52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 16

Confrontation and Confession (Psalm 51)

Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 16
Watching Now
Confrontation and Confession (Psalm 51)

I. Two Major Events in 2 Samuel

A. Covenant with David

B. David and Bathsheba

II. Cry for Forgiveness - Psalm 51

A. True Confession is Complete

B. True Confession Agrees with God about Sin

C. True Confession Admits that We Don’t Deserve Forgiveness

III. Psalm 51:3-17

A. David Wants to Be Forgiven

B. David Wants to Be Different

C. David Takes Vow of a Penitent

IV. Times of Confession are Defining Moments

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Confrontation and Confession (Psalm 51)
Lesson Transcript


Two Major Events in 2 Samuel

The book of II Samuel begins with the story of David hearing about King Saul’s death and David is quickly publicly anointed as king, but only the king over the southern tribe of Judah and for the next seven and a half years, there is warring between the house of David and the house of Saul, specifically with Abner, Saul’s commander. Finally all of the Israelites decide that David should be their king and they anoint him as king over all of Israel. David is thirty years old at this time and reigns for thirty-seven years over all of Israel. He conquers almost all of the Promised Land and reduces the nations around him to vassal states so that they have to pay tribute. It certainly is Israel’s golden era, at least politically. We are somewhere around 1000 B.C. on the timeline. During the first half of II Samuel is where we read about the stories that happened during this time. There are two events that we’re told relative to David that are worthy of mention.

Covenant with David

One of these events I can only mention briefly, but it is simply such a pivotal event that I cannot skip it. It is the story of David’s covenant with God in II Samuel 7. God tells David that after he dies God will raise up one of his physical descendants who will reign on His throne forever and will reign over an eternal kingdom. The fulfillment to that prophecy, of course, is Jesus. If you are unfamiliar with that prophecy in II Samuel 7, please read it.

David and Bathsheba

The second event in David’s life during this time period is the story of David of Bathsheba. It is told in II Samuel 11 and 12. This is one for those difficult stories that gives me no pleasure to preach on, but it is simply too central of a story to skip. Please read Chapters 11 and 12 later if you are unfamiliar with the story. The story begins with King David looking out of his palace and he sees Bathsheba taking a bath on the top of her house. He knows that she is married to Uriah, a Hittite who is one of his soldiers. Regardless, he calls for her and brings her into the palace and gets her pregnant. Then to compound his sin, he orchestrates the murder of Uriah during war. By the time you get through the end of Chapter 11, you are scratching your head and asking, “How on earth can this man be a “man after God’s own heart”? (We looked at that last week.) How on earth can someone who sins like this possibly be characterized as the man after God’s own heart? There are a few answers to that question. One of them is that good people fail. Good people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Saul and King David fail. That is part of the answer, but the deepest answer to the question of “How can people who are after God’s own heart do such horrible things?” can be seen in how David responds. As we look at II Samuel 12 and see how David responds to his sin, we understand what it means to be a person after Gods own heart. In II Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts David with his sin in a very powerful way. We know that David confesses his sin and it is one of those stories that you read and think, “Man I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. I wish I could have heard how King David, a man after God’s own heart, confessed this kind of sin. Fortunately we can be a fly on the wall, in one sense, because David told us in Psalm 51 what he said.

Cry for Forgiveness - Psalm 51

Psalm 51’s title begins, “To the Choirmaster, a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him after he had gone into Bathsheba.” Psalm 51 is David’s confession of sin and cry to God for forgiveness because of what he has done with both Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. It is one of the most powerful expressions of sorrow anywhere is the Bible, is it not? One of the most powerful expressions of repentance and one of the most powerful expressions of faith in God’s willingness and in God’s ability to totally cleanse the sinner from sin. It is a powerful Psalm. It starts in the first two verses with David’s cry for forgiveness. And we are going to spend most of our time looking at these first two verses. Read Psalm 51:1-2 with me, please. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love, according to Your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” A cry for forgiveness. There is so much that we can learn about confession and forgiveness from these two verses, but let me highlight just a few.

