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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 51

Verse 1

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Psalms 32:1-11 was written AFTER this Psalms 51:1-19, before David's adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. Since there he invites all to share with him the blessing of experienced forgiveness by heartily confessing sin, so here he seeks it, and promises, in the event of receiving it, to teach other transgressors the way of peace.

Psalms 51:1-19.-Prayer resting on confession of actual and original sin (Psalms 51:1-6); purification sought, and the gift of the Spirit (Psalms 51:7-12); thanksgiving promised, and the conversion of sinners through his testimony, when he shall be restored to the joy of God; praise and contrition God loves more than sacrifice; these he and the people will offer when God shall do good to Zion and her king (Psalms 51:13-19).

Title. - To the chief Musician. Marvellous that the highest personage in the kingdom should thus publicly proclaim His heinous sin and subsequent penitence! So grateful had grace made him for pardon, that he desired to make his case (however natural inclination might shrink from it) an instructive lesson to all the people of God whom he had offended by his sin. His penitential psalm, sung in the public service of the temple, would proclaim far and wide the path to pardon for the worst sinners.

A Psalm of David, when Nathan the Prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Instead of "after," translate [ ka'ªsher (H834)] 'according as.' It is not here a particle of time; because Nathan's coming to David was about a year subsequent to David's connection with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:14-15). The use of the same verb and preposition [ bow' (H935) + 'el (H413)] in both clauses implies that the connection between David's going to Bathsheba and Nathan's going to David is that inseparable connection which there is between sin and its condemnation. Translate the verbs alike: 'When Nathan the prophet had gone unto him, after he had gone unto Bathsheba.' Especially in the case of the godly, sin is followed by chastisement, not only because of God's anger, but chiefly because of God's love (cf. Leviticus 10:3; Amos 3:2; 1 Peter 4:17).

Have mercy upon me, O God. He does not venture to call Him 'my God;' but he appeals to God in respect to His own attributes.

According to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. "The multitude of thy tender mercies" is needed because of the multitude of my sins (Isaiah 55:7, margin; Psalms 130:7). His sin, in the case of Uriah and Bathsheba, presents itself now before his awakened conscience as not merely one sin, but an accumulation of sins; therefore he uses the plural: his many acts of adultery with Bathsheba, his shedding the bled of Uriah, and of three who perished with him, his impenitence and hypocrisy for nearly a year, and the occasion which he had given for the enemies of God to blaspheme against all religion. "Blot out," here and Psalms 51:9, is an image from erasing a debt out of an account-book. Our sins are debts entered into the book of God's remembrance against the judgment, and can be blotted out only by that Saviour who 'blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross' (Colossians 2:14; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22). David's expression refers to Nathan's declaration, 2 Samuel 12:13, "The Lord also hath put away (literally, caused to pass [ he`ªbiyr (H5674)]) thy sin." Though Nathan had thus announced an immediate and full pardon to David on his brief confession of sin, yet the penitent was not able at once to appropriate it. The greater had been the grace conferred on him, the deeper was his fall, and the harder did he find it to reach a state of peace. The promise of pardon only kept him from despair; but before he could attain to joyful assurance, he had to pass through deep waters of self-loathing because of his enormous sin. Not that God's grace did not hold out immediate peace, but that his faith, impaired by the consciousness of sin, was slow to lay hold of it.

Verse 2

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity - (cf. Psalms 51:7.) The Hebrew verb for "wash" is usually employed as to clothes [ kaabac (H3526); but raachats of the person]: thus (Numbers 19:8) the clothes of him who burnt the heifer, in order to make the ashes for the water of separation, were to be washed (the same Hebrew), and the person bathed. Wash me as one would wash a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6). The Hebrew for "throughly" is literally 'multiply,' and stands first as the emphatic word of the sentence, Compare Isaiah 55:7, 'multiply to pardon' - i:e., "abundantly pardon." In Psalms 51:1-2 he uses the three terms, 'transgressions iniquity, sin,' to mark the manifold character of his sin. As my sins are manifold, so 'manifoldly wash me.' The blood of Christ, applied by the grace of God, is the water which is to wash out the stain (Revelation 1:5; 1 John 1:7).

