Posts Tagged 'Penitential Psalm'

The Penitential Psalm, 6


As you have probably already discovered, Psalm 51 is a most remarkable psalm.  In it, we have the three-fold view of sin, a three-fold blessing, and a three-fold look at the Spirit.  And now, we’ll find out that in the midst of this penitential psalm, David discerns a three-fold joy.

The Bing dictionary defines “joy” thusly:

great happiness: feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.

As you might guess, that kind of “joy” is hard to find these days; these days filled with stress, uncertainty, change, and hopelessness.  For too many people, it’s been a long time since they experienced real joy; maybe even since their childhood.  For King David, it had been a year, and a year without joy resulted in some unpleasant consequences.  He wrote of them in another psalm:

When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.  (Psalm 32:3  NKJV)

It’s an awful thing to be in that position; of knowing you’ve done something that offended God and now you’re reaping what you’ve sown.  David’s mind was drawn back to the “good old days” before he built a wall between himself and the God he loved so much. And he longed for the joy of those days.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.  (Psalm 51:12  NKJV) 

Notice carefully what David was asking of God.  He wanted and longed for God’s joy, that is, the joy associated with God’s salvation.  He wasn’t interested in feeling better or having a more positive outlook on life.  What David wanted more than anything was God’s joy of His (the Lord’s) salvation.  That kind of joy has nothing to do with the circumstances of life.  It has nothing to do with money in the bank or whom you are married to.  It doesn’t have anything to do with job satisfaction or how healthy your kids are.  It doesn’t even have to do with how you felt when you first found God.  It has to do with how God feels about you.  It has to do with, putting it in human terms, how God felt when He saved you.  That’s what David wanted to experience.

How would you feel today, right now, if you could experience how God “felt” the moment He saved you and placed His Holy Spirit in you?  Quite a thought, isn’t it?  That’s what David wanted to experience, and it’s a testimony to the king’s close relationship to God that he wanted to experience it again!   Yes, he wanted to experience something a lot of us cannot even relate to.

Joy and the ear 

Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.  (Psalm 51:8  NKJV)

In all, David’s quest for renewed joy involves three organs of his body, and he begins, appropriately enough, with the ear.

David had begun his psalm begging God to forgive Him for what he’d done.  By verse 8, he prayed for restoration; specifically, the restoration of joy.  For the believer, joy is the direct result of God working in that person’s life.  When David sinned, that work was halted and the joy ceased.  David wrote of his “broken” bones, bones that had been broken by God.  That, of course, is a metaphor.  What David is poetically describing is how he felt at God’s displeasure; he felt as though God had crushed his bones.

Do you feel like that when you sin?  You should, if you value your relationship with God; if He is that important to you.  This joy is not an emotional feeling but rather a contented resting in God.  David wanted that kind of security back; he felt as though he had lost it.

David had lost the ability to hear the voice of the Lord.  Because he lost the security of God’s salvation and he knew he was responsible for that, the king couldn’t hear God’s voice and discord had entered his soul.  His sin deafened his spiritual hearing.  His adulterous affair and subsequent murder left nothing but a hole in his soul and ringing in his ears.

It was to David’s credit that he realized what was going on.  A lot of wayward Christians are clueless as to the real effects sin has on their ability to speak to and hear from God.  Sin puts the breaks on all communication between you and God and God and you.  If you hide sin in your heart, you’re praying to yourself!  If you’re living in any kind of sin, you may be hearing a voice in your head, but it isn’t God’s.  It’s a serious thing to be out of harmony with the Lord.  Spiritual deafness is an awful affliction that has afflicted way too many Christians.

Joy and the tongue 

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.  (Psalm 51:14  NKJV)

This is actually the beginning of the conclusion of this penitential psalm, and as all penitential psalms end, so does this one; with a promise of praise and thanksgiving.  It’s hard to praise God and give Him thanks when, first, you have a murder charge hanging over your heard and, second, when God can’t hear you!

