This was originally written for LRBC on November 12 2017.
If “Psalm 51” does not ring any bells for you, you should know that it is one of the most well known psalms in scripture. It is the response King David made after he was rebuked for his affair with Bathsheba, his attempted cover-up and for his arranged assassination of her honourable husband Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11-12). While the magnitude of David’s wrong is not something many of us can relate to, the experience of a disgraced heart far from God wanting to go back to him is a part of his experience more of us can connect with.
King David’s reflections in Psalm 51 are not just an historical curiosity – it is Spirit-inspired scripture, instructive for God’s people in the way we consider our approach to God in confession. We can make use of it to shape our thinking about the nature of sin, how it affects our relating to God, how we may still approach him, and what we should ask of him for assistance against future sin. Some parts of Psalm 51 are puzzling (not an unusual feature of scripture!), but the words and metaphors and desires are worthy of meditation. The words of this psalm can be used for words as our own prayers or, better, as the basis for shaping our own expressions in prayer.
Toward the end of this psalm we find these words: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit / You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (v.17). This should give us both humility and hope, and the psalm overall aims to bring us to this realisation. Psalm 51 helps us to be broken, helps us come to God and rightly, and it helps us to give future praise to this forgiving God with our lives and with our words. Reflect and pray on this poetic confession, and let it be a blessing to your spirituality.