Verse 3

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

I acknowledge my transgressions. Giving the ground on which his prayer (Psalms 51:1-2) rests-namely, "I acknowledge my transgressions." They who acknowledge their sin are in a receptive state for God's grace. So in the parallel psalm (Psalms 32:5). David had confessed his sin (2 Samuel 12:13; cf. Proverbs 28:13). Not that confession is the efficient cause of forgiveness: the grace of God, through the atoning blood of Christ, is the only meritorious cause.

And my sin is ever before me - I can never lose sight of it.

Verse 4

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. So in 2 Samuel 12:9; 2 Samuel 12:13, the sin, though externally against Uriah, is represented as having its chief malignity in being against "the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight;" and David's confession is, "I have sinned against the Lord." That we are not to think that the sins which he confesses are merely against the first table of the law, appears from Psalms 51:14, "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness." What makes an offence against our fellow-man a sin is, that it is against one who bears the image of God, and for whom God hath provided a redemption; and so is against God Himself (cf. Genesis 9:6). The more vivid the sense of sin is, the more the penitent will feel the malignity of sin (even of that against one's neighbour) to lie in this, that it is against the holy and loving God, our Father, to whom we owe such a deep debt of gratitude. So when the godly Joseph was tempted to adultery by Potiphar's wife, he did think of the offence against his master as the chief thing, but said, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Though primarily David had been guilty of the two foulest crimes against his fellow-man, yet now that he sees sin in its essence, not merely in its accidents, he loses sight of all else except his sin against God-the God who had raised him from a sheepfold to the throne of God's own people. 'I do not regard whether men, by way of flattery, extenuate my guilt; I feel thee to be my judge; conscience drags me to thy tribunal' (Calvin). Hope also enters into the thought that David's sin has been against God; because, this being so, it rests with God alone to grant forgiveness. He need not therefore despair because he can make no reparation to the injured Uriah, now long deceased, nor can ask forgiveness from him.

That thou mightest (or mayest) be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. David recognizes the mystery that God permits sin "in order that" [ lªma`an (H4616) must be so translated] His own righteousness may be manifested in judging the sinner, as it was through Nathan in David case, and thus that His holy name may be glorified at the same time that His children are brought through chastisement to penitence and salvation. Paul so takes this passage (Romans 3:4); for otherwise there would have been no semblance for the blasphemous allegation which he refutes, that man's "unrighteousness," is not punishable because it is the occasion of "commending" or bringing to light "the righteousness of God." The sinner's guilt is none the less because God's righteousness is thereby magnified in His judicial dealing with it. Nay, it is the greater, in that, whereas he might be a conscious and willing instrument of God's glory, he perversely, by sin, makes himself an unconscious instrument of glorifying and justifying God in his own condemnation. The sin is wholly of man, willfully led by his own lust (James 1:13-15). Its manifestations are overruled by God for His own glory (1 Samuel 26:19; 2 Samuel 16:10; 2 Samuel 24:1; Romans 9:17-18) and for the ultimate salvation of the sinner if a believer, or for leaving him without excuse if a reprobate (Proverbs 16:4). When the penitent is led to justify God, as King Rehoboam and the Israelite princes humbled themselves under God's chastisement through Shishak, saying, "the Lord is righteous" (2 Chronicles 12:6), then he withdraws the rod, the end designed having been attained.

Verse 5

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, I was shapen - Hebrew chowlaalªtiy (H2342); literally, brought forth amidst labour pains.

In iniquity. In Adam the whole human race fell, so that his sin was propagated by generation; for as the punishment affects all his race, even those who have not followed him in actual sin (Romans 5:12-14), as infants, so must his sin (Job 14:4). This is what is termed original or birth-sin-an hereditary taint, whereby from our birth we are inclined to evil. 'In every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation.' "Iniquity" [ `aawown (H5771)] is always used of imputable guilty." Compare Genesis 5:3, contrasted with "Adam begat a son in his own likeness, after his image;" whereas "in the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him." Compare Genesis 8:21; Ephesians 2:3.

