Psalm 51 – A Prayer Of Repentance

Rosh HaShana begins next Shabbat. It begins a time for us to focus on repentance.

What is repentance? Repentance means turning. Turning away from sin. Turning away from disobedience. Turning away from rebellion against God. Turning to God. Turning to do the right things.

Psalm 51 is a poem/song which is David’s reflection about his sin and repentance that were recorded for us in 2 Samuel 11-12.

The psalm begins this way: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

What an embarrassing introduction to a psalm: After he had gone in to Bathsheba. David’s adultery with Bathsheba is right there in the holy Bible for all the world to know.

Here’s the background: While his army was away fighting the Ammonites, David remained in Jerusalem. One evening while on the roof of his house, he saw a beautiful woman bathing. It was Bathsheba, who was married to one of David’s best warriors – Uriah the Hittite. David sent for her. She came to him. They committed adultery. According to the Torah, the penalty for adultery was death. Bathsheba became pregnant.

David knew he was in a lot of trouble. He devised a plan to cover up his sin. He recalled Uriah from the war against the Ammonites. He hoped that Uriah would have relations with his wife so that everyone would think the child was Uriah’s.

However, Uriah, who was a Hittite, was so loyal to the God of Israel and to king David that while his brothers in arms were enduring hardships and fighting the Ammonites, he refused to go home and enjoy pleasure with his wife. Instead, he slept at David’s palace with the servants.

David came up with another plan: Invite Uriah to eat with him and drink a lot of wine. That way Uriah would be feeling good, and his resolve would be lowered, and he would go home and have relations with his beautiful wife. However, faithful Uriah, after eating and drinking a lot, didn’t change his resolve. He didn’t go home that night. Once again he slept at the king’s palace.

David’s options to prevent his adultery from becoming known were almost gone. However, he came up with another plan – a horrible plan. If he could arrange for Uriah to be killed in battle, Bathsheba could claim that the child was Uriah’s, and no one could disprove it.

David sent a letter to Joab, the commander of the army, in which he wrote: “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” Faithful Uriah, who could be trusted to be a faithful messenger and not read the royal letter, delivered the letter which contained the instructions for his death. Joab did what David instructed him to do. He placed Uriah where he knew there were valiant Ammonite warriors. In the battle, Uriah was killed – just as David wanted.

After Bathsheba mourned for her dead husband, David married her. She had a son. Everyone assumed it was Uriah’s son. The truth remained concealed. The coverup was succeeding. However, what David did displeased the Lord. And even though we may be able to hide our sins from people, we can’t hide our sins from the all-righteous and all-seeing God.

The Lord sent Nathan to David to confront him with the truth about his adultery and murder. When confronted by the prophet, David did the right thing. He said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” David’s confession of his sin was the beginning of his repentance.

Repentance is so very important. Turning to God is essential to being reconciled to God and experiencing eternal life.

Like David, all of us have sinned. Like David, all of us will need to repent.

David was a man after God’s heart. He was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was the king who founded Israel’s royal dynasty, of which King Messiah Yeshua is the final and greatest king, and the eternal king. David – great warrior, commander, poet, song writer, musician and prophet – can teach us a lot about repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

David asked God for forgiveness. He did that using four expressions:

Have mercy: Mercy means not punishing me when I deserve to be punished.

God keeps a record of our sins. Blot out my transgressions means erase my sins from the records You keep.

Sin is like dirt. Wash me from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin means remove my sins like water removes dirt.

Notice the basis for forgiveness: David did not ask the Lord to forgive him because he deserved it, or because he had earned God’s forgiveness because of his good works. No, he appealed to God for forgiveness on the basis of who God is, God’s nature, God’s character – because God is a God of love and mercy. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.

A man who is repentant takes responsibility for his sins. That’s what David did. It was my transgressions, my iniquity, my sin.

A man who is repentant is aware of his sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. David was very much aware of his sin. He was bothered by a guilty conscience.

If you have a guilty conscience, you can try to ignore it – which keeps you unhappy and damages your conscience by making it more callous – or you can repent. My advice: it’s much better to repent.

When we sin against a human being, we sin against the God who gave him life, the God in whose image he is made, the God who cares for him. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

Imagine a great painter. He spends a year of his life painting a masterpiece. He puts it on display so others can enjoy it and benefit from it. However, someone doesn’t like it and throws paint on it. It’s wrong to harm a great work of art. But it’s also a sin against the artist, who took much time and effort to make that masterpiece. David expressed the same truth about his sin against Uriah. His sin against Uriah was a sin against God.

A man who is repentant knows that he has sinned against a great and holy God; and he knows that the Lord has the right to punish him if He wants to. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. If the Lord wanted to judge him, David knew He had the right to judge him.

David knew he had sinned. He knew he was a sinner. Why did he sin? Why was he a sinner? David knew that too. He wasn’t a sinner because of the bad things he did. He wasn’t a sinner because of his environment, because of external influences. No, he sinned because that was his nature. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. David understood that he was a sinner from birth; from before birth; that us that all of us have a fallen nature; that our sin nature has been passed on from Adam and Eve to generation after generation.

