalm. We will dive deeper into each line after reading each line.

Psalm 51

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

  1. Have mercy on me”
    1. David asks for mercy. What is mercy? According to dictionary.com it is, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” God had the power to punish him. Look how God punished Saul for his disobedience. The Holy Spirit was taken from him and an evil spirit allowed to take over. God could have done something similar to David. Why didn’t God do this to David? Because here we see that David is humble, and truly repentant for what he did. He asked God to have mercy on him. Micah 7:18 says the Lord delights to give mercy, Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” We need to remember that God delights in showing mercy.
  2. O God, according to your unfailing love according to your great compassion”
    1. David is stating characteristics about God. The term unfailing love in Hebrew is about a loving covenant relationship and David and the Lord have this. He also states that the Lord has great compassion. He is emphasizing the great care or concern the Lord has for him.
  3. “blot out”
    1. Blot out, wash away, cleanse – David felt dirty and diseased due to his sin. The word for cleanse is the same word used when a leper was pronounced ceremonially clean
  4. “my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”
    1. Here David is confessing to his sin. He doesn’t just use the word sin, however. He uses:
    1. Transgression – Rebellion against God
    1. Iniquity – Perversity, depravity
    1. Sin – (falling short of the mark)
    1. Then David calls it all “evil” – He has done what is wrong in Gods sight.
  5. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;”
    1. This does not mean that David did not sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, or the Israelites. David is emphasizing the great sin he committed against God.
  6. “so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” David is not making excuses. He knows he sinned, and God is correct in His judgement.
  7. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” David is not saying that he was conceived out of adultery. He is saying that he was born into sin because of the first sin of Adam and Eve.
  8. Cleanse me with hyssop,” 
    1. Hyssop was a plant (herb) that was used back in the day of Moses for ceremonial cleansing of the leper and also during one of the ways for purification of sin. The Israelites also used hyssop when they dipped it into blood and put it around the door frame during the exodus.
  9. and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
    1. David wants to be purified.
  10. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”
    1. When we sin, we are separated from God.
    1. Where does true joy come from? God. David wants the joy of the Lord back (Psalm 32).
  11. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”
    1. David was ashamed and so wanted God’s face hidden.
  12. Create in me a new heart O God.”
    1. The word create “bara” is the same as in Genesis 1:1 when God created the earth and everything in it. The word means to create out of nothing.
    1. David did not want the old heart back, but wanted it to be recreated and new.
  13.     “and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
    1. David wanted an unwavering spirit for the Lord.
  14. 11 Do not cast me from your presence”
    1. This is what happened with Saul as discussed above.
  15. or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
    1. This is the first time the Holy Spirit is used in the Old Testament. We have the assurance of the Holy Spirit staying within us as Christians. They did not have that in Old Testament days.
  16. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
    1. David had been without joy due to his sin and wants this back.
  17. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you”
    1. David wanted to use this for good and teach others.
  18. . 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
    1. Because David committed murder, under Jewish law, he could have been put to death (Leviticus 24:17).
    1. Then David wanted to praise the name of the Lord.

  19. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.”
    1. David was guilty of adultery and murder and no sin sacrifice provision was made under Mosaic law.
    1. David learned about total grace.
  20. “17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
    1. Sin is to be dealt with on a spiritual level, not a ceremonial level and David has come to God with a humble broken spirit because he sinned against God.
  21. 18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.”
    1. David knew his sin not only affected him but the whole city. Now that he had confessed and asked forgiveness, he prayed the whole area would prosper.
  22. Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
    1. God is happy with the sacrifice of righteousness; someone is obeys is commands.
    1. Then sacrifices will be offered.

David has confessed his sin and asked God’s forgiveness. He is sincere.

Is there anything God has laid on your heart that needs confessing and asking God’s forgiveness?

Next week we will read chapters 91-120.

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