THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.


This is the third and final Psalm Talk on the theme of “What matters” and carries the title forgiveness matters. This is the title I have given one of the most powerful Psalms in the bible that features the grace of God in forgiving a man who had just sinned big time. This man claimed to be a Godly King and yet he committed murder and adultery.

Does forgiveness matter?

In this mad revenge crazy world you might be tempted to say it does not matter or at least it is one of the last things people consider. I was blown away a few years ago when I heard an American folk singer named Eric Bibb sing these words,

Peace on earth – you know it begins in our hearts

You know it’s worth nothing less then our survival

Paradise – a state of mind

Make the choice leave war behind

Love is real – fear is just a dream

Love is all – nothing else is what it seems

Forgiveness is Gold

Eric is saying, I think, people today see love as the dream and fear and revenge as reality but what if it was the other way around, what if love and forgiveness is what ruled this world then we would have to say forgiveness is Gold – the most precious commodity we can ever have.

Many people today would say if I was the man who the king cheated on or if I was a member of the family of the man who was cheated on and then murdered by the adulterous king then the last thing I’d want is forgiveness for him. There is a well-known saying that says, “Revenge is sweet”.

Is revenge sweet?

Well just go to parts of the Middle East today where revenge, fear and hatred rule and see the almighty mess that has caused. Just enter the lives of people living a life of revenge and hatred in your own society and tell me if these people are finding life is sweet as they are eaten up with hatred and revenge.

The adulterous King who murdered the husband of the women he had an affair with is King David who wrote 72 of the 150 Psalms in the bible. Forgiveness mattered much to him and it led him to write this Psalm.  David actually wrote seven Psalms that came out of his affair with Bathsheba and the fall out from it. We call these Psalms, “The Penitential Psalms” and they are Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. I think other Psalms have David’s experience of God’s forgiveness behind them as well like Psalm 40 (see my Psalm 40 talk for more details). All these Psalms touch on the great and powerful forgiveness David received from God once he turned back to God in repentance and faith.

The Hebrew heading says this about this Psalm,

“For the director of music. A Psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba”.

The gory details of David’s affair and the prophet telling David God was aware of his sin is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 and I will have these two chapters at the back of my comments of this Psalm.

I will also be using the story of John Newton during this talk and will be referring to details of Newton’s life supplied by an article called, “Amazing Grace in John Newton – A Christian Witness lived and sung” by Rusty Wright. This is what is said at the start of this article,

“Rusty Write provides a compelling summary of the background of John Newton, composer of Amazing Grace. Newton’s life, even more than his famous song, is an amazing testimony to the saving grace offered to each of us by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Newton’s life is a Christian witness to the amazing grace of our loving God.”

 My brake down of this Psalm has the “forgiveness Matters” theme in mind:


I would like to give a brief rundown of what led to David writing this Psalm. 1 Samuel 11 tells us that in the spring time when his army went to war with the Ammonites David stayed back in Jerusalem. One evening he saw from his roof top a beautiful women bathing in a near by building.

David broke the 10thCommandment when he coveted his neighbour’s wife and arranged to meet her and then broke the eighth commandment and committed adultery. The women’s name is Bathsheba and she soon learnt she was carrying a child to David. He then tried to cover up his sin by bringing the women’s husband home from the battlefront. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah turned out to be a loyal soldier to King David and he refused to go to his home and sleep with his wife. This leads David to break the sixth commandment, murder as David realised the only way he could cover up his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba was to send Uriah back to the front lines to be put in a situation where he would be killed.

It seems at first that David got away with adultery and murder as we soon learn that after a time of mourning Bathsheba comes to David’s palace and he marries her and a son is born. However at the end of 1 Samuel 11 we read these words in verse 27,

“But the thing David had done displeased the Lord”.

God then sends the prophet Nathan to David and he tactfully tells David God knew what he had done and David would face dire consequences for his great sins. David’s reaction to Nathans words is recorded in 2 Samuel 12: 13,

“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

We will later hear Nathans reply and what consequences David faced but for now lets look at what David said to God in his prayer of confession in verses 1 – 6.

We will look at two main things in this section:

  1. WHO DAVID PRAYS TO (vs. 1)
  1. WHAT DAVID PRAYS (vs. 1 – 6)
  1. WHO DAVID PRAYS TO (vs. 1)

David is confessing his many sins to God and he calls this God a God of,

“Unfailing love”


“Great compassion”

Leupold quotes a commentator named Mclaren who writes,

“The psalm begins with at once grasping the character of God as the sole ground of hope”.

Many people who suffer the kind of guilt David become so depressed they often take their lives. Many other people in the Old Testament like king Saul did just that once they realised they had failed God so badly and they felt they had no hope.

However David cries out to God who he believes is a great God of love. He has already spoken about this in many Psalms. In a Psalm 34, which we know, was written before this tells us in verse18,

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.

 In many of David’s 72 known Psalms words like these come up as we also find in Psalm 86 verse 5,

“You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you”

 Where did David get this idea of God?

God being a loving and forgiving God does not come from David’s fertile imagination but springs from all that Israel knew about their God in his word and actions in the past. In Exodus 34: 4 – 7a we read this,

So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Israel was saved out of Egypt and even chosen as a special nation of God because of God and his undeserved love for them as we read in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

David was simply a man who took the reveled word of God seriously and generally sought to live by it. He also proved God to be a God of loving-kindness on many occasions particularly when he was on the run from the evil king Saul. We saw this in the reference from Psalm 34 when David had gone to the Philistine town of Gath and had acted inappropriately before the King of Gath Abimelech yet God heard David’s cry for help and delivered him from both the hands of Abimelech and King Saul.

This same God of the Old Testament is the God we encounter in the New Testament where we see an even greater revelation of God’s love.

