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 shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall 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.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and 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 Saviour,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, 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
you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,(Ps. 51:1-19 NIV)
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
The problem of finding the way back to God, finding the right frame of mind, appreciating the nature of sin, and finding the proper words to use – these problems have been addressed by God in a number of songs that He has given us to sing, a number of Psalms about repentance. There are seven Psalms that are commonly referred to as penitential Psalms, seven different Psalms that historically the people of God have turned to, to find help and direction as they try to find their way back to God: Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51,102,130, 143. The Penitent is the author, or reader, who has reviewed their lives and wants to confess their sins to God.
The story of the background to this Psalm is found in Ch 11&12 of II Samuel. Briefly the events were that David, Israel’s greatest king had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Having committed this sin, he tried to cover up his sin. When that failed, he then plotted for Bathsheba’s husband to be murdered. The only path for David after he had sinned with Bathsheba was to come and plead for mercy with God, but instead of that he hatched out an elaborate plan that only got him in deeper to sin.
When we sin and it remains unconfessed, it warps our thinking. Here is a man who has committed one sin and he is careering wildly down a pathway of further sin. He succeeds in covering up. Bathsheba’s husband is dead, he’ll marry Bathsheba, nobody will ever know. He carried on as if everything was normal. He was the king, he was the leader. Sin has a way of paralysing our ability to explore its causes. In the hardened condition that David was in, the last thing he was likely to do was to examine himself and his sin. But until he did, he could not taste the blessings of forgiveness. But God would not permit this sham of normality to go on. God sent Nathan the prophet to expose David’s sin. The prophet said to David “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” The Lord said “David you despised me”. It was this that brought David to his senses. Psalm 32 and 51 is David’s response to his sin. In this Psalm we can learn that we need to assess our own lives. If we have been cold at heart, if there is anything separating us from God then this Psalm shows us how we should come back to God. The pathway of confession and the way back is given for us here in this Psalm.
The Psalm consists of four parts
(1) A Cry for Pardon v1-9
(2) A Prayer for Renewal v10-12
(3) A Resolution to serve God v13-17
(4) An interest in Others v18-19
(1) A Cry For Pardon v1-9
[A] David pleads for Mercy
David has gained some spiritual insight through his experience and the Spirit of God leads him to share these with a wider audience.
v1-2 “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.”
The basis of David’s request is stated clearly as being the unfailing love (hesed) and great compassion of God. These are covenant terms that David is using; he is referring back to God’s love that was the basis of the covenant relationship with His people. As David gazes out of the prison of his sinfulness, the only way out before him is to cast himself upon the mercy of God. David indicates how terrible an experience, and how costly it is, to struggle back from sin to appropriate the assurance of forgiveness. The mercy of God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and only in Christ can I find forgiveness, because he has died for what I am, for what I have done.
David makes clear to us in his confession that he has discovered what his heart is really like. He ransacks the OT vocabulary as he explores his soul and provides four vivid word pictures to describe his heart. He goes right into the anatomy of sin, leaving no aspect of it unexplored. In David’s case it was the sin of adultery, but for us it could be any unconfessed sin.
My transgressions v1: Transgression is breaking God’s law. I might have offended you or someone else, but ultimately my every sin is against God. In referring to his failure in this way, he acknowledges that he has rebelled against the known will of God. David had made his own desires the controller of his actions. He had placed self on the throne of his life and had been wilfully antagonistic towards the claims of a Holy God upon his life.
My iniquity v2: Iniquity is a word that describes the twisted waywardness that pollutes our lives. This is the flaw that renders the whole person sinful. Alec Motyer describes this as the inner warp of the fallen nature. Don’t think for a moment that we are referring here to a non-Christian person. This refers to a Christian who has sinned against their Heavenly Father.
My sin v2: David has missed the mark, he has deviated from the goal, he has squandered his fellowship with God.
Done what is evil v4: David has sinned against God’s original and ongoing intention and the detrimental consequences have had their effect in his life.
He uses this array of terms to try and cover every aspect of what he has done. He has gone deep into sin and he wants to call it exactly what it is, he wants to see it for what it is, and he doesn’t minimise what he has done. Today there are efforts afoot to remove the mention of sin from the liturgy, take it out of preaching because it is a negative morbid introspection that puts people off church. But these penitential Psalms describe a reality that is going on within me. I don’t want a superficial pep talk from a cheerleader, I want to find my way back to God.
