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Psalm 51

51:0This is a famous psalm. David wrote it after he had done something very wrong. He saw a woman bathing and he wanted to have sex with her. But she was the wife of Uriah. Her name was Bathsheba. Uriah was away in the army, so David sent his servants to bring Bathsheba to his palace. David and Bathsheba had sex together. Later Bathsheba told David that she was going to have his baby. So David brought Uriah home. He tried to make Uriah have sex with Bathsheba so that Uriah would think that the baby was his. When Uriah would not do it, he sent Uriah to a dangerous place in the war with the Philistines. The Philistines killed Uriah. Then David married Bathsheba. When the baby was born it only lived for a week.

Then Nathan the prophet came and told David that he had done wrong. At first, David did not say that he was sorry. This made him feel very bad. So he wrote Psalm 32. Later he wrote this psalm as well. Psalms 32 and 51 are 2 of the 7 Penitential Psalms that the Church often sings during Lent. Lent is the 40 days before Easter. ‘Penitential’ means being sorry for your sins, asking God to forgive them, and promising not to do them again. The other 5 Penitential Psalms are 6, 38, 102, 130 and 143.

Many Christians think that David did not write verses 18 and 19. The Jews wrote them when they came back from exile in Babylon. This exile was when the King of Babylon took them away from their own country and made them live in Babylon. The prophets told the Jews this. God let the King of Babylon do it because the Jews had not obeyed God. The Jews wanted a psalm that told God that they had sinned. They chose Psalm 51. They put two verses on the end.

A New Man

This is for the music leader.

It is a psalm of David.

It was when the prophet Nathan came to him.

It was after David had sex with Bathsheba.

1 Give mercy to me, God, because of your kind love.

Because you have so much love, forget that I did not obey you.

51:1Verse 1: ‘Give mercy’ means ‘do not hurt me although you should hurt me.’ Another way to say this is ‘have mercy.’ The word ‘forget’ in this verse and verse 9 really means ‘blot out.’ It is like putting black paint on a picture so that you cannot see it.

2 Wash me from the bad feeling that I have

because of the bad thing that I did.

Make me clean from all my sin.

51:2Verse 2: David wants God to wash away the bad feeling – what we call the guilt – that comes when we do wrong things. Then he will feel clean.

3 Because I know that I did not obey you

and my sin is always in front of me.

51:3Verse 3: ‘Always in front of me’ means that ‘I keep on seeing it so that I know that I have done wrong.’

4 I have sinned against you and only you.

You saw the evil that I did.

And so you are right when you talk to me.

You are not wrong when you say that I am bad.

51:4Verse 4: Though David killed Uriah, it was God's law that he did not obey. So David feels that it is only God that he has sinned against.

5 I am sure that I have done bad things since my birth.

I have always wanted to sin since the day that I was born.

51:5Verse 5: David says that when he was born he had a tendency to sin. This means that he often wanted to sin even though he knew that it was wrong. We are all born with this tendency. Christians call it ‘original sin.’

6 But you want me to be good

and you want to teach me how to live in the proper way.

7 Make me clean with hyssop and I shall be really clean.

Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

51:7Verse 7: Hyssop was a plant. The Jews used its leaves to paint blood on the wood over their doors when they remembered the Passover. It is the blood of Jesus that makes us clean. ‘Whiter than snow’ is a Jewish way to say ‘very, very clean.’

8 I want to hear happy words that give me joy.

I want the bones that you broke to rejoice.

51:8Verse 8: ‘The bones that you broke’ means ‘my body that you hurt.’

9 Hide your face from my sins

and forget all the bad things that I have done.

51:9Verse 9: ‘Hide your face’ means ‘look away from.’ The Jews thought that if God hid his face, he would not see what they did. For ‘forget’ see verse 1.

10 Create a pure heart inside me, O God.

And put a strong spirit in me.

51:10Verse 10: The word ‘create’ is very important. It means ‘make’ – but only if God is the maker! The Bible starts by saying ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1). Only God could do it. And only God can make a new heart for a person. A new heart really means a new person altogether. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in Christ he or she is a new person’ (2 Cor 5:17). ‘In Christ’ means ‘a Christian.’ ‘New person’ here is ‘a person that God has created again’ or ‘a new creature.’ David wrote Psalm 51 a thousand years before Paul wrote Corinthians. Christians understand what David wrote after reading what Paul wrote. This means that we do not read it as Jews, but as Christians. And Christians are ‘born again’ or ‘new people’ because God has created them again. He does this when they become Christians! The spirit in verses 10-12 means the Holy Spirit, another name for God. It is the part of God that he puts in us when we become Christians.

11 Do not send me away from where you are.

Do not take your Holy Spirit from me.

51:11Verse 11: Both parts of this verse mean the same: David wants to be with God.

12 Give me back the joy that I get when I am safe with you.

And give me a spirit that makes me strong to give help to people.

51:12Verse 12: The bad feeling (guilt), that David had, stopped him feeling happy. This special feeling that God gives to his people we call ‘joy.’ Only a new creature (verse 10) has Christian joy.

13 I will teach your ways to those people that fight against you.

Then sinners will return to you.

51:13Verse 13: The people that fight against God we call ‘rebels.’ People that fight against their governments are rebels. God is the government for the whole world, so people that fight against him are also rebels. How do we fight God? When we do not obey him and when we do what we want to do.

14 Take away from me the bad feeling that I have because I killed someone,

God, the God that makes me safe.

Then my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

51:14Verse 14: This is a difficult verse to translate from Hebrew. The Hebrew words say, ‘Take away from me blood-guilts.’ I have translated ‘guilts’ as ‘the bad feeling that I have’ and ‘blood’ as ‘because I killed someone.’ David does not say in this psalm that he killed Uriah.

15 Lord, open my lips,

then my mouth will say how great you are.

51:15Verse 15: The word is ‘Lord’, not ‘LORD.’ Nowhere in Psalm 51 does David call God ‘LORD.’ Remember, LORD is the Covenant Name of God. This means that it is the name that his servants use. Did David not use it because he felt that he was so bad? Nobody is so bad that God will not forgive them! He will create a new man or a new woman from everybody: we only have to ask! ‘Open my lips’ is a Jewish way to say ‘let words come from my mouth.’

16 For animal sacrifice does not bring you pleasure, or I would make it.

You would not want a whole burnt offering.

51:16Verse 16: The Jews had rules which told them to sacrifice animals. This meant that they killed the animal, then they burnt it on a table that they called an altar. They thought that this made God happy. There were two groups of sacrifices. In one group, they only burnt a bit of the animal. They ate the rest of it. This is the animal sacrifice in verses 16 and 19. In the other group, they burnt all the animal. This is the burnt offering of verses 16 and 19. This verse says that sacrifice does not give God pleasure if people do not obey him.

17 The sacrifices that God wants are a broken spirit

and a broken heart that knows that it has sinned.

51:17Verse 17: God wants a special sort of sacrifice. (The word here is animal sacrifice.) He wants people to be sorry when they sin against him. This is what ‘a broken spirit’ and ‘a broken heart’ mean. Instead of fighting (rebelling) against God, people with broken spirits and hearts agree with God.

18 In your pleasure, do good things to Zion.

Build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then:

· there will be the right kind of animal sacrifice

· whole burnt offerings will bring you pleasure

· they will offer bulls on your altar.

51:19Verses 18 and 19: Now you can see why these two verses are probably not by David. They want to sacrifice animals again, although David knew that this was not what God really wanted. Sacrificing animals only made God happy if the people were sorry for their sins.