Both the Psalms were written after David realized what a great sin he had done when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. It was nearly a year after he had sinned that he was able to acknowledge that he had sinned against the LORD. It was Prophet Nathan who came to rebuke him.
The kind of language used suggests that Psalm 51 was written very soon after this incident. Psalm 32 was written probably sometime later when David had got more time to understand the consequences of his sin and God’s forgiveness and restoration.
Verses 1 and 2
This Psalm opens with a direct appeal to God’s mercy. Matthew Henry says, “David does not balance his evil deeds with good deeds.” It means that David understood that there was no solution to his sin but the mercy of God. David appeals to the unfailing love and great compassion of God. He wants God to blot out his transgressions.
Comment: “Sin is a process. David uses three different words for what he did. Transgression refers to rebellion against God. Iniquity conveys the crookedness of the sinner [H. C. Leupold puts it as “perversion or twisting of moral standards”]. Sin means to miss the mark [H. C. Leupold puts it as “it implies that the divinely appointed goal that has been set for us has been completely missed”].
“David also uses three verbs to ask for forgiveness. Blot out refers to paying a debt. Wash indicates that sin defiles the entire person. Cleanse means the sinner is like a leper, in need of total healing.”– Prayer, Praise & Promises by Warren W. Wiersbe.
A child of God cannot sin and also remain comfortable. Wherever he turns he sees his sin. He cannot escape his conscience. It will always remind him of his sin. Whenever people looked at David, he might have thought that they knew his sin. Whenever he saw people standing and talking in groups, he must have thought, “Oh, they are talking about my sin.” That is a practical explanation of “my sin is always before me.”
David had sinned against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah (David had him killed by the hands of the enemy). But David here makes a statement, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” That tells us that all sin is ultimately against God because it violates the good and holy standards that God has given to us for right living.
(It is good to think that each one of us was there when Jesus was crucified. We were not just spectators but were participants in the crucifixion. If someone asks you as to who crucified Jesus, you can tell them the historical truth and also add, “And me too.”)
David shows one quality in his confession. He is not giving excuses or blaming anyone else for his sin. He does not say that it was Bathsheba’s fault because she was bathing at a place where David could see her. No. Instead David tells God that what he did was evil in God’s eyes. He is saying that God’s judgement of his sin is right. In plain words, David is saying, “Oh, God you are right and I am wrong.”
David is not here trying to say that the act of sexual union between husband and wife is wrong. What he is saying is that each one of us is born with a sinful nature. That means we are born with a tendency to sin. However he is not trying to put the blame on his sinful nature. Instead he is saying that “How can I or any other man do anything other than sin, seeing that from the very moment of the origin of our life the taint of sin is upon us?”– H. C. Leupold.
God desires truth down to the very core of our being. When we are honest with God, then God teaches us wisdom. Compare this verse: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18 NIV).
David again pleads with God to cleanse him. He wants God to use the hyssop. Hyssop is a bitter herb that was used in the ceremonial cleansing of a man healed of leprosy (Leviticus 14:4), and of a man who had touched a dead body and thus defiled himself by it (Numbers 19:18). By asking God to cleanse him with hyssop, David is saying that his sin has so defiled him that a great cleansing by God is required. Only such a cleansing can be effective.
The verb for “wash” used here is more strong in the original Hebrew than in our English translation. The word used suggests pounding, stamping, and vigorous rubbing to remove the dirt. David expresses certain hope that when God cleanses like that he will be whiter than snow. Read also Isaiah 1:18. (Some of us have never seen snow directly.
As for us, if we confess our sins, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. This is the hope of the gospel and its good news. There is possibility of a new life and a new beginning in life for any sinner who is cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus. How about you?
“Let me hear joy and gladness,” that was David’s prayer. What a sad situation was this! David, the man who had composed some wonderful songs of praise and who loved to listen to the songs sung to God, now is unable to enjoy the music of praise. Joy and gladness had gone out of his life. This is the situation of every child of God who sins and fails to confess to God. He’ll not enjoy anything that used to bring him joy including the worship of God.
“Let the bones you have crushed rejoice,” that was again his prayer. Here bones stand for the entire man. God’s judgement was upon him. Nathan had told him, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). So he feels crushed by God.
David wants God to look away from his sins. He wants God to wipe away his sins like a duster is used to wipe a white or black board clean. Does God listen to such prayers? Oh, yes He does! Look at His promise: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist” (Isaiah 44:22 NIV).
