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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 51

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-19

Psalms 51:0

To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba

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

2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions:

And my sin is ever before me.

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.

5     Behold I was shapen in iniquity;

And in sin did my mother conceive me.

6     Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts:

And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7     Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8     Make me to hear joy and gladness;

That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9     Hide thy face from my sins,

And blot out all mine iniquities.

10     Create in me a clean heart, O God;

And renew a right spirit within me.

11     Cast me not away from thy presence;

And take not thy Holy Spirit from me.

12     Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;

And uphold me with thy free Spirit.

13     Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;

And sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14     Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation:

And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15     O Lord, open thou my lips;

And my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16     For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:

Thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17     The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:

A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18     Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion:

Build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19     Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering:

Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.


Its Contents and Composition.—A penitential Psalm of an almost evangelical spirit and character, “which has been used by the Church in song and prayer oftener than any other in the Psalter” (Luther). For the prayer for expiation through the mercy of God (Psalms 51:1-2) is founded upon the penitent confession of his own grievous transgression (Psalms 51:3-4) and the assurance that he who has been conceived and born in sin can obtain truth and wisdom only from God (Psalms 51:5-6). On this foundation rises at first a double prayer for forgiveness of sins (Psalms 51:7-9) and renewal through the Holy Spirit (Psalms 51:10-12); then follows the vow of thanksgiving, partly in the instruction of sinners unto conversion, partly in the personal praise of God (Psalms 51:13-15), because the will of God is not that external sacrifices should be brought, but He desires spiritual contrition of heart (Psalms 51:17-18); finally there is an intercession in behalf of the bestowal of grace upon the entire people, in order that they may be in the right condition, with true disposition to offer likewise the external ritual sacrifices at Jerusalem prescribed in the law (Psalms 51:18-19). It is very natural to suppose that the last two verses are a later, perhaps liturgical addition (Venema, Rosen., Maurer, Köster, Tholuck [Perowne, et al.], yet this is not entirely necessary (vide Psalms 51:18-19). Still less are we compelled, in order to maintain the authenticity of the composition of this Psalm, to descend to the time of the exile at Babylon (De Wette), and explain it as a prayer of the nation (Paulus, Olsh.), or ascribe it to the author of Isaiah 40-66., as a prayer of the prophet, to support him in his calling (Hitzig). The latter reference to the prophet’s calling is forced by the most violent explanations. The undoubted similarities with Isaiah are not limited to the last chapters, so that it is more natural to suppose a manifold use of this Psalm by the prophet Isaiah (Delitzsch), and emphasize the thoroughgoing reference to 2 Samuel 12:0 (Hengst.), and indeed in these very expressions and turns of thought, which are not as it were usual phrases (Hupfeld), but relate to that very transgression of David and its consequences, which is mentioned in the title. The fact that this title uses the same word to designate the official coming of Nathan to David, and the sexual coming of David to Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:4, comp. Genesis 6:4; Genesis 16:2), shows a carelessness of Hebrew style (Delitzsch) rather than a significant antithesis. (Stier, Hengst.). At any rate כַאֲשֶׁר is not to be regarded as=such as, expressing the correspondence of guilt and punishment; but it is to be taken as a particle of time=when, which, connected with the perfect (1 Samuel 12:8; 2 Samuel 12:21), receives the meaning=after that, and indicates the pluperfect. Compared with Psalms 6:0. and 38. the feelings expressed here are in a more advanced stage, whilst the situation is the same. Psalms 32:0. carries out what is promised here in Psalms 51:13.

Str. I. Psa 51:1. According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.—The plurality of his transgressions is not to be explained historically but psychologically. He prays that they may be blotted out or wiped away, either as letters, Exodus 32:32; Numbers 5:23; comp. Psalms 9:5; Psalms 69:23, from the book of guilt (J. H. Mich., Rosen., et al.), or as clouds from the heavens by a wind, Isaiah 42:22 (Delitzsch). In this connection, however, we are not to think of the figure of filth (Stier), but of the idea of entire removal, 2 Kings 21:13 (Hupfeld).