Here, David knew he was guilty of Uriah’s murder as surely as if he had thrust the spear in the man’s chest himself.  Uriah’s blood weighed heavy on the king’s soul.  He was literally songless; the king was just going through the motions of life.  Have you ever felt like that?  You probably have, and some of you are probably feeling like this is your life.  So many believers live songless, joyless, and basically empty lives because they are guilty of spiritual “bloodshed.”  They may be saved, but the life they are living is hollow.

These believers are this way because they are in David’s boat.  They may not have pulled the trigger, but, for example, they’ve done things like this verse speaks of:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…  (Proverbs 18:21  NKJV) 

How many people have we slaughtered with our words?

You may wonder if David deserved anything after his disposing of Uriah the way he did.  After all, no amount of praise and worship could bring Uriah back to life.  There was no making restitution for this sin.  And yet, there was something David could do.  He could stop others from committing the same sin through the testimony of his tongue.  We can’t by any number of tears and penitence atone for a single sin we’ve committed.  We can’t bring life back into the people we murdered with our words.  We can’t breathe life back into the person we made doubt their faith by our sinful actions.  But we can, by the grace of God, stop others from doing the things we have been forgiven of.

This is a remarkable verse because it teaches us a profound truth:  the sincerity of our confession needs to be demonstrated by obedient service.  Forgiveness removes an evil stain from our hearts, but there must follow acts of corresponding goodness.  David’s wonderful and sincere promises to God serve to underscore the mission of the Church.  We must bring sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ and we must praise His righteousness.  Really, we can’t do one without the other!   In David’s case, the proof of David’s sincerity would ultimately be his building the walls of Jerusalem.

Believers are called to similar works of “spiritual construction,” namely, building the Kingdom of God, one soul at a time.  Because we have received forgiveness, we are called to work for the kingdom—it’s not an option.

Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.  (Jude, verse 23  TLB)

Joy, and where it comes from 

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.  (Psalm 51:15  NKJV)

David just got finished making some promises to God.  He was wise enough to know that he would need all the help God could give him if was to honor those promises.  So he did what he had to do:  he asked God for help!  He prayed what every anxious, hesitant, and fearful Christian ought to pray:  “Lord, help me speak.”

Think carefully of what David asked of God:  he needed God to give him the words that he could give back to God in the form of praise!  Jim Murray, tenor for the Imperials back in the 1980’s, sang a song that speaks about what David was asking of God:

Even the praise comes from you,
Every prayer that I raise comes from you;
Fill my mouth with words of worship,
And I’ll give them back to you. 
‘Cause Lord, they’re not my own,
They come from You alone;
Even the praise, every feeling and phrase,
Even the praise comes from You. 

As Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Man is a lock, the Spirit of God has the key. 

Praising God is not an easy thing to do, which is why it is referred to as “a sacrifice” in the Bible.  Only God can make true praise possible.   You can listen to praise and worship music all day long, letting yourself be moved by the chords and the words, but praising God has little to do with how you feel at the moment.  It has everything to with how you view the God of your life.  We all need to be like David; we all need the Holy Spirit to come and unlock our lips.  How does He do this?  The Holy Spirit unlocks our lips by way of our hearts.  You see, when your heart is full of the joy of the Lord; when your heart is thankful; regardless of the state of your life, the Spirit of God will come in like flood and the praise will flow out of you!

In the end, it was sin that sealed David’s lips and God would open them only after that sin was dealt with.  Now would be a good time to pause and take stock of you your life.  Is it songless?  Does praise seem like a distant memory to you?  Are you always longing for the good old days when praise, apparently, came so easy?  It’s always dangerous looking back; those rose colored glasses taint how we think it was back then.  But, really, God wants to set you free to praise Him.  Won’t you let Him?


