When I Have Sinned
To the chief musician. A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba.
1. The psalmist prays for mercy, humbly confessing and lamenting his sins. (Psalms 51:1-6)
Ps. 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 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. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
(Psalms 51:1-19) David’s humble prayer for forgiveness and cleansing. As the prayer of a contrite sinner, it represents a proper response to the Lord’s confrontation of his people in (Psalms 51:16 ;50:8-15). This psalm has many points of contact with (Psalms 25). In traditional Christian usage it is one of seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6). The psalm is constructed symmetrically: A two-verse introduction balances a two-verse conclusion, and the enclosed four stanzas in Hebrew consist of five lines, three lines, three lines and five lines respectively. The whole is framed by David’s prayer for himself (Psalms 51: 1-2) and for Zion (Psalms 51:18-19). The well-being of the king and the city stand and fall together (Psalms 28:8 ; 3:8). (Psalms 51:1-2) In mercy grant pardon (Luke 18:13). Note the piling up of synonyms: mercy, unfailing love, great compassion; blot out, wash, cleanse; transgressions, iniquity, sin (for this last triad Psalms 32:5). (Psalms 51:1) Unfailing Love. (Psalms 6:4). Blot out. (Psalms 51: 9). The image is that of a papyrus scroll (Psalms 9:5) on which God had recorded David’s deeds. The “blotting out” of sins pictures forgiveness (Jer 18:23; Isa 43:25). For the imagery of God’s keeping records of the events in his realm in the way that earthly kings do, (Psalms 56:8; 87:6; 130:3; 139:16; Ne 13:14; Da 7:10; Ex 32:32-33). (Psalms 51:7. Wash. As a filthy garment. Cleanse me. Make me clean in your sight (Lev 11:32). (Psalms 51:3-6) Confession of sin (Pr 28:13; 1John 1:9). (Psalms 51:3) Before me. On my mind.
Against you. . . Only. David acknowledges that his sin was preeminently against God (2Sam 12:13; Gen 20:6; 39:9; Luke 15:18). He had violated specific covenant stipulations (Ex 20:13-14,17). When you speak. . . When you Judge. As the Lord did through Nathan the prophet (2Sam 12:7-12). For a NT application (Romans 3:4). He cannot plead that this sin was a rare aberration in his life; it sprang from what he is and has been (in his “inner parts,” Psalms 51:6) from birth (Psalms 58:3; Gen 8:21; John 9:34; Eph 2:3). The apparently similar statements in (Job 14:4; 15:14; 25:4-6) rise from a different motivation. The great contrast: He has acted absolutely contrary to what God desires and to what God has been teaching him “in the inmost place.” But it is just this “desire” of God and this “teaching” of God that are his hope —what he pleads for in (Psalms 51: 7,10). Truth. Moral integrity. Inner parts. (Psalms 139:13-16; Job 38:36). Wisdom. Whoever gives himself over to sin is a fool; he who has God’s law in his heart is wise (Psalms 37:30-31). Inmost place. The most secret place within.
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.