True Confession is Complete

One: True confessions holds nothing back. That true confessions holds nothing back must be one of the overwhelming things you hear when you read these first two verses. True confession is a complete and total admission of sin. It does not make any excuses. It does not point the finger at anyone else. You do not get the hint in these verses that David is saying, “Well, Bathsheba really should not have taken her bath out there where I could see her.” There is no sense of David saying, “Well her husband is a Hittite, he’s a foreigner, so it does not really matter.” There is no idea of, “God, I’m a red-blooded man, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” There is no sense of, “I’m a victim.” There is no sense of, “Well, it’s really not my fault. Poor me. Life’s not fair.” There is no sharing of blame. None of this. But a true confession says, “I was completely and totally wrong.” No excuses. Period. It is such an honest admission it reminds me of a hymn that is sung at the Billy Graham crusades, “Just as I am. Poor, wretched and blind.” It reminds me of Paul’s discussion in Romans 7 where he says, “The things that I want to do, I am not doing them. The very things I don’t want to do I end up doing.” And in verse 24, it is like Paul is grabbing his head and saying, “Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death?” That is true confession. That is the kind of confession that moves God’s heart. That is the kind of confession that does not hold anything back and says, “I am completely and totally wrong.” Confession is not for the other person, is it? Confession is not a time to point and say, “Well, they’re wrong, too!” That is not the point. You cannot do anything about the others, because that is God’s job. All that you or I can do is come before God and admit what He already knows is true, that we are wrong. We certainly see that in Psalm 51.

True Confession Agrees with God about Sin

Secondly, we also see that true confession agrees with God that sin is horrible. I have been struggling this week with finding the right word and “horrible” is the best that I can come up with. There just is not an adequate word in the English language, as far as I know. Maybe “wretched” is better. Regardless, true confession agrees with God that sin is absolutely wretched and horrific. David does not argue with Nathan when he comes. Nathan comes, confronts him with his sin, and David the King does not say anything like, “Aw, come on. It’s not that big of a deal.” There is no sense in what David said that he is going to paint sin in shades of gray. David views sin for what sin is, he sees it in black and white, and that sin is horrible. In fact, there are some interesting literary devices going on in these first two verses because David is using three different words for sin: transgression, iniquity, and sin. The piling up of these words is meant to emphasize the totality of David’s horrible sin. Then paralleling those three words for sin are three word pictures for how God will forgive his sin. Again, the piling up of the three word pictures emphasizes the totality of God’s merciful forgiveness. So David says, “Blot out my transgressions. Remove them from Your book of records. Erase them. Wipe them out. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. Sin is a stain that needs to be washed by God out of my life. Cleanse me from my sin.” This is priestly language. If you were unclean, perhaps a leper, you would have been excluded from fellowship; you would have been excluded from the community of Israel. If you later were healed, you would have gone before a priest to be examined, and, if you were clean, he would have taken some hyssop and dipped it in water and sprinkled it on you, indicating that you were now clean. David is saying, “Cleanse me from my sin I want to return to fellowship. I want to return into the community, not only with my fellow Israelites, but mostly, I want to return to fellowship with my God. Blot out my transgressions, wash me from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin.” These are all ways that David has used to indicate that not only is his sin absolutely horrific, but God is still capable and willing to forgive even the worst of sin. I think it is probably a human tendency to look at something like Psalm 51 and say something to the effect of, “Well, yeah, if I had raped or murdered someone, I would confess like this.” But then to think, “Well, what I have done isn’t really that bad, and therefore, I don’t really need to confess that way.” In other words, I think it is part of the human situation, the human dilemma, sin, to paint sin in shades of gray instead of painting it in black and white. “Well, hey, I’ve not raped or killed anyone lately. Psalm 51 doesn’t apply to me.” ''Really?'' Is there a single person in this room who has never lusted? Jesus says that if you have looked at a human with lustful intent, you have committed adultery with them in your heart. Has anyone in this room never committed murdered? ''Really?'' Whoever hates his brother is liable to the same judgment.

That is what Jesus says in Matthew Chapter 5. I suspect that if we saw sin as God sees it, then we would look a lot more like David than perhaps we think we do. And we would on more than one occasion pull our Bibles open and go to Psalm 51 and say, “I am the man,” the same response David gave to Nathan, “I am the woman and Psalm 51 applies to me.” True confession agrees with God that sin is horrible. It does not play comparing games, it does not paint it as gray; it paints sin as black and white.