The Penitential Psalm, 4


 God loved David and allowed His Holy Spirit to dwell within him. After David was confronted by his friend and prophet, Nathan, the full weight of what he had done came crashing down on him. David, like all sinners, sinned and lived in a bubble, believing if he hadn’t been caught, then he got away with it. In time, the sin fades away. But in a shocking manner, David found out he had been found by the God he loved so much. David’s love for God was real, but his betrayal of that love was also real.

In 1 Samuel 16, we read this:

So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the olive oil he had brought and poured it upon David’s head; and the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him and gave him great power from that day onward. Then Samuel returned to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 TLB)

That was the day he received the abiding presence of God; David was one of a very select few believers in the Old Testament who had been filled with God’s Holy Spirit. But now, caught in sin, David feared that he would lose that precious presence of God; that God would, either out of anger or as punishment, take back His Spirit from David. Where did King David get the idea that God would do such a thing? Perhaps he remembered his predecessor, King Saul. Of him, we read this:

But the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and instead, the Lord had sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. (1 Samuel 16:14 TLB)

So it seems as though crazy Saul was also one of the few who had been blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life, but because of his rebellious ways, God removed His Spirit from Saul. David was terrified that this fate awaited him. He didn’t want to live a moment without God’s presence in his life.

And that’s what we’ll deal with in this study of the psalm 51; we’ll look at the Holy Spirit and two other spirits as we discover the depths of David’s spiritual understanding. In brief, the three spirits of Psalm 51 have to do with: (1) the character of the man; (2) God’s Holy Spirit; and (3) the character of the Holy Spirit.

The character of the man, Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (TLB)

David had prayed earnestly for restoration, which includes: God’s forgiveness (verses 7, 9) renewal of joy (verses 8); and a renewal of his spirit (verse 10).

No wonder David wanted joy! He had come face to face with not only the awfulness of his sin, the impending death of his son, but also with the fact that he had hurt the God he loved so much. There was no joy in the king’s life and he knew only God could put it back. He first needed forgiveness; David needed to know that he and God were “OK.”

The results of God’s forgiveness and subsequent restoration of joy would be the creation of a “clean heart” and the renewal of a   “right spirit.” With regard to the creation of a “clean heart,” the word used for “create” is the Hebrew bara, and it’s the same word used in the creation of the material universe in Genesis 1:1. It means to bring into being something that never existed before. The fact is, David’s heart was never clean, and it’s to his credit that he realized it. David didn’t want things between him and God to go back to the way they were before; he wanted things to be better than they were before; he wanted to be a different man on the inside so that he would be a different man on the outside. And he knew only God could make that happen. God would have to be the one to put a heart in him that wasn’t there before.

That’s a very profound thought for a man in Old Testament times to stumble upon. To you and me, living in a day and age when we have access to the New Testament, the notion of the “new creation” is as old as, well, the New Testament. But David figured it out all on his own! He knew that no matter how sorry he felt for his sin; no matter how much he regretted what he had done; no matter how much forgiveness he received, there was NO guarantee that he wouldn’t do those things all over again, if given the opportunity. He needed to be changed by the power of God.

So, a “clean heart” was needed, but also a “right spirit” needed to be renewed. The word “renew” could also mean restore. David had a “right spirit” at one time, but no longer. He needed God to make his spirit right, as it had once been.

But what, precisely, is a “right spirit?” It can mean “constant” or “steadfast” or even “dependable” character. The Hebrew word was used of a “compass,” an instrument that leads one in the right direction. David wanted the kind of character that was “fixed and resolute in its allegiance to God, unmoved by the assaults of temptation.” David, apparently, had that kind of character at one time, but he was weak; he wasn’t as “fixed and resolute” in his devotion to God as he thought he was! With a clean heart, David knew his character would be made strong, once again.

This is the prayer of a very humbled man. We have a record of David praying this one time, yet it’s a prayer all believers could pray over and over. Our entire disposition leans toward sin! We need to pray and pray often for a “right spirit.”

