To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
It is not lost on me that we are getting to examine this incredible Psalm during the season of Lent. This particular Psalm has ridden with me in my back pocket since Ash Wednesday and will follow me through to Good Friday. It is exquisite for so many reasons. It is so strong and so grand that we simply cannot embrace all of it in one sitting and so will examine it in pieces over the next three weeks.
Perhaps Psalm 51 resonates so strongly because it was born out of true sin and the pain that it causes. David writes these words after being caught in sin so heinous as to shock every reader. The story of his sin is recorded for us in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. Here we find David at his lowest moment spiritually. He ruthlessly uses his power as king to takes another man’s wife and has that man killed. God gives David the chance to repent by sending the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin through the use of a parable, moving David to announce his own condemnation. Once driven to his knees as a sinner, David writes these words that ring in all of our hearts with their pain and truth.
In the first two verses, we find three key words: transgression, iniquity, and sin. David is utterly and completely broken. There probably aren’t enough “sin-words” to describe the depths of his sorrow. And let us pull no punches; he is right to feel this way. Adultery and murder is only the tip of his sinful iceberg. He has used his God given role as king and leader for God’s people to do some very terrible things. When Nathan comes along with his convicting parable, David was ripe and ready to confess.
The Apostle John addresses our propensity to sin and subsequent cover-ups as he teaches God’s people how to deal with confession and recognition of our sin.
1 John 1:6–7 (ESV)
6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Ravi Zacharias has said, “sin doesn’t make you bad, it makes you dead.” He’s completely correct. David realized that dealing with sin requires more than cleaning up one’s act and behaving a little better than before. God wants more than improved outward performance. He wants a change of heart. But this change of heart David could never produce. Nor can we. This change of heart and renewal must come from God. David prays for such renewal. So do we.