Psalm 51 – A Prayer for Forgiveness

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

(Psalms 51:1-19 KJV)

Psalm 51 is a heartfelt prayer of repentance and restoration, written by King David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his sin with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband Uriah. This psalm expresses David’s deep sorrow, remorse, and desire for forgiveness and renewal. Let’s explore each verse of this psalm and explain them in the context of other scriptures.

Verse 1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”
In this verse, David acknowledges his need for God’s mercy and appeals to God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy. He understands that only God can forgive his transgressions. This plea for mercy aligns with the nature of God as revealed in various scriptures such as Psalm 103:8, where it says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Verse 2: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”
David acknowledges his need for cleansing and purification from his iniquity and sin. He desires a complete transformation of his heart and life. This request for cleansing is in line with the promise of God in Isaiah 1:18, where He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Verse 3: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
Here, David acknowledges his awareness of his transgressions and the constant burden of his sin. This verse reminds us of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, as mentioned in John 16:8, where Jesus says, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Verse 4: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”
David recognizes that ultimately his sin is against God, despite its impact on others. He acknowledges that his actions were evil and that God alone has the right to judge. This aligns with the understanding that sin is ultimately an offense against God, as stated in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Verse 5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
In this verse, David acknowledges the fallen nature of humanity and the presence of sin from birth. This verse echoes the truth revealed in Psalm 58:3, which says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

Verse 6: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
David recognizes that God desires truth in the inward being and that God is the source of wisdom. This verse corresponds with the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly Proverbs 2:6, which says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

Verse 7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
David expresses his desire for purification and restoration. The mention of hyssop signifies a ritual cleansing in the Old Testament, as hyssop was used in various ceremonial washings. This verse also points to the promise of God’s forgiveness and the transformation of our hearts, as stated in Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses.”

Verse 8: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”
David longs for the restoration of joy and gladness in his life. He recognizes that his sinful actions have broken his spirit. This verse brings to mind the promise of God’s restoration and healing found in Isaiah 61:3, where it says, “To grant to those who mourn in Zionβ€” to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

Verse 9: “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
David pleads with God to forgive and remove his sins. He desires a clean slate, where his sins are completely erased. This verse reflects the promise of God’s forgiveness and removal of sins in Isaiah 43:25, which says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

Verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
David seeks a radical transformation of his heart and spirit. He recognizes that only God can create a clean heart within him. This verse resonates with the promise of spiritual renewal found in Ezekiel 36:26, where God says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

Verse 11: “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
David expresses his fear of being separated from God’s presence and the Holy Spirit. He recognizes the significance of God’s presence and the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. This verse aligns with the promise of God’s abiding presence found in Hebrews 13:5b, which says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
David seeks the restoration of the joy he once experienced in his relationship with God. He desires to be upheld by a willing and obedient spirit. This verse echoes the promise of God’s sustaining grace in Philippians 2:13, which says, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Verse 13: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”
David pledges to share his testimony and use his experiences to guide others back to God. This verse reminds us of the transformative power of personal testimonies and the call to make disciples, as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

Verse 14: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.”
David seeks deliverance from the guilt of shedding innocent blood. He desires to respond with praise and thanksgiving to God’s righteousness. This verse reflects the assurance of salvation and the joy of singing praises to God, as expressed in Psalm 96:2-3, “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”

Verse 15: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
David asks God to enable him to openly and boldly proclaim God’s praise. This verse corresponds with the desire for God’s empowerment and guidance in proclaiming His goodness, as expressed in Acts 4:29-30, where the early believers prayed, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Verse 16: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.”
David acknowledges that mere outward rituals and sacrifices are not enough to please God. He understands that true repentance and a contrite heart are what God desires. This verse aligns with the teaching of the prophet Samuel to King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”

Verse 17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
David recognizes that a broken and contrite heart, characterized by genuine repentance and humility, is the sacrifice that pleases God. This verse finds resonance in Isaiah 57:15, where it says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”

Through Psalm 51, we witness David’s deep repentance, his understanding of God’s character, and his longing for restoration. It serves as a powerful reminder that God is merciful, forgiving, and desires to transform our hearts when we come to Him with genuine repentance and humility.


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