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                         "THE BOOK OF PSALMS"

                    Psalm 51 - The Penitent's Prayer

OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS PSALM

1) To learn "the art of confessing our sins" from the example of David
   confessing his sins

2) To consider whether one can rightly argue for "total hereditary
   depravity" based upon the figurative language in verse 5

SUMMARY

This psalm was written by David when Nathan had come to him after
committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah (cf.
2Sa 11:1- 12:15).  It is an outstanding example of a "penitential
psalm" (cf. also Ps 6, 38, 130) in which David confesses his sin and
prays for forgiveness.  We do well to learn from it "the art of
confessing our sins" to help us when we have sins to confess to God (cf.
1Jn 1:9).

David begins with his plea for God to forgive him, appealing to His
loving kindness and tender mercy.  Note that he does not ask God to
forgive him based upon any good he may have done in the past.  He
acknowledges his sin against God (in very figurative terms), and how it
is contrary to God's desire for him.  He prays not only for God to
cleanse him, but also to renew and restore to him the joy of salvation
(1-12).

David's plea is followed by his promise to teach other sinners, that
they too might be converted to God.  He promises also to sing aloud of
God's righteousness, for he knows that God delights in such when it
comes from a broken and contrite spirit (13-17).

The psalm ends with his prayer for God to do good for Zion and
Jerusalem, that He might be pleased by the burnt offerings offered on
the altar.  Note that David has not forgotten to pray for God's
interest, while praying for his own (18-19).

This penitential psalm should be studied along with Psalm 32, in which
David describes the blessedness and joy of one who has received the
forgiveness prayed for in this psalm.

OUTLINE

I. DAVID'S PLEA (51:1-12)

   A. HIS APPEAL TO GOD'S LOVE AND MERCY (1-2)
      1. He pleads mercy according to God's loving kindness
      2. He implores forgiveness according to God's tender mercies
      3. He begs washing and cleansing from his sin

   B. HIS CONFESSION OF SINFUL CONDUCT (3-4)
      1. He admits his sin which is ever before him
      2. He confesses that he has sinned against God, and done evil in
         His sight
      3. God is just and blameless in judging him

   C. HIS ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD'S DESIRE (5-6)
      1. His expression of sinfulness
         a. He was brought forth in iniquity
         b. In sin his mother conceived him
      2. His awareness of what God's desire
         a. God wants truth in the inward parts
         b. God wills to make him know wisdom in the hidden part

   D. HIS PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS AND RESTORATION (7-12)
      1. He prays for forgiveness, for God to...
         a. Purge him with hyssop, that he might be clean
         b. Wash him, that he might be whiter than snow
         c. Hide His face from his sins
         d. Blot out all his iniquities
      2. He prays for restoration, for God to...
         a. Make him hear joy and gladness
         b. Make his broken bones rejoice
         c. Create in him a clean heart
         d. Renew a steadfast spirit in him
         e. Not cast him away from His presence
         f. Not take His Holy Spirit from him
         g. Restore to him the joy of His salvation
         h. Uphold him with His generous Spirit

II. DAVID'S PROMISE (51:13-17)

   A. TO TEACH OTHERS (13)
      1. He will teach transgressors the ways of God
      2. Sinners will be converted to God

   B. TO OFFER PRAISE (14-17)
      1. If the God of his salvation will deliver him from
         bloodguiltiness and open his lips...
         a. He will sing aloud of God's righteousness
         b. His mouth will show forth His praise
      2. For he knows in what God delights
         a. Not sacrifice or burnt offering, or he would have offered it
         b. But a broken spirit and a contrite heart, God will not
            despise

III. DAVID'S PRAYER (51:18-19)

   A. FOR ZION AND JERUSALEM (18)
      1. That God do His good pleasure to Zion
      2. That God build the walls of Jerusalem

   B. THEN GOD WILL BE PLEASED (19)
      1. With the sacrifices of righteousness
      2. With burnt offering and whole burnt offering
      -- Then they shall offer bulls on His altar

REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE PSALM

1) What are the main points of this psalm?
   - David's plea (1-12)
   - David's promise (13-17)
   - David's prayer (18-19)

2) What is David praying for in this psalm? (1-2)
   - For God to have mercy upon him
   - For God to blot out his transgressions
   - For God to wash and cleanse him from his sin

3) Upon what does David base his appeal for God's forgiveness? (1-2)
   - According to His loving kindness
   - According to the multitude of His tender mercies

4) How does David describe the extent of his guilt? (3-4)
   - His sin is ever before him
   - Against God alone has he sinned (figuratively speaking, for David
     sinned against his wife, Uriah, and many others)

5) How does David further describe the extent of his sinfulness? (5)
   - He was brought forth in iniquity, in sin his mother conceived him
     (figuratively speaking, in contrast to what God desires of him as
     expressed in verse 6)

6) What does God desire of David? (6)
   - Truth in the inward parts
   - Wisdom in the hidden part

7) In praying for forgiveness, what does David ask God to do? (7-12)
   - Purge him with hyssop, that he might be clean (note the figurative
     language again)
   - Wash him, that he might be whiter than snow
   - Hide His face from his sins
   - Blot out all his iniquities

8) In praying for restoration, what does he ask God to do? (7-12)
   - Make him hear joy and gladness
   - Make his broken bones rejoice
   - Create in him a clean heart
   - Renew a steadfast spirit in him
   - Not cast him away from His presence
   - Not take His Holy Spirit from him
   - Restore to him the joy of His salvation
   - Uphold him with His generous Spirit

9) What two things does David promise to do when forgiven? (13-15)
   - Teach transgressors the ways of God
   - Sing aloud the righteousness of God

10) What does God desire more than burnt offering? (16-17)
   - A broken and contrite heart

11) For what does David pray as he concludes this psalm? (18-19)
   - For God's good pleasure regarding Zion and Jerusalem, and the
     sacrifices of righteousness
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