Psalm 51 - A David Psalm, After He Was Confronted by Nathan About the Affair with Bathsheba
1-3 Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.
4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.
16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
18-19 Make Zion the place you delight in,
repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
Then you’ll get real worship from us,
acts of worship small and large,
Including all the bulls
they can heave onto your altar!
Devotional comment from Gordon McDade
Psalm 51; How to fail well.
“Failure is not a disgrace unless you make it the last chapter of your book.” Jack Hyles
What makes someone a disciple of Jesus is not that he doesn’t fail, but that when she fails her relationship with Jesus determines how she thinks and feels and responds to that failure. This psalm shows us that failure is an inevitable reality for the follower of Jesus but also how we can handle it well.
Psalm 51 is one of the few psalms that are pinpointed to their historical setting. “To the choirmaster. A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” The story is well known and can be read in 2 Samuel 11 verses 2-5. David tried to cover his sin by arranging to have her husband Uriah murdered in battle but 2 Samuel 11 verse 27 states, “The thing that David had done had displeased the Lord.” God sends Nathan the prophet to reveal David’s sin through a parable, 2 Samuel 12 verses 7-15, ending with the powerful accusation, “You are the man!” David breaks and confesses and is assured of God’s forgiveness, despite having to live with the outcome that the child conceived would die.
However God is not simply sweeping David’s sin under the carpet, rather David’s faith in a God of mercy and grace means he is forgiven by God’s future redeeming work of Jesus on the cross, so God’s justice is vindicated and his mercy can flow.
Psalm 51 tells us what David felt and thought and did in response to the reality of his own failure. By this process he makes God’s forgiveness real in his own life in that moment. And so can we. Let’s reflect on four of David’s responses to his failure and his sin.
- He turns to God. Three times he cries, “Have mercy, oh God” David lays hold of the God who he believes to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in love, Exodus 34 verses 6-7. Our primary response to failure is to turn helpless to Jesus Christ.
- He asks for cleansing. “Wash me…….purge me…..I shall be whiter than snow.” We too can ask God to cleanse us from our sin, 1 John 1 verses 7-9. We ask on the basis that Jesus has already paid the price for our forgiveness.
- He confesses the seriousness of his sin. The psalm shows us that David realised just how serious his sin was and how real was his failure. He can’t stop thinking about it, v3. He recognises that he sinned against God, v4. He accepts responsibility and does not try to justify himself against a blameless God, v4. He acknowledges his sinful nature right from his birth, v5. The failure was conceived within his own heart.
- He pleads for renewal. He is committed to being changed by God. He prays for closeness to God v11, for a clean heart, v12, for renewed joy, v12, for a heart of worship, v15, that he would be an effective witness, v13, and for humility, v17.
This sorrowful and regrettable event was not to be David’s final chapter and failure need not be ours.