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Psalm 51

Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon

To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.


Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

according to your 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.


Against you, you alone, have I sinned,

and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence

and blameless when you pass judgment.


Indeed, I was born guilty,

a sinner when my mother conceived me.



You desire truth in the inward being;

therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.


Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.


Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.


Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities.



Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.


Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me.


Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.



Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you.


Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,

O God of my salvation,

and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.



O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will declare your praise.


For you have no delight in sacrifice;

if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.


The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.



Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;

rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,


then you will delight in right sacrifices,

in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

18 Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure: build thou the walls of Jerusalem 273273     We have already considered Horsley’s first objection, founded on the fourth verse, to the authenticity of the title of this psalm. His second and only other objection rests on the 18th verse. He thinks that the prayer, “Build thou the walls of Jerusalem,” is more applicable to the time of the Babylonish captivity than to the time of David; and to the former period he refers the psalm. Calmet and Mudge are of the same opinion. Some learned Jewish interpreters, while they assign the psalm to the occasion mentioned in the title, conjecture that the 18th and 19th verses were added by some Jewish bard in the time of the Babylonish captivity. This opinion is also held by Venema, Green, Street, French and Skinner. There does not, however, seem to be any sufficient ground for referring the poem, either in whole or in part, to that period. Neither the walls of Jerusalem, nor the buildings of Zion, as the royal palace, and the magnificent structure of the temple, which we know David had already contemplated for the worship of God, (2 Samuel 7:1, etc.) were completed during his reign. This was only effected under the reign of his son Solomon, (1 Kings 3:1.) The prayer, then, in the 18th verse, might have a particular reference to the completion of these buildings, and especially to the rearing of the temple, in which sacrifices of unprecedented magnitude were to be offered. David’s fears might easily suggest to him that his crimes might prevent the building of the temple which God had promised should be erected, (2 Samuel 7:13.) “The king forgets not,” observes Bishop Horne, “to ask mercy for his people, as well as for himself; that so neither his own nor their sins might prevent either the building and flourishing of the earthly Jerusalem, or, what was of infinitely greater importance, the promised blessing of Messiah, who was to descend from him, and to rear the walls of the New Jerusalem.” From prayer in his own behalf he now proceeds to offer up supplications for the collective Church of God, a duty which he may have felt to be the more incumbent upon him from the circumstance of his having done what he could by his fall to ruin it, Raised to the throne, and originally anointed to be king for the very purpose of fostering the Church of God, he had by his disgraceful conduct nearly accomplished its destruction. Although chargeable with this guilt, he now prays that God would restore it in the exercise of his free mercy. He makes no mention of the righteousness of others, but rests his plea entirely upon the good pleasure of God, intimating that the Church, when at any period it has been brought low, must be indebted for its restoration solely to Divine grace. Jerusalem was already built, but David prays that God would build it still farther for he knew that it fell far short of being complete, so long as it wanted the temple, where he had promised to establish the Ark of his Covenant, and also the royal palace. We learn from the passage, that it is God’s own work to build the Church. “His foundation,” says the Psalmist elsewhere, “is in the holy mountains,” (Psalm 87:1.) We are not to imagine that David refers simply to the Church as a material structure, but must consider him as having his eye fixed upon the spiritual temple, which cannot be raised by human skill or industry. It is true, indeed, that men will not make progress even in the building of material walls, unless their labor be blessed from above; but the Church is in a peculiar sense the erection of God, who has founded it upon the earth in the exercise of his mighty power, and who will exalt it higher than the heavens. In this prayer David does not contemplate the welfare of the Church for a short period merely, but prays that God would preserve and advance it till the coming of Christ. And here, may it not justly excite our surprise, to find one who, in the preceding part of the psalm, had employed the language of distress and almost of despair, now inspired with the confidence necessary for commending the whole Church to the care of God? How comes it about, may we not ask, that one who so narrowly escaped destruction himself, should now appear as a guide to conduct others to salvation? In this we have a striking proof, that, provided we obtain reconciliation with God, we may not only expect to be inspired with confidence in praying for our own salvation, but may hope to be admitted as intercessors in behalf of others, and even to be advanced to the higher honor still, of commending into the hands of God the glory of the Redeemer’s kingdom.

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