Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51

Question
I'm saved, but how how do I repent of my sins on a regular basis?
Answer

People often ask, "How Do I Repent My Sins Before God?" God's answer is found in Psalm 51.

David wrote this Psalm. It is one of the seven penitential Psalms (Psa. 6, 32, 40, 102, 130, 143). It is a personal prayer. It is also a song to be sung within our hearts. Its topic: Repentance.

David sinned (2 Sam. 11; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:23). "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God" (WSC 14). He had committed adultery and then murder. However, nothing is hid from God (Num 32:23). So, God's spokesman Nathan approached David and told him of his sin. David replied, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Sam 12:13). It was upon this occasion that David wrote Psalm 51.

The personal application of this Psalm may be done in numerous ways. That part the Holy Spirit applies to each of his people personally:

Psalm 51:1

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

The Psalm doesn't begin with an excuse, a pity party, or a minimization of what David did. Rather it begins with a loud cry to God; "Have mercy on me O God according to your steadfast love." "Have mercy" refers to one who has no claim to favor so he begs. "Steadfast love" is a covenant word. For all his unworthiness, David knows that he still belongs to God.

David understood the horribleness of his sin. His sins deserved death. All sin does. So, he knew better than to ask for justice or fairness. He knew his sin was against God. He knew there was only one remedy for his sin. So, he pleads for God's grace alone. Grace accords with two things, God's: (1) loving kindness and (2) mercy.

God loves his people. He loves Adam, though his sin brought catastrophe into the world and sin upon each and every man. He loves Moses though he disobeyed him. He loves Peter though he betrayed Jesus three times. He loves Paul, who persecuted his church. And though his sin was great, David knew that God loved him too. If you are God's he loves you.

God's unmerited grace is the only hope for each of us. God's people repent because they are loved by God (Rom 2:4; 1 John 4:19). It is God that leads his people unto repentance (Phil 2:14), his gift (2 Tim 2:24-26).

David asked for mercy so that his transgressions would be blotted out. "Blotted out" refers to a judicial indictment of a court. Indictments in that day and time were written with ink on parchments. In essence, David asks for God to dissolve away the ink in the indictment against him. He desired the charge of guilt to be removed by powers beyond himself. What would be the cost? The very Cross itself (Col 2:14).

David begged for mercy; not justice. He knew his sin was inexcusable. Neither is ours. But God's mercy is rich to those that trust in him:

Lamentations 3:21-24 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

God accepts genuine repentance. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Psalm 51:2

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

The stain of sin is deep. It is serious. It is not just a river but an ocean within every one of us. We are far greater sinners than we every thought, but in Christ we are far more forgiven too (Rom 5:20).

In our text, the Hebrew word for "thoroughly" is rabah, meaning to become great or much. When used with an active verb it means to do something repeatedly. David felt that his sin was so deep that it required multiple washings. Each and every very sin should make us feel this way.

Here we see David acknowledging just how evil, wicked, bad, wrong, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, dishonorable, corrupt, depraved, villainous, nefarious, vicious, malicious and morally reprehensible his sin was before God was. Though he was King, there was no political correctness. There was no attempt to minimize his sin. There is no attempt to protect his own reputation. David is open and honest. He was horrified by his own sin before God. What a stain sin is!

How beautiful is the Lord's conviction of sin. Conviction of the Holy Spirit is a humbling thing (2 Tim 2:24-26). He empowers us to hate sin as God does. This is a necessary part of genuine repentance.

"Wash me" and "cleanse me" is Hebrew poetry. It is repeating the same idea twice for emphasis. The first Hebrew word cavas means to soak and wash; like washing one's cloths on a washboard, so they come out bright and clean. Note this is God's work. The second word tahaer means to brighten something; make it like new. It was a word used when cleansing lepers. David desired his soul to be washed from its stain, to look fresh and new again. He did not desire to be an outcast.

David's desired his sins before God gone. Sin is a great debt. It requires an even greater Redeemer. The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5; cf. Isa 6:7; Matt 6:12; Tit 2:14; Rev 7:14).

We can't remove the consequences on our own. Tears, apologies, and wordy sorrow won't do it. What can remove our guilt? Only God's grace removes the deepest of stains.

Psalm 51:3

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

David is not speaking of just one sin here. He uses the plural: "transgressions." In these first beginning verses David uses four words to describe his sin. He is not trivializing his sin. "Transgressions" (Psa 51:1) refers to deliberately crossing over a specific boundary. "Iniquity" (Psa 51:2) implies a perverseness. "Sin" (Psa 51:2) is missing the target that God has set. And "evil" (Psa 51:4) refers to the ugly, repulsive nature of sin against God.