And in sin did my mother conceive me - not referring to the sin of his mother, but of himself, I had the germ of sin from my birth, and even from my very conception (Psalms 58:3.)

Verse 6

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Behold. The repetition of exclamation (cf. Psalms 51:5) implies the close connection of Psalms 51:5-6 -`My very nature, as that of all mankind, is tainted with sin, but thou desirest sincere righteousness: therefore there urgent need that thou, who alone canst, shouldst impart righteousness, and its first beginning, the pardon of sin.'

Thou desirest truth in the inward parts - "truth," i:e., true righteousness, as opposed to self-deceit and hypocrisy, of which he was guilty all the time (nearly a year) that he continued living in sin, though not giving up the outward profession of a worshipper of God (Joshua 24:14; 1 Kings 2:4; John 3:21).

And in the hidden part - the hidden depths of the heart, which, in the natural man, however outwardly wise, are replete with folly. Compare the contrast of "inwardly" and "outwardly," Romans 2:28-29.

Thou shalt make me to know wisdom - true Wis 1:1-16 :e., piety, internally initiated by the Holy Spirit, so as to act on my whole spirit and life (cf. Job 38:36). Virtually a prayer in the form of a confident anticipation. As thou desirest true righteousness, and I neither have it naturally nor can acquire it of myself, 'thou shalt give' it, I trust and pray. So all the succeeding future tenses are optative (cf. Psalms 51:10; Psalms 51:12).

Verse 7

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Prayer for forgiveness and for the Spirit.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. A man ceremonially unclean (for instance, one who has touched a corpse) was 'purged' by the sprinkling of water, with ashes of the red heifer in it, from a bunch of hyssop (Numbers 19:18). Also a cured leper was cleansed with water and blood sprinkled from hyssop (Leviticus 19:4-7). This shadowed forth the antitypical "blood of sprinkling" of Messiah, whereby the uncleanness of the soul is purged (Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 12:24). As the cedar was the emblem of loftiness, so the hyssop of lowliness, and so of the divine condescension (1 Kings 4:33; Psalms 18:35). The extremes of divine majesty and lowly condescension meet in God's pardon and justification of sinners (Isaiah 66:1-2).

Verse 8

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice - namely, by my receiving from thy Spirit the inward assurance of that forgiveness of which Nathan has given me the outward. David's bones were broken figuratively, by the accusations of conscience, and the law's condemnation of him, because of his sin, Literally, too, in a sense, his bones were broken-that is, his bodily strength was much enfeebled by the inward agitation of his mind (Psalms 6:2; Psalms 38:3).

Verse 9

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities - namely, from thy book of remembrance, so as never to rise in judgment against me (Psalms 51:1).

Verses 10-12

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

-Prayer for the Spirit fittingly follows his prayers for purification, complete forgiveness, and the joy of assurance. For the joyful sense of forgiveness is "joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The gift of the Holy Spirit follows upon forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38); and so in the three verses He is alluded to - "a right spirit

... thy Holy Spirit ... thy free Spirit."

Verse 10. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. No less an Almighty power than that which 'created' [ bªraa' (H1254)] the world is needed to "create" in fallen man "a clean heart." Ephesians 2:10; Ezekiel 36:26, contains God's promise corresponding to this prayer. The Hebrew ( naakown (H3559)) for "right" is rather a heart 'steadfast' in the path of righteousness, margin. David's fault had been want of that steadfastness whereby he should have resisted "temptation." Compare Psalms 78:37. He formerly had this holy fixity of spirit; he now prays that it may be renewed.

