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To the chief musician; to be sung by him and other sacred musicians publicly in the temple through all ages; that his repentance might be as manifest and public as his crime and scandal was. When Nathan the prophet came unto him: after his conscience was awakened by Nathan’s words, 2 Samuel 12:0, and Nathan was gone, David falls very seriously upon the practice of sincere repentance, and digested his meditations into this Psalm.
David prayeth to God for the remission of his original and actual sins, Psalms 51:1,Psalms 51:2, whereof he maketh a deep confession, Psalms 51:3-5; and for the renovation of his Holy Spirit, to support himself and instruct others, Psalms 51:6-14; promising him also unfeigned and sincere thankfulness, Psalms 51:15-17; with a prayer for the good of the whole church, Psalms 51:18,Psalms 51:19.
Have mercy upon me; pity, and help, and answer me, in the desires I am now spreading before thee.
According to thy loving-kindness: I pretend to no merit, but humbly implore thy free grace and mercy. Thy mercies are infinite, and therefore sufficient for my relief, and such indeed do I need.
Blot out; either,
1. Out of my conscience and soul, where it hath left a stain and filthy character. Or,
2. Out of thy book of remembrance and accounts, in which all men’s sins are written, and out of Which all men shall be judged hereafter, Revelation 20:12; which is spoken of God after the manner of men. See Poole "Isaiah 43:25"; See Poole "Isaiah 44:22".
Wash me throughly, Heb. multiply to wash me; by which phrase he implies the greatness of his guilt, and the insufficiency of all legal washings, and the absolute necessity of some other and better thing to wash him, even of God’s grace, and the blood of Christ; which as Abraham saw by faith, John 8:56, so did David, as is sufficiently evident (allowing for the darkness of the dispensation and expressions of the Old Testament) from divers passages of the Psalms, of which I have spoken in their proper places; and his earnest and passionate desire of pardon, which he desires above all other things; wherein he showeth himself to be a true penitent, because his chief care and desire was to obtain God’s favour, and the forgiveness of his sins, and not the prevention of those external sore judgments which God by Nathan threatened to bring upon him and his house, 2 Samuel 12:10,2 Samuel 12:11, about which here is not one word in this Psalm; whereas the cares and desires of hypocrites chiefly are bent towards worldly things, as we see in Cain, Genesis 4:13,Genesis 4:16,Genesis 4:17, and Saul, 1 Samuel 15:30, and others, Hosea 7:14.
I acknowledge, with grief and shame, and abhorrency of myself and of my sins; which hitherto I have dissembled and covered. And being thus truly penitent, I hope and beg that I may find mercy with thee.
My transgressions; for it was not a single, but a complicated wickedness, adultery, murder, injustice, perfidiousness; and frequent repetition of and long and stupid continuance in abominable filthiness, and that with public scandal.
My sin is ever before me; that which I had cast behind my back is now constantly in my view, and fixed in my thoughts and memory.
Against thee, thee only; which is not to be understood simply and absolutely, because he had unquestionably sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and many others, who were either injured by it, or scandalized at it; but comparatively. So the sense is this, Though I have sinned against my own body and conscience, and against others; yet nothing is more grievous and terrible to me, than to consider that I have sinned against thee; partly upon a general account, because this is the chief malignity and sinfulness of sin, that it offends and injures the glorious and blessed God; and partly upon particular reasons, because I set thee at defiance, and having used all wicked arts to conceal my sins from men, and being free from fear of punishment from them, I went on boldly in sin, casting off all reverence to thy holy and omniscient Majesty, and all dread of thy judgments, and because I sinned against thee, to whom I had such numerous and peculiar and eminent obligations, as thy prophet Nathan truly suggested to me, 2 Samuel 12:7,2 Samuel 12:8.
In thy sight; with gross contempt of God, whom I well knew to be a spectator of my most secret actions.
That thou mightest be justified; the particle that is not taken causally or intentionally, as if this was David’s design, but eventually, as it is Exodus 11:9; Psalms 30:12; Hosea 8:4. This will be the fruit or consequent of my sin, that whatsoever severities thou shalt use towards me and mine, it will be no blemish to thy benignity, or righteousness, or fidelity, but the blame of all will rest upon my head as I desire it may, and thy justice will be glorified by all men.
When thou speakest, Heb. in thy words, i.e. in all thy threatenings denounced against me by Nathan, and in any further sentence which thou shalt see fit to pass upon me.
When thou judgest; when thou dost plead or contend with me, or execute thy sentence or judgment upon me. Or, when thou art judged, as it is rendered Romans 3:4, for the word may be taken passively as well as actively; when any man shall presume to censure time, as not keeping thy covenant and mercy promised to David.
