Psalm Bible Study (Worshiping God)

Psalm 51, Create In Me A Clean Heart


The guilt of sin weighs heavy on the heart and the mind of a person. Certain sins bring a greater burden on the soul than others. It is a pain that everyone has felt in his or her efforts to serve God. David expresses this great pain in the fifty-first psalm. The background for the writing of this psalm is after David’s murder of Uriah to cover up his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Nathan has confronted David with his sin and now he is dealing with a tortured conscience because of his actions. How David deals with his sin and guilty conscience teaches us what we need to do after we recognize our sins.

I. Plea For Forgiveness (51:1-2)

A. The three “three’s”

  1. In the first two verses, David expresses his deep need for forgiveness for his sins. David writes his need by using Hebrew parallelism, which most English translations retain. There are three triples that are written by David to reinforce his plea for forgiveness.
  2. First, David’s plea is based on God’s mercy, unfailing love, and compassion. David does not rely upon any of his past service in his plea. David does not ask God to look at how good of a king he has been up to this point and therefore grant his plea. David strictly relies upon God’s mercy, unfailing love, and compassion. Though David has failed through sin, God does not fail but continues his commitment to those who rely upon his mercy, love, and compassion.
  3. Second, David also describes his error with three different words: transgressions, iniquity, and sin. David does not focus on any specific sin, but is comprehensive in his description. David does not need mercy just for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. Rather, David needs mercy for his whole life because his life has been full of sin (see verse 5). David truly realizes his spiritual condition before God.
  4. Finally, David uses this triple form to describe what he is asking God to do with his sins. David calls to God to “blot out,” “wash thoroughly,” and “cleanse” him from his sins. The movement of these three words is also interesting. The blotting out of transgressions speaks to David’s accountability before God. He asks that “the slate be wiped clean” before God’s eyes. But David not only wants the slate of accountability before God wiped clean, but he also wants his soul thoroughly washed and cleansed. He is asking to be made clean himself, so that he can be in God’s presence.

B. David’s response

  1. It is important to see how David begins this prayer to God. David does not make any excuses. David does not try to justify himself. He does not state that Bathsheba should have never been on the rooftop. He does not declare himself human and everyone makes mistakes.
  2. David is completely honest with God. He does not try to hide his sin now that he has been confronted with the error. He does not go on pretending that God does not care. He knows he must make confession of his sin before God.

II. Confession of Sin (51:3-6)

A. Sinned against God

  1. In verse 3 David describes the burden of the guilt of his sins which he has been carrying. David says, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” David speaks of the great pain that people carry within themselves when they have done things that are grievous errors. Your conscience does not let you go. You know you should not have done what you did. The error rests before your mind. It keeps you up at night.
  2. David openly proclaims to God that he has sinned. David is not in denial about what he has done. But he realizes the gravity of his sin when he declares that he has sinned against God. Sin hurts ourselves and sin hurts other people. But the ultimate violation is truly against God for we have violated his very character as expressed through His laws.
  3. Any punishment given by God is just and blameless. David recognizes that punishment is due to him. He realizes that his actions are violations and are worthy of condemnation. The charges against David are right and the judgment will be fair.

B. Surrounded by sin

  1. Verse 5 has been used to grant many different meanings by commentators and scholars. Modern versions have attempted to make verse 5 read something that is not said by David. The NASB, ESV, and NKJV read, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This is the literal reading of the original Hebrew from the psalm.
  2. It should be obvious to us that David is not breaking into a theological discussion in the midst of his prayer of need for mercy. We ought to recognize that David is not attempting to prove or disprove original sin. In fact, based upon what David is saying, we must accept that David is not at all teaching original sin. If David was teaching original sin, then David is removing the guilt of his sin from himself and placing it upon Adam. Yet we know from the context that this is not at all what David is doing. David has declared powerfully, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” David’s guilt is from his own actions and not from another’s sins.
  3. In keeping with the first three verses of this psalm, David is stating that he has been sinning all his life. There is so much sin in his life that it is as if he has been sinning since the day of his birth. I know we have felt the same way when we fail toward God. We often feel like we have been “screwing up” ever since we have born. We feel like regular failures. This is the point David is making about his own circumstances.
  4. Many have attempted to make this verse show that David is teaching the doctrine of original sin and that all children are born in sin because the sin of the parents (and Adam) are transferred upon them. Notice how some modern translation attempt to press this interpretation: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (NRSV). David is not saying that he was born guilt or born a sinner. Rather, David is saying he has led a life full of transgressions, iniquities, and sins and he needs God’s mercy, unfailing love, and compassion.

