Psalm 51

The Word Made Fresh

(To the worship leader: a Psalm of David when the prophet Nathan confronted him after he had been with Bathsheba.)

1Have mercy on me, O God whose love is unshakeable.
Let your bountiful mercy wipe away my mistakes.
2Completely erase my record of mistakes
and wash me clean from my sins.
3I am fully aware of the wrong I have done.
My sins are always right in front of me.
4Against you, you alone, I have sinned
and done things that are evil to you,
and you are right in sentencing me.
No one can challenge your judgment.
5I have been guilty since I was born.
I was a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6But you want me to be true to the core,
and I ask you to teach me your truth
and let it sink into my heart.
7Sprinkle me with the hyssop branch, and I will be cleansed.
Wash me and I will be purer than new-fallen snow.
8Let me hear joy and glad celebration so that
even though you have crushed me to the bone, I can rejoice.
9Look no more at my sins,
and wipe away all my mistakes.
10Create a new heart within me, O God,
and give me a new and right attitude.
11Please don’t send me away,
and don’t take your sacred spirit’s presence from me.
12Let me feel the joy of your salvation,
and keep a generous spirit toward me.
13Then I will teach sinners all about you
and they will return to you.
14Protect me from violence, O God,
and I will sing loudly about your deliverance.
15Open my mouth, LORD,
and I will sing praises to you.
16For you don’t take delight in sacrifices.
If I brought to you a burnt offering, it would not please you.
17The only sacrifice acceptable to you is a broken spirit.
You will not hate a broken and sorrowful heart.
18It will be your good pleasure to do good to Zion
and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
19Then you will gladly receive proper sacrifices
of burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings,
and bulls will again be offered on your altar.


Superscription: the 38th of David’s psalms. Tradition assigns this beautiful confession to David when Nathan confronted him with the gravity of the sin he had committed with Bathsheba and the punishment he must suffer. You may want to refresh your memory of the story: 2 Samuel 12:1-14. The psalm is used by penitent Christians as a prayer of confession, and in particular is used in worship on Ash Wednesday at the beginning of the season of Lent. In Christian tradition the psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143 – all but two of these are said to be “of David.”

1-5: This psalm is so beautiful, and its heartfelt expression so powerful, that there is little that can be added to it by way of commentary. The psalmist is utterly convicted of not only his sin but of his sinfulness as well. He has sinned, and admits that his sin arises out of a sinfulness in which he has lived since the day of his birth.

6-9: Honesty is the chief virtue required when we examine ourselves, our actions and our motives. Even so, God must be at work within if we are to experience lasting change.

10-14: And so, the psalmist prays to be changed from the inside out. Then he will be in a position not only to atone for his sins but to teach others also.

15-19: God does not delight in sacrifices that are offered half-heartedly or perfunctorily. But when God restores the sinner to righteousness, sacrifices are in order and God will delight in them.


God stands ready to forgive us and heal our relationship with God, but we cannot be healed of sin until we acknowledge that we have sinned. After a confession, the proper thing to do is to bring an offering to God to demonstrate our remorse.