All sin is directed against God. While David also sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, and the whole nation of Israel, any sin against others is ultimately a sin against the God who set the boundaries of sin. There is a deep moral pollution within all of us. We don't have just one sin, but many. There is no inner peace until this ugly cesspool is removed.

Confession is agreeing with God. In 1 John 1:9 we see the Greek word homologeo meaning, "saying the same." So, confession of sin is saying the same thing God does about our sin. This means we need to understand both our sin and God. We need to ask questions about our sin and about who God is. What is sin? What is its root? Who is God? What does he desire?

David's' sin has been exposed by God. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" (Psa 139:23; cf. Psa 19:12; 26:2-3; Prov 17:3; Jer 17:10). In Psalm 51:3, we observe personal accountability: "I," "my," "my," and "me." David owns his sin. All of it. Though a great King, before God, David is a humble man. The Holy Spirit was doing his work of repentance within him (2 Tim 2:24-26). The depth of our sin, should drive us to God, not away from him. Brokenness is part of repentance. We won't understand God's amazing grace until we understand the depth of our own sin. Repentance, what a great gift!

The conscience is a wonderful thing (Acts 23:1; 24:16; Rom 2:14-15; 9:1; 1 Cor 4:4; 2 Cor 1:12). When it is informed and submissive to the Word of God and the Spirit we should follow it. But man has sought out many inventions or schemes to hide its voice. They seek to hide their own sin. Some ignore it hoping the guilt will simply disappear. But time doesn't heal all wounds. Others do all kinds of works to try to balance guilt and goodness; hoping the scales tip on the side of their works. But no matter how much water you add to a nuclear reactor, it is still a nuclear reactor and unfit water to drink. The nuclear guilt will remain. Some blame others for their pain and guilt. But as in the Garden judgment still comes. Some dress up their sin by redefining it. Adultery becomes a mere fling. But if you dress up a pig, it always returns to the mud hole. Others try to deaden it with drugs, alcohol or other indulgences. But this makes matters even worse compounding the sin and guilt. Attempting to cover up our sin doesn't work and can even sear our conscience (1 Tim 4:1-2).

Our conscience is a built in alarm system that something is wrong inside of us. We should listen to its whisper and confess before God what is there. We should not hesitate, but run to the Cross. There is relief only in God's grace. He gives us grace to hate sin as much as he does. He reveals his love and he heals the soul.

Only Jesus can remove the stain of sin (Isa 53:4-6; 2 Cor 5:21). The cleansing work of Christ is only applied to the heart by grace (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:3-5). This work is always evidenced by genuine repentance and the confession of faith (1 John 1:9). Forgiveness is available only in Christ. He is our only hope (Rom 5:1-6). Confess your sins immediately and continually.

One is only once regenerated and declared righteous in Christ. However, though one is set free from sin (John 8:36) they still sin. Remain at the Cross. Confess your sin.

Psalm 51:4

Against 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.

As a former Homicide Detective I can easily attest that there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Victims come in all shapes and sizes. Our bodies are not our own (1 Cor 6:18); and our neighbors are made in God's image (Gen 1:26; cf. 38:9). While one may not be able to identify each and every victim, one can surely at least identify one, God himself. We are all made in God's image and so any sin against another is against God too. Sin offends God! It is treason. It angers him (Psa 7:11). It grieves him (Gen 6:6). It saddens him (Jer 8:18-9:3). All sin is a violation of God's law (1 John 3:4).

Of course, David knew his sin was not victimless. One sin rolled down the dunghill and infected: Bathsheba, Uriah, David's son, and his kingdom. David knew this, but in his prayer he says, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight."

David's greatest love was God (1 Sam 13:14). He offended God whom he loved. What could be worse? After Peter denied Christ three times, he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). Nothing can be worse than sinning against God. Those with mere wordly sorrow minimize God in their confession, but those whom are given godly sorrow understand that sin offends God! (2 Cor 7:10). Genuine repentance involves a living godly sorrow concerning sin.

David adds that he had done what is evil in God's sight. Evil is what God says it is. It should not be minimized. Redefining your sin won't help. Sin called by another name is still sin (Isa 5:20). Calling a full toilet a refreshing oasis doesn't make its water fit for consumption.