God’s Holy Spirit, Psalm 51:11

Don’t toss me aside, banished forever from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. (TLB)

David was literally possessed by the Holy Spirit; he had been since he was a youth. It was a singular privilege in Old Testament times. Almost nobody enjoyed the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as David did. During this previous dispensation, the Spirit of God came and went, but rarely remained in a person. But David was different; he was full of God’s Spirit. But God’s presence didn’t keep him from sinning, any more than His presence in Christians keeps us from sinning in this present dispensation!

This prayer, “Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me,” is one prayer no believer can pray today, however. We have this promise from Jesus in John 14:15, 16—

If you love me, obey me; and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you. (TLB)

And we have this from Paul—

Don’t cause the Holy Spirit sorrow by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who marks you to be present on that day when salvation from sin will be complete. (Ephesians 4:30 TLB)

So, God is not going to take His Spirit away from you if you should stumble in your walk of faith. But, when we sin , we run the very real risk of losing other things:

The consciousness of God’s presence. Indeed, when we willingly sin and choose a path other than the one God wants us to walk on, we walk that path alone. We may not lose the Holy Spirit, but our spiritual senses will become so dulled, we may feel as though He has left us. That’s a terrible feeling, by the way. You feel as though you are orphaned! You haven’t been, of course, but you feel that way. It’s one way God uses to induce you to come to your redeemed senses.
The power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may not leave us, but He will withhold His power from us. It’s hard to imagine how much the Holy Spirit does in us and through us until He stops. When we go our own way, we lose His power and we become “as weak as other men,” as was said of Samson when God took His Spirit from Him. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Galatians 5:22, 23). Imagine all of a sudden having to gin up those things on your own! You can’t do it! Little wonder backslidden Christians are so miserable!

God loves you so much, He will do everything He can to get you see the error of your ways; to get you pray as David did.

The Spirit of freedom, Psalm 51:12

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (AV)

When you have a clean heart and a right spirit, fellowship with God will be restored. This was what David really wanted; this was the core of His prayer. Everything he asked of God was aimed at restoring fellowship between himself and His God.

Serving God ought to be a joyful experience, but for one on the outs with God as David was, there was NO joy in salvation. Who wants to be unhappy and miserable? Who wants to be unsure of their relationship with God? David wanted the way cleared; he wanted nothing to come between himself and his God, and this would result in the joy of salvation being put back in place.

But two aspects of this petition catch our eyes: the desire to be “upheld” and the curious adjective describing the character of the Holy Spirit: “free.” As to David’s heartfelt desire to be “upheld,” the first thing that needs to be noted is that this is the request of man very conscious of his weakness. David, the great warrior-king knew he needed the strength of God; he knew he couldn’t stand on his own; that he needed God to literally hold him up. And second, he knew he needed God’s strength to not fall again. Believers get themselves into a lot of trouble when they think they are strong enough to stand firm on their own.

What a wonderful way to describe the Holy Spirit—“free Spirit”! There are different ways of translating that word. “Free” is one way, “willing” is another way. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of freedom, and freedom is something all men long for. Freedom is what we all want but can’t find much of anymore. Spiritual freedom is found in God; the spirit of the world is the spirit of bondage!

the truth will set you free. (John 8:32 TLB)

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free. (John 8:36 TLB)

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Corinthians 3:17 NKJV)

But God’s Spirit is also a “willing Spirit,” the other way to translate that Hebrew phrase. This is so beautiful! The Holy Spirit is willing to work in us, on us, and through us. He is willing to speak to us and through us. He is willing to empower us to do what God wants us to do and to live the way He wants us to live. The Holy Spirit is absolutely indispensable when it comes to living for God.

King David, a passionate man, was almost undone by those passions. It took being confronted with the true state of his life to see how far from God he had wandered. But God hadn’t wandered far from David! He was right there when David prayed, and God answered David’s prayer. What David did and said is what God wants from all His children. Be honest, be humble, and be receptive to God’s Spirit.


