Jean’s Gospel: Psalm 51-Part 2
“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!”
Last week in Part 1 of this four part series on Psalm 51, we examined David’s plea for forgiveness (vv. 1-2). This week in Part 2, we will look at David’s confession (vv. 3-6).
Part 2 – The Confession (vv. 3-6)
“3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
David did not arrive at his knowledge of sin through speculation, reason or on the basis of human rules. He arrived at the reality of what he was by divine revelation according to God’s laws and promises: “you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” By the Word brought through the Prophet Nathan and the work of the Holy Spirit, David learned two universal truths: (1) all sin is ultimately defined in relation to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned”; and (2) sin is a systemic condition, born in us, which defiles our entire nature: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David was a sinner, not because he committed sins; he committed sins because he was a sinner first.
David had been born an enemy of God, having a will opposed to God. Although he had been set free from the rule of his sinful nature through faith in God’s promises, David had allowed his sinful nature to regain control over him, and he had fallen into horrible sin. How did this happen? The Prophet Nathan provides us with the root of the problem: “you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight” (2 Sam 12:9a).
“Confession” is essentially us agreeing with God’s judgment about ourselves and our hopeless condition. We know that God delights in truth in the inward being, but we are without it and cannot obtain it without God as our teacher. In confession, we align our words with God’s Words and hold Him righteous in His judgments: “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.’ ” (Rom 3:4b)
There is abundant fruit from confession. Conscious of our sin, made known to us through God’s Word of Law, and deprived of any route to self-justification, the sinner is turned from his sin (and its deceitfulness) to his merciful God and Savior who promises steadfast love and abundant mercy specifically for sinners. David declared the fruit of such repentance in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (32:1-2) Moreover, every time a sinner is turned (or repented) from sin to Christ, the penitent is given a sign that although sin remains, Christ reigns!
Before we conclude this brief look at confession, we must note that confession is not a work that merits forgiveness of sins. In other words, God does not forgive our sins because of our confession. God is gracious to us because of Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). God promises to save everyone who believes in His Son (John 3:16).
Therefore, in the evangelical order of salvation, the proclamation of forgiveness is prior to repentance; the former causes the latter. In other words, it is God’s promise to bestow grace on those who confess their sins, which engenders faith and causes the sinner to confess his sins. In this way, confession is considered “necessary,” but as a responsive factor, not as a first cause of God’s grace.
“7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
Thank you for reading. Next week in Part 3, we will examine David’s plea for renewal (vv. 7-12). Amen.
In preparing for writing these articles, I made extensive use of the following works:
Brug, John F. Peoples Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Print.
Ngien, Dennis. Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Print.
Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. Print