A New Man

Psalm 51

An EasyEnglish Translation with Notes (about 1200 word vocabulary) on Psalm 51


Gordon Churchyard

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

Words marked with a *star are described in the word list at the end.

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Jesus said, "I say this to you. If anyone looks at a woman and wants to have sex with her, he has already had sex with her in his mind". (Matthew 5:28)

Psalm 51

    (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.

v1   Give *mercy to me, God, because of your kind love.
  Because you have so much love, forget that I did not obey you.

v2   Wash me (from the bad feeling that I have)
  because of the bad thing that I did.
  Make me clean from all my *sin.

v3   Because I know that I did not obey you
  and my *sin is always in front of me.

v4   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.

v5   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.

v6   But you want me to be good
  and you want to teach me how to live in the proper way.

v7   Make me clean with hyssop and I shall be really clean.
  Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

v8   I want to hear happy words that give me *joy.
  I want the bones that you broke to *rejoice.

v9   Hide your face from my *sins
  and forget all the bad things that I have done.

v10   *Create a *pure *heart inside me, O God.
  And put a strong spirit in me.

v11   Do not send me away from where you are.
  Do not take your *Holy Spirit from me.

v12   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).

v13   I will teach your ways to those people that fight against you.
  Then *sinners will return to you.

v14   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.

v15   *Lord, open my lips,
  then my mouth will say how great you are.

v16   For animal *sacrifice does not bring you pleasure, or I would make it.
  You would not want a whole burnt offering.

v17   The *sacrifices that God wants are a broken spirit
  and a broken *heart that knows that it has *sinned.

. . .

v18   In your pleasure, do good things to Zion.
  Build up the walls of Jerusalem.

v19   Then:
  ·   there will be the right kind of animal *sacrifice
  ·   whole burnt offerings will bring you pleasure
  ·   they will offer bulls on your *altar.

The Story of Psalm 51

This 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. The *palace was the big house where he lived as king. 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.

We put a space in the psalm between verses 17 and 18. This is because many Christians think that verses 18 and 19 came later. 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 that said:

  ·  they wanted the walls of Jerusalem built again (the King of Babylon had destroyed them)

  ·  they wanted the *Temple in Jerusalem built again so that they could *sacrifice animals on its *altar (did they not see that David thought that this was not important?)

What Psalm 51 means

There are several important words in Psalm 51. Three of them are words that we also find in Psalm 32: *disobedience (or disobey), *sin, and doing bad things. They are what we do. Then there is what God does. He washes us, he cleans us, he forgets what we have done and he hides his face from our *sins. The other two important words in the psalm are spirit and *sacrifice. Both of them mean two things.

"spirit" means:

  ·  either a name for God, as in verses 10-12

  ·  or a name for the part of us that lives when our body dies as in verse 17.

"sacrifice" means:

  ·  either an animal that they burnt and ate part of

  ·  or an animal that they burnt completely.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

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

Verse 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.

Verse 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".

Verse 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".

Verse 8: "The bones that you broke" means "my body that you hurt".

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

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

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 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".

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verses 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.

Something to do

1.  Find the important words (we call them "key" words) in Psalm 51. There is a list of them at the start of What Psalm 51 means. Mark them in some way, so that you can see where they are on the page.

2.  Study Psalm 50 again. Where does Psalm 50 say that God wants people to obey him, not *sacrifice animals to him?

3.  Learn to say Psalm 51:10 by heart. (This means that you can say it without looking at the words).

Word list

altar ~ a special table in God’s house.

covenant ~ when two people agree they make a covenant.

create ~ when God makes something we say he ‘creates’ it.

disobedience ~ not obeying.

evil ~ very very bad people (or the things that they do).

exile ~ away from your own country, not able to return.

forgive ~ give away (usually *forgive *sin, which means give away the *sin to somebody else, read note in Psalm 67).

heart ~ part of our body; the Jews thought that you used your *heart to think; so to know it "in your heart" or "by heart" means that you remember it.

heaven ~ the home of God.

heavens ~ the sky and everything that is in it.

holy ~ very very good; only God is really holy (because he always obeys his rules); Jerusalem was holy because people *worshipped God there.

Holy Spirit ~ a name for God.

joy ~ feeling happy deep inside.

like ~ another word for "as".

LORD ~ a special name for God; only his people use it (look after Psalm 25).

lord ~ someone with authority (with a capital L a name for God, look after Psalm 25).

mercy ~ when you do not *punish (hurt) people that you should.

palace ~ the home of a king; a beautiful building.

prophet ~ someone who speaks for God (makes a prophecy).

punish ~ hurt someone when they do something wrong (hit them with a stick or put them in prison).

pure ~ very, very clean.

rejoice ~ tell other people that we are happy.

righteousness ~ being very good.

sacrifice ~ an animal killed and burnt for God.

sacrifice ~ burn an animal to make God happy (see after Psalms 4 and 50).

sin ~ (noun, or being something) a not obeying of God’s rules.

sin ~ (verb, or doing something) not obey God’s rules.

sinner ~ a person that *sins.

temple ~ a special building where people *worship God.

tongue ~ the bit in the mouth that speaks or tastes.

war ~ people (or *nations) fighting each other.

worship ~ say that someone is very wonderful.


© 2000-2001, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words)

July 2001

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