The Penitential Psalm, 3



Psalm 51:4

 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  (AV)

What’s this?  What in the world did David mean when he wrote, “…that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest…”?  We hear a lot about man being justified and justification by faith, but does God really need to be justified?  The NIV’s translation might clear things up a little:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.  (NIV)

Remember the context of Psalm 51.  King David had just been confronted by his faithful friend and prophet, Nathan:

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 12:7—9  TLB)

David thought he and Bathsheba had gotten away with their sin of adultery.  David was very careful to make sure nobody would ever find out.  The whole thing happened one spring:

In the spring of the following year, at the time when wars begin, David sent Joab and the Israeli army to destroy the Ammonites. They began by laying siege to the city of Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem.  (2 Samuel 11:1  TLB)

This spring, Jerusalem was void of healthy young men because they were all out fighting.  King David, the warrior king, should have been with his troops, but this time he stayed behind.  He had other things on his mind:

One night he couldn’t get to sleep and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking her evening bath. He sent to find out who she was and was told that she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah.  Then David sent for her and when she came he slept with her.  (2 Samuel 11:2—4a  TLB)

It was no coincidence, by the way.  It was no accident.  These two were not “overcome with passion in the heat of the moment.”  It was a carefully planned meeting; taking place at a time when her husband Uriah, was out of town fighting the enemy.  It was the perfect plan.  Who would ever know?  This pair thought of almost everything:

When she found that he had gotten her pregnant she sent a message to inform him. (2 Samuel 11:5  TLB)

As they say, David’s jig was up.  It wouldn’t be long before everybody found what he and Bathsheba had done.  In a comical turn of events, we read of how the king did everything humanly possible to get Uriah to go home and make love to Bathsheba so that everybody would just assume the baby was his.  But it didn’t work.  In sheer panic, David, the man after God’s own heart, had Uriah, a faithful husband, servant of the king, and soldier, put on the front lines in a battle impossible to win.

The plan worked perfectly.  Uriah was killed and after a suitable period of mourning, David married Bathsheba, the grieving widow and she bore David a son.  The final sentence of 2 Samuel 11 might be the most chilling verse in all of Scripture:

But the Lord was very displeased with what David had done.  (2 Samuel 11:27  TLB)

Just how displeased was God?

Then Nathan returned to his home. And the Lord made Bathsheba’s baby deathly sick. David begged him to spare the child and went without food, and lay all night before the Lord on the bare earth.  The leaders of the nation pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused.  Then, on the seventh day, the baby died.  (2 Samuel 12:15b—18a  TLB)

The awful consequences of sin can never be avoided.  Not a king nor a pauper can get away with going against the laws of God, not even a man after God’s own heart.

And that brings us to the question of God’s justification.  David’s punishment for his sin of adultery and his murder of Uriah was the death of the baby; an innocent child paid the price for his parents’ indiscretion.  Was God really justified in that extreme punishment?  In David’s mind, his sin struck at the very character of God.  David was positively desperate for the justification of God before His people.  He didn’t want God to look bad on account of his sin.  This was the thing that set David apart from all others who experienced the heavy hand of God’s judgment.  Consider:

  • Adam and Eve were stone cold silent in the face of God’s judgment;
  • Cain cried out in his judgment:  it was more than he could bear;
  • Eli, faced with God’s judgment, merely shrugged his shoulders in resignation;
  • Hezekiah took God’s judgment in stride, making the best of it.

None of these people cared at all about God’s reputation.  Bud David did.  Can God be justified before man? Let’s think about it.

Man justifies God by repentance and turning to Christ for salvation

And all who heard John preach—even the most wicked of them—agreed that God’s requirements were right, and they were baptized by him.  (Luke 7:29  TLB)

This really is a stunning verse.  In its context, Jesus had been talking about the person of John the Baptist, and in summing up the effect John’s preaching and teaching had on the people, Jesus points out that the common folk, down to the worst of them, were convinced of their sinfulness, accepted John’s message, repented and were baptized, demonstrating their conversion.  In essence, these common people justified God by accepting His conditions for salvation.