This verse is both by Jewish and Christian, by ancient and later, interpreters, generally and most truly understood of original sin; which he here mentions as an aggravation of his crime: and the sense of the place is this, Nor is this the only sin which I have reason to acknowledge and bewail before thee; for this filthy stream leads me to a corrupt fountain; and upon a serious review of my heart and life I find that I am guilty of innumerable other sins, and that this heinous crime, though drawn forth by external temptations, yet was indeed the proper fruit of my own filthy and vile nature, which, without the restraints of thy providence or grace, ever was, and still is like to be, inclinable and ready to commit these and ten thousand other sins, as occasion offers itself; for which contrariety of my very nature to thine, thou mayst justly loathe and condemn me; and for which I humbly beg thy pardon and grace.
Conceive me, Heb. warm or cherish me in the womb, before I was
shapen or formed there.
Thou desirest; or, delightest in; or, requirest; Heb. willest. Truth either,
1. Sincerity in confessing my sins; which therefore I have now acknowledged, though hitherto I have practised much falsehood and dissimulation in endeavouring to conceal them from men. Or rather,
2. Integrity or uprightness of heart; which seem to be here opposed to that iniquity mentioned in the last verse, in which he was, and all men are, framed and born. And this may seem to be added, partly as a proof or aggravation of the sinfulness of original corruption, because it is contrary to the holy nature and will of God, which requireth not only unblamableness in men’s actions, but also universal innocency and rectitude of their minds and hearts; and partly as an aggravation of his actual sin, wherein he had used such gross deceit and treachery.
In the hidden part, i.e. in the heart, called the hidden man of the heart, 1 Peter 3:4, and the secret part, Romans 2:16, which in the former branch he called the reins or inward parts.
Thou shalt make me to know: so he declares his hope that God would pardon and cure his folly, which he had discovered, and make him wiser for the future. But this seems not to suit well with the context, which runs wholly in another strain. The word therefore is and may be rendered otherwise, thou hast made me to know. So this is another aggravation of his sin, that it was committed against that wisdom and knowledge, which God had not only revealed to him outwardly in his word, but also inwardly by his Spirit, writing it in his heart, according to his promise, Jeremiah 31:33. Or thus, do thou make me to know; the future verb being here taken imperatively, and as a prayer; as the following futures are here translated, Psalms 51:7,Psalms 51:8. Having now said, for the aggravation of his sin, that God did desire or require truth in the inward parts, he takes that occasion to break forth into prayer, which also he continues in the following verses. Only as he prays there for justification or pardon of sin, so here he prays for renovation or sanctification. So his meaning is this, therefore (as the particle and is oft used, as hath been showed) in the hidden part do thou make me to know wisdom. Or thus, thou wouldest have me know; for futures are oft taken potentially, as Psalms 118:6; Matthew 12:25, compared with Mark 3:24, and elsewhere. And verbs which signify making or causing are sometimes understood only of the will or command; as Jeroboam is said to make Israel to sin, 1 Kings 14:16, because he commanded them to do so, Hosea 5:11. This I propose with submission; but if this sense be admitted, the last clause of the verse answers very well to the former, as it doth in the foregoing and following verses, and every where in these books: for this, thou wouldest have me know, answers to that, thou willest or desirest; and in the hidden part, answers to that in the inward parts; and wisdom is the same thing for substance with truth, only called by another name. Wisdom, i.e. true piety and integrity, which is called wisdom, Job 28:28; Psalms 111:10, and in many other texts, as sin on the contrary is commonly called, as it really is, folly. And to know wisdom is here meant of knowing it practically and experimentally, so as to approve, and love, and practise it; as words of knowledge are most frequently taken in Scripture, and in other authors.
With hyssop; or, as with hyssop; the note of similitude being frequently understood. As lepers and other unclean persons are by thy appointment purified by the use of hyssop and other things, Leviticus 14:6; Numbers 19:6; so do thou cleanse me, a most leprous and polluted creature, by thy grace, and by the virtue of that blood of Christ, which is signified by those ceremonial usages.
Send me glad tidings of thy reconciliation to me, and by thy Spirit seal the pardon of my sins to my conscience, which will fill me with joy, that mine heart, which hath been sorely wounded and terrified by thy dreadful message sent by Nathan, and by the dismal sentence of thy law denounced against such sinners as I am, now by this occasion brought home to my conscience, may be revived and comforted by the manifestation of thy favour to my soul.
Do not look upon them with an eye of indignation and revenge, but forget and forgive them. See Psalms 51:1.
Create in me a clean heart; seeing I have not only defiled myself by these actual sins, but also have a most filthy heart, corrupted even from my birth, Psalms 51:5, which nothing but God’s almighty and creating power can purify, do thou effectually work in me a holy frame of heart, whereby both my inward filth may be purged away, and I may be prevented from falling into such actual and scandalous sins.
Renew that good temper which before this apostacy I had in some measure, be pleased graciously to restore it to me with advantage.
Right, Heb. firm, or constant, or steadfast, that I may not be so easily shaken and cast down by temptation, as I have been, but that my resolution may be more fixed and unmovable.
