For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
- Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
- Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
- For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
- Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
- Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
- Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
- Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
- Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
- Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
- Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
- Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
- Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
- Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
- Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
- O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
- You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
- The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
- In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
- Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
David was the penman of most of the psalms, but some evidently were composed by other writers, and the writers of some are doubtful. But all were written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; and no part of the Old Testament is more frequently quoted or referred to in the New. Every psalm either points directly to Christ, in his person, his character, and offices; or may lead the believer’s thoughts to Him. And the psalms are the language of the believer’s heart, whether mourning for sin, thirsting after God, or rejoicing in Him. Whether burdened with affliction, struggling with temptation, or triumphing in the hope or enjoyment of deliverance; whether admiring the Divine perfections, thanking God for his mercies, mediating on his truths, or delighting in his service; they form a Divinely appointed standard of experience, by which we may judge ourselves. Their value, in this view, is very great, and the use of them will increase with the growth of the power of true religion in the heart. By the psalmist’s expressions, the Spirit helps us to pray. If we make the psalms familiar to us, whatever we have to ask at the throne of grace, by way of confession, petition, or thanksgiving, we may be assisted from thence. Whatever devout affection is working in us, holy desire or hope, sorrow or joy, we may here find words to clothe it; sound speech which cannot be condemned. In the language of this Divine book, the prayers and praises of the church have been offered up to the throne of grace from age to age.
Psalm 51 Commentary
Psalms 51 Summary
The psalmist prays for mercy, humbly confessing and lamenting his sins.
He pleads for pardon, that he may promote the glory of God and the conversion of sinners.
God is pleased with a contrite heart, A prayer for the prosperity of Zion.
David, being convinced of his sin, poured out his soul to God in prayer for mercy and grace. Whither should backsliding children return, but to the Lord their God, who alone can heal them? he drew up, by Divine teaching, an account of the workings of his heart toward God. Those that truly repent of their sins, will not be ashamed to own their repentance. Also, he instructs others what to do, and what to say. David had not only done much, but suffered much in the cause of God; yet he flees to God’s infinite mercy, and depends upon that alone for pardon and peace. He begs the pardon of sin. The blood of Christ, sprinkled upon the conscience, blots out the transgression, and, having reconciled us to God, reconciles us to ourselves. The believer longs to have the whole debt of his sins blotted out, and every stain cleansed; he would be thoroughly washed from all his sins; but the hypocrite always has some secret reserve, and would have some favorite lust spared. David had such a deep sense of his sin, that he was continually thinking of it, with sorrow and shame. His sin was committed against God, whose truth we deny by wilful sin; with him we deal deceitfully. And the truly penitent will ever trace back the streams of actual sin to the fountain of original depravity. He confesses his original corruption. This is that foolishness which is bound in the heart of a child, that proneness to evil, and that backwardness to good, which is the burden of the regenerate, and the ruin of the unregenerate. He is encouraged, in his repentance, to hope that God would graciously accept him. Thou desirest truth in the inward part; to this God looks, in a returning sinner. Where there is truth, God will give wisdom. Those who sincerely endeavour to do their duty shall be taught their duty; but they will expect good only from Divine grace overcoming their corrupt nature.
Purge me with hyssop, with the blood of Christ applied to my soul by a lively faith, as the water of purification was sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop. The blood of Christ is called the blood of sprinkling, Hebrews 12:24. If this blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin, cleanse us from our sin, then we shall be clean indeed, Hebrews 10:2. He asks not to be comforted, till he is first cleansed; if sin, the bitter root of sorrow, be taken away, he can pray in faith, Let me have a well-grounded peace, of thy creating, so that the bones broken by convictions may rejoice, may be comforted. Hide thy face from my sins; blot out all mine iniquities out of thy book; blot them out, as a cloud is blotted out and dispelled by the beams of the sun. And the believer desires renewal to holiness as much as the joy of salvation. David now saw, more than ever, what an unclean heart he had, and sadly laments it; but he sees it is not in his own power to amend it, and therefore begs God would create in him a clean heart. When the sinner feels this change is necessary, and reads the promise of God to that purpose, he begins to ask it. He knew he had by his sin grieved the Holy Spirit, and provoked him to withdraw. This he dreads more than anything. He prays that Divine comforts may be restored to him. When we give ourselves cause to doubt our interest in salvation, how can we expect the joy of it? This had made him weak; he prays, I am ready to fall, either into sin or into despair, therefore uphold me with thy Spirit. Thy Spirit is a free Spirit, a free Agent himself, working freely. And the more cheerful we are in our duty, the more constant we shall be to it. What is this but the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free, which is contrasted with the yoke of bondage? Galatians 5:1. It is the Spirit of adoption spoken to the heart. Those to whom God is the God of salvation, he will deliver from guilt; for the salvation he is the God of, is salvation from sin. We may therefore plead with him, Lord, thou art the God of my salvation, therefore deliver me from the dominion of sin. And when the lips are opened, what should they speak but the praises of God for his forgiving mercy?