Verse 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me As Cain was 'hid Verse 11. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. As Cain was 'hid from the face of God.' (Genesis 4:14), and as Israel was 'cast from His presence' at last (2 Kings 13:23), God's Spirit had not ceased to strive with him (Genesis 6:3). He confesses that he deserves to be 'cast off,' as having turned from his righteousness (Ezekiel 32:13-18). The awful end of Saul is before him. "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul" at the same time that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon David" (1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:13-14). Now David has "grieved the Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30); but he has not entirely lost Him, nor apostatized, though, had not mercy interposed, he must inevitably have done so (Hebrews 6:4-6), as Saul.

Verse 12. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation - answering to Psalms 51:8: the joy which thy salvation imparts in the experience of the forgiveness of sin, and of the possession of the Holy Spirit.

And uphold me with (thy) free Spirit. There is no "thy" in the original translation; therefore translate, 'Uphold me with a ready (Gesenius, spontaneous) spirit.' The Hebrew [ nªdiybaa (H5081)] expresses one who has a living impulse to good; an instinctive constraint toward it. A spirit of spontaneous alacrity is illustrated by the parallel "joy of thy salvation." He desires to walk in the spirit of liberty in the freedom which the Holy Spirit imparts (Psalms 110:3; Exodus 35:5; 2 Chronicles 29:31, "of a free heart;" Romans 8:2-15; Psalms 119:45; John 8:34-36). The preceding context has the several clauses in the form of addresses to God. Do not therefore translate, 'may a willing spirit uphold me.'

Verses 13-19

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

-He promises spiritual sacrifices of praise, and efforts for the conversion of other transgressors, as the fruit of his being restored to the joy of salvation. For though works do not justify, the justified man is sure to work. God works in the evidences of faith. So in Psalms 54:6-7, but especially in the parallel psalm, he passes from his own blessedness in experienced pardon to 'teaching others God's way' of peace,-namely, God pardoning all who heartily confess their sins (Psalms 32:8-9). As here, in Psalms 51:1-19, he promises to do so, so in Psalms 32:1-11 he fulfills his promise. This portion falls into three divisions:

(1) He states positively how he will evince his gratitude to God (Psalms 51:13-15).

(2) He renounces false thanksgivings, as opposed to the true ones which he offers-namely, a contrite heart (Psalms 51:16-17).

(3) He passes from individual thanksgivings to those of Zion, or the whole Church.

Verse 13. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. - when my prayer shall have been heard. Even already, in some degree, his prayer was heard. For the wish to bring sinners to God evinces a state of heart no longer estranged from God's salvation, and from concern for His honour. "Thy ways" are ways whereby sinners are to go-the ways of conversion, as the parallel clause proves.

Verse 14. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness - literally, bloods, plural; namely, the guilt of having shed Uriah's blood, and that of others with him (2 Samuel 11:15-17; 2 Samuel 12:9-10). This denunciation rested as a heavy and the completion of "the wall round about" was effected by Solomon (1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 9:15). There is doubtless also a figurative sense proved by the parallel "do good," and by the analogy of what David sought for himself-namely, salvation. Thus build the walls is equivalent to establish in temporal and spiritual prosperity Zion, thy people. Compare the phrase, Isaiah 60:10; Zechariah 6:15; Revelation 20:10-12; also Psalms 89:40. These two verses have been made the pretext for transferring this psalm to a date after the captivity, when the walls of Jerusalem were prostrate. But the Psalmist does not say 'build them again,' but 'build them.'

Verse 19. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness - sacrifices offered in righteousness (Psalms 4:5); not such as are vain (Isaiah 1:13), the offerers being tainted with unpardoned sin (Leviticus 26:31). As in Psalms 51:16, heartless sacrifices are rejected, so here in Psalms 51:19, hearty sacrifices are promised as acceptable to Yahweh.

With burnt offering, and whole burnt offering - (Deuteronomy 33:10.) The "whole burnt offering," more emphatically than the "burnt offering," marks why this offering in particular is promised-namely, because the whole was burnt, the offerer retaining no part (1 Samuel 7:9); thus, there is implied entire self-surrender to God, the soul burning with love, and spending itself wholly to His glory.

Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar - literally, 'then shall bullocks ascend thine altar.'

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 51". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/psalms-51.html. 1871-8.