David longs so much to be back in fellowship with God again. So he prays, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” Dear friends, God is the best heart surgeon in the world. He is in the business of creating new hearts; not just fixing the bad ones. That is why the New Testament calls everyone in Christ a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17). Meditate too on God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (NIV).
David asks God to create in him a new heart. Only God has the power to create. The Spirit of God is ever active in creation (Genesis 1) and even in bringing the dead to life. (Ezekiel 37) and in the new birth (John 3). David is desiring that God use His creative power to redo his heart.
David also wants God to renew a steadfast spirit within him. Why was this important? The guilt of his sin was so heavy upon him that he was moving like a see-saw between hope and despair. He wants to know the fullness of God’s forgiveness and pardon so that his heart and mind might find rest and assurance in God.
His next prayer is, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” David is sore afraid that God will throw him off. Like how a fruit seller might throw off bad oranges so that it won’t affect the good ones. David knew that he was under the discipline of a holy God.
The reason why he prayed to God not to take the Holy Spirit from him was because God had done so with the previous king of Israel, Saul (1 Samuel 16:1, 14). “That would at the same time involve to be excluded from the presence of God and from free access to His throne” H. C. Leupold.
Dear friends, the Holy Spirit of God is a gentle person, but very powerful. He is God Himself. Unlike the Old Testament where the Spirit of God rested on persons to enable them to do some special task, we have the Holy Spirit of God permanently abiding with us. He won’t be taken away from us.
But since He is very sensitive and gentle we should take care not to grieve His heart by our deliberate sins. If we keep on sinning then we lose the presence of God from our lives. That means the Holy Spirit will not be active in our lives because He is sad and hurt by our neglect of His counsels. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” That was David’s next prayer. Christianity is meant to be a joyful life because the gospel is “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). The Bible says, “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Therefore we are called to be filled with joy at all times. Sin can cloud out this joy. And when we are sad because of sin in our lives no one is going to listen to us when we speak of Jesus.
David had lost his joy in God because of sin. The man who sang and danced to God with all his might now had lost his song and the spring in his walk. Having realized what he had lost, David prays earnestly to God to restore to him the joy of God’s salvation. When someone is restored to God, there is music and dancing and celebration (see Luke 15:24, 25). Dear friend, is there joy in your life today?
He also wanted God to give him a willing spirit. That means he wanted to obey God with a willing spirit and a glad heart; and not out of a sense of duty or bondage. Think about it. Why do you serve God? Is it because you fear Him? Or is it because you delight to obey His commands? You can serve Him in only one of these ways, that is for sure!
David wants to use the lessons he learned from his sinful experience to teach others. He realizes that only when the joy of salvation is restored in his life will he able to teach others. And he hopes that sinners will listen to him and turn back to God.
Verses 14 and 15
David understood that there was bloodguilt on his hands. Because he had caused his own bodyguard Uriah to be killed by the sword of the enemy. David wanted God’s pardon for this sin. Then he hoped to sing of God’s righteousness and declare God’s praise.
He prayed to God to open his lips. Sin had silenced his song and his witness. When we sin, we have nothing to sing about. And we are unable to tell others about God. Only when we have confessed our sins and sought God’s pardon and received God’s forgiveness are we enabled to sing and declare God’s praises once again.
Verses 16 and 17
In the Old Testament lot of animal sacrifices were brought to God. David himself had offered to God many such. Yet he now understood that sacrifices that were brought to God without a true repentance of the heart was simply unacceptable to God.
Every sacrifice should involve the heart. What you do outwardly does not impress God unless your heart is involved in it. The great sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken heart. Why? When sin has broken your heart; then you approach God as a humble person. You don’t feel worthy to look up to heaven (see Luke 18:13).
When you come to God in such fashion, God accepts you. He won’t despise you. He is the healer of broken hearts. No one else can mend your heart for you.
God is pleased when you are willing to come to Him with a broken heart. So come to God today. Do not stay far away thinking that God won’t accept you. That thought is from your pride. Instead come in humility to God. He will open His arms and welcome you and bind up your wounds. Look up God’s promise to the brokenhearted in Psalm 34:18.
Verses 18 and 19
From a personal note, the tone changes to a national scale. David prays that God would make Zion prosper and build up the walls of Jerusalem. What had this prayer to do with his sin, confession and restoration? See, David’s sin had not just affected him alone. It had affected his family and his nation. He was king of the land. He had set a bad example by his wrong conduct.
Now people would not respect his authority as they used to do. He would lack moral courage in disciplining members of his family and the nation at large. In short, he had figuratively pulled down the walls. Now he wants God to do the rebuilding.
