The Penitential Psalm, 2


This is a triple cheeseburger from Wendy’s. It’s not the triple we’re talking about in this study, but it sure looks good!

David’s Triple

 Psalm 51:1, 2

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  (AV)

Psalm 51, the greatest “penitential psalm,” has been credited with shining the light on the doctrines of God’s grace and man’s sinfulness.  Those are both difficult doctrines to wrap your mind around, but this psalm, written by King David from his personal experiences, brings them down to our level of understanding.  Who among us has never felt the agony when we realize we have broken someone else’s heart?  Who has never felt the shame and fear after being caught and found out?  For everybody who wishes they could go back and right a wrong of their making, this psalm gives perspective.  Nobody can go back, but with God, any wrong is a chance to experiences the ultimate in forgiveness and grace.

A quick history lesson

Psalm 51 was written by David not long after he was caught and found out by Nathan, his friend and prophet of God.  Nathan had the unenviable job of confronting the king with the knowledge of his adultery.

The Lord God of Israel says, ‘I made you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul.  I gave you his palace and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah; and if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the laws of God and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah and stolen his wife.  (2 Samuel 12:7b—9  TLB)

Nathan was in pickle, for sure.  How would David react?  He thought he had gotten away with it—the adultery and the murder.  The thing is, nobody gets away with anything.  God sees it all, and Nathan, a man close to God, had to deliver this message to David.  Fortunately for Nathan, though David sinned terribly, his heart was right, and he took this confrontation with Nathan for what it really was:  a revelation of God’s love and grace.  This psalm teaches us many things, not the least of which is that repentance always follows a revelation of God’s love and grace—that these two aspects of God’s nature are in fact the very cause of repentance.

Not only that, the assurance of pardon—the sure knowledge that your sins have been forgiven—drives home to your conscience the reality of God’s unfailing love and endless grace.   And even though in the light of God’s presence the true, naked hideousness of your sin is laid bare, and even though you may have to live with the consequences of that sin for a lifetime, because you experienced God’s love and grace, you also realize How precious He is to you, and how precious you are to Him.

For the Lord God says: “I will repay you for your broken promises. You lightly broke your solemn vows to me, yet I will keep the pledge I made to you when you were young. I will establish an everlasting covenant with you forever, and you will remember with shame all the evil you have done; and you will be overcome by my favor when I take your sisters, Samaria and Sodom, and make them your daughters, for you to rule over. You will know you don’t deserve this gracious act, for you did not keep my covenant.  I will reaffirm my covenant with you, and you will know I am the Lord.  Despite all you have done, I will be kind to you again; you will cover your mouth in silence and in shame when I forgive you all that you have done,” says the Lord God.  (Ezekiel 16:60—63  TLB)

How big are God’s love and grace?  As great as your sin may be, His love and grace are bigger!

God’s mercy

The very first verse of Psalm 51 really serves to set the tone for what will follow, because what follows flows from David’s appeal to God’s mercy:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  (Psalm 51:1, AV)

The moment David was confronted with the knowledge of the seriousness of what He had done, the very first thing he did was not to ask for forgiveness, but to appeal to God’s mercy.  Before he even mentions his sin, he begs for mercy.   Mercy is the foremost attribute of God; it’s the one every sinner experiences before any other.  When God appeared to Moses, He announced Himself and led off with a proclamation of his mercy!

I am Jehovah, the merciful and gracious God,” he said, “slow to anger and rich in steadfast love and truth.”  (Exodus 34:6  TLB)

The first aspect of God’s character a sinner comes in contact with is God’s mercy because mercy is something we all need.  We all need to know how merciful God really is.

Mercy is an interesting concept.  Not everybody is capable of experiencing it.  Only those whose eyes have been opened to their own sinful, miserable state may experience the mercy of God.  Only when a sinner realizes he has broken God’s laws, thereby breaking God’s heart, is he able to be touched by the mercy of God.

The beauty of God’s mercy is that it is not based on the sinner.  In other words, God’s mercy has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the nature and character of God.  God’s mercy is great because it is in proportion to His unfailing love and great compassion.