True Confession Admits that We Don’t Deserve Forgiveness

The third thing that you can see about confession in verses one and two is that true confession admits that you and I do not deserve to be forgiven. Again, when you read these first two verses and the rest of the Psalm, there is no sense of David bargaining with God, is there? There is no sense of him saying, “Oh, yeah, but look at all that I’ve done for you. I’m Your king after all, right? You pronounced me Your son (Psalm 2). I mean, I killed Goliath, I fought the Philistines, I didn’t kill Saul when I could. I’m not that bad of a guy. I mean, come on, can’t you give me the benefit of the doubt and let this one slide by?” No, there is nothing like that in Psalm 51; there is no sense of “I deserve to be forgiven.” Instead of arguing his case to God, David appeals to God’s basic character that He is a God of steadfast love, or “hesed”, and that He is a God of abundant mercy. You remember back in Exodus 34 when God put Moses in the cleft of the rock and His glory passed by and God declared who He was (Exodus 34 starting at verse 6). “Yahweh, Yahweh, (His personal name), a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This is who God is. “Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” The same three words that David uses in Psalm 51. David knows that he does not deserve to be forgiven. He has not done anything to earn it, but rather, he appeals to God’s covenantal love. He appeals to God’s abundant mercy, His compassion on the needy and the undeserving. He calls on God to forgive him. True confession holds nothing back. It admits that my sin is horrible and it admits that I do not deserve to be forgiven. Powerful two verses, are they not?

Psalm 51:3-17

David Wants to Be Forgiven

David starts to spell out the specifics of what he has already covered in versus one and two in the remainder of Psalm 51. He begins, “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” He messed up Bathsheba and Uriah pretty badly, but he knows that ultimately all sin goes to the heart of God. “So that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment.” In other words, he is telling God that he is right in pronouncing judgement on his sin. “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Verse 5 and 6 provide an interesting contrast between what God desires and who David really is. In verse 6, God is most interested with our inward being. He wants us to have truth in our inward being. He wants us to have wisdom in our secret heart. In other words, God is first and foremost concerned with what’s inside, with who we are and then secondly with what we do. God is concerned with what is inside and instead of truth being inside of David, David is consumed with his sin. This contrast between who God wants David to be and who he is can be seen in verse eight. Verse eight is a poetical statement that emphasizes the totality of David’s sin. “God, You want truth in my inward being, but I feel and I am filthy in my sin before You.” That is the contrast that David is setting up as he tries to admit fully that he is guilty of his sin. I do not believe that verse 5 is a theological truth applicable to all newborns and newly conceived embryos. That is not what is going on in this verse, I do not think. What is going on is this contrast between what God so deeply desires to exist in our hearts and David’s realization that he is wholly sinful before God. So after admitting his guilt, he goes on to plea for forgiveness in verses 7 through 12. “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness. Let the bones that You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” David knows that God will forgive him. David knows that God’s forgiveness will be complete and total. And yet David understands that sin leaves us with this deep sense of emptiness and loneliness. But with forgiveness comes restoration of fellowship with God. He knows that God’s Spirit left Saul and he does not want that to happen to him. He knows that in forgiveness the restoration of the relationship comes and joy and gladness return. That is all part of his plea for forgiveness.

David Wants to Be Different

But notice that David does not only want to be forgiven. It is important to see this. He does not just want to be forgiven, he wants to be different. He wants God to change him. He wants God to change him by making his heart clean and by God making his spirit willing to obey. You know, there is no legalism in Psalm 51 at all, is there? There is no sense of, “Well, I’m going to go through certain motions and I want to look good to the people around me and maybe do some kind of token repentance or something.” There is none of that, is there? There is nothing external in Psalm 51. What David is crying out to God to do is, “Change my motor. Change what drives me. Make my heart clean. Make my human spirit willing. I want to obey You; I want to do what is right. I want my faith to flow in joyful obedience.” David is not content with just saying, “I’m sorry.” He understands that real forgiveness means that we are changed and the change starts on the inside and then flows from our hearts and our spirit out into what we do.