The famous verse John 3: 16 says,

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

God giving his Son to die on the cross brings to all who trust and believe in him the forgiveness of their sins something Paul states clearly in Ephesians 1: 7,

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”.

  1. WHAT DAVID PRAYS (vs. 1 – 6)

 David basically is praying two things in his prayer of confession:

  1. HE ASKS FOR MERCY (vs. 1)
  1. HE ASKS FOR MERCY (vs. 1)

David’s first words of this Psalm is,

“Have mercy on me, O God”.

I have already pointed out that David saw God as a God of love and particularly mercy. In many of his Psalms David speaks of God’s mercy and love like, Psalm 25: 6,

“Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from old”.

Kidner points out that David’s claim for mercy is for,

“One who has no claim to the favor he begs for”.

David has seriously broken the laws of God, which he claimed he sought to live by, Psalm 40: 8,

“I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart”

This why David says in verse 4,

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”.

However this is the Amazing Love of God even a woeful sinner like David can find mercy and love in the God of the bible who is as we read in Exodus 34: 6 and 7,

“The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”.

God has not changed and continues to offer his Amazing Grace to sinful men and women even today. The story of John Newton is an excellent example of God’s Amazing love, which inspired Newton to eventually write,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

Rusty Wright sets down a catalogue of sins Newton had committed before his conversion. He was a slave trader, had taken on what he called “Freethinking rationalist philosophy and renounced the Christian faith and had a foul mouth often blaspheming the name of God. Then one day after Newton had started to read a Christian book by Thomas A Kemp called, “On the imitation of Christ” he began to wonder, “What if these things were true”. I quote directly from Rusty Wrights article to tell you the next part of the story,

“That night, a violent storm flooded the ship with water. Fearing for his life, Newton surprised himself by saying, ‘The Lord have mercy on us!’ Spending long hours at the ship’s helm, he reflected on his life and rejection of God. At first, he thought his shortcomings to great to be forgiven. Then, he says, ‘I began to think of Jesus whom I had so often derided, of his life and death for sins not his own, but for those in their distress who should put their trust in him”.

The next day Newton awoke a new man and he began a new journey in life that ultimately led to him becoming a minister and a leading light in the fight against slavery and of course the composer of great Christian hymns like Amazing Grace.

Newton is only one of countless numbers of men and women who have discovered the life changing mercy and love of God. Even the great apostle Paul was one of them who before his encounter with the risen Lord was a murderer of Christians who he hated. It was the Amazing Love of God in Christ that transformed Paul’s life. Paul says this about himself in 1 Timothy 1: 15 – 16,

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Did David receive the mercy and forgiveness of God?

Once David confessed his sins to God the prophet Nathan says this to David in 2 Samuel 12: 13b – 14,

“The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not gong to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die”.


David not only asks God for mercy he spells out in detail how he has sinned against God. David actually uses three expressions of his sins:

  1. My transgressions (vs. 1,3)
  2. My iniquity (vs. 2)
  3. My Sin (vs. 2,3,4 and 5) 
  1. My Transgressions (vs. 1, 3)

David makes it clear that he has broken God’s law by using the word “Transgressions”. He has transgressed or acted against the stated law of God in at least three of the ten commandments, 10, do not covet, 8, do not commit adultery and commandment 6, do not murder. David writes, verse 1,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions”.

David wants God blot out these misdemeanors as Gordon Churchyard explains blotting out as,

“Like putting black paint on a picture so that you cannot see it”.

He speaks again of his transgressions or law breaking in verse 3,

“For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me”.

He says this because he speaks of being washed clean of his sins in the previous verse,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

What David is asking for is like a convicted criminal coming before the judge and saying, “I wont you to wave the charges against me and make my criminal record clean even though I am guilty of the crime”.

We know that no judge would ever do this but the amazing thing is that the Gospel message presents that this is what God has done for us in Christ. He is the Holy Righteous judge who finds us all guilty of sin and gives us the maximum sentence for our sin, death and then in Christ his only son pays the maximum penalty for our sins so we can be made clean through the washing away or blotting out of our sins before him.

This is what Paul is speaking about in Romans 8: 1 – 4,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set youfree from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”.

  1. My iniquity (vs. 2)

What is iniquity?

The best answer I have found to this question is from a web blog page called by Michael Houdmenn who gives this answer,

“The Hebrew word used most often for “iniquity” means “guilt worthy of punishment.” Iniquity is sin at its worst. Iniquity is premeditated, continuing, and escalating. When we flirt with sin, we fall for the lie that we can control it.

But like a cute baby monkey can grow to be a wild, out-of-control primate, sin that seems small and harmless at first can take control before we know it”.

 David speaks of this in verse 2,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

David in the Bathsheba affair was trapped in a cycle of sin that commenced with his coveting another mans wife which led to adultery and finally to get out of that murder. One sin led to another sin and it all became iniquity, which as Houdmenn put it became guilt worthy of punishment.

David is saying in his confession to God he feels dirty and wants to be washed clean. Later he speaks of this washing away of the filth of sin in verse 7,

“Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow”.

Only God through Christ can remove the stain of deep-rooted sin that leads to guilt worthy of punishment. The prophet Isaiah picks up the idea of the washing away of our sins and being made whiter than snow in Isaiah 1: 18,

Come now, let us settle the matter,”
 saysthe Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, theyshall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, theyshall be like wool”.

I understood what Isaiah is talking about a lot better from an experience I had while I was in Bible College many years ago. I joined some of my fellow students to help harvest some mulberries for old man. Once we had finished collecting all the fruit from the tree the old man told us to try and wash off the horrible black mulberry stain from our hands. We used lots of soap and water but the stain would not go. The old man came to our rescue and showed us how to do it. You simply get some of the unripe fruit and crush it up and the sap from this rubbed over the stains removes the horrible stain. He then referred to this verse in Isaiah 1: 18 and said Isaiah is speaking about the only way our sins can be washed away from our horrible sin stained lives and that is by the shed blood of Christ.

