Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
After committing adultery with Bathsheba, and having her husband killed, David’s initial impulse was not to ask for mercy, but to ignore the fact that he had sinned. So the God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10) sent the prophet Nathan to awaken David’s conscience. Then David wrote this remarkable Psalm of repentance, which begins with a plea for mercy.
David did not shift the blame for his sin, like Adam and Eve. Nor did he blame God for making him a sexual being, or Bathsheba for bathing in plain sight. He simply begged for mercy.
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy (Daniel 9:18) wrote Daniel. You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy (Micah 7:18), wrote Micah. And The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (James 5:11), wrote James. Serious sinners need to know that God is the most merciful being in the universe, even to the worst of us.
Psalm 51:2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Sin is so perverse, that if our conscience is working properly, we will feel dirty whenever we do wrong. We can bathe ourselves in water, and use the strongest soap, but the sense of being defiled will not go away until we are cleansed by God.
As an aid to catching thieves, banks have included permanent dye with money that is stolen. As soon as the thieves reach for the cash, their hands are clearly marked. They can use any kind of detergent, and scrub until they are raw, but the dye will not come off. Their guilt is clear for everyone to see.
Apart from the cleansing work of Jesus Christ, every sin we commit leaves a permanent stain on our soul. They will not be removed by time, regret, remorse, sacrifice, service, or anything other than the blood of Christ. But the blood of Jesus . . . purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7), wrote John. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ is not mostly forgiven, but completely forgiven for all time (Hebrews 10:4).
Psalm 51:3 I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Whenever David looked in the mirror, he saw an adulterous murderer looking back at him. He was a very important person, who had accomplished more than most, but he did not like himself. And people cannot be happy unless they are happy with themselves.
Many have done such terrible deeds, in fact, that they wish they had never been born. Some have even killed themselves due to the pain of their guilt (Matthew 27:5). But the purpose of guilt is not to make us hate ourselves; it is to lead us to the one who can wash our guilt away, and give us a glorious future.
Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
David sinned against Bathsheba in the act of adultery, and against her husband by arranging his death. But David sinned more against God than he sinned against either of them. Some people think sin is okay if no one gets hurt, but that never happens. Sin always hurts the heart of God more than anyone else (Genesis 6:6).
This is why forgiveness is never complete until we are forgiven by God. We should ask forgiveness from those we have offended. But even if the whole world forgives us, we are never completely forgiven until we are forgiven by the God who made us.
Psalm 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
As David looked back on his life, he could not recall a time he was not a sinner. He concluded that his sinfulness began the moment he was conceived. This is true for everyone because we are all descendants of Adam and Eve—the first human sinners. Their righteous natures were corrupted by sin, and passed down to their children. That is why The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9), wrote Jeremiah.
It is so bad, in fact, that we are not only sinners by nature, but also by choice. Not everyone is inclined toward music or athletics, but we are all inclined toward sin. Sin is such a part of our nature that we not only enjoy it, but do it with skill. In this regard, we have more in common with the devil than we do with Jesus Christ. But Jesus bore our penalty so that we could be forgiven.
Psalm 51:7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Hyssop is a small plant that could be dipped in water and used in a cleansing ceremony (Numbers 19:17-19). David was convinced that if God would cleanse him, he would be whiter than snow. In fact, the words Cleanse me, can also be translated Un-sin me. God’s forgiveness is so complete, it’s like we never even sinned.
David learned that murder is a difficult thing to get over, and those who abort their babies often struggle terribly. But God is so good that he not only wants to forgive us, but longs to help us recover. That is why he offers to un-sin us.
Psalm 51:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
After asking God to forgive him, David wondered if anything good could come from his sin. Then he recalled that others struggle with sin, and if he could find his way back to God, he could help others do the same. By writing this Psalm, in fact, David has helped countless sinners find their way back to the God who loves them. David’s sin is actually a comfort to us, because if God forgave him, then God can forgive us. From David we learn that God is willing to forgive our sins, and even use them for good somehow.
Reflection and Review
Why do we feel dirty when we sin?
Why does sin hurt God?
How did God use David’s sin for good?