Psalms 51:2. Wash me thoroughly, or wash me much. הַרְבֵּה is hardly the full form of the imper. hiphil, for which הֶרֶב is the shortened form (Geier, Rosen., De Wette, Stier after Aben Ezra and Kimchi), although, at times, the imperative of the auxiliary verb and the imperative of the principal verb, follow one another without the conjunction ו, comp. 1 Samuel 2:3 (Gesen. § 139, 3 b.); but it is the infin. absolute (Kimchi, J. H. Mich alternately, Hitzig, Hengst., Hupfeld), used as an adverb (Ewald, § 240 e., 280 c., Gesen. § 128, 2), and here placed before the verb with emphasis, as in Ps. 131:7, before the noun. The washing is expressed by a verb which usually refers to cleansing the clothing by means of kneading, and thus designates the iniquity as filth deeply soiling him.—Make me clean from my sin.—This verb is used at the same time for declarative and actual purification, and represents the sin as a leprosy.—It is unnecessary to inquire whether all these expressions refer more to the objective greatness of the guilt, in reference to which the greatness of Divine compassion is emphasized (Calvin, Geier, et al.), or to the subjective strength of the feelings (Hupfeld). For if the consciousness of his sin is directly mentioned as constantly before the Psalmist, whether as a ground of longing and prayer for forgiveness (Calvin, J. H. Mich., Stier, et al.), or as a motive for the fulfilment of this petition, because his confession indicates the presence of the condition of forgiveness (Geier, Rosen., Hengst.): he yet likewise afterwards not only mentions blood-guiltiness, in Psalms 51:14, but in the immediate course of the thought, Psalms 51:4, designates sin as evil before the eyes of God (Isaiah 65:12; Isaiah 66:4), and Psalms 51:5 brings it in connection with the universal human sinfulness, and indeed not as an excuse (Flamin. and Rosen. after some Rabbins), but as a testimony to the depth of ruin and the enormity of transgression.

Str. II. Psa 51:3. For my transgressions I know.—[Perowne: “There is no need to render with the A. V. ‘I acknowledge,’ though no doubt the confession of sin is implied. That, however, is not here prominent, but rather that discernment of sin and of its true nature which leads to a confession of it.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 51:4. Against Thee alone, etc.—This expression does not say that the sin in question is to be regarded as idolatry, that is, as sin against the one only true God (Paulus), or as a then (in the exile or in the Maccabean time) unparalleled guilt (Olsh.). It certainly is not against the reference to the transgression of David against Bathsheba and Uriah. It does not mention this fact, but emphasizes the sinfulness of it, and shows that the speaker, in the sincerity and strength of his penitence, which corresponds with the depth of his knowledge of his sin, has in mind, not the injuries done to men, but his relation to God, which was thereby disturbed, to whom the sin as such refers, that is to say, according to its idea and nature, solely and alone. The word alone is not superfluous (Flacius), since it is rather indispensable to express the thought indicated above. Yet we must not limit the emphasis and tone to this word, but at the same time extend it to the word “sinned.” For the conception and designation of the nature of sin as opposition to the holy will of God, who not only alone recognizes the springs of sinful action in the interior of man (Kimchi), but is the only supreme lawgiver and judge, discloses a frame of mind (Hupfeld) in which the religious reference to God alone is felt (Flamin., Rosen., Maurer, De Wette), and therefore likewise urges to the seeking of purification and sanctification in God alone (Isaki, et al.). But this conception and designation is neither brought about by an abstraction from the appearances of sin, nor does it spring from a merely subjective frame of mind and feeling, but it originates from a knowledge of the essential relation of sin, and hence the objective truth of the clause is to be maintained.1 For since לְמַעַן=ἴνα states not the consequences but always the design or the aim, and moreover the context as well as the character of David excludes the interpretation that the Psalmist confesses, that he has sinned with the design or to the end that the righteousness of God might become manifest; these words must not be referred back to the thoughts contained in the prayer, Psalms 51:1, or in the confession, Psalms 51:3, but must be put in the closest connection with the words: “against Thee alone” and “the evil in Thine eyes.” It is not necessary then to insert the words: “this I confess” (Olsh., von Leng.). The Psalmist has by the confession in Psalms 51:4 already renounced excuses and self-justification, and indeed every thought which might include an accusation against God, at the same time, moreover, by putting his act under the head of actions condemned by God, by condemning himself, he thus fulfills the purpose that the righteousness and purity of God should be presented and recognized in fact. The appearance of doing away with human freedom and of a Divine predestination of evil, which, moreover, Calvin did not find here, originates mostly from the fact that the speaking and judging of God is usually referred directly and immediately to the condemning oracle of Nathan, which it is admissible to make use of here only in a general way. Of course the reference is not to a judicial judgment of God absolving an accused person, as if the meaning were that no one’s right is injured when God Himself is the offended person, and He bestows His grace upon the person who is deficient (Hitzig); still less is it of the speaking and internal judgment of God in the conscience of man (De Wette, Hupfeld). The expression is a general one, and is thus taken by the Apostle Paul, Romans 3:4, and secured from misinterpretation and misuse by a fuller explanation of the facts of the case.2 The sense is not essentially altered, although he cites from the Septuagint, which has the noun “in Thy words,” instead of the infinitive, and has taken the word זכה in accordance with the usage of the Syriac, in the meaning of “conquer,” “overcome,” instead of “be pure,” and has taken the active “judge” as passive, which then, with respect to this passage of the Psalm, the interpreters with this conception, refer to the offence which the fall of a man like David had given (Calvin). The unusual pointing of בְּדָבְרֶךָ, as the infinitive Kal, appears to have been chosen for the sake of similarity of sound with the parallel בְשָׁפְטֶךָ.

