|This study contains Greek or Hebrew words. They will
appear as scrambled letters enclosed in <brackets> unless you have the appropriate
fonts installed on your computer. See the Information about this web
site page for more information.
Psalm 51 records Davids reaction to the remorse he experienced over his two worse sins murder and adultery. But more than that it shows us how to overcome the overwhelming guilt which can cripple us. That Davids spirit was flooded with regret is apparent from the psalm, but he also shows us the way out. God caused this psalm to be written to not only be a public statement of Davids remorse and repentance, but also to clearly show us the path out from under the burden of stifling guilt.
Davids guilt was a direct result of his sin, but sometimes we are haunted by feelings of worthlessness over some imagined wrong. We may feel at blame because we think we dont do enough for our family or our spouse, we may feel we were disappointments to our parents, or we may be convinced we are unproductive contributors on the job. Whatever the cause, feelings of guilt can overwhelm us so much that we feel miserable, or in extreme cases we may find we cannot interact normally with our family and friends.
Fortunately for all who are burdened with guilt, God caused David to write this psalm which shows us how we can deal with our remorse and receive peace from God. It is hard to imagine doing anything worse than David did, and this is precisely why God chose this setting to place in scripture. God caused this to be recorded so we would realize, just as David did, Gods unfathomable mercy. Nothing we have done, or imagine we did, could be any worse than Davids sins. And yet here in this psalm we have the clear picture of Gods forgiveness. This should encourage us.
I believe David gives us 12 specific things we can do to deal with the overwhelming feelings of guilt which may have silenced our joy and crippled our spirit. Lets examine this psalm.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
The event referred to in the title is recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-13. The prophet Nathan comes to David with a story of a rich man who took a poor mans only lamb for his own. The kings reaction is recorded in verse 5, "Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die. "
After David pronounced this sentence, Nathan, in one of the most courageous acts recorded in scripture, tells David (verse 7), "You are the man."
Instead of being angry with Nathan, David realizes that the charge is true, as Nathan related to him in verse 9, "Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?" David is filled with remorse and flooded with guilt. In verse 13 he tells Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord," which are almost the identical words he writes in Psalm 51:4, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
Even though Nathan tells him (verse 13), "The Lord also has put away your sin," David is filled with sorrow, and he proceeds to pour his heart out to God. Fortunately for us, he recorded his thoughts in Psalm 51. David slowly found his way out of the darkness of his guilt and despair. God caused this psalm to be written and passed down through the centuries so that those who are also burdened with guilt can discover the way out. Saints of God have found this psalm to be a comfort and encouragement to them, and you can too!
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
This is Step 1 in dealing with guilt Acknowledge the reason for your guilt and obtain Gods forgiveness once and for all.
Being overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, whether real or imagined, has been happening to people of all generations. In this psalm we read of Davids remorse which occurred in 1034 B. C. In the Fifth Century B.C. Euripides wrote these words, "Woe, woe is me! I will tear my hair and scratch cruel furrows in my cheeks.... Why should I cover it? My crimes against my lord are manifest and clear, they cannot be hidden.... I deeply mourn my fatal deeds of daring: alas! I am now accursed in all mens eyes!"
Guilt is not new to the human race. Many people are burdened for years with feelings of regret. Sometimes there is a definite cause for these feelings a sin that has overtaken us and festered in our conscience. Other times there is not a definite reason for our guilt, only a general feeling we are somehow inadequate. In Psalm 51, David shows us the way to victory over guilt for both a definite sin and also the intangible feeling of shame.
The first step is to obtain Gods forgiveness and turn your reproach over to him. Place it at his feet and in his mercy. This is what David did in verse 1 when he prayed, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love." Gods mercy is abundant. There is no reason for us to be carrying around with us the heavy baggage of guilt. As Stedman says, "... according to thy abundant mercy, indicates his understanding of the character of God. God is not a penny pincher; He does not dole out bits of mercy, drop by drop. No, he pours it out. His are abundant mercies. When God forgives, He forgives beyond our utmost imaginings."
In verses 1 and 2 David uses three verbs: blot out, wash and cleanse. These same words in the Hebrew are repeated in reverse order in verses 7-9. Here are the meanings of these Hebrew words: Blot out means to erase a debt, wash means scrub clean and usually refers to cleaning clothes, cleanse means ceremonial purifying. David wanted to be sure his sin was removed! As Plumer points out, "Those whom God forgives, do not readily forgive themselves; and a true hope of pardon desires assurance of that blessing."
In order to receive that assurance when we come to God for forgiveness, we must make the three acknowledgements that the psalmist did in verses 1-3:
verse 1 Acknowledge we cannot do it ourselves and we need Gods steadfast love, and realize that he will be merciful to us,
verse 2 Acknowledge that we need to be cleansed and realize that he will wash us thoroughly,
verse 3 Acknowledge our sin and confess it to him, and realize that he has paid the price for our transgressions.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.