III. Appeal For Cleansing (51:7-12)

A. Purge me

  1. Having confessed his sins, David is pleading for cleansing from his guilt. The word for “purge” means “to be free from (the effects of) sin.” In regards to being “purged with hyssop,” the Expositor’s Bible Commentary states, “The unclean, such as lepers, used to present themselves before the priest on the occasion of their purification. The priest, being satisfied that the unclean person had met the requirements for purification, would take a bunch of ‘hyssop’ and sprinkle the person with water, symbolic of ritual cleansing. Here the psalmist petitions the Lord to be his priest by taking the hyssop and by declaring him cleansed from all sin.”
  2. David is asking God for full purification from sins so that he will not longer be considered unclean by God. Remember that in the Old Testament an unclean person had to remain outside the camp until purification was made by the priests (see Numbers 12). This symbolized the severing of fellowship with the rest of God’s people and from God Himself when one was found unclean. David, in a symbolic way, is asking for a restoration of fellowship with God.
  3. Verse 11 strongly points out that this is David’s concern: “Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” David understands that he has separated himself from God but that is not the result he wants in his life. He wants to remain with God and not to be cast away because of his iniquities. But David knows he needs God to be gracious to him so he can remain in fellowship with God. David requests that he be washed so he can be whiter than snow. David carries a guilty conscience and bloodstained hands that only God can wash and make clean.

B. Restore me

  1. David is pleading for spiritual restoration. David desires to hear joy and gladness again. Sin removes the joy of life and brings severe consequences. David wants to return to the days of joy and gladness. In verse 12 David requests a restoration of the joy of salvation. How keenly aware David is of his spiritual condition! David realizes that sin ends the relationship and only God’s mercy can restore David.
  2. Perhaps the greatest and most beautiful request of David is found in verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” David does not want to simply be made clean. He realizes that he needs some life and heart changes. Purge the heart of its wickedness and evil desires so that we can serve the Lord! David wants all that is impure removed from the heart.
  3. Sometimes we need a wake-up call in life to realize that our spirit is not right and needs renewal. This idea of spirit renewal is not merely an old covenant concept. Recall Paul’s words to Titus: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6).
  4. Do not the scriptures teach us that our spirits have been corrupted by sin? We have allowed evil to dwell in our minds and wickedness to make a home in our hearts. But we can be renewed by God when we seek God’s mercy. Paul uses all the same terms that David used in regards to the forgiveness of sins. God’s mercy has come through our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Christ has saved us according to his mercy and not by our actions, because our actions are sinful. We are saved by the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” The washing which we read about in the New Testament is baptism. This is when our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16) and when our spirits are renewed (made clean). I suggest to you that Paul’s words to Titus parallel Peter’s words to Pentecost crowd. Peter to the people to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul said the same thing. The washing of regeneration is to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the renewal of the Holy Spirit as we receive clear consciences. I will elaborate on this concept more in our Sunday evening lesson next week.

IV. God’s Desired Responses from Man (51:13-17)

A. Teach the transgressors (51:13)

  1. We are called upon to teach others about God’s ways. We have to tell other people about God’s mercy and what God has done for us. We have to show people that we also have been mired in sins but that God has made a sacrifice for our sins so that we can be have our spirits renewed and our relationship with God restored.
  2. We have duty based upon God’s mercy to tell this great news to others. How can we keep quiet when we have been given such a great gift? How can we not share with others the great news of God’s unfailing love? All of us are to be God’s teachers.

B. Sing praises (51:14-15)

  1. Our tongues must sing aloud of the righteousness of God. I love when the hymns that we sing are not about us, but about God and what he has done for us. God calls for us to declare our praises to him concerning his great righteousness.
  2. This is not saying that when we come together for one hour a week that we need to make sure that we sing a few songs. This is the worship of the heart morning and night. David declares that our hearts need to be tuned into God and our hearts need to be singing as we go through the day. Take the songs that we sing and continue to sing them in your heart, in your mind, at home, and in the car before the Lord. We are blessed people with many reasons to give thanks and praise.

C. A broken, contrite heart

  1. This is the very essence of what God desires. God desires our hearts and not our sacrifices. Our worship has no meaning if our hearts are not involved. Our good deeds are meaningless if we do not have humble, thankful hearts to God. All that we do must always come from the love of our hearts or else it is despised. Only when those things are right will God delight in our worship to him.
  2. A broken heart can only come from a person who has surrendered. We have to destroy our strong will and allow God to rule in our hearts. We have to be moved by our sins and not allow ourselves to become callous concerning the evil in our hearts. We need to recognize our errors, be sorrowful, make changes, and move forward in our relationship with God. Do not let guilt eat us to the point we do not do what God desires of us. Satan wants us to be immobilized by our guilt. Satan wants us to give up and not restore the relationship with God. God will blot out our transgressions and continue his unfailing love when we confess our sins to him.
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