Str. III. Psa 51:5. Behold, in guilt was I born,etc.—The Psalm does not refer to an adulterous action on the part of his mother, of a sinful condition of birth and generation (Isaki), although the word יִחַם is generally used of the lust of animals, Genesis 30:41; Genesis 31:10, it merely refers to descent from sinful parents (Job 14:4), and inborn sinfulness, which with its guilt and its ruin is transmitted from parents to children, by means of natural propagation, so that they are infected with sin from their mother’s womb and from their youth, Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Psalms 58:4.

Psalms 51:6. Behold, Thou delightest in truth in the reins,etc.—Since God’s good pleasure and desire is directed to a truth present in the reins as the seat of the tenderest feelings (Chald., Jerome, Rabbins, Gesenius, Delitzsch), or, according to another derivation of the word: in the hiding-place, that is to say, in the most secret depths of the heart (Sept., Syriac, Jerome, Aben Ezra, Luther, Calvin, and most interpreters); he must pray that God will make known wisdom in the hidden parts. It does not mean secret wisdom, an understanding of the typical sense of the Old Testament ceremonies, or a deeper insight into the guidance of God, and into the secret of the atonement (most of the older interpreters, recently Stier), but according to the accents and the context, the correlative of truth, the practical wisdom of life, which God is to make known in the hidden parts, that is to say, internally in the heart, Job 38:36 (Rosen., Hengstenberg, recent interpreters). It is too narrow to regard truth as truthfulness, or sincerity in the knowledge and confession of sin (J. H. Mich., Tholuck, et al.); too wide to ex-plain it as the essence of all good (De Wette). It is the sincere nature corresponding with its ideal, whose character and reliability may be trusted, or the righteousness in accordance with the will and requirements of God, the true righteousness in contrast with lies, appearance, hypocrisy, Joshua 24:14; Jdg 9:16; 1 Kings 2:4; 1Ki 3:6; 2 Kings 20:3; Psalms 145:18 (Calvin, Hengst. et al.). The supposition that ב, in בָטֻּחוֹת, is not the preposition but the initial letter, as Job 12:6, and that it is therefore to be translated: behold, faith Thou lovest, confidence (Hitzig), is opposed by the fact that the word in question is used in Job in the objective sense, but here is applied in the subjective sense, just as אֱמֶת, which might indeed be translated: “faithfulness,” but is here taken by Hitzig as=אֱמוּנָה, and this again explained as=πίστις, in the subjective sense; and all this in the interest of the hypothesis that a prophet speaks here, before whom there is an uncertain future, which he nominally longs for (Psalms 51:10 b. Psalms 51:12), but really desires to be turned away (Psalms 51:11; Psalms 51:14), and now has become disquieted and faint-spirited, because things have turned out different from his expectations; yet now as a prophet, on account of his official duty, he has to look into the future, and has not yet lost all hope; hence the sense of the passage is said to be: Thou requirest likewise from me believing confidence, and this will I become partaker of, if Thou revealest to me hidden things.

Str. IV. Psalms 51:7. Purify me with hyssop,etc.—The Old Testament stand-point is disclosed in the fact that the means of purification are still designated figuratively and without a particle of comparison, by that symbol, with which the sprinkling of the men or things that had become unclean by contact with a corpse, Numbers 19:6 sq.; Numbers 19:18 sq., as well as the sprinkling of the leper, Leviticus 14:0., was performed, comp. Bähr, Symbolik des mos. Kultus II. 503. This stand point, however, is broken through by the fact, that there is no mention here of the priestly mediation, which was ordained as well for this act of sprinkling as for the washing of the clothing and bathing of the body, likewise mentioned here, but rather purification is implored directly from God, and the washing desired not for the clothing but for the person. Isaiah 1:18 makes use of Psalms 51:7 b., where the redness of sin is brought in contrast with the whiteness of snow, which is occasioned by the mention of hands stained with blood, Isaiah 1:15.

Psalms 51:8. Joy and gladness.—These expressions frequently combined are always used of loud and festive manifestations of joy (Hupfeld). They accordingly designate, not the effect of a message of peace within the heart, as by the preaching of grace in the word of God (Luther, Calvin, Stier), or else a message which gives joy (Hitzig), but the expression of joy, which is here published by the speaker himself, and thereby brought to a hearing, and actually accomplished by the fact that the declaration of pardon made to David through Nathan, which had taken place historically long before the composition of this Psalm, and therefore cannot be meant here, has penetrated finally, after long struggle and conflict, into the penitent soul, even to the point where its internal appropriation and sealing by the Holy Spirit can be hoped for and implored.—[Bones.—Perowne: “These are not merely as Hupfeld says, instead of the heart, but as constituting the strength and frame-work of the body, the crushing of the bones being a very strong figure, denoting the most complete prostration, mental and bodily, see Psalms 6:2.”—C. A. B.]