This is Step 2 Admit that there is no rationalizing your sin.
David admits his sin. He doesnt try to justify his behavior. The New Bible Commentary notes that David shows, "A sense of personal accountability. Note the frequency of my iniquity, my transgressions, my sin. There is no evasion of responsibility here on the grounds of chance circumstance or an instinctive urge; no blaming of ignorance... no attempt to make Bathsheba share the guilt of adultery and murder. The wrong which has been done is Davids responsibility.... His depth of conviction is stressed in the words my sin is ever before me."
We must be like David. It is essential we realize that we are ultimately the only ones to blame for our actions. We cannot say, "I am the way I am because my parents didnt love me." Nor can we say, "The lack of attention from my spouse forced me into anothers arms." Nor, "He made me lose my temper." Nor, "Being out of work forced me to steal." Nor, "The difficulties in my life made me so depressed I turned to alcohol," or "smoking" or "drugs" or "extra-marital affairs" or "violent behavior" or "slacking off at work." We must take responsibility for our actions. We have disobeyed Gods word, and we must realize, with David, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
In the story of the Prodigal Son, before he could accept the blame, he had to come to his senses. Luke 15:17 reads, "When he finally came to his senses." In Davids case, God had to send Nathan the prophet to bring him to his senses. God had to blind Paul on the road to Damascus in order to bring him to his senses. What will it take for you to come to your senses?
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
This is Step 3 Realize you are of a sinful nature, as is everyone else.
David acknowledges that he was born in sin. He is not saying his mother was a despicable woman. In fact she was a virtuous woman, but as Matthew Henry tells us, "...for though she was, by grace, a child of God, she was, by nature, a daughter of Eve...."
David is admitting his natural bent to sin. As Job 5:7 says, "Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." We must realize we are hopelessly wicked in ourselves. It is only with the Lords help that we can overcome. Admitting our sinful nature is a necessary step in dealing with guilt. But we cannot allow ourselves to think that we are the most wicked, or our sins are more awful than all others, or that we are somehow more filled with evil than the rest of mankind. These are all lies of Satan designed to keep us crippled with guilt. We are evil, but no worse than everyone else. Isaiah 64:6 informs us, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."
It is because of this very weakness in ourselves that we need to depend on the strength of the Lord. The Expositors Bible Commentary tells us, "Man is sinful through and through. Man cannot help himself or justify his sinfulness, but is in need of Gods wisdom from on high." Once we realize our sinful nature, then we understand how important it is for us to stay close to God and to walk in his way, to learn of him and study his word. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:133, "Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me."
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew < zx' > chez "behold" is the first word in both verse 5 and 6 as if the psalmist is drawing our attention to the relation between the two verses. The thought here seems to be that verses 5 and 6 form a pair of contrasts. Verse 5 represents my carnal nature sin and iniquity reside within me; but verse 6 indicates my spiritual nature, what I can be with Gods help truth and wisdom will then reside within me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
This is Step 4 Be honest with yourself.
David says, "thou desirest truth in the inward being." God wants us to be honest with ourselves. He doesnt want us to be like the man described in James 1:23-24, "He is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was."
God wants us to see ourselves clearly. We know its sometimes difficult to be honest with ourselves. It may not be easy, but we need to identify our weaknesses so we know where we need the Lords help and we can steer away from situations where we might fall. And we need to identify our strengths so we can focus in on those areas where we need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us reach our spiritual potential. By identifying our weaknesses and turning them over to God, we will be removing one of Satans weapons against Christians. Whenever we fail, he loves to try to overwhelm us with feelings of guilt, to make us feel small and worthless. But if we have enumerated our weaknesses and placed them in Gods hand, we understand that when we fail and we will fail God is working on our weakness and he will bring us through. So our focus is not on our worthlessness, but on Gods love for us that he is helping us despite our failings.
When we are honest with ourselves, we can place feelings of guilt in their proper light. Yes we are guilty, but God in his mercy has forgiven us. So why do we feel bad? We should be rejoicing. We honestly realize we can do nothing about our sin, but with God all things are possible. Praise the Lord!
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
These verses bring us to Step 5 Have confidence that you are forgiven. Trust God and let go of your guilt.
To be victorious in overcoming your feelings of guilt, it is essential that you believe you are forgiven. Satan will try to keep you crippled with guilt, but you have been set free. Believe it and rejoice. God has promised he will not remember our sins, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." (Isaiah 43:25) He has promised to forgive us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) He removes our sins far from us, "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12) God buries our sins, "Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity ... You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19)
Returning to the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, we find the son coming to the father for forgiveness (verse 21). But what happened next? They clothed him and fed him and celebrated his return. Did the son refuse the clothes or the food because of his sorrow? No. He joined in the celebration rejoicing!