God wants to save us from our sin nature. He wants us to have a rich inner, spiritual life; in our hearts, to know Him; to be alive to Him; to be interacting with Him; to know the truth in our inner being; to have the Lord teach us wisdom – truth that is properly applied, in our hearts. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

David had known God like that. But when he sinned, his relationship to God was ruined. His inward being had turned from truth and wisdom. Now, David wanted that to change, He wanted to turn back to God; to restore that close, intimate, personal relationship with the living God that he once enjoyed. So, David prayed to be restored. The prayers are doubled for better understanding, and to make them more intense, and for poetic beauty.

Hyssop is a plant that was used to apply the blood of the passover lambs to the doors of our houses to protect us from death; and it was used in the procedures to cleanse a leper and cleanse a man who was defiled by touching a dead body. Like hyssop help deliver from death and cleanse from leprosy and defilement, David wanted to be forgiven and right with God. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Colors represent ideas. White represents purity. Like a white linen which is dirty and is washed and becomes white again, David prayed to become pure. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

David prayed that his sin, which resulted in a guilty conscience, and shame and remorse and feeling so troubled that it felt like his bones were broken – would be replaced by happiness. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Sin causes unhappiness. You’re not happy? It may be because you are doing things you should not be doing; and not doing things you should be doing. You want to be happy? Stop doing the things you shouldn’t be doing. Start with doing the things you should be doing – praying to the Lord throughout the day; reading His word regularly; proclaiming the truth about the Messiah to everyone you can; serving your brothers and sisters in Messiah’s Community.

David prayed that the Lord would not look at his sins, and that his sins would be deleted from God’s records. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

David prayed, not for a shallow, superficial change, but a deep, profound, change – that the Lord would renew his heart and spirit, the innermost part of who he was. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

God is holy, pure, separate from iniquity, unrighteousness, evil, wickedness, transgression. God hates sins. God will eventually separate Himself from sinners who refuse to repent. He will remove presence and His Spirit from them. David prayed that would not be him. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

David’s sin had resulted in unhappiness. He prayed that the joy that comes from knowing he was forgiven and in a right relationship with God – in other words – saved – would be his again. Restore to me the joy of your salvation.

And he prayed that the Creator would uphold him with a willing spirit – that the Lord would help him have a new attitude that wants to live right and serve the Lord the way He should be served. And uphold me with a willing spirit.

The repentant man has a desire to teach others. David understood that being in a close relationship with the living God produces a desire to teach others about Him and His ways. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. When we are close to the Lord, proclaiming the truth about Yeshua will be very important to us.

It is so right, so good, so necessary for people to praise their Creator. The repentant man praises God. David had committed adultery and murder. Blood was on his hands. Can the Lord be so forgiving that He will forgive those terrible sins? Yes. David knew that the Lord is willing to forgive adultery and murder; and when He does, He must be praised for being so righteous and so willing to save people who have sinned so greatly. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

We may not have committed adultery or murder – but all of us have sinned, and the punishment of sin is death. So, if the God of your salvation has delivered you from your sins, you should be praising Him for saving you – like David did.

Sin that we don’t repent from interferes with our ability to praise the Lord – and praising Him is so right, so good, so necessary for His creatures. David prayed that the Lord would restore him so that he could praise Him the way he should. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

What kind of worship pleases God? David knew. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

It’s not external things we do that please the Lord, not even the most God-ordained religious things like killing animals, putting their blood on an altar and burning their bodies. No, worship that pleases God is an awareness of God’s reality; His holiness; His righteousness. And it’s an awareness of our brokenness, our sinfulness – and God’s willingness to forgive our sins.

The man who has repented is concerned for others. David prayed that the Lord would bless the people of Jerusalem like the Lord has blessed him. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. David prayed that the Lord would do good to the people of Jerusalem – like He had to David, forgiving him and restoring him. David prayed that the Lord would build the walls of Jerusalem, which would ensure its people were safe. When the people of Zion were safe and had turned from their sins and were forgiven and restored and close to God – then our sacrifices would be real, genuine, right, heartfelt and a delight to God.

Let’s pray:

Lord God, the repentant person is aware of his sins. He does not deny them, ignore them, minimize them, rationalize them or excuse them. Help each one of us to be aware of our sins.

The repentant person takes responsibility for his sin. Help us to be able to say: It is my transgressions, my iniquity, my sin.

The repentant person has a broken and contrite heart. Help each one of us to have that broken and contrite heart.

The repentant person confesses his sins to You and believes that You will forgive his sins because You are full of love and mercy. Help us believe this and confess our sins to you.

The repentant person wants a clean heart; a right spirit; a willing spirit; to be filled with the Holy Spirit; to be close to God; to have a close relationship with God; to be interacting with God in his heart. May that be us!

The repentant person experiences joy. Give us the joy that comes from true repentance.

The repentant person is able to praise and worship You the way You should be praised and worshiped. Help that be us. May we be true worshipers who worship You in spirit and in truth.

The repentant person wants others to experience what he has experienced. He wants to teach others about You and Your ways and Your yeshua – your salvation. May You so work that that is us.