Reading through the Bible together
Unlike the previous ten, Psalms 51-63 are all ascribed to David; and, secondly, they are very personal, relating to particular events in David’s life. Psalm 51 is a prayer of confession regarding his sins in the case of Bathsheba. His heart-cry is as timeless and universal as our human predicament; every word reflects our search for the pathway from brokenness to wholeness.
The OT sacrificial system made provision for all sins to be atoned for except two: rape or incest, and murder. Both crimes rob a person of life in one way or another. In sinning against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, David placed himself outside the legal arrangements by which God had chosen to grant forgiveness and restoration. So he casts himself on the mercy, grace, and goodness of God to obtain that for which the law of sacrifice had made no provision. There is not a hint of self-justification in his prayer; he can only appeal to God’s gracious qualities: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” He doesn’t minimize his sin, but he magnifies his Saviour.
God’s unfailing love—His hesed—is His covenanted love, the love that won’t give up on you, that never dies, from which you can never be totally separated. The word “mercy” is His motherly love. In fact it is derived from the Hebrew noun for “womb”—and, as Isaiah records God saying, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (49:15).
Significant words mark the process of repentance and healing: On the rescue side of the process, “Blot out…, wash away…, cleanse;” and on the recovery side, “Create…, renew…, restore…, sustain.” David prays for both forgiveness and renewal, for both being set right with God and being made right within himself.
He has nothing to bring to God but his broken heart, which he believes the Lord will not despise. God doesn’t want us to think that we can buy His favour with some sort of peace offering; all He wants is for us to bring our brokenness to Him for healing and renewal. Then we will have a story to tell that will turn sinners to Him and will declare the praises of our gracious Lord.
Greater Sydney Conference