Those who are thoroughly convinced of their misery and danger by sin, would spare no cost to obtain the remission of it. But as they cannot make satisfaction for sin, so God cannot take any satisfaction in them, otherwise than as expressing love and duty to him. The good work wrought in every true penitent, is a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, and sorrow for sin. It is a heart that is tender, and pliable to God’s word. Oh that there were such a heart in every one of us! God is graciously pleased to accept this; it is instead of all burnt-offering and sacrifice. The broken heart is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ; there is no true repentance without faith in him. Men despise that which is broken, but God will not. He will not overlook it, he will not refuse or reject it; though it makes God no satisfaction for the wrong done to him by sin. Those who have been in spiritual troubles, know how to pity and pray for others afflicted in like manner. David was afraid lest his sin should bring judgements upon the city and kingdom. No personal fears or troubles of conscience can make the soul, which has received grace, careless about the interests of the church of God. And let this be the continued joy of all the redeemed, that they have redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.
The Story of Psalm 51
This is a famous psalm. David wrote it after he had done something very wrong. He saw a woman bathing and he wanted to have sex with her. But she was the wife of Uriah. Her name was Bathsheba. Uriah was away in the army, so David sent his servants to bring Bathsheba to his *palace. The *palace was the big house where he lived as king. David and Bathsheba had sex together. Later Bathsheba told David that she was going to have his baby. So David brought Uriah home. He tried to make Uriah have sex with Bathsheba so that Uriah would think that the baby was his. When Uriah would not do it, he sent Uriah to a dangerous place in the *war with the Philistines. The Philistines killed Uriah. Then David married Bathsheba. When the baby was born it only lived for a week.
Then Nathan the *prophet came and told David that he had done wrong. At first, David did not say that he was sorry. This made him feel very bad. So he wrote Psalm 32. Later he wrote this psalm as well. Psalms 32 and 51 are 2 of the 7 Penitential Psalms that the Church often sings during Lent. Lent is the 40 days before Easter. "Penitential" means being sorry for your *sins, asking God to *forgive them, and promising not to do them again. The other 5 Penitential Psalms are 6, 38, 102, 130 and 143.
We put a space in the psalm between verses 17 and 18. This is because many Christians think that verses 18 and 19 came later. The Jews wrote them when they came back from *exile in Babylon. This *exile was when the King of Babylon took them away from their own country and made them live in Babylon. The *prophets told the Jews this. God let the King of Babylon do it because the Jews had not obeyed God. The Jews wanted a psalm that told God that they had *sinned. They chose Psalm 51. They put two verses on the end that said:
they wanted the walls of Jerusalem built again (the King of Babylon had destroyed them)
they wanted the *Temple in Jerusalem built again so that they could *sacrifice animals on its *altar (did they not see that David thought that this was not important?)
What Psalm 51 means
There are several important words in Psalm 51. Three of them are words that we also find in Psalm 32: *disobedience (or disobey), *sin, and doing bad things. They are what we do. Then there is what God does. He washes us, he cleans us, he forgets what we have done and he hides his face from our *sins. The other two important words in the psalm are spirit and *sacrifice. Both of them mean two things.
either a name for God, as in verses 10-12
or a name for the part of us that lives when our body dies
as in verse 17.
either an animal that they burnt and ate part of
or an animal that they burnt completely.
"Give mercy" means "do not hurt me although you should hurt me". Another way to say this is "have mercy". The word "forget" in this verse and verse 9 really means "blot out". It is *like putting black paint on a picture so that you cannot see it.
David wants God to wash away the bad feeling ... what we call the guilt ... that comes when we do wrong things. Then he will feel clean.
"Always in front of me" means that "I keep on seeing it so that I know that I have done wrong".
Though David killed Uriah, it was God’s law that he did not obey. So David feels that it is only God that he has *sinned against.
David says that when he was born he had a tendency to *sin. This means that he often wanted to *sin even though he knew that it was wrong. We are all born with this tendency. Christians call it "original sin".
Hyssop was a plant. The Jews used its leaves to paint blood on the wood over their doors when they remembered the Passover. It is the blood of Jesus that makes us clean. "Whiter than snow" is a Jewish way to say "very, very clean".
"The bones that you broke" means "my body that you hurt".
"Hide your face" means "look away from". The Jews thought that if God hid his face, he would not see what they did. For "forget" see verse 1.