[Psalms 51:9. Hide Thy face.—This is the angry face, the judicial look of God, vid. Psalms 21:9.—C. A. B.]

Psalms 51:10-11. A pure heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.—The pure heart, the condition of communion with God (Psalms 73:1; Matthew 5:8), is designated not only as a heart cleansed from sin (Acts 15:9), but at the same time as a new heart, by the fact that it is implored from a creative act of God, from which likewise the renewal of the spirit (Ezek. 4:23) to a steadfast one takes place, that is to say to a spirit firmly grounded in God’s grace, and thereby not only fearless and confident (Psalms 57:7; Psalms 112:7), but firm (Psalms 78:37). What is implored here does not go beyond that which is required in Psalms 24:4; moreover it is promised by the prophets as a gift of God (Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26), and includes a change of disposition (1 Samuel 10:9), which presupposes and is conditioned on penitence, and at the same time a believing turning unto the Divine grace, as it is made known in the prayer, not to be cast away from the presence of God, that is to say, utterly rejected (2 Kings 13:23; 2 Kings 17:20; 2 Kings 24:20; Jeremiah 7:15), not to be deprived of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:11), with which David had been anointed (1 Samuel 16:13). The context is opposed to the insertion of “for ever” (Kimchi), not less than the explanation that this is the prayer of one already converted (Calvin).3

Psalms 51:12. With a willing spirit uphold me.—The reference is not to a princely or guiding spirit (Sept., Vulgate, Isaki, et al.), or indeed to a mighty spirit (Jerome). The use of the Hebrew word in question for a person noble by birth (Job 30:15) or political rank, was rendered possible only after a series of intermediate steps. The fundamental meaning leads to the opposite of being legally necessary or externally forced, that is, to a being driven from within outwards (Exodus 25:2), and accordingly to joyous willingness (Isaiah 32:8; Ps. 54:8). Grammatically this spirit of willingness can only be regarded as the subject nominative, and the following verb as the 3d per. fem. (Rabbins, Luther, Geier, J. H. Mich., et al.). But it is more in accordance with the context of the prayer to adopt the explanation which is likewise admissible, that the verb is the 2d masc. with double accusative, as Genesis 27:37 (Sept., Jerome, Hengst., Hupfeld, Delitzsch). This part of the prayer affords a suitable transition to the following vow of true thank-offering, comp. Psalms 32:8.

Str. V. Psalms 51:13. I will teach, etc.—The optative form includes at the same time the petition that he may do it or be able to do it, presupposes accordingly the consequences of his prayer, so that it is unnecessary to supply “then” (De Wette, Hengst., [A. V.]). The ways of God are either those in which God Himself walks, particularly His treatment of penitent sinners, which is favored by Psalms 51:14-15 (Stier), or those ordained of God, upon which man is to walk, the commandments of God (De Wette, Hupfeld), which is favored by Psalms 32:8 (Hengst.).—[And sinners shall return unto Thee.—Alexander: “The Hebrew verb is not a passive (shall be converted) but an active form, shall turn or return to the Lord, perhaps with an allusion to the great apostasy, in which the whole race is involved. See above, in Psalms 22:27. To this verse there seems to be particular allusion in our Saviour’s words to Peter, Luke 22:32.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 51:14. Blood-guiltiness, derived from the bloody deed, presses as a burden upon the conscience of David. Both ideas mingle with one another frequently in the Hebrew word which denotes primarily blood poured forth by violence, e.g. Psalms 9:12; Psalms 106:38. The prayer for deliverance seems to lead to the latter signification. Then we have to think of a hostile act directed against the Psalmist, a murder of the prophet which was to be feared (Hitzig) from men of blood (Psalms 59:2), or of a still further effusion of blood which was expected by the people (Olshausen). But this passive reference of the word is unusual, so that the prayer for deliverance from impending death (Psalms 33:19) affords no parallel. The deliverance is rather such an one which takes away the Psalmist (Psalms 39:2) from the blood that he has shed. Since now the act cannot be undone, and can least of all be forgotten by the penitent himself, the expression manifestly refers to the expiation and forgiveness of guilt, which is referred to generally in this Psalm. The mingling of the idea of punishment (even by Hengst. and Hupfeld) can only work confusion, although fear of it, and remembrance of threatenings, as 2 Samuel 12:9 sq.; Genesis 4:10; Genesis 9:5 sq., might awaken and sharpen the consciousness of guilt.—The righteousness of God is not that tempered by grace and changed into mercy (Calvin, Geier, et al.), or that bestowed upon the sinner by grace (J. H. Mich., Stier), but that attribute of God, by virtue of which He gives every one his dues, comp. 1 John 1:9 (Hengstenberg), the general principle of the Divine government (Hupfeld).