All sin is before the eyes of God. "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num 32:23). Thinking that you can hide your sin is but a fool's errand, as God is all-knowing. He knows us inside and out. He already knows what sins you will commit tomorrow and the next day. There is no use in attempting to hide sin from God (Gen 3:7-11).

David knows God is just; "so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment." God is sovereign. He has the right to demand perfection and obedience. As King, he has a right to judge those in his kingdom. His judgments are always right. There is no defense of sin before God.

But judgment is not only God's right, but a divine necessity. To allow sin to go unpunished would deny his very character. He must demand full penalty!

What is the penalty of sin? Death, death, death! (Rom 3:23). God is holy and can't even look upon evil without dealing with it (Hab 1:13). And justice demands a verdict. All are guilty before God. Death awaits.

However, God is also love (1 John 7-8). So, for his people, he predestined to send his only begotten Son to the Cross (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Gal 4:4; 1 Pet 1:19-20) and pay the absolute full penalty for sin, the just for the unjust (1 Pet 3:18; cf. John 15:13; Rom 5:6-9). Jesus satisfied the demand of God, once and for all for his people (Heb 10:10; cf. Heb 2:14; 7:27; 9:14).

While David did not know all the details above, he knew the Redeemer. He as Abraham knew the gospel (Gal 3:8; cf. Gen 3:15; Psa 18:2, 46). David knew the price was paid. So, in David's confession we see him resting in the full pardon of Christ alone.

Psalm 51:5

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David understood the depth of his depravity and total inability (cf. Isa 6:5). Since birth; David was conceived in sin. David is seeing himself as God sees him; the repulsive corruption of his very own nature. He knows he is "in Adam." He knows he inherited "original sin" (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22; WSC 16). He also knows that he added to that sin personally ("I," "my," "my," and "me," Psa 51:3; 58:3). So, David sins are his own, utterly inexcusable, but worst of all, they are the very element he lives in.

What a great gift to be able to see ourselves as God sees us! To understand sin and its root, how marvelous, as it is only then can we face this ugly monster of corruption and guilt inclined to displease God. The exposure of David's sins, merely exposed what had been there all along! A dog behaves like a dog, and a lion a lion. It's their nature. And a sinner acts like a sinner. We aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we're sinners.

We have a corrupted heart. It is inclined to do evil (Jer 17:9). Though a Christian knows God, they still deal with this monster every second of every day (1 John 1:8-10). There is constant conflict between the flesh and the Spirit (Rom 7:23). While it is against God's covenant nature to withdraw his salvation (2 Tim 2:13; John 6:35-40; 10:25-29; Rom 8:28-39; 1 Cor 1:4-9; 2 Co 4:13-14; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; Phil 1:6; 3:20-21; Col 3:3-4; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 1 Pet 1:3-5; 1 John 2:19; 5:4; Jude 1:1, 24-25), the saint can grieve and quench the Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19). This can feel worse than not being saved at all, as the saint knows what he is now missing.

Our total depravity can't be overcome by our good works; as they are as a filthy rags (Isa 64:6, menstrual cloths). Only the application of Christ's righteous in grace can. In the Great Exchange, God took care of the believer's sin once and for all (Heb 7:27; 9:14; 10:19):

(1) God takes all the sinner's debits (sin/unrighteousness) and places them on Christ's ledger (2 Cor 5:21), and

(2) God takes all Christ's credits (righteousness) and places them on the believer's account (1 Cor 1:30).

This is the relief, the only relief, that can rid us of guilt and shame. Christ alone! Remain at the foot of the Cross.

Psalm 51:6

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart

David uses the word "Behold" in Psalms 51:5 and again here in Psalm 51:6. So, David first confesses his problems with sin and then he highlights what should be in its place. So, part of our continual confession is agreeing with God what is in us and what should be in its place! God does not desire to see sin in our heart, but his wisdom! Hatred needs to be replaced with love; theft with honestly, etc. (Eph 4:22-32; Col 3:1-17; 4:8-9).

Next David asks for "wisdom." That is wisdom of how to walk the way God desires him to walk. David wanted to understand the truth (John 8:32) and have the Spirit apply it to his heart, head, and walk. In other words, the next time temptation roared it ugly head, he hoped God's wisdom would change the way he responded (cf. Heb 11:24-25). As Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18, "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."

Psalms 51:7

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

Hyssop was a plant used by the priests in the temple for ritual purifications. It was dipped in water or in the blood of a sacrificed animal. Then it was used to sprinkle upon someone or the altar. It was a symbolic act of God's cleansing our hearts before him.

