In this best known of all the penitential psalms, David is confessing his great sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. When desire and opportunity met, David submitted his will to the lusts of the flesh. Now he has heard the parable of Nathan and has expressed his outrage at sins so much smaller than his own. The Psalm illustrates the pain within the soul that has sinned and the pathway back to fellowship with God and usefulness in His service when the vessel is clean once again. May we ask you to take your Bible and meditate with us as we divide the Psalm into three parts?
The Acknowledgment of the Sin (51:1-7)
Sin cannot be the course, but is nevertheless a reality in the life of a Christian. Indeed much of the early part of the first epistle of John could be called "Provision for sinning saints." When sin is committed, it must be confessed and "He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). With David, in this great Psalm of confession and restoration, we see first his confidence in the graciousness of the God he knows so well for he says, "according to Thy lovingkindness. . . according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions." Next we see his confession in the words, "For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me." He confesses the cause. The principle of sin was inherited and lives within, but David does not blame it all on the way he was born. He acknowledges the way he has behaved. The flesh was within, but he himself had allowed the flesh to work. God desired truth in the inward parts but David had acted deceitfully. Now the penitent potentate prays, "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.í God graciously and according to His character and His Word, answers the prayer. David is cleansed. His sin is gone. He is restored to fellowship.
The Aspirations of the Saint (51:8-15)
What were the great longings in the soul of David? He who had previously drunk waters out of the wells of salvation wanted to be happy for he said, "Make me hear joy and gladness that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.. .Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation." He did not pray for the restoration of salvation, for judicially his sins were gone. He prayed that he might again enjoy the happy communion with God. He also wanted to be holy. "Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me." Holy desires were to replace unholy ones even as Peter later wrote, "Not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in your ignorance but...be ye holy in every behavior" (1 Peter 1:14). He wanted to be heard for he petitioned, "Cast me not away from Thy presence." He knew the perils of not being in the presence of God and so after his confession "he arose and came into the House of the Lord and worshipped" (2 Samuel 12:20). He wanted to be helped as he requested, "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me... uphold me with Thy free Spirit." He had seen the effects of the Spirit taken from Saul and the results in the life of a man left to himself (1 Samuel 16:13-14). We know that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise and that in this dispensation He cannot be taken from us, but if He is grieved or quenched, He cannot display His fruit in the life of the believer. David wanted his homily to be heard for he knew that after the restoration of his joy, and when he was experiencing the help of the Holy Spirit, he would be able to "teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee." He wanted to be humble for he had learned the perils of the path of pride and he now pleads for and possesses a "broken and a contrite heart!í
TheAcceptance of the Sacrifice (51:16-19)
Could forgiveness be granted without a sacrifice being offered? David said, "Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it." An animal sacrifice could not take away his sin. His sins judicially were gone because of justification by faith alone, based on the anticipated work of the Savior on the Cross. David had been "saved on credit" but he was totally saved. In regard to communion, his sins could be taken away at the moment of confession because God, on the grounds of Calvary, could forgive righteously and faithfully. But when restored, David had to offer a sacrifice to God. It is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit that he offers to God which is accepted. Now there is no pride or perversity. He had experienced the reality of the way back to God. He has learned lessons that he wants to teach others. Psalm 32, a psalm giving instruction, is part of what he is burdened about communicating.