Over the last several weeks, we have been exploring the downfall of King David in 2 Samuel 11-12. After the studly prophet Nathan confronts David about his sin, David, in conviction and heaviness of heart, goes into a back room and pens Psalm 51. This Psalm spills out of a heart of confession and a desperate desire for God to come and completely change his life. Join us on a several week word study through Psalm 51 and may the “prayer” of David be our own. Let’s begin with the concept of poetry …
Poetry is the highest form of language. Anyone can write a letter or email but few have mastered the song of the sonneteer. It is interesting that when David writes out his heart confession and plea for mercy, he does so by using the highest form of language. This is not a casual note nor a quaint supplication, this is a “do or die” elevation of confession. This is further seen by David’s use of the imperative in the first two verses. Imperative verbs are commands. Three times in the first two verses David uses the imperative to denote the intensity of the situation. David is not “commanding” God (as if he could), but rather David is at his lowest point, in absolute desperation, the weight of his sin pressing heavily upon him. It is his “dark night of the soul” as St. John of the Cross would say. In this place of anguish and torment, David cries out and declares: “God, You either must move upon my life or I will die!” It is an imperative of desperation.
Have Mercy Upon Me!
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies…
David begins his poetic utterance with an appeal to the nature and character of God. David says, “according to Your lovingkindness, have mercy upon me.” In other words, “God, according to the nature and character of who You are as God – your goodness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, favor, goodliness, and love – grant me mercy!” The word “lovingkindness” is found in 53 of the Psalms (more than a third of them) and in Psalm 136 it is used in every single verse. Psalm 136 is a congregational chant where the leader retells of Israel’s history and after each line the crowd would shout back “For His mercy endures forever!” It was to be a reminder of the great love and mercy God has for His people. And it is here that David is making his appeal – to the lovingkindness, the mercy, of God. He continues by saying, “According to the multitude of Your tender mercies.” Multitude here means an abundance, greatness, numerous, multitude. It is the same word God used with Abraham when describing his descendants – they would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky. God’s mercy is likewise uncountable and indescribable. His tender mercies never fail, there is an over abundance of them.
It is in this appeal to the mercy of God that David uses the three imperative verbs (actions) associated with three different types of sin.
Blot out my transgressions
The Hebrew word for “transgressions” literally means “rebellion.” This is not an oops, I didn’t mean to, mistake; rather this is a blatant, shaking my fist in God’s face, rebellion. This is a willing transgression. David is fully aware of such rebellion in his life, especially as of late from his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. The imperative (verb) David associates with transgression is “blot out.” To blot out in the Hebrew does not mean to take an eraser and smudge it clean. This Hebrew word (machah) means to wipe out, oblierate, exterminate, destroy, or abolish. In essence, David is asking God to take a piece of dynamite and stick it underneath his rebellion and absolutely and utterly destroy and obliterate it. David no longer wants any ounce of rebellion within his soul and thus, because he can’t remove it, God must come in and “blow it up.”
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
Hebrew words have stems. While certain stems are used for a variety of reasons, the word “wash” has a piel stem which means there is an intensity and greater focus on the word itself. There is an increased focus on the action of washing. It is as if this is the big deal. This is again emphasized by the word “thoroughly.” David is not interested in a mere sponge bath but a deep internal cleansing of the soul. He is not asking for God to take him to the river and dump a bucket of water on his head and be done with; rather, David is pleading with God to take him down to the river, dump a bucket of soap on his head, take out the steelwool and scrub him so thoroughly that there is not a speck of iniquity in his life. Iniquity here means perversion and depravity. David states in verse five that we are all born in depravity and perversion yet while we are born with it, it must NOT remain in our lives. Every crumb of this destructive-damning self-focused compulsion must be “scrubbed out” until there is nothing left! The double emphasis of “wash” and “thoroughly” suggests David is shouting his petition to God: “I must Must MUST be cleansed to the very depths of my being, and only You, oh God, can do it!”
Cleanse me from my sin
Both the words “cleanse” and “sin” are used within the sacrificial/cleansing ceremonies throughout the Old Testament. The word cleanse emphasizes to be clean, pure, and cleansed. In other words, David is saying that he is ceremonial unclean – he has sin in his life – and God must atone and forgive him for such sin. As the yearly lamb was slain for the sin of Israel, so David is asking God to give such forgiveness even now upon his soul. “God You must forgive me!” is the cry of his heart.
Has God confronted you with your sin? Have you, like David, realized the putrid state of your soul and with every fiber of your being have you cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness? This is not a mere “come Lord help me” prayer but a “I must be changed, O God! You and You alone can deal a death blow to my sin and remove me from such a state. If You do not come and transform my life, than let me die.” This is the prayer of forgiveness, not a mere agreement to the work of Jesus, but a surrender of one’s own life and giving permission to God to completely change and transform your life so it becomes a picture of Himself. This is the first stage and entrance into Christianity and intimacy with Jesus.
Have mercy upon me O God, according to Your lovingkindness. Deal a death blow to the sin, wickedness, and perverseness within my life that not a drop or speck of sin remains. May my life be one of complete victory and triumph not because of what I can do (which is absolutely nothing) but because of what You have accomplished on the Cross. May You, my precious Jesus, so fill my life that it is YOU and not I who lives my life. May You have complete and absolute control.
Read the other Bible Studies in this series: