Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies; blot out my transgressions” – Psalm 51:1
David was a man after God’s own heart. He was the sweet psalmist of Israel; one who the Spirit revealed incredible truths through in the Psalms. He was an anointed King: one who God defended and led; a victorious warrior for the LORD. But a day came when David slacked off. He didn’t go out to war like he usually would. This led to finding himself in a place he shouldn’t have been where he was exposed to something he should not have seen. It led to a sin that opened the door to some of the darkest days in David’s life (2 Samuel 11 and 12).
David, choosing to remain in his palace instead of going out to battle as was the normal practice of the day, wandered out to his rooftop where he happened to look down and see a beautiful woman bathing. Lust took hold of him. He inquired as to who she was. He was told she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. the Hittite. Uriah was a loyal soldier in David's army. It didn’t matter to David. He had Bathsheba brought to him and he slept with her. She became pregnant. His secret liaison, if it became public, would disgrace him. He began attempts to cover his sin.
When David sinned with Bathsheba his life became a living hell. He had committed adultery. He had impregnated another man’s wife. He risked disgracing his office of king if word ever got out about what he had done. He knew he was wrong. He tried to cover his sin by calling her husband Uriah back home from the front lines of war. He hoped that Uriah would sleep with his wife and no one would know that David was the father of the child. Uriah was too much a man of integrity for that. Therefore, in a carnal act to preserve his reputation David orchestrated the premeditated murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. Then he presented himself as a shoulder for Bathsheba to mourn on. Eventually, with Uriah out of the way, He took Bathsheba to be his wife giving the impression of being a compassionate king. Sin begets more sin. Horrible.
A year went by and while David had duped the world around him, he hadn’t duped God. The guilt of what he had done weighed heavy on him. Finally, after waiting a year for David to come clean it was time for God to act. God revealed the truth to Nathan the prophet who then confronted David. I wonder if it was almost a relief to David at that point. As soon as Nathan confronted David, David repented. And what he was inspired to write in response to his situation is found in Psalm 51. This Psalm is the perfect word on being restored when we have grieved the Holy Spirit of God.
David begins by appealing to the mercy, lovingkindness; the multitude of God’s tender mercies and asks God to blot out his transgressions (51:1). “Lovingkindness” (Hebrew chesed) is an incredible word. It refers to the beauty of God as seen in His holy goodness, kindness and love. God’s “tender mercies” (Hebrew rakham) refers to God’s compassion like a mother’s cherishing the child within her womb. David appeals to the core of who He knows God to be.
David knew he was guilty. What he did was willfully transgress; not only break God’s law but do so rebelliously (i.e. “transgression” Hebrew pehshah). He knew he deserved God’s just punishment. But David also knew that God was merciful. Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. God is loving and His love flows through His mercy. David had a loving relationship with God. He had allowed sin to interfere with that (e.g. Isaiah 59:1-2). Now, exposed for what he had done, he ran back to the God of love he knew.
David hungers for his transgression to be blotted out (51:1). He yearned to be washed and cleansed thoroughly from his “iniquity” (Hebrew awvone) or evil perversity and his “sin” (Hebrew khattawaw) his offense or breaking of God’s holy law (51:2). His sin made David feel dirty. He was stained. He knew only God could remove the filth he had brought into his own life with his lustful and murderous actions.
David also recognized that God’s cleansing began with his acknowledging, admitting; owning up to his sin (51:3). There could be no rationalizations, no excuses, no prevarication or equivocation. David must come humbly and honestly before God in full surrender admitting his sin in truth. David’s sin was “always before me,” like leprosy, like a painful rash, like an indelible mark, a scar. He couldn’t escape it. He couldn’t escape the conviction of the Spirit (e.g. John 16:8-11). His sin haunted this man of God.
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (51:4). David knew Nathan was only the mouthpiece of God. He knew his sin, while against Uriah, Bathsheba, and God’s people, was ultimately and primarily against God. And God was just in exposing it and David’s efforts to conceal it. Perhaps if David had come to God sooner and confessed his sin he might have spared himself some of the pain he felt at this point. But David had been hardened and dulled by his sin so that he thought he could get away with it.
David acknowledges his sinful nature (51:5). And he acknowledged that God desires His people, (especially His leaders) to be truthful (51:6). David knew God would “make me to know wisdom” or bring understanding in all of this restorative process. God wants us to be truthful with Him. Really, thinking that we can hide our sin from God exposes a distancing from God. God knows all. “The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile” (Psalm 94:11). God is truthful and relates to people on the basis of truth. Truth is essential and necessary if we are to be restored to Him.
God brings to David’s memory the Passover sacrifice (51:7). When the blood of the lamb was put on the doorposts of the homes of God’s people the destroyer would “Passover” and not destroy the firstborn (Exodus 12:23). A hyssop branch was used to smear the doorposts with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:22). Hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood of sacrifice on the altar of God. David knew his sin was serious. He knew it would require the blood of a sacrifice to purge, clean and wash away his sin. And he also knew that God would so thoroughly wash away his sin that he would be fully cleansed “whiter than snow” from the filthy stain of his sin. Blood is required to cleanse from sin (Hebrews 9:22). And we know that it is not the blood of animals that cleanses from sin but the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from sin (Hebrews 9 and 10; 1 John 1:7 and 9).
