Psalm 51, written by David, is a very moving hymn of repentance. This was because of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. We can only imagine the stark reality David felt when he came to grasp the depth of his sin and its consequences. Chapters 11 and 12, of 2 Samuel record the details.

Through the prophet Nathan, God revealed the scope and effects of David’s sin.

Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun . . . . Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. (2 Sam. 12:9-12, 14)

Though David implored the Lord to be merciful and fasted for the child’s deliverance, God’s will had been determined. So what price did David pay for this sin? (1) There would always be war in his house. (2) His own flesh and blood would rise up against him. (3) His wives would be given to another. (4) And, the son, begotten through adultery, would not live. Most of these punishments took place later during the rebellion of Absalom.

How did David react when his sin was revealed to him? Notice: He did not become angry with the prophet; He did not justify himself or make excuses; He did not ignore what he was told. David is referred to as a man after God’s own heart. Why? Because David repented. “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath [passed over] thy sin; thou shalt not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).

Psalm 51 reveals the repentance David felt when confessing his sin before God. Since this confession was made into a hymn, what is significant is that David, the highest ranking individual in the nation, publicly proclaimed his enormous sin and subsequent repentance. He realized that his experience could become an instructive lesson for the benefit of the entire nation. When sung in public service in the Temple, it could reveal the path to pardon and forgiveness for the worst of sinners.

His prayer begins with: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1). The deep guilt expressed in this verse reveals a heart crushed and broken by the realization of sin. His first words are a cry for God’s mercy. The earnestness of his words display that the only hope for one so broken down by sin is the mercy of God,. David knew he was guilty of enormous sins, so he asked God to blot out his “transgressions.” He recognized that lust, covetousness, hypocrisy, murder, and the deaths of the innocent soldiers that were with Uriah were all a part of this scenario.

David pleaded with God: “Wash me [thoroughly] from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (vv. 2-3). Sins can be forgiven, but they often leave a scar and aching heart that last a lifetime. The word “thoroughly” means multiply, and implies the need to be washed again and again to be completely cleansed. Though he had been forgiven, David could not erase from his mind the horrifying truth of what he had done. His guilt seemed to go on endlessly. David did not hesitate to accept personal responsibility for what he had done. David was not like those who feign repentance and then continue practicing sin.

“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” (Ps. 51:4). There could not be any sins more egregious against man than adultery and murder, yet David knew they paled in comparison to his offense against God. Joseph understood this principal when he told Potiphar’s wife: “There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Remember when David was confronted by the prophet Nathan, his reply was ” . . . I have sinned against the LORD . . . ” (2 Sam. 12:13). David knew there was no unfairness, or injustice in God’s judgment and that He was duty-bound to condemn any man who sins and refuses to repent.

David continued: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

David knew he was a sinner and that his nature was capable of evil. As a human being he knew he was prone to sin. He recognized from the time of Adam that all men, including his parents, cut off from God are sinners, but he did not grasp its depth until his sin with Bathsheba. The knowledge of this sinfulness deepened the sense of his guilt.

“Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6). God takes delight in true righteousness, not in self-deceit and insincerity. True righteousness must originate in the heart and mind. The contrast between God and man was now clearly understood by David, as he had lived a lie while professing the worship of God. He knew God would not accept anyone so guilty, and that with an understanding of true wisdom, he could be accepted. The Bible admonishes: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).

David wrote: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). While hyssop was used in the sacred purification and cleansing rites, the cleansing David wanted was an inward change of the heart and mind. He desired his soul be purged from the corruption of evil that had beset him. Isaiah later wrote of the cleansing process required of man: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil . . . . Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:16, 18). Hyssop cleansed physical sins, but only God can wash away spiritual sins.

“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” (Ps. 51:8-9). The voice of forgiveness is the cause for joy and peace of mind. True happiness, David expressed, results only from a relationship with God. What David desired was that God would hide His face from his sins, but not from him. David had been crushed by the anguish and turmoil of his guilt. He knew God hides His face from sinners, and renewed contact required the removal of all iniquity.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods. (Deut. 31:16-18)

David pleaded: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a [steadfast] 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 [generous] spirit” (Ps. 51:10-12). The plea above expressed David’s desire for the creation of something new, something that had not previously existed. He wanted a new heart and a renewed spirit of God that he knew he could rely on. He begged God not to deprive him of that portion of the Holy Spirit that worked with him. He yearned for a clean heart so that his affections, desires, and feelings could be made right, and knew this could be accomplished by the Holy Spirit alone. He did not have the power to change himself. He implored God to restore the joy of salvation, as this is what true joy and happiness means.

“Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (Ps. 51:13). The object lesson behind this hymn was to instruct sinners how to repent and once again receive God’s blessings and benefits. Psalm 51 reveals the way to receive pardon and forgiveness.

“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” (Ps. 51:14-15). David thought of the blood he was responsible for spilling, that of Uriah and the soldiers with him. This guilt weighed on his conscience. While he could not undue what was done, he could keep others from the kind of bloodguilt he had accrued. The experience of sin, its consequences, and the terrible pain that followed, could be an object lesson for all.

“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” (Ps. 51:16-17). In the Old Testament period, sacrifices served as a reminder of sin. There could be no true expiation for sin until after the sacrifice of Christ.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. . . . But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Heb. 10:1, 3-4)

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting . . . . Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isa. 1:11-13, 16-17)

Sacrifices without a change of heart are meaningless. God wanted to see another spirit in them. He said: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29). This is why David wrote that God desired a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. God would never disregard these kinds of sacrifices.

“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” (Ps. 51:18-19). David ends this Psalm by acknowledging how his sinful example had reflected on the nation, and that, in spite of what he had done, God would continue to use Israel as an example and a witness to the heathen nations, and would continue to protect and favor His people, and that when true religion should prosper, God would fully accept their service to Him.

©2007 Bethel Church of God