2. He pleads for pardon, that he may promote the glory of God and the conversion of sinners. (Psalms 51:7-15)
Ps. 51:7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. 14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
(Psalms 51:7-9) Renewed prayer for pardon. (Psalms 51:7) Cleanse me. Lit. “Un-sin me.” Hyssop. Used in ritual cleansing; see note on (Ex 12:22). Be clean. The Hebrew root for this phrase is the same as that for “cleanse” in (Psalms 51: 2). Whiter than snow. Like a filthy garment, he needs washing (Psalms 51: 2); but if God washes him, he will be so pure that there is no figurative word that can describe him (Isa 1:18; Da 7:9; Rev 7:14; 19:14). Let me hear joy. Let me be surrounded by joy (Psalms 32:7;35:27), or let me hear a prophetic oracle of forgiveness that will result in joy —from the assurance of sins forgiven (2Sam 12:13). Bones. (Psalms 6:2). Hide your face. From what is “always before me” (Psalms 51: 3). Blot out. (Psalms 51:1). (Psalms 51:10-12) Prayer for purity —for a pure heart, a steadfast spirit of faithfulness and a willing spirit of service. These can be his only if God does not reject him and take his Holy Spirit from him. If granted, the joy of God’s salvation will return to gladden his troubled soul. (Psalms 51:10) Create. As something new, which cannot emerge from what now is (Psalms 51: 5), and which only God can fashion (Gen 1:1; Isa 65:17; Jer 31:22). Heart. (Psalms 4:7. The two requests are essentially one (Psalms 139:7; Eze 39:29). David’s prayer recalls the rejection of Saul (1Sam 16:1,14; 2Sam 7:15) and pleads for God not to take away his Spirit, by which he had equipped and qualified him for his royal office (1Sam 16:13; 2Sam 23:1-2). Holy Spirit. The phrase is found elsewhere in the OT only in (Isa 63:10-11). By his Spirit, God effected his purposes in creation (Psalms 104:30; Gen 1:2; Job 33:4) and redemption (Isa 32:15; 44:3; 63:11,14; Hag 2:5), equipped his servants for their appointed tasks (Ex 31:3; Num 11:29; Jdg 3:10; 1Sam 10:6; 16:13; Isa 11:2; 42:1), inspired his prophets ( Num 24:2-3; 2Sam 23:2; Ne 9:30; Isa 59:21; 61:1; Eze 11:5; Mic 3:8; Zec 7:12) and directed their ministries (1Kings 18:12; 2Kings 2:16; Isa 48:16; Eze 2:2; 3:14). And it is by his Spirit that God gives his people a “new heart and. . . a new spirit” to live by his will (Eze 36:26-27; Jer 24:7; 32:39; Eze 11:19; 18:31). (Psalms 51:13-17) The vow to praise (Psalms 7:17). (Psalms 51:13) His praise for God’s forgiveness and purification will be accompanied by instruction for sinners (Psalms 51:34 ; 32:8-10). Your ways. (Psalms 25:4 ). If God will only forgive, praise will follow. Righteousness. (Psalms 4:1). Open my lips. By granting the forgiveness and cleansing I seek.
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?
3. God is pleased with a contrite heart, A prayer for the prosperity of Zion. (Pslams 51:16-19)
Ps. 51:16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Broken Spirit; A broken and contrite heart. What pleases God more than sacrifices is a humble heart that looks to him when troubles crush and penitently pleads for mercy when sin has been committed (Psalms 50:7-15 ; 34:17-18). (Psalms 51:18-19) Prayer for Zion (Psalms 3:8). Righteous sacrifices. Such as are pleasing to God; here, sacrifices accompanied by praise for God’s mercies (Psalms 50:14-15).
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.
Though David penned this psalm upon a very particular occasion, yet, it is of as general use as any of David’s psalms; it is the most eminent of the penitential psalms, and most expressive of the cares and desires of a repenting sinner. It is a pity indeed that in our devout addresses to God we should have any thing else to do than to praise God, for that is the work of heaven; but we make other work for ourselves by our own sins and follies: we must come to the throne of grace in the posture of penitents, to confess our sins and sue for the grace of God; and, if therein we would take with us words, we can nowhere find any more apposite than in this psalm, which is the record of David’s repentance for his sin in the matter of Uriah, which was the greatest blemish upon his character: all the rest of his faults were nothing to this; it is said of him (1Kings. 15:5), That "he turned not aside from the commandment of the Lord all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” In this psalm, He confesses his sin , He prays earnestly for the pardon of his sin. For peace of conscience . For grace to go and sin no more . For liberty of access to God . He promises to do what he could for the good of the souls of others and for the glory of God And, lastly, concludes with a prayer for Zion and Jerusalem Those whose consciences charge them with any gross sin should, with a believing regard to Jesus Christ, the Mediator, again and again pray over this psalm; nay, though we have not been guilty of adultery and murder, or any the like enormous crime, yet in singing it, and praying over it, we may very sensibly apply it all to ourselves, which if we do with suitable affections we shall, through Christ, find mercy to pardon and grace for seasonable help.
God Bless My Friend
Robert G O’Haver