Psalm 51

Psalm 51 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence


         This is the most prominent hymn of confession in the book of Psalms.  Written by King David after the prophet Nathan confronted him over his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, it shows a clear change of heart in a man who had plunged himself into the dark pit and was crying out for mercy to a gracious God who hears the prayer of the humble. 

In reference to this change of heart, in v.6 David says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”  Here, David is not speaking of the knowledge of God, or of the world, or even of our fellow man.  He is referring to an experiential knowledge of the state of our own heart, and of the darkness and vileness of our great offenses against a holy God.  Notice, if you will, in the first two verses, that David uses three different words in describing his offense.  In v.1, he uses the word “transgression,” and then in v.2, he mentions “iniquity,” and “sin.” 

The first word “transgression,” means in a sense to “trespass,” to step across a boundary line and enter into forbidden territory.  But this is not something done in ignorance; rather, it is done in revolt.  The word is used to signify a rebel who has cast off all authority.  Here, David through the renewing of his mind, is seeing his adultery for what it really is; he’s seeing his murder for what it really is: not just a sin against Bathsheba or Uriah, or even against his own family, but rather a sin against God in an attempt to utterly cast off his authority. 

In the narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty, the Royal Navy vessel the HMS Bounty was on a journey through the South Pacific Sea in1789, when discouraged and angry crewmen, seized control of the ship from their captain and set him and those loyal to him, adrift in the ship’s open launch.  What caused this mutiny?  While spending five months in Tahiti cultivating breadfruit plants, many of the men had unlawful sexual relations with the native Polynesian women while drinking themselves into a stupor.  And when the captain sought to correct them and to discipline them, they grew bitter toward him and they desired to cast off his authority altogether.

Is that not what every sin is ultimately?  A sin against God, a casting off of his authority and declaring ourselves to be the captain of our own lives.  This is what David had done when he stole another man’s wife and murdered her husband.  This is what we have done each time we have refused to heed God’s correction and have rejected his holy ways.  We have committed mutiny against our maker and our king.  A renewed mind understands this transgression keenly. 

Then consider the second word that David uses to describe his offense in v.2, “iniquity.”  Literally in the Hebrew he’s saying that what he has done is perverse and twisted.  That through the wisdom of the scriptures he has come to see in his sin a willful headstrong determination to do exactly opposite of what God requires and to foolishly go in the wrong direction no matter the consequences.  By the Spirit, David now sees that his behavior is both unacceptable and unreasonable in light of God’s goodness and grace.   Today, a man or woman with a broken spirit, sees that same foolishness, and calls it what it really is: iniquity and perversity. 

Then, in addition to transgression and iniquity, in v.2 David also calls his offense, “sin.” The Hebrew word translated as sin, here in our text, refers to one missing the mark or missing the target or missing the goal in some way.  If ultimately the goal is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, sin is certainly missing that mark.  But it’s not only that mark that sin misses, it misses every mark for which it aims, every attempt at happiness, every pursuit of that which is good, for sin never satisfies.

In order to fully come to God in faith and repentance, one must first understand the gravity and the heinousness of their sin and turn from it with a hatred that comes from God.  Clearly, David had a change of heart and began to hate his sin and cling to God in faith and love.  That is what made his heart to sing again, to sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.