Psalms 51:15. The opening of the lips is not merely as a consequence of the forgiveness of sins in contrast with the silence of the anxiety of sin (Calvin, Geier, Hengstenberg, et al.), but at the same time as an act of God, which not only opens the mouth of His prophets and consecrates their lips (Isaiah 50:4 sq.; Ezekiel 3:27; Amos 4:13), but likewise works thankfulness, and invokes the song of praise, Psalms 42:9; Psalms 49:5; Psalms 71:15 (Hupfeld). This is, according to Psalms 51:8; Psalms 51:12, a rejoicing heart, and seems therefore to presuppose a glad heart.

Psalms 51:16-17. A broken heart is designated as the essential thing in the offering well-pleasing to God, and indeed the זִבְחֵי, that is to say sacrifices, which word in accordance with usage is neither offering in general, or sin offering in particular, but constantly the peace offering brought by those already expiated and justified, the שְׁלָמִים and the thank-offering תּוֹדַה. We must entirely reject the explanation that penitence has taken the place of the sin-offering, and indeed in the present case, because such an intentional transgression as that of David against Bathsheba and Uriah, allowed of no legal sin-offering (Rabbins, et al.), which cuts the nerve of the entire passage. The inadmissibleness of this interpretation is confirmed by the parallel mention of burnt offering עוֹלָה, by the offering of which the renewed devotion to God and His service was fulfilled. But it is not only said that the glad thankfulness for the deliverance, favor, forgiveness of sins, comes from a broken heart as the condition of salvation (Hitzig, Delitzsch), or remains constantly accompanied by a pain on account of sin (De Wette), which was at the same time a measure of the thankfulness for the forgiveness of sins (Hengstenberg). The heart itself is the essential thing in all the sacrifices of thanksgiving. To bring this is not the only offering which God demands after the abrogation of the propitiatory sacrifice, because in it the man denies himself, and abandoning any merit of his own, implores his entire salvation from God’s grace alone through faith (Calvin); it is the sign that grace has broken the heart, and that the favored one, in true humility, regards himself unworthy of what God has done to him, Genesis 32:10; Luke 5:8. The statement of Joshua ben Levi, imparted by Delitzsch from the Talmud Sanhedrin 43 b., is related with this: at the time when the temple was standing, he who brought a burnt-offering received the reward of such, and he who brought a meat-offering, the reward of such, but the humble is to the Scriptures as one who brought all the offerings at once. However, the explanatory addition to Psalms 51:17 in Iren. IV. 17 and Clemens Alex. pædag. III. 12, gives the present statement a somewhat different turn: “A savor well-pleasing to God, is a heart which praises Him who has smitten it.” Moreover, it is not to be left out of consideration that Psalms 51:17 b. leads back, not to the means of forgiveness of sins, but rather to the subjective prerequisite and condition of it, which the Psalmist, still imploring forgiveness, experiences in himself as a personal condition of heart, and to this unites a hope, which in Isaiah 57:15 is sealed by the consolation of the prophecy, that God will take up His abode in such hearts as these.

Str. VI. Psalms 51:18-19.—Do good, etc.—The remark made in the previous verse enables us to conceive of the use of this verse in the spiritual and New Testament sense. But this does not allow us to explain this passage in the typical or Messianic sense of the spiritual edification of the congregation (Flam.), or of the spiritual offerings of Zion built up again of broken and restored hearts (Stier). Psalms 51:19 speaks of real Old Testament offerings, and indeed again of thank-offerings, especially consisting of sacrifices of bullocks, which are designated directly as burnt-offerings, and by the word כָּלִיל, not as perfect (Maurer), but, in accordance with usage, whole burnt-offerings, that is, as offerings which were to be entirely consumed, and here apparently not the whole vegetable offering, Leviticus 6:15, but that identical with the burnt-offering, 1 Samuel 7:9, of which the offerer did not receive a part as they did of the shelamim. These sacrifices, the Psalmist foresees, would be brought upon the altar after that God in His favor had done good to Zion, and built the walls of Jerusalem; and his prayer is that God may do this. There is not a syllable in the text to indicate that God’s grace was turned again to Zion, which would presuppose an apostasy of the people, or of a rebuilding of the walls which had been destroyed, by which either this concluding strophe or the whole Psalm would be pressed into the time of the Exile. The author has spoken only of his own guilt; since, however, he has mentioned its connection with universal human sinfulness, the transition in the prayer to intercession has been sufficiently prepared. If now David is the petitioner, it involves not only an extension of the view in the direction of his royal glance in general, but in view of the threatening, 2 Samuel 12:10, he must fear that evil would come from his sin upon the whole nation (Hengstenberg), and therefore feel himself impelled especially in his prayer for personal pardon, finally for constant exhibitions of the Divine favor to Zion and Jerusalem. The building of the walls is in contrast with the tearing down (Psalms 89:40), and includes the idea of duration and preservation, Psalms 89:3 sq. Thus the statement is explained without difficulty and without its being necessary to regard the building of the walls of Jerusalem round about by Solomon, 1 Kings 3:1, as the fulfilment of this prayer of David.—There is no inconsistency with Psalms 51:16, as those suppose who regard the closing verses as a later attempt to restore the offerings rejected in Psalms 51:16 (Köster, Maurer, Tholuck), or who suppose that Psalms 51:16 merely says that God has no pleasure in the offerings which might be brought during the exile in the heathen land, since the only admissible place for the bringing of the true and legal offerings was Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:7), where then after the restoration of the city they should be brought in the true and proper manner (Paulus, De Wette, Hitzig). All these suppositions are as untenable as they are unnecessary. For it follows from Psalms 51:17, where the offerings well-pleasing to God are described, that the reference in Psalms 51:16 is not to accidental deficiencies, external hindrances, ritual incompleteness, but that the thought is entirely parallel with that expressed in Psalms 40:6 sq.; Psalms 50:8 sq.; and Psalms 51:19 shows, not that moral actions are described symbolically as offerings, but that the thank-offerings, which were to be brought on the altar at Jerusalem after the experience of the favor of God, are not offerings of merely ritual value, but offerings of righteousness (Psalms 4:5), that is to say, such as are brought with the disposition well-pleasing to God, demanded likewise by the law, Deuteronomy 33:19; comp. Numbers 26:31. Finally it is commonly overlooked that the Psalmist expresses as a prophet of God in Psalms 51:16-17 a doctrinal statement, and in it a truth of universal application, while in Psalms 51:19 he proclaims a fact, the historical occurrence of which may be expected as the consequence of the hearing of his intercession.