Hebrews 9: 22 says,

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”.

 1 John 1: 7 says,

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.

So when David prays fro his iniquities to be washed away or cleansed he is looking forward to the Messiah who will do that for him and everyone before Christ and after Christ who puts their trust in his shed blood for them.

 As I said in my introduction the kind of guilt that David would have experienced when he realized that God knew how great he had sinned would cause many people take their lives. David did not do this he confessed his sin and looked to God for forgiveness and cleansing.

  1. My Sin (vs. 2,3,4 and 5)

The last word David uses in his prayer of confession about his state before God is “sin”. The most well known definition of sin is missing the mark or not living up to the standard God has set for mankind. As Paul writes in Romans 3: 23,

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

 However Coffman makes this insightful comment,

“There is a great deal more to “sin” than merely ‘missing the mark”. Sin is a lack of conformity to, or a transgression, especially if deliberate, of a law, precept or principle regarded as having divine authority”.

With this in mind lets read again verses 2, 3, and 4,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned
 anddone what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge”.

Note how David says that his sin was against God and that what he had done was evil in God’s sight. David hurt a lot of people

by his sin; he ruined a marriage, killed a man and made an opportunity for the enemies of God and Israel to bring down his good name and reputation. Yet note it was God David effected the most. As God said through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12: 7 – 9,

‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites”.

David makes this remarkable statement about sin and the human heart in verse 5,

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.

David makes clear in one simple statement what has become known as the doctrine of original sin. This is not the only place this idea is found in scripture. It first appears in Genesis 8: 21,

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood”.

It is also mention in the book Job in Job 15: 14 and 25: 4 and in the New Testament the concept is broadened to teach that in our natural state every part of us is effected by sin sometimes called, “total depravity” as Paul teaches this in places like Ephesians 2: 1 and 2,

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”.

David does not speak of this problem of being born in or with a tendency to sin as an excuse for his terrible sins of adultery and murder but as Leupold says,

“Not an excuse but a matter of fact”.

 It is as though the horror of having to face the stark reality of his sins has made him realize just how sinful he really is. He is not saying that conception is sinful but rather even from this very early time of his existence he and all of us are sinners.

The final verse in this first section verse 6 reads,

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place”.

 David is stating what he believes God wants from us truth or uprightness right down to our very core but as he has just said in verse 5 our very core is not upright but sinful. Maybe David is already starting to ask how he wants God to restore him, which is what we will look at in the next section. Here he wants God to deeply teach him wisdom that of course will lead to a more upright life.

The New Testament makes it clear what the answer to the problem of sin is and I leave you to ponder two New Testament references that express this answer. The first is Romans 6: 23,

“For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”

 The second is two verses from 2 Corinthians 5: 17 and 18,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:”

Does confession of our sins matter?

It certainly does as it leads to true repentance and the opportunity of trusting in what Christ has done for us when he died for our sins on the cross.

                2.  THE SINNERS RESTORATION MATTERS (7 – 12)

David now seems to move on in his confession to actually ask for things God will do for him if God will actually forgive and restore him. David makes it clear he will be a different person if he finds God’s forgiveness. It is right and good that we to should tell God in our prayers what we would like to do for him if it is his will for us. I know I have had many private prayer times myself where I have prayed like I am having a conversation with God where I am suggesting things to God in prayer and as I do I believe God leads my mind into new insight about the things I am praying about.

David asks for four things in his restoration if he is forgiven and restored to service for God. Theses four things are:

  1. Cleansing (vs’s 7 and 9)
  2. Joy (vs. 8)
  3. New heart (vs. 10)
  4. God’s ongoing presence and power (vs’s 11 and 12) 
  1. Cleansing (vs’s 7 and 9)

David has already asked for cleansing in verse 2 where we read,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”

I have already commented on verse 7 about being cleansed or cleaned so that we become whiter than snow which is a poetic way of saying I want to be really clean. The full verse 7 reads,

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow”.

The fact that David asks four times for some form of cleansing by using words like, “wash me”, “cleanse me”, “Cleanse me with hyssop” and “wash me and I will be whiter than snow”, shows that David felt really dirty morally and spiritually by the sins he had committed through the Bathsheba affair.

This is particularly clear from the use of the image of being cleansed by hyssop. Hyssop is spoken about in the Torah (first five books of the bible) as something used for ceremonial cleansing. A good example of this is Numbers 19: 18 were hyssop is used to make a person clean before God if they had come in contact with a dead body. Hyssop is made from an herb plant found in the Middle East that apparently has a strong mint smell. Hyssop is a kind of disinfectant to help purify a person contaminated by the stench of death. The point is David is not just ceremonially unclean but is now spiritually and morally unclean and he needs the kind of cleansing or disinfectant that only God can give.

As I said before when commenting on being made clean so that we are whiter now snow that God’s cleansing agent is the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us in his sacrifice on the cross. Listen to some more teaching from the book of Hebrews about how the shedding of Christ blood in his sacrifice for our sins is the only way we can be cleansed or forgiven by God. Hebrews 10: 11 – 14,

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”.

The, “this priest” of course in this passage is Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us makes us holy or clean from our moral or spiritual impurity.

The last verse that speaks of cleansing is verse 9, reads,

“Hid your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity”

I have already commented on the concept of “blotting out” our iniquity when I commented on “blotting out my transgressions” in verse 1 and I referred to Churchyard’s concept of it which is like he is asking for black paint to be painted over a picture so you cannot see it anymore. Listen to how Spurgeon explains this concept,

“My revolts, my excesses, are all recorded against me; but, Lord, erase the lines. Draw thy pen through the register”.

Paul has the concept of our sins being done away with in the second chapter of his letter to the Colossians where he writes in Col. 2: 13 – 15,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”.

