Last week, Erik Thoennes led us through Psalm 19, which C. S. Lewis considered the “greatest poem in the Psalter.” In Psalm 19, the psalmist expresses his wonder and delight in the revelation of God to mankind through His creation and through His Law.  David loves God’s Word, finding the law “more precious than gold,” and “sweeter than honey.”

This week, the psalmist’s tone is no longer exultant but anguished, not delighted but devastated. Erik Thoennes brings us into Psalm 51. It begins: “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the Prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” The situation arises out of David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11 and Nathan’s confrontation of David in 2 Samuel 12.  It might be helpful to reread these passages in preparation for looking deeply into this psalm.

In Psalm 51, God’s revelation again takes center stage, but this time as both the sting of conviction and the hope of redemption. Read Psalm 51. Note how the psalmist interweaves knowledge of his own sinful state with knowledge of God’s nature. His consciousness of sin was brought to high intensity by the Prophet’s visit. His knowledge of God’s righteousness, compassion and mercy he certainly learned from the Law we know he valued above any other treasure.

Reread the first 5 verses. Note the various words for sin. How complete is this confession, how comprehensive? He lays out in these verses what Paul wrote a thousand years later: “What a wretched man I am!” He confesses here not just what he does that’s sinful but who he is. Think back for a moment to the last time you confessed before God. How complete was it? How heart-broken? Do we ever feel “wretched?”

Even though David is oppressed by his consciousness of sin, he is not hopeless.  Look through all the verses of the psalm for truths about God.  What is David relying on for his hope? In verse 10, David wants God to exert His creative power which was revealed first in Genesis 1:1. David knows that his problem cannot be dealt with by remodeling, modernizing, redecorating, but only by creating in him a clean heart. His old sinful heart can never be made right. The One who created the heavens and the earth must make his heart anew.

Look also at the images of cleansing. David was conscious of the filthiness of sin. (You may wish to look up the role of hyssop in scripture. Search on “hyssop” at David believed that God could create new, restore, cleanse and return to health what had been destroyed by his sin. He was aware of the damage his sin had caused: “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” 2 Samuel 12:14 KJV. Verses 7 through 19 detail all the gracious acts David entreats God to perform for him as well as his plan to use his restoration to do good works that the Lord would desire him to do.

As we consider our own sin nature and the attitudes, thoughts and actions that arise from it, how aware are we each day of the depths from which the Lord has saved us? How much damage have we done? What have we left unconfessed or unacknowledged? The last four verses of Psalm 51 demonstrate David’s understanding that the relationship with God must be fully restored before any religious practice is acceptable to God. Is there anything in our own relationship with God that is left unrestored? David knows that only God can cleanse him. He is entreating a complete restoration based on God’s character and God’s application on his behalf of the Atoning Sacrifice. By God’s grace, we can rely on the same: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:25a


Resources: Spurgeon, Treasury of David
Bible Gateway, dozens of Bible translations,
Hymn by Charles Wesley, Arise My Soul, Arise,
Eugene Peterson, Psalms, Prayers of the Heart

Peterson suggests writing a history of our sin. He suggests starting with Genesis 3 and visualizing all the parts of that story, then going on to write about the beginnings of whatever sin we might wish to work on.  Admit our part and our feelings toward others who may have had a part. Detail the damage to ourselves and others. Lay it all before God and leave it with Him.
This exercise is detailed in Evan Howard’s Praying the Scriptures, {Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999}, pg. 79.

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