I have to admit that sometimes I am slow to ask my husband to forgive me for an unkind word or when I pretend that I am listening to him but am really thinking of something else. I try to convince myself that he was at fault for making me mad enough to “go off” on him. But, I simply cannot get past my conscience, which keeps bothering me until I relent and repent. Douglas always says, “Thank you,” when I say “I’m sorry,” which helps me realize the depths of his pain and I feel ashamed that I have caused him to suffer even for such a short time. In the psalm this week, Psalm 51, David confessed his sins and asked God to show him mercy and to forgive him. This psalm has always touched my heart, for many a time I have had to repeat David’s sincere desire: Create in me and clean heart, O God, and renew the right spirit in me.
Psalm 51 is based on David’s actions after Nathan the prophet confronted him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed, so that he could claim her for himself. The story is found in 2 Samuel 11, and Nathan’s confrontation with David over his sins is in 2 Samuel 12. God sent Nathan to tell David a parable of a rich man and a poor man, and of how the rich man, although he had so much more than the poor man, took what was precious to the poor man, not showing any pity for his loss.
David was furious about the injustice of it all when he heard, and he demanded that the rich man reimburse the poor man four times over for what he had taken from him. Then, Nathan told David that he was that person, having taken what was precious to Uriah, meaning his wife, the beautiful Bathsheba, and then, seemingly with no pity or shame, had the man killed, so that Bathsheba could be his wife.
God reminded David and us that nothing done is hidden from God and that there are consequences to our actions. In 2 Samuel 12: 11-12, it states, “This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”
David acknowledged his sin against the Lord to Nathan, and Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.” Yet, David realized that, although he was not going to die, there had to be repentance and confession, if he were to once again have a right relationship with God. In Psalm 51, David did exactly what was needed, rendering a sincere apology, repentance, and confession to his God, whom he knew had a forgiving heart.
Psalm 51: 1-6 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.
In this psalm, David demonstrated his knowledge of the character of God, asking for mercy from God, whom he knew to be compassionate and filled with unfailing love. After all, the apostle Paul reminds us in Acts 13:22 that God himself testified that David was a man after God’s own heart, one who knew and would do the will of God. David knew that saying he was sorry was not enough. Instead, he needed to demonstrate a sincere repentance, including acknowledging the immensity of his sin and rebellion against God’s commandments, and understanding that whatever God chose to do to him in consequence would be just.
David said that his rebellion haunted him night and day, meaning that his conscience would not let him forget his actions or allow him to just shrug them off. It would not be quiet inside him until he confessed his sin and truly repented of them. David understood that although he had sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, his greatest sins were against God, for sin that hurts others is ultimately actions we take in spite of our knowledge of what God expects of His people. Sin denotes doing what is evil, meaning performing acts that God has commanded that we not do. In David’s case, adultery and murder were two of the Ten Commandments that David knew well.
What I love is that when David acknowledged his sin to Nathan and to God, he did not make any excuses. He accepted that he had done wrong and in 2 Samuel 12 when the child that resulted from David’s interaction with Bathsheba while she was still married died, David accepted God’s judgment without any recriminations, for he knew that asking for forgiveness does not erase the consequences of our actions. When he said that he was born a sinner, I don’t believe that he was making excuses; instead, he was simply acknowledging what he had learned: human beings are born with a sinful nature and, therefore, they need the wisdom that comes from God to help them be faithful to God’s word and sin no more.
Psalm 51:7-11 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
David knew that only God could forgive and cleanse him from his sin, allowing him once again to be joyful in the relationship that he had with God. David learned that guilt and shame can steal our joy, mainly because they tend to separate us from God, as we think that we are not good enough to come before His presence and into His courts. It is a separation that leaves the heart bereft, as we were created to praise God and to be in fellowship with Him, and when we lose that connection, we hunger and thirst for Him. So, David wanted God to forgive him, to stop looking at his sins, and to remove from his conscience the stain of his guilt.
He asked for a clean heart and a renewed spirit, those things needed to remain faithful and obedient to God. He could not imagine being unable to approach God, and he did not want to lose his spiritual connection to God the Father. The Spirit of God had been with David from the moment he was anointed as king. David knew that when God took His Spirit from King Saul, God was no longer with Saul and God did not bless Saul’s leadership. As king, David needed God’s presence in his life, particularly for wisdom regarding how to lead. It is the same today, as we all need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the power of God in us to work in ways that help us “to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Psalm 51: 12-15 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.
David wanted God to restore the relationship they had shared before his sins caused a separation. He acknowledged that the salvation of the Lord brings joy to our hearts, and makes us want to obey God. The willingness to obey God is what makes us children of God, co-heirs to the Kingdom of God. In Luke 8:21, Jesus states, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”
Moreover, David knew that it is only when we have confessed our sin sincerely and with a repentant heart that we are able to teach God’s ways to others. It is after we have been forgiven that we can teach others that God is a forgiving God. So, David asked God to forgive him for shedding blood, being specific about his sin. Once forgiveness has been received, praise is possible.
Psalm 51: 16-19 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit–with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.
David understood that what was important was not the sacrifices, such as bulls, but a broken and contrite spirit. We must be real and authentic in asking for forgiveness, demonstrating a change in our attitudes and actions. In 1 Samuel 15:22, the prophet Samuel said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
Further, David understood that for any nation to prosper with God’s help, the leadership and the people need to be in right relationship with God. Then, God will be pleased once again with their sacrifices, when their offerings are given in the right spirit.
As leader and king, David needed to demonstrate a repentant heart, asking God to have mercy on him by giving him a clean heart and the right spirit, and allowing the Holy Spirit to remain with him. So, this psalm and his sincere apology to the God who forgives was needed as an example to his people and to us that even those who are after God’s heart can make mistakes and must ask for God’s forgiveness, if they want to return to a right relationship with God the Father.
Sin unacknowledged leads to unnecessary shame, guilt, and pain. Jesus told the Pharisees and the religious leaders that there is only one sin that cannot be forgiven. In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus said, “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.”
Too often we fail to come into God’s presence because we think that our sins are too great and that we are simply too filthy to go before Him, but that is not true. Satan uses our shame and guilt to keep us in bondage to sin. Know that God loves you, and because He already knows the sin and continues to love us, let us with sincere hearts accept His great love, confessing our sins and truly allowing Him to change how we think.
In 1 John 1:9, we are told, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” And Isaiah 1:18 states, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Trust God, for He always keeps His promises.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I am thankful that you are such a compassionate and loving God. Thank you for the forgiveness of our sins, for paying the full price through the blood of Jesus Christ. What a great gift is the plan of salvation, which includes the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, for it reconciles us to you and gives us the chance to be children of God and for eternal life. I confess my sins and ask, O Holy Spirit, that you will convict my heart when I sin, constantly reminding me that I need a broken and contrite spirit and a repentant heart. I should not rely on giving my tithes to save me or participation in church duties, for you, O God, would rather have my obedience than my sacrificial giving or my service. Oh, Lord, all have sinned and come short of your glory, so we all need your compassionate and loving forgiveness. No one is too cute, smart, rich, or saved that they do not need to ask for forgiveness or should think that they have no sin. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.