See, broken down walls are a threat to internal security and peace. That is what sin does. It breaks down walls. So pray to God to build up the walls you had pulled down with your sin.
David hopes that when God restores, people will once again delight to worship God. And sacrifices will once again be brought to God with a right heart.
Verses 1 and 2
There is no one more happy than a forgiven sinner. That is the abrupt note with which this psalm begins. When transgressions are forgiven it means that legally a man is free. He is now under no obligation to pay the penalty for his crime.
Happy is the man whose sins are covered. It talks about covering as clothes cover our nakedness. For this to happen one needs to go to Jesus Christ and get white clothes (white clothes stands for the righteousness of Jesus Christ) so as to cover one’s shameful nakedness (see Revelation 3:18).
Happy also is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him. The key to such happiness is confession of sin and true repentance. When that takes place there is no deceit in the heart of the sinner who turns to God. He honestly and brokenheartedly and earnestly seeks God and His forgiveness and His pardon and receives it.
Verses 3 and 4
David now talks of his sinful experience. He had lived in a sinful state for nearly one year. He did so without acknowledging that he had sinned. But this had a deep impact on his body and mind. He kept silent by trying to cover up the evil he had done. Then his bones wasted away. That means it affected him to the very core of his being. He was not at all happy but in agony of soul. He kept groaning (whether audibly or in his spirit) all day long.
He compares this experience to the heavy hand of God upon Him. It was the disciplining hand of God. When a child of God sins and lives in sin, God does not leave him like that. Instead God disciplines him.
The New Testament writer says, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10 NIV). David compares this experience to his strength being taken away from him in the heat of summer.
Then came the turning point. His misery so weighed heavily upon him that David decided to confess his sin to the LORD. Confessing one’s sin is not just saying sorry. It is saying that you agree with God that you had sinned against Him.
David did not cover up his iniquity. That means he honestly laid bare before God his sinful act. Honesty before God is a must in confession of sin. Sin cannot be sugar-coated or labelled differently. It has to be called sin itself. In other words, do not offer excuses before God for your sin.
The forgiveness was so immediate. When David said, “I have sinned against the LORD, “ Prophet Nathan immediately replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (see 2 Samuel 12:13). The immediacy of forgiveness fills David with wonder.
Proverbs 28:13 is another way of expressing the truth found in this Psalm: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (NIV). Read I John 1:7—9 also.
Verses 6 and 7
Now David wants everyone to profit or learn from his experience. He wants everyone who is sincere in their confession of sin to pray to God. David says that there is a season when God can be found. That means if you wait too long to confess, it might be too late. Another passage of scripture also teach this truth: Read Isaiah 55:6 and 7.
When someone thus seeks God, the mighty waters of God’s judgement will not reach him. Instead he will be protected by God, because God now becomes his hiding place; his place of refuge and shelter. So God will protect him from trouble and give him deliverance so much as to be celebrated in songs.
Verses 9 and 10
Some scholars see David instructing his family in these verses. But others think it is God speaking, which possibly suits the context better. It speaks of God’s willingness to watch over us and guide us. This is all the more important because we like sheep have a habit of going astray. God is telling us that He is always willing to guide us in right paths if we have an attitude of repentance.
When we lack that attitude we are like the horse or the mule, animals which have to be controlled in a harsh manner at times. “David had acted like a horse—impulsively [that is without thought], he rushed ahead and sinned. And then he became stubborn like a mule and would not confess his sin. So God dealt with him as He would an animal. . . . But God wants to deal with us a children. . . . He doesn’t want to control us with bits and bridles, although sometimes He has to do that. Sometimes He has to send us sickness or a handicap or an accident to break our wills” – Prayer, Praise & Promises by Warren W. Wiersbe.
So dear friend, do you want to be willingly and lovingly led by God? Or do you want God to control you harshly like an animal without sense? It is for you to decide.
A contrast is now drawn between those “wicked” meaning those who refuse to confess their sins to God and with those who find forgiveness with God as a result of their confession. Wicked people who fit the given description have many troubles. But those who trust in God are surrounded by the LORD’s unfailing love. That is a blessed reason why you should not waste your life by focusing on sins that God has already forgiven you. Instead do what the next verse says if you have confessed your sins to God and found His forgiveness.
“Rejoice in the LORD.” Oh yes, finding forgiveness with God is a joyful experience. You can be glad in the LORD.
Books of Study used: The NIV Matthew Henry Commentary (Zondervan Publishing House). Exposition of Psalms by H. C. Leupold (O M Books) Prayer, Praise & Promises by Warren W. Wiersbe (Authentic Books)