Psalm 51 — Dealing with Sin — Reading the Psalms


For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David: When Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba.

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions:
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
And done that which is evil in thy sight:
That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest,
And be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity;
And in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts:
And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness;
That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins,
And blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God;
And renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence;
And take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation:
And uphold me with a free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
And sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation;
And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips;
And my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
16 For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it:
Thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion:
Build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering:
Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

This is a well known and beloved psalm. Not only is it written with clarity so that we can readily understand its words, but we also know the story from which it rises. David’s sin with Bathsheba is notorious in the story of the Old Testament. When the righteous stumble and fall in sin we all feel it. No doubt because we also feel the shame for our own sin.

David pleads for mercy. Mercy is what he needs for justice would condemn him. This he knew too well. He admitted his faults, acknowledging transgression and seeing the sin right before him. This is important because it is not the usual or natural reaction one has in the face of guilt and shame. Too often we hide from it, ignore its pressing weight and create a false narrative or reality, much like the story of Adam and Eve. This leads to sickness and utter destruction.

Is this brave? It can be brave to face guilt and shame. Can you?

In verses 7-12 David pleads for cleansing, to be purged and washed so that he can again hear joy. Bones broken by sin must be reset before righteous growth can occur. He was desperate for God’s help in this work, wanting God to create a clean heart in him as well as a steadfast spirit,. I don’t think this is laziness on David’s part, but a recognition of dependence. God creates and renews while we work to maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace.

In God alone would David find restoration. In God alone would David find the voice to speak to the congregation. In God alone can we find cleansing and regeneration today.


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