To justify God is to declare, both by word and action, the justness, rightness, and even the excellence of God’s acts and words.  This the people did.  They showed that God was right and just by doing (repenting and then being baptized) what He wanted.  There’s a tremendous lesson here for believers, if we’d be brave enough to see it.  When we live in obedience to God, we justify Him before the world.  But when we chose to go our own way, we sully God’s reputation before the world.

A quick look at the word behind the phrase “God’s requirements were right” shows that it is a forensic term.  The thought is this:  all these common folks who believed in John’s message acted like judges when they believed and publicly demonstrated their faith by being baptized.  In their obedience, the declared God to be just and right.

Contrary wise, when the stuffy, stodgy religious leaders refused to believe in John’s message and refused to submit to God’s requirements, they were doing the exact opposite!  They were, by the actions, making God out to be a liar or a fraud.

All this should make us think twice about how we behave in front of an unbelieving world!

Man justifies God when God justifies man

God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:26  HCSB)

Most of us, if asked what the central message of the book of Romans is, would answer what we’ve been taught:  the justification of repentant man.  But, we’d be wrong.  The central theme of Romans is not so much the justification of man as the justification of God in justifying man, and this verse proves it.  God did what He did firstly to make His righteousness plain for all to see, and secondly to make the repentant sinner righteous.  As important as you are, it’s more important that God be justified in His act of mercy than that sinners be justified.  This is important because there are a lot of non-believers who view God as cruel and angry and not at all justified in condemning the sinner to Hell.  They look at people like King David and wonder how a man like that could be so loved by God.  Others look at the plan of salvation and they wonder how God can save a sinner yet not punish his sin.  Honestly, you could say God just can’t win in the face of non-believers!

Perhaps we as believers don’t always do God any favors.  Think about the impression we give the sinner in how live our lives or in how we talk about God.  Even in the sermons we preach, we may give a caricature of God instead of an accurate picture.  Think about the thousands upon thousands of sermons preached and books written to tell the sinner that the death of Jesus Christ took away all their sins, but how many sermons have you heard and how many books have you read that showed how the death of Jesus Christ justified Him to the sinner?

All three of our texts teach us all men are sinners—David, the people that repented and were baptized by John the Baptist, and here in Romans unbelievers—and all men are lost.  However, because of out of love, mercy, grace, and compassion, our God came to die for the lost on the Cross.  If Christ had not died for the sinner, God would have no justification in allowing any sinner into Heaven for any reason.

The plan of salvation covers all sinners and all sin.  Skeptics and atheists may wonder about the justification of allowing Abraham, Joseph, David, and all sinners who lived before Christ into Heaven, but Paul in Romans makes it clear that the death of Christ removes that charge from God; that by the death of Christ, God has announced His own righteousness, in the forgiveness of all sins that are in the past.

For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us. He used Christ’s blood and our faith as the means of saving us from his wrath.  In this way he was being entirely fair, even though he did not punish those who sinned in former times. For he was looking forward to the time when Christ would come and take away those sins.   (Romans 3:25  TLB)

We can never overstate the power that was unleashed on the Cross of Christ.  When our Lord died, the sins that were lost in time were found; the sins that were covered were uncovered, placed upon the Lamb of God, and dealt with by the righteous Judge of the universe.  God loved the sinner so much that He went to the extreme to show it.

God was justified in dealing with David the way He did.  All sin is a dreadful attack on God’s Person and must be dealt with in kind.  Some people still wonder about the fairness in taking that innocent baby, but the real question is this:  why did God accept David as His own after all that David did?  It was because God was looking forward to the day when His Son would come to earth and deal with all sin, from all time, justifying Himself to all people.

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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