Spirit; temper or disposition of soul or spirit; as the word spirit is very frequently used in Scripture.
Within me, Heb. in my inward parts. He wisely strikes at the root and cause of all sinful actions.
From thy presence, i.e. from thy favour, and care, and gracious communion with thee.
Thy Holy Spirit; thy sanctifying Spirit, by which alone I can have acquaintance and fellowship with thee.
The joy of thy salvation; the comfortable sense of thy saving grace and help, promised and vouchsafed to me, both for my present and everlasting salvation. Uphold me; a weak and frail creature, never able to stand against corruption and temptation without thy powerful and gracious succours.
Free; or, ingenuous, or liberal, or princely; which he seems to oppose to his own base, and illiberal; and disingenuous, and servile spirit, which he had discovered in his wicked and unworthy practices; and desires a better spirit of God, which may free him from the bondage of sin, and enable and incline him freely, and cheerfully, and constantly to run the way of God’s precepts. See Exodus 35:21; Psalms 110:3; Romans 8:15,Romans 8:16; 2 Corinthians 3:17.
Thy ways; either,
1. Thy will and their duty, and the way to their eternal happiness; or rather,
2. The manner of thy dealing with sinners; whom thou dost so severely chastise for their sins, and yet so graciously receive to mercy upon their repentance; both which I will show them in my own example, which I will declare unto them, although I shall therewith publish my own shame; which I shall most willingly bear, that I may in some measure repair the injury which I have done to thee and others by my public and scandalous crimes.
Sinners shall be converted unto thee; and I persuade myself that my endeavours shall not want success; and that either thy justice or severity, or thy goodness and clemency, will bring them to repentance.
From blood-guiltiness, Heb. from bloods, because he had been the cause of the death, not only of Uriah, but of others of the Lord’s people with him, 2 Samuel 11:17.
Thy righteousness; either,
1. Thy faithfulness in making good thy promises; or rather,
2. Thy clemency and goodness, as that word is frequently used.
Open thou my lips; which are shut with shame, and grief, and horror. Restore unto me the opportunity, and ability, and liberty which formerly I had of speaking to thee with freedom, and boldness, and familiarity, as this phrase signifies, Ezekiel 3:27; Ezekiel 24:27; Ephesians 6:19,Ephesians 6:20.
Thou desirest not sacrifice; which is not to be understood absolutely, and universally, as appears from Psalms 51:19, but comparatively, of which See Poole "Psalms 40:6", and with particular respect to David’s crimes of murder and adultery, which were not to be expiated by any sacrifice, but by the law of God were to be punished with death. Thou requirest more and better sacrifices, which here follow.
Else would I give it; else I should have spared no cost in that kind.
The sacrifices: this is instead of or of more value than many sacrifices.
Of God; which God in such cases as mine requires, and will accept; in which sense we read of the work of God, John 6:28.
A broken and a contrite heart, i.e. a heart deeply afflicted and grieved for sin, humbled under the sense of God’s displeasure, and earnestly seeking and willing to accept of reconciliation with God upon any terms. See Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 66:2; Matthew 11:28. This is opposed to that hard or stony heart, of which we read so oft, which signifies a heart insensible of the burden of sin, stubborn and rebellious against God, imminent and incorrigible.
Thou wilt not despise, i.e. thou dost highly approve; as such negative phrases oft signify, as hath been formerly proved.
In thy good pleasure; or, for or according to (for the Hebrew prefix beth is frequently used both those ways) thy good grace, or favour, or pleasure, i.e. thy free and rich mercy, and thy gracious purpose and promise made to and concerning Zion, of which see Psalms 132:14, and do not repent of it, nor retract it, as I have given thee cause to do. Unto Zion; synecdochically put for Jerusalem, as the next clause explains it, and both put for the whole people of Israel and church of God; whom I have highly scandalized and injured already, and exposed to the danger of utter destruction, which thou mightest inflict upon them for the sins of their king, as thou usest to do in like cases.
Build thou the walls of Jerusalem; perfect the walls and buildings of that city, and especially let the temple be built and established in this city, notwithstanding its pollution by my sins, which I pray thee to purge away.
Then; when thou hast granted my humble requests expressed in the former verses, when thou hast renewed, and pardoned, and comforted me, and restored thy favour unto thy people and this city.
The sacrifices; which now for our sins thou mayst justly reject and abhor.
Of righteousness; which I and my people, being justified and reconciled to thee, shall offer with sincere and penitent hearts. These are opposed to the sacrifices of the wicked, which God abhors, Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:11, &c.
Then shall they offer, i.e. they who by thy appointment are to do that work, the priests in the name and on the behalf of thy people.
Bullocks; the best and costliest sacrifices, and that in great numbers, in testimony of their gratitude to God, for thy great favour in pardoning mine and their sins, and preventing that total ruin which we had reason to expect and fear upon that account.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 51". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28