Psalm 51A

February 28, 2024

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.

The Point:

This psalm gives us a picture of confession and renewal for any and all sinners.

How do we feel in the recitation of this psalm?

Broken. We come to God on our knees, with a deep sense of our unworthiness, our filthiness, and our brokenness. Conviction of sin continually brings us anguish of mind, pressing us to cry out to God, “Have mercy on me, O God!”

What does this psalm say?

Verses 1–3. Introduction. The first words of this great psalm of heart-felt repentance are the only words a sinner can say: “Have mercy on me, O God.” Anyone who has sinned against a perfectly holy God cannot bring anything to God that would mitigate justice and commend him to God. The position of the publican is the only position for sinners. “For he would not lift so much as his eyes to heaven. He beat on his chest, and said, ‘God have mercy on me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10). David pleads with God that He would look with pity upon his guilty, polluted, and helpless condition.

David makes this petition on the basis of what he knows about God. He knows that Yahweh is One who loves to show mercy and has an infinite supply of lovingkindness. Indeed, God is in the business of forgiving people who know themselves to be sinners.

In verse 2, David asks God for a bath—but this is no ordinary bath. Of course, it is a spiritual bath that is necessary to clean the spiritual filth of sin. Whenever men break God’s law, they are contaminated by this law-breaking. Thus, the cleansing that is needed must be a spiritual cleansing. Throughout the Scriptures, we find repeated use of this analogy of filthiness and contamination. The stains of sin are very deep, and only God can wipe them away. Like the corruption of leprosy that eats away the fingers, legs, and faces of the victim, this evil of sin has corrupted each of us.

While everyone sins, not everyone experiences the conviction of sin. These verses give us a description of what it is like to be convicted of sin. David had committed the sins of adultery and murder, but when Nathan faced him with his sin, he could see it. Until we see our sins, there will be no repentance, no sanctification, and no revival in our lives.

Conviction of sin involves an understanding of how bad or how wretched that sin is in the sight of God (Job 15:15–16). The Bible tells us that God cannot bear to even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13). Moreover, there is no sharper testimony to the horrible nature of sin than the cross of Jesus Christ. That guilt, for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction, must be terribly black. The weight of human sin that forced great groans and drops of blood at Gethsemane, and elicited that cry at Golgotha, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!” must be indescribably heavy. It is when we see that it was our sin that pressed those nails through the hands of the Son of God that we begin to see the true evil character of our sin.

David’s conviction is so strong, he cannot hide from it. Like a motion picture that keeps playing in his mind, he cannot escape it. He is in continual anguish of mind. With thoughts that are too important to forget and too heavy to bear he finds it hard to think, to sleep, and to work without feeling the constant weight of his sin.

How do we apply the first three verses of this psalm?

May God sensitize us to our sins, that we too might cry out for mercy as the publican did in the parable and as David does in this psalm. Often when we sin, we do not recognize it as such and we are not convicted before God. Sin comes with a sense of security, with excuses and self-justification wrapped up with it. That is just the treacherous deceitfulness of sin. But without conviction of our sin, we will never ask for God’s mercy, and we will never receive His salvation. Let us pray that God will awaken us and sensitize us to the true corruption and guilt of our sin.

How does this psalm teach us to worship God?

Worship involves conviction and confession of sin. Only those who have received God’s forgiveness can praise God for His salvation! If you are unaware of your deep need for forgiveness, you will never understand the true beauty of the gift that God has given us in His salvation. Worship takes us from conviction to joy, from brokenness because of our sin to inner healing because of God’s salvation.


1. Give several examples of penitence psalms.

2. What is the context of this psalm? When did David write this psalm?

3. What is conviction of sin?

4. Why did the publican go home justified?

5. What does David want God to do for him?

Family Discussion Questions:

1. What are the sorts of things that keep us from experiencing this good conviction of sin?

2. How do we minimize our sins, or make ourselves think that our sins are not a big deal? Psalm 51 B