Through what Christ did on the cross we are seen by God as clean before him by our many sins being done away with as been nailed to the cross.

  1. Joy (vs. 8)

David felt great pain and sadness once his sins were out in the open before God. I believe even before Nathan revealed God knew of his many sins David was experiencing great inner pain and sadness. I spoke of this in my Psalm talk on Psalm 32 when I commented on verses 3 and 4 of that Psalm which I believe speak of how David felt within himself during the months leading up to his sins coming out in the open before God. Psalm 32 verses 3 and 4 read,

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer”.

So David was suffering internally great pain and sadness from his sins he sought to hide from God. Once David confessed his sins to God in 2 Samuel 12 he is told by Nathan he would not die and was forgiven by God but the child born to him and Bathsheba from his adulterous relationship would die. Then David spends a week in agonizing prayer to God to spare the child. This again shows that David even after learning of God’s forgiveness was not initially a happy man.

So in Psalm 51 David prays for joy and happiness to return to his life once God forgives him. We read of this in verse 8,

‘Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice”.

David prays for the joy of the Lord to return to his life for, as we saw from Psalm 32 verses 3 and 4 as a sinner not forgiven by God he was in pain and constantly groaning. This is the reality for many people around us who do not know the liberating power of the forgiveness of God. They are walking around in a state of constant pain and groaning. This is what leads many people today to drug taking and alcohol abuse. These people are trying to deaden the inward pain of sin and they can find no answer to this inward spiritual pain. The Gospel message is the medicine they need and this is what Paul says about knowing the justification of God through faith in Christ in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

David speaks of his bones being crushed in both Psalm 32 and verse 8 of Psalm 51. I think this is a poetic description of how he felt when he was riddled with the inward pain of guilt caused by sin he had not confessed to God.

He asks God in verse 12,

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation”

He had known so well and clearly the joy of knowing God in his life as his Lord and Savior in so many ways and on so many occasions. Again in Psalm 34, a Psalm David wrote long before the Bathsheba affair, he writes in verses 8 and 9,

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints for those who fear him lack nothing”.

Did David ever feel the joy of the Lord again after the Bathsheba affair?

The answer to this is certainly yes, but it did not come quickly for he did feel some form of ongoing inward pain from time to time because of consequences of his terrible sins of adultery and murder. Once David heard of the death of the child he had to Bathsheba after seven days of agonizing prayer we read these words in 2 Samuel 12: 20,

“Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food”.

 David returns to normal life but now he can worship God again and enjoy peace with God which is the foundation of all true joy as Paul says in Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

  1. New heart (vs. 10)

In verse 10 David asks God to,

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

What David is asking for God to do for him once he is forgiven introduces us to a great theme in both the old and New Testament. The Old Testament looked forward to a New Covenant that involved giving his people a new heart. The concept of the promise of the New Covenant in the Old Testament is clearly stated in Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34,

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel
 andwith the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband tothem,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Note how Jeremiah speaks of God putting his law in their hearts and writing it on their hearts. This is speaking about God giving us new hearts where his Holy Spirit will convict us of our sins as Jesus speaks of in John 16: 8 and guide us into all truth as Jesus goes on to say in John 16: 13,

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come”.

David not only asks for a new pure heart that God will create in him but he asks for a new spirit within him. The prophet Ezekiel also looked forward to this for the restoration of the sinful nation of Israel that was about to be judged and sent into exile. He writes in Ezekiel 36: 24 – 28,

“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God”.

Note how Ezekiel links the promise of the new heart with the coming of God’s spirit to all his peoples hearts when he writes in verse 26,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”.

All this is said to have actually been for filled through the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death for us and in the sending of the holy Spirit once he had risen and ascended into heaven. Hebrews chapters 8 – 10 present the message of how Jesus brought about this New Covenant and I recommend you read these chapters to see how the writer to the Hebrews sets this out. I will only quote two verses here that relate directly to David’s request for a new heart and spirit once God forgave him. Hebrews 9: 14 – 15 says,

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

Finally note how David says, “Create in me”, making it clear that God and God alone can make this possible and that this new heart and spirit he wants is an act of new creation by God in us. Paul speaks of this new creative act of God in our hearts in 2 Corinthians 5: 17,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. 

  1. God’s ongoing presence and power (vs’s 11 and 12)

Closely linked to this is what he asks for in verses 11 and 12,

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

Many commentators think that what lies behind David’s request to God here is what happened to David’s predecessor King Saul. In 1 Samuel 16: 1 we read,

“The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as King over Israel”.

Then in 1 Samuel 16: 14 we read,

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him”.

 This happened to Saul because he disobeyed the direct word of God about how he was to treat the evil enemies of God called the Amalekites. Like David he seems to have repented of his sin before Samuel but his repentance proves to be not genuine and he really shows that he was trusting in his own powers and abilities and not God through this incident and for the rest of his sad reign and life.

David saw and felt first hand what the departing of the Spirit of the Lord led to in Saul’s life and does not want this to happen to him, therefore he prays,

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit comes into the lives of certain individuals to do certain things for God. It seems the Spirit of God comes and goes from people as we see in the life of Saul. The Holy Spirit comes into Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 10: 10,

“When they arrived at Gilbeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying”.

 We have also just seen in 1 Samuel 16: 14 that because of Saul’s deliberate disobedience the Spirit of God left him.

However in the New Testament the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the lives all believers and does not leave them. This is seen throughout the teaching of Paul as we see in something like 1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20,

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price, therefore honour God with your body”.

Paul’s teaching on the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of all believers is clear from a passage like Romans 8: 9 – 11,

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives lifebecause of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”.

As I pointed out in the previous section the major characteristic of the New Covenant is God working in us through the work of Christ a new heart and this is achieved through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all true believers. The prophet Joel for told of this coming of the Holy Spirit to all believers in Joel 2: 28,

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people, Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions”.