The hyssop foreshadows the cleansing that comes through Christ at Calvary. Numbers 19:6 includes the use of a cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet. These were ritual detergents. Upon the Cross Jesus was given "a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch" (John 19:29). Note there was a branch, hyssop, and the color of wine is red = cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet. Jesus declared that the atonement was "finished" (John 19:30). There is forgiveness in Christ.

Cleansing is the issue at hand as David continues with the words, "wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." "Whiteness of snow" relates to leprosy (Lev 13:14). Leprosy was used by God to represent sin and its corruption in Israel. Those that had it were sent outside the camp. The initial stages of leprosy include raw patches of flesh, which later becomes white with flakes of dry skin. The purification rite for those cured of leprosy, where two birds, cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet (Lev 14:4, 6, 49, 51-52).

When the leprosy turns white like snow it means the disease was over. So a priest would go outside the camp to examine the now former leper (Lev 13:13). Then the ritual rite would be performed. During the ritual rite hyssop was dipped in the blood of one bird (killed in an earthen vessel over running water), and the priest sprinkled the former leper seven times. The second bird, after it was dipped in the blood of the first, would be released (see Lev. 14). Compare Isaiah 1:18.

While there was more to the ritual (see Lev. 13-14), after seven days the leper had blood applied to him from a sacrificed lamb. Jesus is represented by the lamb, who takes away the sin of his people (John 1:29; 1 Pet 1:19-20; 1 John 1:7). The blood would be placed upon the tip of his ear, the right thumb, and the right toe. The ear represents the restoring of ones ears/heart to hear the gospel, the thumb represents doing what is right, and toe that of walking in God's ways. So, now the once leper would be in full fellowship with God and his community once again.

Proper confession of sin puts one back into fellowship with God and his community. This is what David desired. And David expressed faith in God's ability to cleanse him. He didn't say I may be clean, but "I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

Psalm 51:8

Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice.

David realized that he could not lose his salvation; he still expected great blessing even though he had sinned. Though he sinned by not obeying God and his conscience, now he expected to hear God's voice once again. Though he had grieved and quenched the Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19), he expected to be joyful again. In faith, he expected to be fully restored. David seems to imagine the outcast's return into society, greeted by the sounds of joyful festivity.

Though David was made lame by his sin, he knew the Great Physician. David sees his sins as the cause of God's chastisement ("broken bones") and he desires to have that chastisement removed. GWT says, "let the bones dance which thou hast broken." This refers to full restoration, not some half-hearted assistance.

Psalm 51:9

Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.

Echoing Psalm 51:1, David knew his sin was grievous to God (Hab 1:13), but asked that God would "hide his face" from his sins. David was not asking that God merely ignore his sins. He understood that he could have the offense of his sins removed from his soul. Paul says, "blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin" (Rom 4:8).

If one desires to have fellowship with God their sins must be removed. In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus covered our sin by paying for them with his very life. The is called the "atonement" (Heb 2:17). In his love, Christ made full satisfaction for the sins of his people at Calvary (John 15:13). God's justice was satisfied and Jesus said, "It Is finished" (John 19:30).

In his great salvation, Christ's finished work is applied to the believer by the Spirit. They are the "justified." Their sins are covered, or atoned for; the ugly stain and its condemnation is removed. The leper was sprinkled to represent the removal of sin and so the Old Testament altar was too. In Christ, all Christians are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb 12:24-25). Christ's sacrifice was perfect and complete. It is effectual in and of itself. Nothing can be added to it (Gal 3:3; 5:4).

David begged God to blot out all his iniquities. This is legal language. David was guilty of his sin, so an indictment was fitting and proper. But none-the-less, David asked that his sins be blotted out - that the indictment be washed away (see Acts 3:19; Col 2:14).

Psalm 51:10

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

David sees his sins depriving him of his steadfastness in the Lord's ways, and longs to have that changed. In place of his sin, David desired a clean heart and a steadfast spirit. The Hebrew word bara means "create." It is the same word that is used in Genesis 1:1 for the ex-nihilo (out of nothing) creation of the world. David desired to be like he was before he sinned. The removal of sin is only by the Creator! Spurgeon wrote in the Treasury of David:

Our creation "in Jesus Christ" is no mere strengthening of our powers, no mere aiding of our natural weakness by the might of the grace of God, it is not a mere amendment, improvement of our moral habits; it is a creation out of nothing, of that which we had not before. There was nothing in us whereof to make it. We were decayed, corrupt, dead in trespasses and sins. What is dead becometh not alive, except by the infusion of what it had not. What is corrupt receiveth not soundness, save by passing away itself and being replaced by a new production.