1. It is very gracious in God not to leave the believer, who has fallen into sin, to himself or his sad condition, so likewise not to send the judge, but the preacher to his house, and by the proclamation of His word chastise him earnestly it is true, yet likewise call him to repentance and point out and lead him in the true way of gaining forgiveness of sins and spiritual renewal: and it is a sure sign of the efficacy of this grace, when the chastised sinner does not creep behind his exalted position in the world, excuse himself with the universal inborn sinfulness, comfort himself with his previous state of grace, justify himself with his services and offerings in the worship of God, but unreservedly confesses his trespasses, experiences sorrowfully his guilt and his ill-desert, seeks expiation and improvement by faith in the saving grace of God, and implores for both purposes the efficacy of the ordinary means of grace and the aid of the Holy Spirit.

2. It is true, we must distinguish between personal sin and original sin; yet we must not overlook or undervalue the close connection between them. But we should not derive from this any excuse to weaken, but rather an occasion of increasing our penitence, and the more unconditionally feel ourselves driven to seek our deliverance in God alone, as all our sins and those of our race in their deepest ground and according to their innermost nature, are a manifestation of a moral apostasy from God, occasioned by unbelief and disobedience. Even on this account the particular sin which in its extreme form has terribly and painfully torn asunder human relations, may yet not be experienced by the penitent as a violation of human ordinances, or be designated as a trespass committed against man, but may awaken in him the feeling that he has to do, essentially and properly, with God alone. In God’s eyes sin has always been evil, whilst human eyes have often been blinded to it. But God’s guidances lead to this, not only that His judgment should be actually exhibited, but likewise expressly recognized. Thus even the sin itself must finally serve to glorify God, comp. Exeget. and Crit. II. 4.

3. The human soul is so darkened and ruined in consequence of original sin, that the sinner is unable to know or to love the truth in his soul’s experience, not to speak of gaining it again, without the guidance of Divine wisdom. The sinner is not at all in the position of moderating his misery or changing his condition. He must turn entirely to the mercy of God, and abide there in order to gain expiation as well as a change of heart and improvement in life, and he must use penitently and believingly the prescribed means of grace. Only thus does the true and blessed co-operation of the Divine and human spirits take place, but this is not synergism.

4. It is true, the Old Testament knew of the connection between expiatory offerings and atonement, yet not of the complete and only sufficient offering for the the sins of the whole world. Hence the idea moves partly in insufficient figures and comparisons only approximating the true sense, partly in types and symbols straining to express their meaning and exciting the expectation and attention. But the idea of the offering itself is thus in particular turned by a purer interpretation into the subjective and the moral, which is indeed an advance compared with the merely legal and ritual fulfilment of the offering, but yet is only a transition from the law to the gospel. For the breaking of the heart and spirit is indeed a worthier offering than the slaying of animals; but it cannot take their place, since it is not a means of atonement, but on the one side a characteristic of true penitence, on the other a condition of the efficacy of the Divine grace in the penitent person, in order to the purification of the heart as well as to the renewal and strengthening of the spirit. As long as the objective and absolutely sufficient means of atonement and salvation were missing, it was therefore necessary that there should be animal offerings, with the required disposition as the true offerings of righteousness, and that they should be demanded and performed with like satisfaction.