Spurgeon certainly had this story in mind when he wrote, "A penitent need not ask to be a hired servant, or settle down in despairing content with perpetual mourning; he may ask for gladness and he shall have it; for if when prodigals return the fathers glad, and the neighbors and friends rejoice and are merry with music and dancing, what need can there be that the restored one himself should be wretched?"
Thats a good question. If you are forgiven, why do you still allow feelings of nagging guilt? David in verse 8 said, "Make me to hear joy and gladness." That should be our attitude also. As the father of the prodigal said in Luke 15:32, "But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." And so should we also celebrate. We have been forgiven. Now thats something to rejoice about!
Notice the confidence that David expresses in verse 7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." He knows he is forgiven.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
This is Step 6 Let God change your attitude.
As we read verse 10, we have to agree with Halley that it is, "...a prayer we all would do well to pray constantly." David wants a clean heart and a right spirit, but he realizes he cannot do it himself. He needs Gods help. And so do we. We need to let God change our attitude.
There are two areas the Holy Spirit wants to help us with:
1. change our desires as Romans 12:2 tells us, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."
2. discipline our thoughts as 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
We will see changes in these two areas as the Holy Spirit guides us into study and meditation of Gods word as in Joshua 1:8, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."
As we allow God to change our attitude, we will find our thoughts and desires changing. We will understand our sinful nature, and we will understand Gods mercy. Those overwhelming feelings of guilt over past sins will begin to diminish as we see God placing a right spirit within us. We need to allow God to do his work."
Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
These verses bring us to Step 7 Be happy in your new-found freedom.
The accent on verses 10, 11, and 12 is on the spirit. In verse 10, "put a new and right spirit within me," verse 11, "take not thy holy Spirit from me," and verse 12, "uphold me with a willing spirit." If we want to be truly happy, we must stop placing our emphasis on our physical feelings and allow Gods spirit to minister to our spirit. This is why David says in verse 11, "restore to me the joy...." He has been allowing his emotions, his feelings of guilt, to crush his joy.
Stedman points out, "David is asking for help. Lord, give me this willing spirit, he says, and God immediately gives it. Then it must be acted on. That is the point. Do not wait for a feeling to come that you are forgiven. God has said you are forgiven. Do not wait for a feeling of power to possess you. God has declared He has already given you the power: As you believe Him (and that is what faith is) you can do what you need to do and what God wants you to do."
You must make a conscious effort to be happy. The Lord has set you free. Why not rejoice? As Psalm 16:11 tells us, "Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." And Zephaniah 3:14 says, "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart...."
Some people feel theyre being dishonest with themselves if they have to force themselves to be happy. They think its fake and not real. But the fact is by forcing ourselves to be happy, we are disciplining our thoughts and re-training our mind. We are molding ourselves to be the way the Creator had intended us to be joyful and happy.
Sometimes its not easy to lift our minds out of despair, so here are some helpful hints that can dispel the dark feelings:
1. Think happy thoughts
2. Force yourself to smile
3. Recite the good things that happened today
4. Sing a favorite hymn or chorus
5. Begin praising God out loud
6. Read a psalm or favorite section of scripture
7. Think of all the good things God has done for you.
In the 1800s James Edmesten wrote a poem which would be a good prayer for us each day:
Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.
This is Step 8 Stop worrying about yourself. Its now time to reach out to others.
Introspection and examining our feelings is good because it brings us closer to the Lord. But after we have communed with God and been encouraged by his Holy Spirit, continued self-examination can be counter-productive. We must stop spending too much time thinking about ourselves and analyzing our emotions, and begin thinking about others and reaching out to them. If we dont do this, we will be like the Corinthians concerning whom Paul had to say in 1 Corinthians 3:2, "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." We have seen this kind of Christians. When there is an especially entertaining singing or ministering group at church for a special service, they are sure to attend. But when the Pastor goes on vacation and the Youth Pastor fills in, these same Christians decide to stay away too. Whether they come to church is too often determined by how theyre feeling that day. God does not want us to remain babies; he wants us to grow up. Part of growing up is being able to take our mind off of ourselves and start reaching out to others.
David has experienced the return of the joy of his salvation (in verse 12), and so now he wants to tell others and share the good things God has done for him. As Maclaren aptly puts it, "A man who has passed through such experiences as the psalmists, and has received the blessings for which he prayed, cannot be silent. The instinct of hearts touched by Gods mercies is to speak of them to others."
I believe this is true. This is why, I suppose, I get so much delight from sharing Gods word, and the fruit of my study of Gods word, with others. I cannot be silent!
The original Hebrew of verse 13 is instructive. The word "Then," which has been added by the translators for a smooth transition, does not appear in the Hebrew. It simply says, "I will teach transgressors your ways." The verb "teach" is written in the form to indicate a strong desire. So it really means "I will teach, I long to teach, transgressors your ways." This is what happens to us when the Lord pardons us and delivers us from our guilt. We long to tell others about him.