This very prophecy was for filled on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given to all believers and Peter explains to the crowd what has been happening to people when God’s Holy Spirit came upon them with theses words from Acts 2: 14 – 17,

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what the prophet Joel spoke:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams”.

However David is living during the time of the Old Testament and so his great sins put him in danger of being cast away from God’s presence and the Holy Spirit being taken from him so he prays,

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

He also asks for God to restore the joy of his salvation and I commented on this in the section on “Joy”. However he goes on to ask,

“Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

King Saul lacked this, he showed by his actions that he did not have a willing spirit and God did not sustain him. Saul eventually falls so far away from God he ends up consulting witch graft for guidance in 1 Samuel 28 with gigantic terrible consequences as soon after that Saul takes his own life when fighting the Philistines.

So David wants God to help him after he is forgiven to have a more willing and obedient spirit and then he knows God will sustain him.

Even though the Holy Spirit will not leave us Paul teaches that we must continue to live the way God wants us to or we will be in danger of what Paul calls, grieving the Holy Spirit. He teaches this in a passage like Ephesians 4: 29 – 32,

 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.


Rusty Wright says this about what happened after John Newton’s dramatic conversion,

“After his dramatic experience at sea, Newton saw changes in his life. He attended church, read spiritual books, and spoke outwardly of his commitment. But his faith and behavior would take many twists on the road toward maturity”.

Wright sets down how he still operated slave ships for a while but he conducted church services on board and treated slaves with a lot of compassion. After three slave trading voyages he got sick with a mysterious illness, which Wright says temporarily, paralyzed him. This happened two days before he was to set sail for a fourth slave-trading voyage. The ship he was to captain was over run by slaves and the escaping slaves killed the replacement captain. Newton gave up slave trading and in the years to come became one of the strongest advocates for the abolishment of slave trading in England.

David like Newton would have taken a long time for his restoration but he prayed for God to help him to be restored from the terrible fall from grace he had experienced through the Bathsheba affair.


Does it matter if we don’t make promises to God to serve him once we have been forgiven?

I would say it does matter because when we promise to serve God once we have been saved or forgiven for a particular sin then we are showing God we really mean business. If we act on these resolutions we are doing what Paul says we should do in Philippians 2: 12, where he says,

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”

This does not mean that our salvation is obtained by our good work for Paul goes on to say in verse 13,

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”.

David then makes three big resolutions in verses 13 – 15 of Psalm 51.

These three resolutions are:

  1. Teach other sinners (vs. 13)
  2. Tell others of God’s salvation (vs. 14)
  3. Praise God for his salvation (vs. 15) 
  1. Teach other sinners (vs. 13)

David resolves first to use his experience of God’s great saving love as an opportunity to teach other sinners so that they might have the opportunity to know this love and forgiveness for themselves. He writes,

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you”.

Note how David does not plan to keep his wonderful experience of God’s grace to himself. He longs to have a ministry to great sinner like himself to help them turn back from their wicked ways and experience like him the Amazing Grace of God. Spurgeon makes the point that,

“Non instruct others so well as those who have been experimentally taught of God themselves”.

For a few years ago I worked with unemployed people counselling and training them in the business of looking for work. One of my clients in those years was a man in his late forties who had worked as a truck driver but he had also been an alcoholic. He had been helped by a Christian’s to come to Christ and deal with his problems of drinking. He said to me I don’t wont to drive trucks anymore what else could I do. I said why don’t you use your unique insights into dealing with alcohol and its abuse to help others with the same problem you had. I looked up courses he could do and put him in touch with institutions that run them and he left my training to be trained as a Christian welfare worker specialising in helping alcoholics.

David resolved to use his experience of sin and God’s forgiveness to help others and Derek Kidner makes this interesting observation,

“The Psalm itself is the richest answer to the prayer, since it has shown generations of sinners the way home, long after they had thought themselves beyond recall”.

The story of John Newton echoes this verse as Wright sets down in his excellent article on Newton, he writes,

“Eventually, Newton sought to become an ordained minister, but opposing church leaders prevented this for six years. Intervention by the Earl of Dartmouth benefactor of Dartmouth College in the US. Helped launch Newton’s formal ministry. Newton was to significantly impact a young Member of Parliament who would rescue an oppressed people and a nation’s character”.

That young Parliament minister was a man named William Wilberforce who led the fight for the abolition of slavery and many other significant social reforms in England at that time. Newton’s experience as a former slave trader and his powerful encouragement of Wilberforce was a major factor in the abolition of Slaveries success.

  1. Tell others of God’s salvation (vs. 14)

The next verse is a very similar point to the last one but makes very clear what David intends he will be doing and what his message he resolves he will teach, he writes in verse 14,

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness”.

David seems to remind himself in his resolution of the terrible sins he has committed and the dire consequences of those sins when he calls them “bloodguilt”. Here he is thinking of the murder of Uriah which for anyone else would bring the death penalty particularly for a justice system built on Exodus 21: 23 – 25,

“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise”.

Bloodguilt would mean blood for blood or life for life and David was guilty of Uriah’s shedding of blood and death. Today many victims of crime call for this Old Testament form of justice and therefore nothing but the death penalty is just in their minds for murder and very long prison sentences for other crimes. It is interesting to note that even in Old Testament times the eye for eye justice system was a merciful form of justice and we can see how justice without mercy can get out of hand when we consider that in 17thcentury England a person could be hung for stealing a loaf of bread. These days our justice system is founded more on the Gospel message of love and mercy and we practice a system of Justice with mercy. James 2: 12 – 13 sums up the New Testament teaching on this,

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment”.

Some might ask did David show mercy to Uriah when he had him killed?