5. The conversion of the sinner is under all circumstances a miracle and gracious work of God on the ground of a moral and religious process, for which the Lord is entitled to thanks from the individual and the congregation. This thanksgiving will be the more lively the stronger the feeling of delight which the delivered one has in contrast with the pain of his previous condition; the more instructive, the richer the experience of the pardoned one in both of his situations; and the more perfect, the more sincerely we offer ourselves, in it as the offering always and everywhere well-pleasing to God, the bringing of which does not cease even in the new covenant, but is then first made entirely possible, Romans 12:0.


Although sin may have become great, grace is still greater; but it is not easy for the sinner to resign himself entirely and fully.—No man is placed so high, that he cannot fall deep into sin; but the deeply fallen may be lifted up again by the mercy of God, if he repent.—God can chastise more severely with His words than with the rod; but the same word of God has likewise balsam for the wounds.—Men can bring no offerings which expiate their sins, but such as express their desire of atonement with God, and which testify their thanks for the redemption that has taken place.—True penitence has a hard beginning, a bitter course, and a glad end.—Sin brings scarcely so much pain, however great it is, as conversion to God creates joy, if it is thorough and sincere.—A converted man has not only joy in his heart, but likewise pleasure in praising God, and in laboring for the conversion of other sinners.—We please God best when we place ourselves at His disposal as a thank-offering for His grace.—Forgiveness of sins is not effected by penitence, but is neither sought nor gained without penitence.—Without forgiveness of sins there is no pure heart, without change of heart and renewal there is no steadfast and willing spirit.—One may fall into sin and yet may not have fallen away from grace.—The earlier the penitence, the super the salvation.—There are many ways into sin, but only one way out of sin.—The contrast of what we are by nature and birth, and what we become by grace.—The misery of sin is very deep and full of pain, but the well of grace is deeper still and full of joy.

Luther: Two things are necessary to true penitence: (1) that we recognize sin and then likewise grace; (2) that we know and believe that God desires to be gracious and merciful to all who believe in Christ.—David speaks not only with God, but with his Father God, whose promise he knows, and whose grace and mercy have been bestowed.—If we would speak and teach properly respecting sin, we must consider it and point it out more deeply in its roots, and in the entire ungodly nature that it produces, and not notice only the sins which have been committed.—For from the error that sin is not known nor understood, arises still another error, that grace is neither known nor understood.—If we have received the righteousness and grace of God through faith in Christ, we can do no greater work than speak and preach the truth about Christ Jesus.—If, however, one would confess Christ and His word, a glad spirit is necessary.—Calvin; We certainly cannot know our sins thoroughly in any other way, than by charging our entire nature with corruption. Yet every individual sin should lead us to this general knowledge, that only ruin rules in all parts of our soul.

Starke: David has many followers in sin, but sad to say, only few in true penitence, especially among the great.—If a man after God’s own heart can fall into great sins, what watchfulness and perseverance in prayer is necessary for those who fall far short of this advantage!—A penitent man seeks earnestly with God as well the grace of forgiveness as likewise the grace of improvement.—God alone can make the heart contrite, so He alone can comfort it mightily.—The restoration of the lost image of God demands no less Omnipotence than the first creation.—As the goodness of a tree may be known by its fruits, so likewise justification from diligence in sanctification.—Let every converted man see to it, that he likewise deliver the soul of his neighbor from the rage of Satan by word and conversation.—The stronger and more sure we experience the forgiveness of sins in the heart, the more fervently we can praise God for His grace.—If Jerusalem is to be built, Babel must perish.

Osiander: Where God’s grace and mercy are involved, our merit has no place.—In spiritual things we can do nothing of ourselves, unless the Holy Ghost helps us and impels us.—Selnekker: No one should be proud of his gifts, which he has received from God, but constantly should stand in fear, and think more of that which he lacks and needs, and how full he is of sins and impurity, than of his own excellence.—Frisch: The fall of the great saints should make the little saints tremble (according to Augustine’s saying: casus majorum sit tremor minorum). They stand not as examples of falling, but of the rising up of those who have fallen.—Arndt: It is a characteristic of true penitence and conversion, that we should properly know the grace of God from the word of God, and that we should not make God’s mercy less than our sin, or our sin greater than God’s mercy.—Sin and trespass are constantly before the eyes of an evil conscience; it cannot be delivered from them or forget them.—Faith does nothing by compulsion, but voluntarily, out of pure love and thankfulness.—Umbreit: Righteousness writes down our transgressions, love wipes them out.—David has transgressed greatly against men, but to his God alone has he sinned.—Tholuck: The beginning and end of all improvement must be in God’s power.—Guenther: When kings sin, the guilt and punishment of their sins come upon their people likewise; and when kings repent before their people, the blessings of the gracious condition now attained stream out likewise over the whole people.—Taube: There are two principal fruits of every thorough conversion, that they now work and live for the salvation of their neighbors and the glory of God.—The way of penitence is at the same time a way of faith and favor.—Gerock: What are the offerings which please God? (1) The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world; (2) an anxious and contrite heart; (3) the vow of thankful love and new obedience.