But the meaning goes further. While is a term for what God alone can do, it can also refer to a sustained process as well as an instantaneous act (cf. Gen. 2:3). David desired a lasing change, lasting rest. This is a prayer of a regenerate King desiring complete continual holiness.

David came to the Lord with a broken and humbled heart for cleansing. No amount of good works that we do or suffering we can endure can wash away our sin. Only in the atonement of Christ is it possible to have our sins washed away. Hebrews 10:22 states, "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

Psalm 51:11

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

David sees his sins depriving him of God's presence and fullness of his Spirit, and longs for these to be reversed. David did not desire to be alienated God. This does not speak of losing his salvation (2 Tim 2:13; John 6:35-40; 10:25-29; Rom 8:28-39; 1 Cor 1:4-9; 2 Co 4:13-14; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; Phil 1:6; 3:20-21; Col 3:3-4; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 1 Pet 1:3-5; 1 John 2:19; 5:4; Jude 1:1, 24-25). He has already shown in numerous other passages that he believed in the full atonement of the Cross. So, David was not concerned about losing the seal of the Spirit (Eph 1:13-14).

What David was concerned about was his fellowship with God. The Spirit had come upon King Saul in a temporary way to do the work of a king (1 Sam 10:1, 6, 9). When King Saul grievously sinned (1 Sam 13:9), God removed his blessing. His kingdom was removed from him (1 Sam 16:13-14; 18:12; Dan 2:21).

David had a front row seat to the fall of Saul. He knew he had grievously sinned. He did not desire the same judgment as Saul. He did not want to be abandoned like King Saul was. He desired to rule Israel as the King God gifted him to be (Prov 3:5-8). David is not concerned about some mere doctrine of perseverance, but the very practice of it (John 15:6; 1 Cor 9:27).

Psalm 51:12

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

David did not ask to be saved again; that would be impossible. However, he did ask for the joy of his salvation to be restored (Psa 40:8). Abraham was a friend of God. Enoch walked with God. However, David that he was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). David enjoyed his fellowship with God. But his joy had been taken from him by his sin. He had lost his peace of mind. He once again desired the comforting presence of God that caused him joy previously. As Peter writes, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Pet 1:18).

David also desired that his spirit be willing to honor the Lord in all things. He desired to obey God's laws from his heart with love.

Besides admitting and repenting our sins and trusting in God's promises, part of repentance is reforming. David desired to be kept from falling again. He knew that this had to be a work of God. Paul says, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). He desired to be in a willing and ready state of mind and heart to serve the Lord.

David took sin with utmost seriousness, and he believed in the God who abounds in mercy.

Psalm 51:13

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

"Restore" (Psa 51:12) and "return" (Psa 51:13) are part of the same verb. David knew that God could use his experience to influence others (cf. Luke 22:32). One of the purposes of this Psalm is seen in the fulfillment of this verse. This Psalm is not only a confession, but also a teaching song. David as a King over a kingdom was concerned for his subjects. Confession of sin is not only about ourselves, but others too. David desired to help other sinners.

David understood that the ways of God must be taught concerning repentance. They are God's ordained means by which the Spirit works in a believer's heart when they have sinned against him. The revealed word made alive in us by God's amazing grace exposes our need and drives us into the loving arms of our atoning Lord. So, David understood that it was important for others to see how the Holy Spirit works in such situations; others needed to learn of the richness of God's loving forgiveness. So, repentance involves humility, openness, a tender spirit, and a heart that is concerned for others too.

Psalm 51:14-15

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

The Hebrew word for "bloodguiltiness" is middamim meaning "blood guilt," "life blood," or just "bloods." This is a Hebrew plural of emphases commonly used of death penalty crimes. David committed adultery and was instrumental in the death of Uriah. These are crimes worthy of death. However, here we observe David's faith in the Lord too deliver him. He wants to praise God's righteousness whose crowning work is to make the sinner himself righteous.

David admitted not only his sin, but its penalty too. Humble repentance is honest with God, from whom nothing can be hid (Job 26:6; Psa 33:13; 139:4; Prov 5:21; 15:3; Jer 16:17; 23:24; Heb 4:13).

David expected to have uncontrollable joy in God's forgiveness. However, it was not only in forgiveness itself. David says, "my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness." In forgiveness, as in salvation, it is the righteous of the Lord - his perfect and complete righteousness - that makes the difference. David anticipated being exceedingly joyful primarily because God would no longer be offended at him (Psa 40:3; Luke 7:47-48).