David Takes Vow of a Penitent

Finally, David takes the vow of a penitent. David says, “God, if you will give me the opportunity, if you will forgive me, then I will praise you to the people.” Look at verse 13-17, please. “Then when you have forgiven me, I will teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare You praise." For God does not delight in sacrifice or I would give it, You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” David says, “This is what I’m going to tell people when You forgive me: ‘Don’t respond to sin with a defiant spirit, but respond to God with a broken heart.'" When you are confronted with your sin, do not argue that your sin is not that bad. Rather, in response to facing your sin head on, your heart needs to be broken and your heart needs to be contrite. That is what God wants when He sends Nathans into our lives to confront us with our sin. It is a powerful picture of confession and of repentance where there is a full admission of guilt, holding nothing back, not making any excuses. “Yes, God, You are right. I am wrong.” It is a picture of fully agreeing with God that my sin is horrible, dark and disgusting, and I am wretched. We do not use that word enough anymore. My life is wretched when I am in sin. I am not going to paint sin in shades of gray because it is black and white. It is a powerful picture. Please do not miss this for all the confession of sin stuff. It is a powerful picture that God forgives. He forgives completely and He forgives totally.

Now sometimes there are going to be consequences. As you read on in II Samuel 12, there were consequences that David had to pay. Among other things, his child died. Sometimes there are still consequences to our sin, but the sin itself is completely and totally forgiven. See, if we had earned forgiveness, then the degree of our forgiveness would be dependent upon how well we earned it, right? But we cannot earn forgiveness because we do not bring anything to God in exchange. All that we can do in confession is throw ourselves into His arms and say, “God, You are a God of love and You are a God, not of mercy, but of abundant mercy. And I throw myself into Your arms and I thank You for the forgiveness.” We confess our sin and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from ''all'' unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

Times of Confession are Defining Moments

Times of confession, times of confrontation with sin and the ensuing confession, I believe, are some of the central defining moments for who you and I are individually and who you and I are as a body of Christ. It is how you and I respond to sin, how you and I respond to the message of Nathan when he points the finger at you and says, “You’re the man. You’re the woman.” It is how you and I individually and collectively respond become defining moments. And there are basically two positions we can take. When Nathan comes and points his finger at us, we can either dig our heels in, we can refuse to confess, or we can confess a little, but refuse to really come clean. We can blame others. We can harden our hearts. We can say, “Oh, it’s really not that bad, God, come on.” We can paint sin in shades of gray. I have often thought how a contemporary person would have preferred the first two verses of Psalm 51 to have been written. I think it would go something like this, “Be nice to me, God, buddy, old pal, old friend, according to your gooshy, wooshy love and my goodness, overlook my minor indiscretions. After all, this was an affair, we don’t call it adultery. Sprinkle me with a little water, whether it’s my fault or not.” I suspect that is how this world would write Psalm 51 if they had the opportunity. But you know, this kind of person knows very, very little of confession and therefore, knows very, very little of forgiveness. The sad thing is that we are not fooling God when we refuse to confess. Have you ever thought about that? Nathan comes, he points his finger at us, and down deep we know he is right, but we lock our jaw, we zip our lips. “I'm not gonna confess, nope, not gonna do it.” And it is almost like we think confession is for God’s sake. That somehow if I do not confess what I know I am doing wrong, then somehow God really is not going to be quite sure. “You know, they didn’t confess their sin, maybe they aren’t really guilty of it.” That is ludicrous, but sometimes I think that is at least how my mind works, that if I do not confess it than it is not true. But confession is not for God’s sake. Confession is for our sake because when we refuse to come clean, all we are doing is hurting ourselves, really, because God wants us to have joy and God wants us to have gladness. That is what the life of the Christian, of the forgiven person is all about. That there is joy and there is gladness. When we dig our heels in and refuse to come clean with God, we are saying, “I don’t want Your joy and gladness. I’m very happy with my bitterness and anger, thank You very much.” Because that’s what’s replaces God’s joy and gladness, isn’t it, is bitterness and anger? That is one way to respond to Nathan when he comes and he points his finger at us. The other way to respond to Nathan is to respond as a man or a woman of God should respond. A man of God asks God to make his sin clear to him. A man of God says, “Send me Nathan. Show me my hidden faults, convict me of my obvious faults.” Many in life unfortunately choose to go through life justifying everything that they say and do. And they go through life with arms folded and scowls etched in our foreheads, unhappy and sullen, full of bitterness and anger, because they refuse to admit that they did anything wrong. But the woman of God asks Nathan to come. And a man and a woman after God’s own heart will respond with a full admission of guilt and holding nothing back, they will respond by agreeing that sin is horrible, that it separated us from God and it has filled us with anger. And we will call on God’s mercy and love saying, “I don’t deserve it, God, but thank You, thank You that in Your love and mercy, You choose to forgive Your children.” That is the other way to handle Psalm 51. Have you ever been so deeply aware of your sin that all that you can do is fall on your knees and cry out to God and words fail? The only thing you can do is look for your Bible and pull it open and read Psalm 51 amidst tears and cries of anguish. Have you ever been at that point? If you have and you have fully confessed and fully repented, then you have fully come to know what forgiveness is all about. And you will know that your heart was made clean and your spirit was made willing and you experience the deepest joy, the deepest gladness there is because the filth of your life was removed. And it was replaced with the joy and gladness that only comes from God to His children when they confess their sins. And it is because of His faithfulness and His justice that he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Did any of you have a miserable day yesterday? I sat here yesterday morning praying, and my prayer for you every week is pretty much the same. It is that the words I speak and the words I read will encourage those who need to be encouraged and those of you who need to be convicted will be convicted. My prayer yesterday was that for any of you who are living with unconfessed sin, who think that you are fooling God by not admitting fully that you were wrong and pleading with Him because of His love and His mercy to forgive you. I prayed that you were absolutely miserable yesterday so that you would come to church and hear the joyful and refreshing words of God that no matter what your sin is, no matter how many times you have done it, no matter how deep, and dirty, and ugly, and filthy, and wretched it is, God can wash you. He can erase your sin, to pronounce you clean, fully and completely. I pray that nobody leaves here this morning enslaved to unconfessed sin. There is no reason, no reason at all, to carry that load on your shoulders, none whatsoever.