The word "create" is very important. It means ‘make’ … but only if God is the maker! The Bible starts by saying "In the beginning God *created the *heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). Only God could do it. And only God can make a new *heart for a person. A new *heart really means a new person altogether. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "If anyone is in Christ he or she is a new person" (2 Cor 5:17). "In Christ" means "a Christian". "New person" here is "a person that God has *created again" or "a new creature". David wrote Psalm 51 a thousand years before Paul wrote Corinthians. Christians understand what David wrote after reading what Paul wrote. This means that we do not read it as Jews, but as Christians. And Christians are "born again" or "new people" because God has *created them again. He does this when they become Christians! The spirit in verses 10-12 means the *Holy Spirit, another name for God. It is the part of God that he puts in us when we become Christians.
Both parts of this verse mean the same: David wants to be with God.
The bad feeling (guilt), that David had, stopped him feeling happy. This special feeling that God gives to his people we call ‘*joy’. Only a new creature (verse 10) has Christian *joy.
The people that fight against God we call ‘rebels’. People that fight against their governments are rebels. God is the government for the whole world, so people that fight against him are also rebels. How do we fight God? When we do not obey him and when we do what we want to do.
This is a difficult verse to translate from Hebrew. The Hebrew words say, "Take away from me blood-guilts". I have translated "guilts" as "the bad feeling that I have" and "blood" as "because I killed someone". David does not say in this psalm that he killed Uriah.
The word is "*Lord", not "*LORD". Nowhere in Psalm 51 does David call God "*LORD". Remember, *LORD is the *Covenant Name of God. This means that it is the name that his servants use. Did David not use it because he felt that he was so bad? Nobody is so bad that God will not *forgive them! He will *create a new man or a new woman from everybody: we only have to ask! "Open my lips" is a Jewish way to say "let words come from my mouth".
The Jews had rules which told them to *sacrifice animals. This meant that they killed the animal, then they burnt it on a table that they called an *altar. They thought that this made God happy. There were two groups of *sacrifices. In one group, they only burnt a bit of the animal. They ate the rest of it. This is the animal *sacrifice in verses 16 and 19. In the other group, they burnt all the animal. This is the burnt offering of verses 16 and 19. This verse says that *sacrifice does not give God pleasure if people do not obey him.
God wants a special sort of *sacrifice. (The word here is animal *sacrifice.) He wants people to be sorry when they *sin against him. This is what "a broken spirit" and "a broken heart" mean. Instead of fighting (rebelling) against God, people with broken spirits and *hearts agree with God.
Verses 18 and 19
Now you can see why these two verses are probably not by David. They want to *sacrifice animals again, although David knew that this was not what God really wanted. *Sacrificing animals only made God happy if the people were sorry for their *sins.
Something to do
- Find the important words (we call them "key" words) in Psalm 51. There is a list of them at the start of What Psalm 51 means. Mark them in some way, so that you can see where they are on the page.
- Study Psalm 50 again. Where does Psalm 50 say that God wants people to obey him, not *sacrifice animals to him?
- Learn to say Psalm 51:10 by heart. (This means that you can say it without looking at the words).
altar ~ a special table in God’s house.
covenant ~ when two people agree they make a covenant.
create ~ when God makes something we say he ‘creates’ it.
disobedience ~ not obeying.
evil ~ very very bad people (or the things that they do).
exile ~ away from your own country, not able to return.
forgive ~ give away (usually *forgive *sin, which means give away the *sin to somebody else, read note in Psalm 67).
heart ~ part of our body; the Jews thought that you used your *heart to think; so to know it "in your heart" or "by heart" means that you remember it.
heaven ~ the home of God.
heavens ~ the sky and everything that is in it.
holy ~ very very good; only God is really holy (because he always obeys his rules); Jerusalem was holy because people *worshipped God there.
Holy Spirit ~ a name for God.
joy ~ feeling happy deep inside.
like ~ another word for "as".
LORD ~ a special name for God; only his people use it (look after Psalm 25).
lord ~ someone with authority (with a capital L a name for God, look after Psalm 25).
mercy ~ when you do not *punish (hurt) people that you should.
palace ~ the home of a king; a beautiful building.
prophet ~ someone who speaks for God (makes a prophecy).
punish ~ hurt someone when they do something wrong (hit them with a stick or put them in prison).
pure ~ very, very clean.
rejoice ~ tell other people that we are happy.
righteousness ~ being very good.
sacrifice ~ an animal killed and burnt for God.
sacrifice ~ burn an animal to make God happy (see after Psalms 4 and 50).
sin ~ (noun, or being something) a not obeying of God’s rules.
sin ~ (verb, or doing something) not obey God’s rules.
sinner ~ a person that *sins.
temple ~ a special building where people *worship God.
tongue ~ the bit in the mouth that speaks or tastes.
war ~ people (or *nations) fighting each other.
worship ~ say that someone is very wonderful.