Psalms · Sin

A Psalm of Authentic Sorrow for Sin

AN EXPOSITION OF

Psalm 51:1-6

There are seven penitential Psalms, but this seems to be the most memorable of the seven for it is associated with all the events involving David’s inappropriate relationship with Bathsheba. The tragic story is faithfully recorded in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25. The seven penitential psalms are expressive of deep sorrow for sin. (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) The language of David is as appropriate to us today as it was to him.

Though much was lost to the cause of righteousness by David’s sin, yet the Church is enriched for all ages by the possession of such a Psalm as this. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. The Lord God who reigns over all matters found a way to bring good out of evil in order to bless generation after generation. Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid. However, when moral failure takes place, God will make it work for good in some manner.

      1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

David appeals to God’s mercy, and only to His mercy. If David appealed to God’s justice, He would be consumed for God cannot look upon evil. It is mercy that the sinner needs in its most tender and kind aspect. “According to thy tender mercies.” In the New Testament, in Galatians 6:1, Paul writes to those who are spiritual. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” The word for “restore” is a medical term. It conveys the idea of a person setting a broken bone. Kindness and tenderness are to be exercised in the restoration, or resetting of the bone. So David pleads for God’s kindness and tenderness in his restoration when he asks the Lord to wipe away his transgression.

Notice that David does not use his name. He does not say, “Lord remember David. “Why?” Because he is ashamed of his name. When Jesse first looked at his youngest son on the day of his birth, his heart was full of love and he called his son “David” (daw-veed), meaning, “beloved,” “adored”. Sin comes to rob the soul of feeling loved by man or God. Sin takes the soul down to the depths of despair and depression. There is loss of self-worth. There is self-loathing. David bows down under the weight of his sinful guilt and says quietly, “It’s me. It’s me, O Lord, Standing in the need of prayer. O Lord, remember mercy, and have pity upon this nameless sinner.”

David feels far from God. He has lost the comfortable assurance of the covenant of grace, and so David is ready to say, like the prodigal son when he returned home, “I am not worthy to be called thy son.” “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness, according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out, wash out wipe, out, my transgressions.”

The image David uses is that of a dish being turned upside down and wiped out so that it is clean once more and able to be reused. Another image would be the withdrawal of a record in a court of Law when the indictment is withdrawn. “Lord, David pleads, “be pleased to withdraw the indictment against me; blot out all my transgressions.” David longs for a clean heart, and a clean record.

     2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

It is instructive that David says nothing about the punishment for sin he deserves, and for this reason. The true penitent, though he dreads punishment, dreads sin much more. A righteous punishment can be endured, and even gladly received. But first, the barrier of sin has to be removed in order to have fellowship with the Father. It is sin that David longs to be delivered from. Only God can do that. Only God can forgive sin. Only God can wash sin from a dark soul and make it clean. And so David prayers, “Father, wash me. You must do it. No other washing will be sufficient. Wash me thoroughly, till I am perfectly cleansed. Cleanse me from my sin, and it is my sin. Lord, I do not shift the blame of my transgression to anyone else. I am not a victim. I am responsible. Cleanse me from my transgression.”

     3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Unless sin is consciously before us, we shall not be likely to take it to the Lord in prayer. However, when we do knowledge our transgression to ourselves, then we shall acknowledge it to God. And so David says, “My sin is ever before me.” David was in such an agitated state of mind that the remembrance of his sin seemed painted on his eyeballs. Even in his dreams he remembered. David remembered the moment he first saw Bathsheba. It was the time when kings went to war, but David stayed in his palace. He was geographically out of the will of the Lord. David was not protecting the kingdom the Lord had entrusted to his care.

David remembered how he had lusted after Bathsheba until he had his way with her. David remembered the shock that went through his soul, followed by alarm, when word came from Bathsheba, “I am with child.” David remembered how he tried to cover his sin with one plan after another. Nothing worked.

In desperation, David had Uriah the Hittite, the husband of beautiful Bathsheba, placed in a position in a pitched battle so that support could be withdrawn. David pictured in his mind the moment support was withdrawn from Uriah who was surrounded by the enemies of Israel. The faithful and loyal warrior died never knowing that his wife had betrayed him, and his king had plotted his death. David was never free from the dread remembrance of every sordid detail. As these thoughts filled his mind, a theological truth suddenly broke through into his consciousness.

     4 Against thee only have I sinned.

David had sinned against many people.
David had sinned against Bathsheba by using her body to satisfy his own self lust.
David had sinned against Uriah by plotting his murder.
David had sinned again Joab by involving him in his murderous scheme.
David had sinned against Israel by not being a godly leader.

But when David thought of his sin being against God, suddenly, all else was swallowed up. The sins of David against others must not be trivialized, but, when compared with the high treason which he had committed against his God, it is an astonishing transgression and so David calls it evil.

      4b. And done this evil in thy sight.

The evil which David did was done while God was watching. While David was watching Bathsheba, God was watching David. God was watching so that He would be justified, as an eye witness, when He judged David.

     4c. That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

The judgments of God are always true, and well deserved. There was another theological truth that came to David during his period of authentic sorrow for sin. He was a sinner by choice, and he was a sinner by nature.

     5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin, did my mother conceive me.

The black stream of David’s heart that led him into sin led him to consider the black fountain from which the streamed flowed. David was not trying to excuse himself, and blame his behavior on his parents. Rather, David was realizing that his sin is aggravated because he had been a sinner from his very birth. That is simply the truth, which is which God wants.

     6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

The truth is that the fallen children of Adam do that which is wrong.
The truth is that a person must repent and seek to do right.
The truth is that God is a just God, but He is also a loving, kind, and merciful God.
The truth is that wisdom is more than knowledge.

Wisdom is the application of Bible doctrine to a given situation at the appropriate time. Foolishness is violating the known will of the Lord. Wisdom is confessing our folly to the Lord. Therefore, let us plead with God to make us know, and use wisdom.

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