Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Prayer of Confession, for Forgiveness and for Cleansing

[To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba]

1 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 throughly 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.

—Psalm 51 KJV Bible

This lament psalm of David is the fourth of seven Penitential Psalms, or Psalms of Confession. These songs are confessions of sin and expressions of humility before God. The full list of seven includes Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. It is said that in the early church believers used these psalms individually and corporately when they expressed sorrow to God for their sins.

This psalm elaborates David’s confession of his sin with Bathsheba, as told in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. David kept his silence until God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David. David then broke his silence, confessed his sin and asked forgiveness. It has been suggested that Psalm 32 is a follow-up or a revisit of Psalm 51. Some also suggest that Psalm 41 may describe events surrounding David’s sin with Bathsheba. Though God forgave David, there were great repercussions in David's house and David's kingdom because of David's sin, including the later rebellious acts of David's beloved son Absalom.

In this psalm, David pleads for forgiveness and cleansing, confesses his guilt, and prays for pardon and restoration. David then resolves to praise God, and David prays for the continued prosperity of Jerusalem.

In verses 1 and 2, David pleads for forgiveness and cleansing. In verse 1, David reminds God of His “lovingkindness.” This is the Hebrew checed—the everlasting, covenant love of God. David also reminds God of His “tender mercies.” This is the Hebrew “racham,” also translated as compassion, tender love, pity, and similar expressions.

In verses 3 through 6, David confesses his guilt. In verse 4, David acknowledges that though his sin involved others, David recognized that it was primarily against God. In verse 5, David is not saying that conception is the result of sinful acts, but rather that from the moment of conception a person possesses a sinful nature.

In verses 7 through 12, David prays for pardon and restoration. In verse 7, David notes the use of “hyssop” in cleansing. Hyssop was a common plant of the mint family. Because of its stiff branches and hairy leaves, it was very effective in the dipping and sprinkling of liquids. As described in Exodus 12:22, a bunch of hyssop was used to dip and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the door frame of the house so that the angel of death would pass over the children of Israel. As Leviticus 14:49 describes, hyssop was also used in the ritual cleansing of the house of a leper. Also, Numbers 19:16-19 describes the use of hyssop in the ritual cleansing of a person defiled by another’s death. In verse 11, David uses the Old Testament context of the “Holy Spirit,” which related particularly to service, rather than salvation, and of indwelling of the "Spirit" only for the length of the service. There are several Old Testament passages of this, including Exodus 31:3; 35:31; Numbers 27:18; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 1 Samuel 10:9-10; 16:13; 1 Chronicles 12:18; Daniel 4:8; 6:3. In the New Testament, beginning at the Day of Pentecost, the constant presence of the Holy Spirit became a proof of those who belonged to Christ, as explained by the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans (Romans 8:9). In the Old Testament usage of service, David is asking God to not take away David’s service as the anointed king of Israel, which passed from Saul to David when Samuel anointed David at God’s direction (1 Samuel 16:13-14).

In verses 13 through 17, David resolves to praise God. In verse 14, David asks God to take away David’s “bloodguiltiness,” or David’s sentence of death for the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.

In verses 18 and 19, David prays for the continued prosperity of Jerusalem through the broken and contrite spirit of the people. Here David is concerned about the affect of his sin on the people which God anointed David to lead. David asks God to continue to protect and build up the city and to honor the worship and sacrifices of the people.

Father, while some may compare the severity of one sin to another, they are all sin. There is no difference between them in Your eyes and they all have their consequences. Father, I confess to You my sin. Please forgive me. Wash me clean. And make me a better servant for You.


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