Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Today, we look at Psalm 51, King David’s penitential psalm. Here’s the back story: While a soldier named Uriah was posted to a war zone, David got Uriah’s wife pregnant. So David arranged for Uriah to get killed in battle. With Uriah out of the way, David married Bathsheba. The problems were nicely solved. Except that the prophet Nathan visited David and rebuked him in God’s name for adultery and murder. Psalm 51 is David’s response to Nathan’s stinging rebuke.
I find Psalm 51 is remarkable for several reasons.
First, David does not name the sin he is confessing. Is it adultery? Murder? Abuse of power to weave a web of lies around his failure? Is it ignoring the covenant relationship with God and acting like an arrogant oriental despot? The psalm doesn’t say.
Psalm 51 is also remarkable because David does not identify the individuals he sinned against. He says his sin is against God, and God only (v. 4). And he says nothing about the human relationships he has damaged through adultery, murder, and abuse of power.
Another remarkable feature of the psalm is its vivid images of sin. Listen to them:
- I know my transgressions
- my sin is always before me
- against you O God and only against you have I sinned
- I have done what is evil in your sight (vv. 3-4).
- I was born guilty
- I was a sinner when my mother conceived me (v. 5).
- deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed (v. 14).
David presents no comforting metaphor of sin as sickness. He does not attempt to justify his actions. He does not hide behind excuses or reasons. All he can offer is a clear confession that evil is present in his person and actions.
Now listen to the poet’s powerful request for cleansing from sin, for relief from guilt, and for a restored relationship with God.
- Have mercy on me, O God
- Blot out my transgressions.
- Wash away my iniquity.
- Cleanse me from my sin (vv. 1-2).
- Purge me with hyssop.
- Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow (v. 7)
- Hide your face from my sins (v. 9).
- Create in me a pure heart (v. 10)
- And deliver me from guilt (v. 14).
And finally, hear the poet’s remarkable assessment of what God really wants:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it (v. 16).
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit.
A broken and contrite heart
you, O God, will not despise (v. 17).
There on the altar of his life David places his broken spirit and his broken heart. What other offering can he make for his sin?
Let’s pray the psalm.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love.
According to your great compassion,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions.
My sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done evil in your sight.
You are right when you sentence me
and justified when you judge me.
Indeed, I was born guilty.
I was a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in my inward being.
Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
blot out my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not fling me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior.
My tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, O Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.