The triple blessing

David, as you recall, saw his sin in three ways.  He saw it as a transgression—a willful rebellion against the Law of God.  He saw it as an iniquity—a crime against God.  And he saw his sin as missing the mark—coming up far short of being the kind of person he should have been.  In light of those things, he asks for a triple blessing.

Blot out, verses 1 and 9

…blot out my transgressions.  (verse 1  AV)

…blot out all mine iniquities.  (verse 9  AV)

The word translated “blot out” means “to rub” or “wipe off.”  David wanted his sin to be blotted out.  Given what he did, David really deserved to have his name blotted out of the Book of Life!  Fortunately for him, God never deals with the penitent sinner as he deserves to be dealt with!   Blotting out sin goes way beyond just forgiving it.  David, in shame and humiliation, wanted God to just make the sin disappear—he didn’t want God to be able to see it ever again.  David said that he couldn’t stop thinking about what he did, but he didn’t want God to see it any more.

Is that possible, though?  Will God really blot out—erase—a person’s sin?  We know that God can and does that very thing!

I, yes, I alone am he who blots away your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.  (Isaiah 43:25  TLB)

I’ve blotted out your sins; they are gone like morning mist at noon! Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.  (Isaiah 44:22  TLB)

God forgives and He forgets the sins of a penitent sinner.  Praise God for His mercy and for His kindness.  He will not remember the sins He has forgiven.  They’ve been blotted out, wiped away, bleached out of existence.

Wash, verse 2a

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity….  (verse 2a  AV)

This washing has to do with purity.  Here is another interesting word and concept and something that reveals the depth of King David’s thinking.  He recognized that his sin, though forgiven, and the guilt of that sin, though taken away, had sullied or defiled his very soul.  It had stained him.  And it was important to David for that defilement or stain be removed.  Beyond forgiveness, David wanted to be cleansed.

The Hebrew word is kabas, and it always—always—refers to washing or cleaning, like you would a wash or clean a shirt.  It is never used in relation to washing hands or feet; that’s a different Hebrew word altogether.  So what David is asking for is simply this:  the washing of the garments of his soul.

Let me tell you how happy God has made me! For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and draped about me the robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.  (Isaiah 61:10  TLB)

The Authorized Version’s “wash me throughly” really means “wash me again and again and again.”  David wants to be continually cleansed from the filth of sin, and that should be our desire, too.  All of us, redeemed as we may be, are in need of this continual washing.  We should all desire this level of purity.

Cleanse, verse 2b

…. cleanse me from my sin.  (verse 2b  AV)

Just what is the difference between washing and cleansing?  This word actually refers to a ceremonial cleansing; it’s a technical word that refers to the priestly act of declaring a leper to be clean.  Think of it this way:  If the washing is work, then the cleansing is the pronouncement!  David may have had in mind the passage in Leviticus:

He [a leper] shall be examined again on the seventh day, and if the spot has not spread, and it appears to be no deeper than the skin, the priest shall pronounce him well, and after washing his clothes, he is free.  (Leviticus 16:34  TLB)

If you read all of Leviticus 16, you see that it is all about people with or suspected of having leprosy.  In all the cases given, the leper or similarly afflicted person had already been cured or cleansed of his leprosy or skin disease, but he had to remain in quarantine until he was examined by the priest and declared to be clean by that priest.  The person’s restoration to his place in society and to fellowship with God all hinged on what the priest  had to say.

How wonderful it is that Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, not only calls us to be cured, but He does the curing and He pronounces clean before God.  David, the apple of God’s eye, realized that his sin literally cut him off from fellowship with God and even with God’s people, and that his restoration could be effected only through an act of divine mercy and grace.

No matter how determined we may be, we cannot cure ourselves.  We cannot make ourselves right with God.  Jesus Christ holds the cure.  Fellowship with God and being a part of His church is wholly dependent on what Jesus does for us and in us.  This was something David understood, and this is one reason why God loved him so much.


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