When I know that I have truly sinned against God and I need to seek His forgiveness, I turn to Psalm 51 for guidance. King David was God’s servant and a man after God’s own heart, but then he did the unimaginable and committed adultery and murder. Under the Law of Moses, the penalty was death, but mercy won out and forgiveness was found. The occasion of Psalm 51 is when Nathan confronted David about his sin.
Overview of Psalm 51
In the first verse, David appeals to God’s lovingkindness and His compassion to blot out his transgressions. David’s only choice was to appeal to God if he wanted to escape the death penalty. David knew only God could cleanse him of his sins as he states in verse 2.
Once David was confronted by Nathan, he could no longer be in denial about his sins. He acknowledges that his sin is ever before him and that it is against God alone that he has sinned and done evil. He also knows God is justified in whatever he does to him (verses 3-4). David knows all too well that he was born with a sin nature and speaks to this in verse 5 and in verse 6, of what he knows God desires. God desires truth in the innermost being and God is the author of wisdom.
David again seeks to be cleansed in verse 7 and in verse 8, he cries out for an end to his chastisement. Verse 10 is the beginning of the worship song “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” The Hebrew word that is used here is bara. This same word is used when God created the heavens and the earth. David also wanted God to renew a steadfast spirit within him. David knew that God withdrew His Holy Spirit from Saul, and asked that God not take it from him. He also did not want to be cast out of the presence of the Lord (verse 11). David once knew the joy of God’s salvation, but now he has lost that joy and he asks God to restore that to him and to sustain him with a willing spirit (verse 12). David needs a spirit that is willing to be obedient to God.
In verse 13, David says that he will teach transgressors God’s ways and return or convert sinners to the Lord. David is guilty of bloodshed and asks God to deliver him (verse 14). Once this happens, David would sing of God’s righteousness. In verse 15, David says that he would declare God’s praise, but once again, David needs God’s intervention for this. David knows there is no sacrifice appropriate for his sins (verse 16), but he knows that God is compassionate and a God of forgiveness. The only sacrifices David could bring at this point were his broken spirit and contrite heart. A more literal translation would be a heart broken and crushed. This God will not despise (verse 17). The psalm closes out with a focus on Jerusalem and a time when God would delight in righteous sacrifices (verses 18-19).
Making Psalm 51 Personal
We see in the Scriptures, that God did indeed forgive David and was faithful to His promises to David. God was faithful even though David was not faithful. But God was able to look into the heart of David and see true repentance. Personally, I like to take this psalm and make it my own. When I need to get right with God, I turn to David’s example and his words.
As a follower of Jesus, I am indwelt with the Holy Spirit and I do not need to pray like David prayed about the Holy Spirit being removed. But I do not want to quench the Holy Spirit (1 Th 5:19) and I can do that because of my sin. Like David, I appeal to God’s lovingkindness and compassion. My sin is covered by the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice secured that, but I still need to confess my sins to God and seek restoration for the relationship that is hindered by my sin.
I am glad to know as David did that “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12 NASB). Like David, I want to teach about God’s ways and draw people to God. As I have been forgiven, I want others to experience the same joy.