[Matt. Henry: Though God may suffer His people to fall into sin, and to lie a great while in it, yet He will by some means or other recover them to repentance, bring them to Himself, and to their right mind again.—Those that truly repent of their sins will not be ashamed to own their repentance; but, having lost the honor of innocents, will rather covet the honor of penitents.—The great thing to be aimed at in teaching transgressors, is their conversion to God; that is a happy point gained, and happy they that are instrumental to contribute towards it. —F. W. Robertson’s Sermons: In our best estate and in our purest moments, there is a something of the devil in us which, if it could be known, would make men shrink from us. The germs of the worst crimes are in us all.—Personal religion is the same in all ages. The deeps of our humanity remain unruffled by the storms of ages which change the surface.—From his first moments up till then, he saw sin—sin—sin; nothing but sin.—It is not the trembling of a craven spirit, in anticipation of torture, but the agonies of a nobler one in the horror of being evil.—Barnes: The only hope of a sinner when crushed with the consciousness of sin is the mercy of God; and the plea for that mercy will be urged in the most earnest and impassioned language that the mind can employ.—The only way to enjoy religion is to do that which is right, the only way to secure the favor of God is to obey His commands; the only way in which we can have comforting evidence that we are His children is by doing that which shall be pleasing to him, 1 John 2:29; 1Jn 3:7; 1 John 3:10. The path of sin is a dark path, and in that path neither hope nor comfort can be found.—Spurgeon: None but a child of God cares for the eye of God, but where there is grace in the soul, it reflects a fearful guilt upon every evil act, when we remember that the God whom we offend was present when the trespass was committed.—God’s voice speaking peace is the sweetest music an ear can hear.—Never yet has God spurned a lowly, weeping penitent, and never will He while God is love, and while Jesus is called the man who receiveth sinners.—A saved soul expects to see its prayers answered in a revived Church, and then is assured that God will be greatly glorified.—C. A. B.]


[1][Perowne: “All sin as sin, is and must be against God. All wrong done to our neighbor is wrong done to one created in the image of God; all tempting of our neighbor to evil is taking the part of Satan against God, and so far as in us lies, defeating God’s good purpose of grace towards him. All wounding of another, whether in body or soul, is a sin against the goodness of God.” Vide 1 Corinthians 8:12; Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45. Hengstenberg: “How must David have trembled, how must he have been seized with shame and grief, when he referred everything to God, when in Uriah he saw only the image of God, the Holy One, who deeply resented that injury,—the gracious and compassionate One, to whom he owed such infinitely rich benefits, who had lifted him up from the dust of humiliation, had so often delivered him, and had also given him the promise of so glorious a future!”—C. A. B.]

[2][Perowne: “The Biblical writers drew no sharp, accurate line between events as the consequence of the Divine order, and events as following from the Divine purpose. To them all was ordained and designed of God. Even sin itself, in all its manifestations, though the whole guilt of it rested with man, did not flow uncontrolled but only in channels hewn for it by God, and to subserve His purposes. Hence, God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, to have put a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets, to do evil as well as good in the city, and the like. We must not expect therefore that the Hebrew mind, profoundly impressed as it was with the great phenomena of the universe, and beholding in each the immediate finger of God, but altogether averse from philosophical speculation, should have exactly defined for itself the distinction between an action viewed as the consequence, and the same action viewed as the end of another action. The mind which holds the simple fundamental truth that all is of God, may also hold, almost as a matter of course, that all is designed of God.”—C. A. B.]

[3][Perowne: “The petition expresses rather the holy fear of the man who has his eyes open to the depth and iniquity of sin, lest at any moment he should be left without the succor of that Divine Spirit, who was the only source in him of every good thought, of every earnest desire, of every constant resolution. It is the cry of one who knows, as he never knew before, the weakness of his own nature, and the strength of temptation, and the need of Divine help; and to whom therefore nothing seems so dreadful as that God should Withdraw His Spirit.”—It is better, however, to fix our mind upon the Holy Spirit which David possessed as the anointed of Jehovah, and whilst not confining our attention to this. yet let it be the central thought. This Holy Spirit had been troubled and wounded by David’s great sin, and he was in danger of having the Holy Spirit taken from him, as it had been from Saul, and he himself rejected from the angry presence of Jehovah, and another anointed in his stead. He realizes his official as well as his private sin, and its guilt and evil consequences, and whilst imploring a pure heart and steadfast spirit, he prays that he may remain in the presence and favor of God, and retain and enjoy the Holy Spirit, and the grace with which he had been anointed by Samuel.—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 51". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-51.html. 1857-84.
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