Commentary on Psalm 51 and Bible study


Psalm 51 is perhaps the Bible’s greatest chapter on repentance. If you want to know what true repentance is, check out this commentary and Bible study on Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:1-2 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me completely from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!

This psalm was written shortly after Nathan the prophet said to David, “You are the man” who committed adultery and killed Bathsheba’s husband. Obviously he had repented and now wanted God to cleanse him of all his sins and iniquities and have mercy on him. Anyone who wants to know more about what true repentance looks like, read this entire psalm.

Psalm 51:3-4 “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone, I have sinned and done what is evil in your eyes, that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

It is here that David admits that his sin does not go away and “is always before” him, which means that unconfessed sin is sin that is not forgiven. David eventually confesses his repentant state of mind. He admits that his sins are mainly (but not only) against God and by confessing he wants to be justified and be considered blameless in the sight of God.

Psalm 51:5-6 “Behold, I was born in iniquity, and my mother conceived me in sin. Behold, you delight in the truth in the inner being, and you teach me the wisdom in the secret heart.

David is here stating a theological truth; that we are all born in sin or that we are born sinners. Even in conception because the fall in the Garden of Eden spread to all men (Gen 2:17). This is what Paul taught the church in Rome, writing “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned(Rom 5:12) and just as in Adam all are destined to die, so in Christ all can be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).

Psalm 51:7-10 “Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; may the bones you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and wash away all my iniquities. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew in me a righteous spirit.

Hyssop was a plant that had purifying properties and David desired to be purged, washed and completely cleansed so that we would be “whiter than snow”. He asked God to take away all sin and iniquity (inequality between man and God) and create in him a pure heart and restore him to a righteous spirit, indicating that regeneration and even repentance is a work of God (2 Tim 2:25).

Psalm 51:11-13 “Do not cast me out of your presence, nor take your Holy Spirit away from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach your ways to transgressors, and sinners will return to you.

David seriously feared that God might take His Holy Spirit away from him and desperately wanted the joy of his salvation restored. This did not mean that David had lost his salvation, only the joy was gone. If God purified him, then David would use the rest of his life to “teach transgressors” his ways in the hope that “sinners will return” to him in repentance. He never lost his salvation; only the joy of it and so, he prayed to God to restore the joy of his salvation that he once had. David regained his joy and later, through the psalms, David taught the transgressors the ways of God.

Psalm 51:14-15 “Deliver me from my blood, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing thy righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will publish your praise.

David asked God to deliver him “from blood guilt” because he had committed murder and a murder plot by having Uriah, who was Bathsheba’s husband, murdered, so his blood guilt was not exaggerated . By this forgiveness, David would not only sing the praises of God’s justice, but he would write many psalms that are truly poetry set to music.

Psalm 51:16-17 “For you will not take pleasure in the sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you will not be satisfied with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you shall not despise it.

This is where we come to true repentance. God does not desire our offerings or sacrifices as much as our obedience. The best sacrifices we can offer to God are “a broken spirit [and] a broken and contrite heart. A contrite heart is a crushed heart and a broken spirit is broken by our sins. God only accepts more than a hundred sacrifices.

Psalm 51:18-19 “Do good in Zion according to your good pleasure; build the walls of Jerusalem; then you will delight in righteous sacrifices, burnt offerings, and whole burnt offerings; then bullocks will be offered on your altar.

David is not saying that he has done away with all animal sacrifices because at the end of this psalm he is talking about those offerings given to God, but David is saying that God will take pleasure in good sacrifices, after we have asked sorry. and were forgiven by God and had our relationship with Him restored to what it was before we sinned.


There is no one without sin (1st John 1:8, 10) since we all fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and none of us really does any good (Rom 3:10-12) therefore the need for repentance is a critical step in our salvation. When we repent, we forsake and turn from our sins and then place our trust in Christ. Jesus said the kingdom of God requires repentance and belief (Mark 1:15).

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the senior editor of What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage and energize Christians and answer questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.


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