Updated: Aug 19
The Word: Psalm 51:1-12
This psalm is one of the best-known in the psalter. Perhaps this is because the psalm’s title links it with one of the most infamous moments of King David’s life, his adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of Uriah, and the attempted cover-up. This is one of 14 historical references found in psalm titles, all of which refer to the life of David.
Today’s session describes King David’s broken relationship with God after he sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. King David seeks to repair his broken relationship with God. He asks for God to make him new, repairing the breach, and creating in him a new heart.
Let’s review the details of the story behind Psalm 51 in 2 Samuel 11-12. It began when David saw Bathsheba (wife of Uriah) from the rooftop and soon had an affair with her. She became pregnant. David tried to cover-up his sin by tricking Uriah into thinking the child was his. When this failed, David sent Uriah to the front lines where he was killed. David married Bathsheba, but nothing is hidden from God. Nathan the prophet confronted David regarding his sin. Psalm 51 represents David’s response.
A. Forgive Me! (Read Psalm 51:1-2) David’s prayer of repentance begins with a cry for mercy to the God who is both powerful enough to forgive and cleanse him and compassionate enough to actually do it.
How is David’s cry for mercy different than the pride that prompted his sin? (David got in trouble when he started taking matters into his own hands instead of relying on God’s counsel. He tried to cover his sin with schemes, and that only made it worse. This cry for mercy shows David releasing control back to God.)
Why is the acknowledgement of our sin and God as creator and redeemer important to our reconciliation with God?
Notice that in the last phrase of verse 1 and 2, the psalmist uses three imperative verbs for forgiveness, and each one is coupled with a noun for sin. The three imperative verbs for forgiveness: 1) blot out, 2) wash away, and 3) cleanse. The three nouns for sin: 1) transgression, 2) iniquity, and 3) sin.
What does it mean for God to “cleanse us” from our sin? (God wants to do more than just help us “manage” our sin. God wants to change us from the inside out, actually making us into righteous people.)
B. I Am Deeply Sorry (Read Psalm 51:3-6) The Holy Spirit, speaking through the voice of the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12), has done a number on King David, convicting him of his sin.
Having made clear that he has no basis for appeal other than God’s mercy, the psalmist now reveals the depth of his contrition. One commentator points out how the poet has structured this confession. In verse 3 and the opening line of verse 4, the psalmist makes his confession. In verses 5-6, he admits that he has failed to live up to God’s demands. The central element, found in verse 4b, is God’s right to judge.
What does it mean for David and us to take ownership of our sin?
What does it mean for David’s sin to be “against God”? (His sin included others—Uriah, Bathsheba, those around him, and even himself—but it also is an offense against God.)
David had to struggle with the reality of broken relationship with God. But notice the good news in verse 6. “You taught me wisdom.”
What would it mean for God to teach us wisdom?
C. This Is What I Seek (Read Psalm 51:7-9) David is asking God to do something for him he cannot do for himself. If God cleanses him, he will be truly clean and will be able to rejoice again.
In verse 2, the psalmist sought to be washed. He asks again in verse 7, this time asking to be washed with hyssop. The leaves of this small bushy plant, probably Syrian marjoram, grow in such a way as to be very useful when applying liquids, something like an early paintbrush. Hyssop was used at the first Passover to apply the blood to the doorposts. It was also used in various cleansing rituals (cf. Num. 19:14-19). More than forgiveness, the psalmist sought cleansing so as to be able to enter again into God’s presence.
White garments spoke of joy and celebration (cf. Zech. 3:4; Eccles. 9:8), which is where the psalmist turns in verse 8. To be in God’s presence is to be in a place of joy and gladness, experiencing the blessings of covenant partnership with God.
Verse 9 says “Hide your face from my sins”: The psalmist asks God to turn away from his sin, no longer making it the focus of divine attention. The request makes no sense: How can a holy God ignore sin?
What might it mean for God, against whom we have sinned, to hide His face from our sins and to “blot out” our sins? God can ignore sin only if that sin is blotted out, removed, erased, no longer able to be found.
D. Prayer For Restoration (Read Psalm 51:10-12) Confession must become repentance, where God changes us and by His grace we turn and live in another direction. Repentance is met with justification and regeneration, where the Lord makes us righteous and creates a willing spirit within us, restoring our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Have you ever gotten “stuck” at confession? What is the solution according to these verses? (Confession is just the starting point. We must partner with the Spirit to create space and time for God to change us by His grace.)
What is the significance of a “pure heart,” a “steadfast spirit,” and a “willing spirit”? (David wanted to be made new from the inside out (a pure heart). He wanted to remain in God’s presence, not to be cast out as unworthy. He wanted a “steadfast spirit,” one firmly resolved to obey. The psalmist asks for a “willing spirit.” He understood that as he had once known and lost this joy, it could happen again unless God gave him a new spirit, one that would sustain him in spite of temptations. All three are necessary: without resolve, we can drift. The power of the Holy Spirit can renew our will until we desire nothing more than to do God’s will. This is the beautiful message of holiness.)
Connect to My Life and the World We gravitate to this psalm because it reminds us that forgiveness is not something we can earn from God; forgiveness is only available because of His great mercy. We know in our hearts we need something more than forgiveness. We need transformation beyond our wildest expectations; we need a brand new heart filled with joy!
Here is the process God has for us: God speaks to us while we are still sinners, calling us to himself (Prevenient Grace)—we feel conviction and respond with confession—God forgives our sin and looks on it no more (Justification)—God changes our hearts and makes us new (Regeneration)—we are adopted into the family of God, grafted into the vine and walk in the Spirit (Adoption)—God changes our hearts in a deeper way, giving us an undivided heart with which to wholly love God and neighbors (Sanctification).
Close in prayer. Take time to reflect on where you might be at in your journey. Now pray for God to meet you right where you are with His grace, mercy, and love.