Psalm 51 (NIV)
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
James Montgomery Boice noted that this Psalm has been long beloved by believers: “It was recited in full by Sir Thomas More and Lady Jane Grey when they were on the scaffold in the bloody days of Henry VIII and Queen Mary. William Carey, the great pioneer missionary to India, asked that it might be the text of his funeral sermon.”
HERE is the beautiful “Miserere,” by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), a setting of Psalm 51 composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel as part of the Tenebrae service on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. For a shorter excerpt by the King’s College Choir, click HERE.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
“We note, too, how the psalmist realises his personal responsibility. He reiterates ‘my’ — ‘my transgressions, my iniquity, my sin.’ He does not throw blame on circumstances, or talk about temperament or maxims of society or bodily organisation. All these had some share in impelling him to sin; but after all allowance made for them, the deed is the doer’s, and he must bear its burden.”
–Alexander Maclaren (British preacher, “the prince of expositors,” 1826-1910)
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
In an objective sense this was not true. David had sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, their families, his family, his kingdom, and in a sense even against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). Yet all of that faded into the background as he considered the greatness of his sin against God. He rightly felt as if, against You, You only, have I sinned.
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
Romans 3:1-4 (CEV)
What good is it to be a Jew? What good is it to be circumcised? It is good in a lot of ways! First of all, God’s messages were spoken to the Jews. It is true that some of them did not believe the message. But does this mean that God cannot be trusted, just because they did not have faith? No, indeed! God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. The Scriptures say about God,
will be proven true,
and in court
you will win your case.”
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
From this and similar passages we gain the Biblical idea of original sin — the idea that all humans are born sinners, receiving a sinful nature as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. “This verse is both by Jewish and Christian, by ancient and later, interpreters, generally and most truly understood of original sin.”
–Matthew Poole (English nonconformist theologian, 1624-1679)
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
“With the word Create he asks for nothing less than a miracle. It is a term for what God alone can do.”
–Derek Kidner (British Old Testament scholar, 1913-2008)
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
Wait — but God had instructed the Israelites to bring him sacrifices and burnt offerings! So if that type of offering no longer works, then what? What can we bring to God as a sacrifice, which the Lord will deem acceptable and excellent? What does God want from us?
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
“Have mercy on me, O God . . .” David begins his confession. In doing so, he teaches us how to confess our own sins to the Lord. And the Lord has promised that our repentance will be met by his mercy.
“Thy Mercy, My God” is sung HERE by Sandra McCracken.