A Biblical View of Sin
In the September issue we noted David’s response to God when he committed murder and adultery. For the first time recorded in Scripture, he suggests that a broken and contrite heart can restore our relationship with God. Because David’s confession is so pivotal to understanding how the sinner relates to God, we will devote this issue to an exposition of Psalm 51. David illustrates how a sinner can become a man after God’s own heart. It matters not how deep David’s depravity, his depth of repentance was greater.
Psalm 51: A Proper Response to Sin
I Samuel 11-12 records David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Evidently several months transpired between David’s sin and Nathan the prophet’s confrontation of him. David, an oriental king with despotic power, dismisses from his mind the crime he committed. Among the nations of the world, such acts were the prerogative of the king. Because God elected Israel to be His own, the king was under God’s authority.
When Nathan the prophet confronted the king, he awakened David’s dormant conscience. You will remember that Nathan used the illustration of the rich man taking a poor man’s pet lamb and having it for dinner. David evidently had put the crime out of his mind, for he did not make the application. When God’s prophet stuck his finger in the face of David, and said, “You are the man,” David immediately acknowledged his sin. He didn’t try to defend himself; he made no excuses.
Psalm 51 divides into two obvious parts:
Confession and Plea for Pardon – Vv. 1-12
V. 1 – “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” David begins appealing for mercy before confessing his sin. His guilt is an established fact. He appeals to God’s lovingkindness and tender mercies, asking that God will erase them from the record.
V. 2 – “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” After asking God to cleanse the record, David then asks God to cleanse his life.. His person is defiled and needs cleansing, and only God can do it effectively. The hypocrite wants his garment cleaned; the man of God, sick of sin, desires the cleansing of his soul.
V. 3 – “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” David now acknowledges the plurality of his sins. As with Nathan the prophet, you see no hint of self-justification. Once David sees his sin, it is “ever before” him. He cannot remove it from his conscience and he realizes that it has alienated him from God. David must deal with it.
V. 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.” David does not say that he sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, or Israel. Only against God was this sin committed. Sin, in the final analysis, is opposition to God. When you sin against others you sin against God, for God is your Judge and He determines how you treat other people.
Note that David says, “In thy sight.” When we sin, God looks on. Paul says of the godless, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” One of the marks of regeneration is an awareness that God is watching. David voted against himself in acknowledgment of God’s righteousness. You can approach the judge in a felony case one of two ways: You can declare your innocence, asking the court to be just in dismissing the charge of the prosecution, or you can plead guilty and seek the mercy of the court. God will only forgive you if you plead guilty.
V. 5 – “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David does not seek to justify himself in this verse, nor does he say that his father and mother conceived him immorally. David acknowledges, not just this one sin, but that his whole nature is sinful.
V. 6 – “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” These are two sides of a coin: God wants you to approach Him in integrity, with an open transparency before Him, and He will open your mind and reveal Himself if you do. The Apostle Paul teaches that God is wisdom and He will teach you the way things are.
V. 7 – “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” David can do nothing to cleanse himself; God must do it. You will see this again in v. 16. In vv. 7-12 David asks God for eleven things. We will note them as we progress. In this verse we note the first two: “Purge” me and “wash” me.
V. 8 – “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” This is request four and five. David begins in v. 1 by asking God to give mercy; now he asks God to give him joy. It must be in that order. You can have no joy without pardon. When a man is merely wounded, he can still move. When his bones are crushed, he has no power. David uses figurative language to describe his inner being; he is paralyzed without God’s forgiveness.
V. 9 – “Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.” This is request five. There are times when we are ashamed and don’t want people looking at us. David is so heartsick over his sin he didn’t want God looking at him. He says the same thing in v. 1, except here he adds the word “all.” An awareness of a particular sin awakens in us an awareness of our depravity.
V. 10 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” These are requests six and seven. In v. 7, David asks God to cleanse him; now he asks God for a clean heart, acknowledging that it is a work God must do. “Remove the evil, but replace it with a renewed spirit.”
V. 11 – “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” These are requests eight and nine. Cain was banished from God’s presence. David sees this as a distinct possibility for himself and prays against it. He does not ask for temporal restoration; he doesn’t even mention the subject. God’s presence was more important to David than anything else. Samson did not know that the Spirit departed from him. The Holy Spirit departed from the life of Saul. David pleads, “God, do not let it happen to me!”
V. 12 – “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” These are requests ten and eleven. They are the words of a saved man. He has not lost his salvation, only the “joy” of his salvation. Thus, this prayer follows David’s plea for pardon and purity. Experience tells him that he cannot live a holy life in his own power. He needs to be upheld by the Holy Spirit. Note that the Spirit is “free,” given to whom God wishes. He cannot be purchased.
Confidence in the Grace of God – Vv. 13-19
V. 13 – “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” King David paid a high price to qualify as a teacher. Having experienced this catastrophe he resolves to teach others so they can be “converted.” His pupils are people like himself – those who are “transgressors.” These are the only kind of people that go to heaven.
V. 14 – “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” David did not kill Uriah; he died in battle. But the king knows that he was responsible for shedding the blood of this innocent man, the first time in this Psalm that he specifies his crime.
He calls for deliverance from the One who can save him, the only One against whom he sinned. David does not say, “I will sing of Thy mercy,” but rather “of Thy righteousness.” Mercy is only possible if God is righteous, as Paul says, God must be “just and the Justifier.” Justice must be satisfied, and evidently David the king knew that.
V. 15 – “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.” Sin caused David to lose all confidence in himself. God must open his lips and give the power to praise. If there is any benefit at all to sin, it is the lesson of dependence.
V. 16 – “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.” In this verse David tells us what God does not want, in v. 18 what God does want. As noted in the last issue, David understood that there was no sacrifice in the Levitical arsenal adequate to handle this problem. There were no sacrifices for willful sin, only those committed in ignorance.
V. 17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” David defines the essence of a person’s relationship with God. God wants you living in a state of perpetual brokenness. God is more pleased with a broken spirit than with the broken neck of a sacrificed animal. It is a “sacrifice” because brokenness, dependence, humility, and contrition require death to self – unnatural attitudes required in a relationship with God.
V. 18 – “Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.” God established His covenant with David before his sin with Bathsheba. Connected to this covenant was the building of the Temple, and David did not want his sin to hinder this promise. He acknowledges that the covenant was gracious and therefore not conditional.
V. 19 – “Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.” Sacrifices can only be pleasing to God if we understand that there is nothing efficacious or salvific in them. David did not sacrifice in order to be forgiven; He sacrificed because he was forgiven.
Grateful for His grace,
 II Samuel 12:7
 Romans 3:18
 Cf. I Corinthians 1:30