David is not blaming others, he is not blaming Bathsheba for bathing on the roof. He wasn’t blaming God. I have heard people speak out in anger against God for allowing them to sin. Why did God let me do this? Why did God not stop me? Surely all this evil has resulted because God allowed this to happen? David rightfully acknowledges his sole responsibility. He humbly acknowledges his sin, without any attempt to vindicate himself. His sin was against God, although his sin was against Bathsheba and her husband, and in a sense against the covenant people, but ultimately his sin was against God and here he acknowledges that without any attempt to excuse what he had done. When you hear someone making excuses, and explaining mitigating circumstances, then the confession has got to be suspect.
David Pleads to God to cleanse him v7-10
In David’s appeal to God for God to change him, he uses three interesting verbs all conveying some aspect of the same desire, that he is made right with God.
Blot out my transgressions: v1 He cries for the stain that God can see to be wiped clean. David knows that when God looks at him, there is this unpleasantly conspicuous stain of sin. The passion of David’s life is that this stain is blotted out. The word ‘blot’ he uses here was used by Moses to describe how God wiped the earth clean of sinful men at the time of the flood. May the flood of God’s grace now sweep over David’s soul and remove forever this stain of sin.
Wash away all my iniquity v2 David sees his sin as a contagious disease and he cries to God to penetrate the very fibres of his nature and purge away the ingrained filth. His sin is not just what the eye can see, it is something more deep rooted, and he comes to God so that God might wash away the infection of sin from his life. He feels so diseased and dirty and he wants to be scrubbed clean of all the defilement that sin has caused.
Cleanse me from my sin v2 David’s sin had imprisoned him at a distance from God. He wants to be made free to have fellowship with God, as he says ‘cleanse me’ he has in mind something like to be acquitted, to be declared innocent. He wants to be cleansed and purified, to the point where he has the guilt of sin removed, and the barrier to fellowship with God has gone.
(2) A Prayer for Renewal v10-12
Here David requests five things of God
A. Inward Purity v10 Create in me a pure heart, O God
The word ‘create’ is the word used in Genesis 1v1 ‘In the beginning God created …’ Out of nothing God called this world into being. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters and out of the void the Spirit of God brought cosmos and order. David longs that God will hover over his life and create in him what is not there, that there might be purity. He wants a clean heart, he wants pure thoughts, pure emotions, pure motives. The sin has sprung from his heart and he wants God to work at that level to make him pure.
B. Strength of Character v10 “Renew a steadfast spirit within me.” what if I can’t stay from the sin? What if I slip back into depression? He feels the weakness of his sinful humanity and asks God to strengthen him that he might be established in the ways of righteousness. He needed help in order to help him overcome temptation in the future.
C. He Desired to be blessed by the Divine Presence v11 David has come to realise that joy and happiness can only be experienced in fellowship with God. He had missed his fellowship with God and now he wanted to know it again as a real experience in his life.
D. He wants the Restoration of the joy of God’s salvation
E. He wanted a desire to sustain his walk with God. Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Cause me to want to do things your way.
(3) A Resolution to serve God v13-17
David tells God how he will respond. He commits himself to a life of service.
A. He will teach others God’s way v13
B. He will declare the praises of God v15
C. He will offer to God the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart v17
The major lesson to learn in this is that David is not intending to have a pity party every day for himself. He has been genuine in his confession and he has believed God and has received forgiveness, and now he is going to leave the sin and move on. He has been preoccupied by his sin, day after day, night after night, but now God has taken it away and he is free to serve. David recognises that the first act in consecration is confession of sin.
(4) An interest in Others v18-19
He is willing to move beyond his own problem and to employ himself in thinking of others. We sorrow at times for our sin and it paralyses us. We don’t want to think of others – we want to lick our own wounds and sink into deeper depression. David has appreciated that with forgiveness there is a restoration to usefulness. David believes God and accepts that he is forgiven and turns his mind to pray for others.
V18 He prays for Zion, in modern day terms we could say he prays for the church. He has not become disenfranchised with the church, it becomes his burden and interest. He is not seeking to minimise his sin by pointing to the faults in Zion, but takes the church as a burden upon his heart to pray for God’s blessing.
We need to learn that any of us can fall into sin. David’s sin was adultery, it was premeditated. But personal failure need not be the end of the line in the Christian’s service. But it should be remembered that sin always leaves its mark. David had many things to resolve but he came and found God’s help.
Lord God we plead Your unfailing covenant love. We have no case to make to persuade You to forgive us. We do not deserve mercy and we have no claim upon grace. Lord search our hearts and help us to see our sin and help us to not make excuses or enter any mitigating circumstances for what we have done and for what we have left undone. Lord in mercy, and because of the death of Your Son our Saviour, forgive us for our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.