Reginald Heber in the early 1800s wrote these lines:
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
This is Step 9 Sing aloud how God has delivered you. You must believe everything is OK.
Have you ever noticed how when youre in an especially happy mood, you find yourself humming a tune? There is something therapeutic about singing which causes our emotions to be lifted. This is why the Bible instructs us in many places to sing. Psalm 81:1, "Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob." Psalm 98:4, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise." Ephesians 5:19, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
That is why David here in verse 14 says, "my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance." He knows the value of singing. We see recorded in Gods word how David composed songs during most of the times of real crisis in his life. In triumph he sang and in despair he sang. Here in Psalm 51, although he is filled with sorrow, he knows, by faith, God has delivered him from his sins of bloodguiltiness. So he must sing. His mind told him he was guilty unto death, his heart told him to despair and be filled with remorse, but his spirit told him to sing!
As we sing unto the Lord, we are allowing ourselves to believe everything is OK. This is essential for our emotional well-being. God has delivered us, in spite of our persistent feelings of guilt. So rejoice and sing aloud. You will begin feeling better immediately.
O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
This brings us to Step 10 Praise God and rejoice.
This step is similar to the previous one. After we begin singing, we will find our spirit being lifted, and we will want to praise the Lord. You have probably noticed that I emphasize singing and praising a lot. I believe in it. As we praise the Lord, our mind is focusing on God, his goodness, his mercy, and his deliverance, his promises. As we center our attention on God, our problems seem to fade in the background. And as we focus our thoughts toward God, he is able to minister to our spirit. So Im a firm believer in the power of praise.
This is not a new idea; its what Gods word teaches us. Hebrews 13:15, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name." 1 Peter 2:9, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Psalm 67:3, "Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee." Psalm 135:3, "Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant."
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
This is Step 11 Realize there is nothing more you need to do.
There is a deeper meaning to verses 16-17 as it relates to David then is apparent. It is true that God desires a broken spirit and a contrite heart more than an animal sacrifice. As he said in Hosea 6:6, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."
However, the fact of the matter is that there is no sacrifice provided in the law for his sins. In the matter of adultery Deuteronomy 22:23-24 calls for stoning of both parties, and as for the murder of Uriah, Genesis 9:6 calls for the murderer to die. An Israelite could appeal to the king, but as king, David had already pronounced sentence upon himself when he told Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:5, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die."
David knows only too well his only hope is the mercy of God. There is nothing he can do. He has already come to the Lord, asked for forgiveness, and placed his trust in Gods mercy. There is nothing more to do. Matthew Henry comments on Davids attitude, "It is a heart breaking with itself, and breaking from its sin; it is a heart pliable to the word of God, and patient under the rod of God, a heart subdued and brought into obedience; it is a heart that is tender...and trembles at Gods word. Oh that there were such a heart in us!"
We must be like David. We must realize that there is nothing more we need to do. We are now in Gods hands. We must stop trying to do anything more. We must stop beating our breast and wailing over our failings. We must stop allowing ourselves to be crippled with guilt. We must stop blaming ourselves. We must stop feeling miserable. When we truly realize there is nothing more we can do, then finally we will stop trying to do ... anything, everything.
We must learn to live for today. The sins and failings of yesterday must be forgotten, and the worry and anxiety over tomorrow must be ignored. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
Sybil Partridge wrote a prayer:
Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar.
This is the last one, Step 12 Let God repair any damage youve done. You cannot undo the damage yourself.
In verse 18 David turns his attention to the damage he has done to his nation. As Stedman points out, "As the king he has caused his whole nation to be in jeopardy because of his sin." And MacDonald paraphrases Davids thoughts in verse 18, "My sins have doubtless hindered the progress of your work. I have brought reproach upon Your name. Now may your cause move forward without hindrance."
This is how we feel after we have come to the Lord to cleanse us from our guilt. We realize we have hurt others or caused damage to our family, our friends, our church. We want to repair the damage. God takes away our feelings of guilt for our sin and we replace it with guilt over the damage weve done. We must realize we cannot fix everything. We must allow God to do the repair work. We cannot undo the damage ourselves.
In spite of what we have done in the past to hinder Gods work, it is now time to look forward. David was afraid that his sin might bring devastation on Israel, so he prayed. He could not undo the adultery and he could not bring Uriah back to life. All he could do was place it all in Gods hands. Now he was ready to look forward. God answered Davids prayer. He built up Israel and brought it to its highest point under Davids successor.
It is time to look to the future in your own life. God will build up the walls of your life, of your family, of your church. His work will go forward. You are forgiven. It is time to stop looking back and start looking forward. Allow the guilt of the past to go, and start rejoicing for He has set you free.