This reveals to us the power and wonder of God’s love and David goes on to say

“O God, the God who saves me”

This is the content of David’s message the fact that even though he deserved death God in his great love decided to save him. This is what the New Testament calls, The Gospel” which means good news and this term  is used ninety times in the New Testament. We all deserve death as Paul points out in the famous Romans 6: 23 verse,

“For the wages of sin is death”,

 However because of God’s great love or mercy the rest of the verse says,

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Even way back in David’s time David experienced the wonderful grace of God. This then is the basis of his message, so he goes on to say,

“And my tongue will sing of your righteousness”.

Note David speaks of singing, as he was a great singer and writer of songs, as we know from 72 song compositions that went into the 150 Psalms in the bible. We also have examples of David’s songs in the books of Samuel and Chronicles. David’s songs then have continued to achieve his previous resolution of teaching transgressors God’s ways.

John Newton also had the gift of composing songs and worked with another famous hymn writer William Cowper and in 1799 they published a book of hymns called, “Olney Hymns”. Olney was the little rural English village where John Newton first served as an Anglican Church minister and William Cowper was a poet who attended that church and became a great friend of Newton. The hymnbook contains 348 original hymns, with Cowper writing only 66 of them. Many of these hymns like “Amazing Grace” are still sung today but it was not unto1820 that the Church of England allowed hymns to be sung in church as only metrical Psalms were allowed to be used in worship before that. I cannot understand why even today some extreme protestant churches ban hymn singing when Paul says in Ephesians 5: 19,

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”.

These strict and hymn less churches are actually disobeying the word of God they believe they are upholding. Singing is not from the devil but is a gift of God that the devil has sought to use and promote evil through sinful men and women. However like David God wants us to sing of his love and righteousness as both an act of worship and testimony of his love to this fallen world.

Finally David tells us what his singing will be about,

“My tongue will sing your righteousness”.

Leopold points out this about God’s righteousness,

“Whereas he had previously used the word “righteousness” to describe the quality of God that he desired to extol, he now refers to that two-sided attribute in God which motivates him both to punish the evildoer and also show favour to the penitent and to reward the doer of good”.

We as sinful fallen beings have no idea of God’s Righteousness and cannot really fully understand it as Isaiah points out in Isaiah 64: 6,

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”.

However David is determined to sing of God’s righteousness”, which has saved him from the death he deserves.

As Paul sums up the Gospel message in Romans 1: 17,

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

So not only should we sing of God’s righteousness in our hymns and spiritual songs but we should live by it as well.

  1. Praise God for his salvation (vs. 15)

David is not just determined to sing of God’s salvation and righteousness he wants to use his mouth as a vehicle of praise. He writes in verse 15,

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise”.

Spurgeon writes,

“How marvellously the Lord can open our lips, and what divine things can we poor simpletons pour forth under his inspiration”.

 Maybe David for a time had stopped the inspirational singing and song writing he had become famous for owing to his great sins. However now that he realises that God in his love and mercy has forgiven him his resolve is that God would open his mouth so that he can declare wonderful praise for God. There is no doubt that the painful yet eventually joyous experience of the Bathsheba affair became an inspiration for many of the Psalms or songs of David. They all feature the message of God’s love and righteousness and all contain great words of praise.

One of the final Psalms written by David that seem to be inspired by the Bathsheba affair is Psalm 130 and verses 6 and 7 are excellent examples of God opening David’s mouth in praise to God,

“My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”

We to as Christians should resolve that God open our lips so that with God’s help we to will declare God’s praise. Peter makes it clear that our role and function as the church or the chosen people of God is to declare the praises of God, 1 Peter 2: 9,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

We will now see that this offering of a sacrifice of praise is the very essence of the kind of worship God desires from a forgiven sinner in the last section of this Psalm.


David concludes his inspirational confession of his great sins of adultery and murder with some words about worship. These words echo what we read in the previous Psalm written by Asaph, Psalm 50 verses 8 – 15 and are similar words to what David writes here. David seeks to worship God not now as the great Godly King but as a broken and forgiven sinner. David speaks of two things in these final four verses,

  1. The nature of true acceptable worship (vs. s 16 – 17)
  2. The role of the whole nation / church in acceptable worship (18 – 19)


  1. The nature of true acceptable worship (vs’ s 16 – 17)

David has just spoken of opening his mouth to declare his praise and this makes him think of what he now realises is the kind of worship God really wants. He cannot enter into the presence of God with his head held high because he has sinned and failed God so badly so he writes in verses 16 and 17,

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God area a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise”.

Maybe up to the Bathsheba affair David had gone to worship God in a different way. He like the many other worshippers around him followed the long held traditions of sacrificial worship, which we looked at in the last Psalm talk. I found this quote from Michael Wilcock very helpful for this Psalm and the last Psalm,

“Every Temple in the ancient world was a sacred slaughterhouse and reeked of blood”.

 He goes on to say,

“Old Testament people took for granted that the incessant sacrificing of animals was at the heart of their religion”.

 However, David has really been shaken up by his terrible misdemeanours, he has sinned so badly no Old Testament sacrifice would cover this type of sin. You see there is no sacrifice in the law given to Moses for wilful sin.

So David gets a new insight into true worship, similar to what Asaph realised and declared in the previous Psalm, Psalm 50. Spurgeon puts this new insight really well with these words,

“His deep soul need made him look from the type to the antitype, from the external rite to the inward grace.”

No amount of bulls, lambs, birds or anything else could atone for the great sins of David. What he needed came only from God and all he could offer is expressed so powerfully in verse 17,

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

 Kidner writes,

“In all this (sacrifices), God is looking for the heart that knows how little it deserves, how much it owes”.