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, but in the context of the sovereign God of the universe not being offended at us makes it even richer. David knew he deserved death, but was anticipating rejoicing in the Lord. He was not hoping that the Lord would suddenly develop a case of amnesia and forget his sin. He knew any offense against God must be fully satisfied; the debt paid in full. Though he never personally witnessed the finished work of Christ upon Calvary, he understood the promise of Genesis 3:15, what was foreshadowed in the law and repeatedly announced by the prophets. This was his hope. In Christ alone!

Psalm 51:16

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

The Old Testament Law prescribed sacrifices. How could David say that God did not delight in them? Not pleased with sacrifices? After all they were his sacrifices, right? However, David understood that there was more to the Old Testament sacrifies than merely accomplishing some outward rituals (cf. 1 Sam 15:22). They had a meaning; they pointed to the One who would fulfill every one of them - Christ Jesus the Lord!

Rituals can become a works religion and not be pleasing to God. Works point to the glory of the creature, not the Creator. Satan is cunning. Even some of the Galatians became trapped once again into works after they came to Christ (Gal 3:1-3; 5:4; cf. Rom 4:4-5; 11:6; 2 Tim 1:9). We can be trapped in a similar way in our prayers, taking the Lord's Supper, etc.

God is not impressed that a person can kill an animal. It is the matter of the heart that God is concerned about. And we should note here that Old Testament sacrifices didn't actually take away sin, but simply pointed forward to the One that did (Heb 10:4-12). They represented God's covenant promise - the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:18-21). By grace alone, God applied the future work of Calvary to Old Testament believers.

For many in Israel, their sacrificial system became one of works; one of rituals and not of a humble repentant heart. If an individual without a redeemed heart brought a sacrifice it was a denial of God's provision of grace. It imagined that man could save himself by rituals (works). That kind of worship is condemned. God took no delight in such.

Psalm 51:17

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

David knew that God would not fail to hear his plea. We see that God did answer David in the sequel to this prayer in Psalm 32.

God looks upon the heart. An evidence of grace is "a broken and contrite heart" (cf. Matt 5:3). A broken spirit and contrite heart is what God demands. This is what God approves (Luke 18:13-14).

The Hebrew word dikah is translated "contrite," meaning to be "crushed" - ground into a fine powder (Psa 51:8; cf. Num 11:8). We must be crushed before God. We must die before we can live (Rom 8:13). The weight of the Spirit upon one's conscience is crushing, but mending, as God's fruit of repentance comes forth as redeeming wine from crushed grapes.

David in the preceding verses has already told us what this broken heart looks like: (1) it renounces the idea of merit (Psa 51:1); (2) it owns its sin, not making excuses for it (Psa 51:2); (3) confess its sin (Psa 51:3); (4) mourns over the God aspect of its sin (Psa 51:4); (5) does not argue over the punishment of sin (Psa 51:4); (6) will mourn its general depravity (Psa 51:5); (7) be anxious for purity, not mere pardon (Psa 51:7); (8) it is an agonizing heart (Psa 51:8); but (9) not a despairing heart (Psa 51:9) - The Biblical Illustrator. Humble contrition and joy make a sweet pair. This God does not despise.

Psalm 51:18-19

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

David knew his sin had many ramifications, including that of the nation of Israel (Psa 51:11). This was David's prayer for national restoration. Zion was a hill in Jerusalem. This was where David's son Solomon built the Temple. For "walls" see Nehemiah 12:43.

David desired God's Temple to be a place of genuine sacrifices; a place that truly honored and worshiped God. He desired the Temple to be a safe place, to be fortified against all enemies.

As hideous as David's sin was, he did not desire his sin to bring trouble to Israel. He did not want the worship or safety of Jerusalem endangered. This is a humbled heart of a Spirit gifted King.

The primary focus of David throughout this Psalm has been the worship of God. To please him. David desired to be restored to worship God, so Jerusalem could worship God in spirit and truth too (cf. John 4:24). He was looking for a restored church; a restored people.

His prayer came to fruition in part in the first coming of Christ (John 1:29) and will ultimately be answered in the last Day at the Second Coming when Jesus gathers his bride called the church. David did not see Calvary, but had faith in the God of Calvary and the atonement purchased there by the Son of God. What the burning of bulls did not accomplish, the Cross did (Heb 10:12).

Repentance: What an Amazing Grace!

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).