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Psalm 51: A psalm of repentance

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Psalm 51 is perhaps the most famous penitential psalm. Anyone who has studied David has studied this psalm. The editors of the psalms have even described the circumstances in which the psalm was written. Note the psalm was not written after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. David was still in his sin. The psalm was written after David had his conversation with the prophet Nathan in which Nathan rebuked him for his adultery and murder.

Nathan is the unsung prophet of this Psalm. It is difficult to go to a murderous guilty king and to tell him his sin. But Nathan did it. Nathan had to hope that David had not hardened his heart. And perhaps David had hardened his heart a little. After all, God had been silent when David committed adultery. God was silent when David and Joab planned the death of Bathsheba's husband. Who knows how long David would have continued in this state of sin? Did David think that he had gotten away with murder because God had not challenged him in a timely manner? Did David think God would forgive him?

Note also that David doesn't say anywhere in this psalm that he had sinned against Uriah the Hittite. He says, "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned." Is it because any sin we sin against another is in the final analysis a sin against God? Is it because David didn't want to deal with the fact that he had cut the life of his friend short? In the list of his mighty warriors, Uriah the Hittite is mentioned last. One wonders why the Holy Spirit and the writer of Samuel did it.

One of the most important verses in this psalm is "Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." This was David's ultimate fear. This was the fear that came into him after Nathan rebuked him. Looking back, David saw how close he had come to being utterly lost if Nathan had not challenged him. He saw his own evil and his need for God.

(2 Samuel 12:1-12)

1{To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.} Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

4Against 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.

5Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

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