 Once David heard through the prophet Nathan how God knew all about his great sins he became a broken man. A man who was now eaten up with guilt, who felt morally and spiritually dirty and who had shot to pieces his Godly reputation. Now in this broken state having confessed his many sins to God, having asked for God’s restoration and having made new God honouring resolutions he casts himself before his loving God and worships. His worship now is a matter of the heart, a heart broken heart open to God and in this state of worship David declares,

“You will not despise”

God actually loves people coming to him in true repentance and faith and God is close to those who come to him in true humility and love. David in a sense always knew this because in a Psalm he wrote when on the run from the evil king Saul many years before the Bathsheba affair he wrote, Psalm 34: 18,

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.

This Psalm was written after David’s narrow escape from Gath where he used a dubious tactic of acting like a mad man before the King of Gath named Abimelech.

What David declares here in Psalm 51 has tremendous implications for us as Christians. First of all Jesus calls us to come to him as we really are broken and weary with sin and it’s consequences in our lives, Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Secondly the New Testament calls us to worship God with what the writer to the Hebrews calls, “reverence and awe”, Hebrews 12: 28 – 29,

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Finally Paul teaches that because of what God has done for us through Christ in saving us by his grace and mercy acceptable worship is a matter of giving ourselves to God for his service, Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

 We like David come to God as sinners saved only by God’s goodness and love made possible by his Son’s death on the cross. What ever form of worship service we choose it should reveal that we are people who have fully acknowledge our sinful state and have come to God in grateful thanks for his great love for us. Paul speaks to the Colossians about worship this way in Colossians 3: 16 – 17,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

So the emphasis David struck in Psalm 51 and the emphasis the New Testament strikes is that God is to be glorified not us or anyone else. Note how Paul said in the previous reference that,

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

Even though I grew up in a church that practices form and liturgy in its worship I do not see this as what defines true biblical worship. What defines it is things like does it promote and give insight into the God of the bible and what he has done for us in Christ? Is God the centre of our worship no matter what worship pattern you follow and does this worship truly glorify the God of the bible?

  1. The role of the whole nation / church in acceptable worship (18 – 19)

These final two verses have caused much controversy and discussion amongst many commentators and theologians because many believe David in his original Psalm could not have written them. Some see these verses as sounding like they belong to the post exile period because the Psalm turns from David confession to matters concerning the Nation and in verse 18 there is a reference to the building up of the walls of Jerusalem.

Coffman sums up the modern scholars criticism of David’s authorship and answers it well with the following quote,

“For no good reason whatever, some scholars have denied the Davidic authorship of this psalm declaring it to have been written in the days of Nehemiah, during the period of the “rebuilding” of the walls of Jerusalem. But this psalm says absolutely nothing about rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. What God is petitioned here to do is to build, not rebuild walls; and the reference is to the actual building of the walls of Jerusalem, then under way, which task was accomplished by David. Josephus has this to say; ‘Now David made buildings around the lower city (of Jerusalem), then joined the citadel to it, and made it one body; and when he had encompassed all with walls, he appointed Joab to take care of them’”.

I see these two final verses covering:

  1. God’s blessing on the whole nation / and his church (vs. 18)
  1. The Nation / church’s acceptable worship (vs. 19)
  1. God’s blessing on the whole nation / and his church (vs. 18)

How then does verse 18 fit into the rest of the Psalm?

David knows that as the King his terrible sins must and did impact on the Nation so he turns the end of his prayer of confession of his sins to matters concerning the nation.

In verse 18 he prays directly for the nation,

“In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem”.

We have already established that Zion is the spiritual name for the Nation of Israel. God dwells with people and this is represented by the Tabernacle in David’s time and the Temple from the time of Solomon which is situated on the Mountain or large hill in Jerusalem called Zion, as we read in Psalm 50: 2,

“From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth”.

So David is praying despite my great sin may the Nation prosper and David pictures this prosperity in terms of the Physical walls that he is building to surround Jerusalem in which mount Zion is situated. Maybe David is picturing the effects of his sins being the destruction of the Nation represented by the pulling down of its newly established walls.

The fact that makes this verse confusing is that the walls of Jerusalem were eventually pulled down or destroyed owing to God’s judgment of the Nations sins some 400 years later. This would mean that David’s Psalm would have taken on new and insightful significance for a nation under God’s judgment for their many sins.

The New Testament application is simply that the Zion of God or the nation is now the church of God established by Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 12: 22 and 23,

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect”.

 Jesus made this great claim built on Peters inspired statement in Matthew 16: 16 – 18,

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hadeswill not overcome it”.

Jesus promises here to establish and bless the church, the New Israel of God built upon Peter and his statement of who Jesus really is which became the basis of his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. The day of Pentecost is the real beginning of the church when the Holy Spirit is given to all who come to Christ to be part of it.

The role of the church in terms of Zion and the Temple is made clear by what Peter says about the church in 1 Peter 2: 4,

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual houseto be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

A few verses later he says this about what he believes the true Church now is, 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

  1. The Nation / church’s acceptable worship (vs. 19)

The final verse seems to be a contradiction to what David said in verse 16,

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings”.

 And verse 19 reads,

“Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar”.

 Leopold captures the essence of what this last verse is really saying in the context of this Psalm and the context of Old Testament formal worship based on a sacrificial system,

This last verse restores the balance between formal and spiritual worship. The psalmist’s hope is that both shall flourish better side by side from this time onward”.

 The key term in this verse is “righteous sacrifices”, and the question we must answer is what makes for righteous sacrifices”?

David had learnt that because of his great sins there is no acceptable sacrifice available for him so he must approach God in a new spiritual way, that of, verse 17,

“A broken and contrite heart”

 Maybe now he realizes that because we are by nature sinners as verse 5 suggests then all formal worship, namely sacrifices in the Temple are also to be given in the spirit of a broken and contrite heart”.

If the sacrifices are offered in this right spirit then they will be a delight to God and therefore acceptable worship.

We have seen in this Psalm and many others that the worship God is interested in and accepts is the worship that comes from the heart truly focused on who he is and what he has done for us. As Isaiah taught many years later in verses like Isaiah 29: 15,

“The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men”.