Let’s pray. Father, I pray for myself and for my dear brothers and sisters that, first of all, if there is sin in our lives, if there are ongoing things, and especially if we are not aware of them, if we have denied them for so long or we just have never seen them, we pray, Father, that Nathan will come. We pray that the Holy Spirit will come and convict the world, and that includes me, of our sin. That You will send the spirit of people into our lives saying, “Bill, it’s not right for you to respond in anger like that. Steve it’s not right for you to respond that way. It’s not right for you to harbor things.” And, Father, I pray that maybe even for the first time for many people, through the power of Your Spirit, will be enable to confess what You already know, to not hold back in that confession and say, “Yes, God, whatever the circumstances may be, I am wrong and You are right. I appeal to Your love and to Your abundant mercies to wipe my heart clean. Give me a clean heart, O God, and make my spirit willing, joyfully and gladly, to obey You.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection Questions

  • What are some examples of good people falling into sin? (Don’t enjoy this part of the discussion too much, or spend much time on it.) How does seeing their failure help you think about your own failures? (Please, no excuses.)
  • Have you ever been confronted in your sin? Who was your Nathan? How did you respond? What have you learned about yourself by how you responded?
  • How have you partially confessed? How does a person admit sin, but not totally?
  • What are some ways in which we paint sin as gray? How can we learn to see sin as it is? Can you think of any times in which God’s forgiveness was as complete as your confession?
  • Why do you think you should be forgiven? If you are honest, how have you bargained with God? 
  • What are some examples of the difference between total forgiveness and ongoing consequences?
  • It is said, isn’t it, when a person decides to dig his or her heels in and refuse to confess. Do you know of examples of people (and be kind) whose lives were fundamentally damaged by a refusal to confess what everyone else knew to be true? What were the consequences? And do you know of people whose defining moment was the full confession of sin and the ensuing consequences (be lavish in your praise)?
  • Have you ever been so aware of your sin that all you could do was open Ps 51 and read it? What were the effects (short- and long-term) of the experience?
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