Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, attempted to pick up the discipline. I got part-way through that month, and so after a long hiatus, am determined to get going. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the 19th of September 2023, here’s Psalm 51:
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[b] 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.
What is this Psalm about?
This is a Psalm of repentance. It isn’t obvious from the plain text, but scholars agree that this is what David sang and prayed and plead after his adultery with Bathsheba (it’s rather more complex than that – read 2 Samuel 11:1-12:9). It’s the psalm or song or prayer of someone who is seeking to repent, to return to intimacy with God. Soberingly, it is the words of someone who knows and understands God (v16 – David is not doing things he knows God does not want).
What does this Psalm teach about God?
The fact that this Psalm exists and is in the canon perhaps suggests that God is a God who hears, a God who can be repented to, and a God who can indeed turn a broken and contrite heart into a pure heart. Ultimately all sin is sin against God – even where it affects other people – and at the same time God is saviour (v14). God is one who is interested in the individual – in this case David – but also the wider view, of nations and cities and peoples (v18). God is a God who hears our prayers.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
No matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, we will fall into sin from time to time. This Psalm challenges us to repent, to turn back to the Lord, no matter our infraction. It shows that repentance must be a whole-hearted, whole-sef thing, before God is who is just and right. It is also a reminder that God looks at the heart – something easy to forget when we can appear very ‘busy for God’.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 51
Lord, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Help me see where there is sin in my life, and lead me in deliverance from it. May your Spirit be ever with me, Amen.