We must get both our inward attitude and our outward actions right if we want to offer God acceptable worship. No matter what form of worship we practice we must remember what God said to Samuel when choosing David as the next king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16: 7,

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at, Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Then in the previous chapter we read these damming words said by Samuel to Saul as he indicates why the Lord had rejected him as King, 1 Samuel 15: 22 – 23,

“But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

Many churches today have rejected the word of God as the inspired word of God and therefore like King Saul God has rejected them. Worship then not founded and grounded in God’s word is not acceptable worship.

What then is acceptable worship for the New Israel of God his church?

Jesus answered this question to the women of Samaria in John 4 after the women threw at him the curly question of the time, namely who is practicing right worship, the Samaritans who worshipped on Mt Gerizim or the Jews who worshipped God in Jerusalem. Jesus answers the women’s question but adds to it his formula for acceptable worship in John 4: 21 – 24,

““Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

So note how Jesus does not lay down the form that acceptable worship should take but speaks of two things:

  1. Spirit
  2. Truth 
  1. Spirit

The Samaritan women like most people focus on the outward aspects of worship like place of worship and religious activities.

However Jesus wants us to focus on the inward activity of God’s Spirit in our lives. Jesus is saying that because God is Spirit the only way we can really relate to him is through our Spirits made alive by his Holy Spirit in our lives.

Once Jesus became the sacrifice for our sins once and for all time the sacrificial system of worship became obsolete and has been replaced by worship based on what God has done for us through Christ. The writer to the Hebrews has much to say about this and in Hebrews 10: 19 – 25 he brings his teaching on the new way of worship based on what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, he writes,

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

Note how this new and living way involves coming to God with a sincere heart similar to David’s call for heart felt worship expressed as a “broken and contrite heart” in Psalm 51: 12. Note also that this still involves corporate worship as he speaks of not giving up meeting together.

So acceptable worship involves the spirit working in our hearts individually and in our meetings together corporately as Jesus indicates in Matthew 18: 20,

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

  1. Truth

Finally the second aspect of acceptable worship Jesus speaks about is truth. I found a really good short article on the Internet recently written by a U.S pastor named Dr Dave Reid who posted in 2012 on his blog page called “Growing Christian ministries” the role of the truth in acceptable worship,

“Acceptable worship unto God must be “in truth.” That is, it must be in accordance with what God has revealed to be truth. False worship is not only worship of false gods. It can actually be worship of the true God that is offered in ways that are out of line with the truth of God’s revealed Word. It doesn’t matter how sincere one is! If worship is not “in truth”, sincere worship is just as unacceptable as insincere worship”.

I was speaking with a non-Christian recently who said she “wished the church would move away from the bible because then it would stop believing myth and legends”. I responded and said it is only when the church moves away from the bible, the revealed word of God that it moves to myth and legends. Paul had this to say about this to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

As Dr Dave Reid points out that sincere worship can be unacceptable if it is not in accordance to “God’s revealed word”.

Jesus makes it clear that he is the ultimate revelation or truth of God in the Gospels. Take for instance two key verses from Johns Gospel, John 8: 31 – 32,

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


John 14: 6,

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

So we come to God the Father through Jesus who is the truth, the way and the life. This means that acceptable worship is not just a matter of the spirit but also involves the word of God through which the Spirit of God always points us to Jesus, as Jesus says in John 16: 13 – 14,

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you”.


This has been a long and involved talk as Psalm 51 is a very important and significant Psalm that raises so many key and important issues of faith and practice.

I started with a word about the importance and value of forgiveness and how only God’s forgiveness can help change a world bent on revenge and hatred.

We saw that David confessed to a God of great mercy and love who alone could forgive and restore him.

We saw how he resolved, once forgiven that he would serve God with joy and a new committed spirit or heart.

He resolved to teach others this great message of God’s life changing forgiveness and he realized he had a new insight into how he should approach God in worship with a broken and contrite heart.

Finally he prayed for the Nation, which is for us as Christians, the church, that it would prosper and worship God in an acceptable way, which we saw for us, is in Spirit and in truth.

May David through his life changing message of Psalm 51 inspire us to realize that in this fallen revenge seeking world the answer to our sinful mistakes no matter how terrible they might be is God’s forgiveness which in earthy terms is Gold.

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer.

HAVE MERCY (based on Psalm 51)

Have mercy on me Oh God

According to your great love

Blot out my sins that I have done

Reach down and lift me above.


Wash away my iniquity

Cleanse me from my sin

Turn me back to you Oh Lord

Transform me from within.



Have mercy, Have mercy

For all that I have done

I look to the Cross of Christ

Where forgiveness has been won.


Cleanse me now and make me clean

That I might be white as snow.

Take my sins far away from me

Yes heal and make me whole.


Create in me a brand new heart

Renew me from within

Bring back your joy within me Lord

Take away the stain of sin




I long to teach your love Oh Lord

To others just like me

That through the death of Jesus Christ

Forgiveness now is free.


Help me to use my tongue Oh Lord

To sing of your great love

That through your son’s sacrifice

They can rise above.




You do not want our worship Lord

You want our open hearts

Broken down before you Lord

For that’s where forgiveness starts.


So bless your church here on earth

Help us to serve you Lord

Inspired by the love you give

And guided by your word.




Have mercy, Have mercy

For all that I have done

I look to the Cross of Christ

Where forgiveness has been won.


By: Jim Wenman



Dear Father in heaven I confess my many sins I have committed against you but know that because of your great love for us shown in your Son’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross that I am forgiven. I come before your throne of grace with an open and broken heart seeking to worship you as my Lord and savior. Help me to teach others of your great love and show by the way I live that your forgiveness is real and is the only answer to this world’s problems and needs. This I pray in the powerful name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, Amen.