Once cleansed, David seeks restoration with God. He seeks restoration of the joy of the LORD. He likens the guilt and pain of bearing his sin to broken bones (51:8). What was broken was his joy because his sin had separated him from God’s presence (e.g. Psalm 66:18). As David experiences the cleansing from sin he begins to come to his spiritual senses and sees what he has done. He is ashamed that he could have drifted so far from the Lord and into such dark depravity. And so he asks God not to look on his sin. “Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” “Lord, don’t look on my sin anymore. Blot it out” David cries. It’s painful for David to think of Holy God looking on his unholy sin.
Then David gets to the heart of restoration with God. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (51:10). “Renew my heart Lord!” we can imagine David crying out. David seeks to be restored to what he was before this great sin. He recognizes now that his problem was a heart problem. He had allowed his heart to drift from God. Now he prays for God to erect a right spirit within him (Hebrews koon). David has a heart of repentance and doesn’t want to repeat his sin. He knows only God can help him with that. So David seeks the strengthening of the Lord.
David never wants to be “cast . . . away from” God’s presence again. Never again does he want God to “take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). David is not speaking of losing his salvation. He is speaking about the presence and anointing of God. He could not continue to efectively serve as king without the presence of God and anointing of the Holy Spirit. No leader can effectively serve God without His presence and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit” (51:12). “Joy” (Hebrew sawsone) means cheerfulness, gladness, joy, mirth, and rejoicing. “Generous” (Hebrew nawdeeb) means generous, liberal, willing hearted, giving. David comes to God knowing His generosity and grace and asks for God to “restore” (Hebrew shoob), to turn back or return to the beginning and give David a renewed a revived sense of the joy of salvation. This is a call for revival from David to God.
Once revived David will “teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (51:13). Renewed and revived in the joy of salvation and anointing of the Spirit, David purposes to minister for the Lord. Delivered from the guilt of bloodshed, saved by God from his sin, David will “sing aloud” of God’s righteousness (51:14). Imagine what it must have been like for this sweet Psalmist of Israel to be muted and living outside the presence of the Lord! David promises to give testimony of God’s mercy and lovingkindness in restoring and reviving Him. “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise” (51:15). David prays for God’s enablement. He can’t wait to sing praises to His Lord again.
In the end David recognizes that the route to restoration and revival is not ritual sacrifice and offering (51:16). If it was, David would gladly give it. No, the Lord has made David “know wisdom” deep within his “hidden part” (v. 6). David has learned, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (51:17a). “Broken” (Hebrew shawbar) means literally to burst, break down, break in pieces, break up, and bring to birth, crush, or tear. The word “contrite” (Hebrew dawkaw) means collapse, crouch, contrite. God is looking for a brokenness and collapse of our attempts to prop ourselves up before Him. We must be broken open before God if we are to give birth to restoration and revival of His joy and presence. “These, O God, You will not despise” (51:17b).
As we draw to the close of this great Psalm we see David moves to concern for Zion, God’s holy city and people. His restoration fruit is seen in his concern for others. He drifted from God and indulged a sinful self-centered lust. Now restored by God, he moves from himself to others. He calls for God to “build the walls of Jerusalem” (51:18). He calls for God to continue the building of His work for His city and His people. It is only after a sincere and truthful admission of our sin and humble breaking before the Lord that anything we give to God will be acceptable to Him. Revival is often pronounced with a concern for others.
David’s restoration and own personal revival is evidenced in the final verse of this Psalm. “Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar” (51:19). The word “pleased” (Hebrew khawfates) means to be inclined to, to bend toward, to be pleased with, to have one’s desire fulfilled, to take delight in. David ends this psalm with an entirely redirected personal worldview. No longer is he caught up in selfish lust. Now he is focused on “Your good pleasure” (51:18) and whether or not “You shall be pleased” (51:19). It’s as though David shares his version of “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. also Colossians 3:17, 23). The fruit of restoration to God and personal revival will always lead to a harvest of holy living for the glory of God.
Have you sinned your way out of the presence of the Lord? Are you a leader who has lost the anointing of the Spirit because of some sin? David committed adultery and murder, two serious sins. He was able to hide his sin for a time. But all the while his bones and heart were breaking within. With a little help from a faithful prophet, David repented, was restored and revived by God. Don’t hesitate to come clean with God if you’ve sinned. If you are sinning now, if you are committing adultery or worse, repent and God will restore. Come with all your broken pieces in humble submission to God. Life outside the presence of the Lord is brutal. But God is able to wash away your sin and create a clean heart in you. He is able to restore your joy and the anointing of the Spirit. God is merciful, loving, and generous. He waits with open arms. Run to Him.