For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 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.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
David was the great king of Israel. He won great victories. He also committed great sins, especially in one shocking episode recorded in 2 Samuel 11. David sees a beautiful woman, Bathsheba. Although she’s married to another, he takes her for himself. It’s adultery. Then, in a breathtaking attempt to cover up his sin, David sends her husband to the front lines, certain to be killed. It’s murder. It’s murder at the hands of King David.
It’s a cunning, cynical plan and it works. Kings back then did that sort of thing all the time. They did what they liked, except that King David was God’s king. And God’s king was meant to be different. That’s the acknowledgment David has been brought to in his cry in verse 1, “have mercy on me, O God”. But what brought David to this confession? What brought David from cynical adultery and murder to that place of humility and contrition?
The Word of God, spoken through his prophet Nathan. It’s the mention of Nathan in the superscription of the Psalm that sets the scene for its confession. David might have covered up his sin in everyone else’s eyes, but not God’s: God sees. And God speaks: he sent his prophet Nathan to expose his sin (see 2 Samuel 12). And so we have Psalm 51, the most famous of the seven penitential (confession and repentance) Psalms of David.
Apostle Paul quotes verse 6 in Romans 3:4, describing how God’s voice of judgment silences all. The Word of God that confronted David through the prophet Nathan, now confronts the whole world through the gospel. Yet that same gospel also offers the mercy David longed for, because the gospel is about God’s great king Jesus: “…who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Jesus, God’s true king is quite unlike the cynical murderer who takes life. He is the merciful murdered one who gives life.
Head: What have you learnt about Jesus from Psalm 51? What have you learnt about yourself?
Heart: How does it make you feel that God’s Word is like a searchlight that sees all your sins, yet offers you mercy in Jesus? Is God using the stresses of the current crisis to stir up memories of past unrepented sin?
Hands: How might you make God’s Word a greater part of your life so that you can continually be challenged to turn from sin and continually feed on God’s mercy in the gospel of Jesus?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you that King Jesus is the great king longed for in the Psalms, a perfect king without sin. Thank you that Jesus is the answer to the cry for mercy from sinners such as King David. I am such a sinner too, silenced by your Word in judgment. So I give you great thanks that your Word also speaks mercy and forgiveness and life through Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.