Psalm 51 (Part 2) – Why We Need Forgiveness

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Of all the Psalms in the Bible, Psalm 51 is prayed more by the people of God than any other. It is used in worship services and in the private prayers of multitudes.

The first request in the Psalm is for God’s mercy. The verses we will consider today dig deeply into why we all need mercy.

The arrangement of today’s article is a verse-by-verse study of the Psalm and a suggested prayer that can be used as we connect with God through this prayer.

The Reason Why We Need Mercy

Verse 3For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

We need mercy because we know our sins are real and serious. Isaiah described the depth of sin with these words:

For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the Lord,
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
(Isaiah 59.12-13)

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, I realize that I am a sinner. There is never a time when I don’t feel that I fall extremely short of the person you want me to be.

Verse 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.

The prophet said to David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12.9).

Nathan spoke for God and told David, “You have despised me” (2 Samuel 12.10).

Transgression looks at God’s “No Trespassing” sign and completely disregards it. When we do this, we despise God and his guidance. That is, we take lightly our relationship with God and his direction for our lives.

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, if I were to appear in your courtroom, you would prevail. I know you guide us for our own good, but I look at your directions and turn away from them to do my own will.

Verse 5Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

In this instance David was confessing his sin, not his mother’s. Yes, his mother was ritually unclean in their belief system, because of childbirth. Yet, the focus was on the fact that sin had contaminated every aspect of David’s life from childhood.

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, I have been a sinner for as along as I can remember.

Verse 6You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

The prophet Jeremiah decried the state of the corrupt heart of the people.

“The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts” (Jeremiah 17.1).

“Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”
(Jeremiah 17.5)

“The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?”
(Jeremiah 17.9)

God’s desire is a clear contrast to Jeremiah’s picture. He wants his truth and his wisdom to dominate our inner life.

David resembled the people of Jeremiah’s day. Led by his corrupt inner self, he turned away from the Lord and trusted his own best thinking. The result was that he was deceived by his own faulty inside condition.

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, you deeply desire to give me your truth and wisdom as a guide for my life. May I not be deceived by my own self-will.

Verse 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

A hyssop was a brush like plant in the mint family that was used for ritual cleansing.

When God’s people were about to be delivered from slavery in Egypt, God gave these instructions: “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin” (Exodus 12.22). Whenever God saw the blood, the people inside the house would be protected.

John speaks of God’s complete forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9).

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, Please purify me. Please wipe away all record of my sins. I fully rely on the sacrifice of Jesus for you to completely cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

Verse 8Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

David described the physical effects of his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah in Psalm 32. He said,

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
(Psalm 32.3-4)

When Jesus forgave a man and the healing of his paralysis immediately followed (Mark 2.5, 9-12).

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, I pray for your forgiveness and cleansing power to affect all aspects of my life. By your grace, may I experience your joy and gladness in my entire being.

Verse 9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

When the first couple sinned, they hid from God. The Book of Genesis records the story: “But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’

“He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself'” (Genesis 3.9-10).

In prayer, we ask God to turn his gaze away from our sin, so we can resume a relationship with him. We want him to wipe away the record of our sins, so we can resume a face-to-face relationship with him.

Suggested Prayer: Dear God, please put my sins completely away from before your eyes. Please restore the relationship that I broke with you through my willing disregard of your guidance.

Create in Me a Clean Heart

Tomorrow, we will consider the next section that begins with the famous words, “Create in me a clean heart.” (Psalm 51.10).

May We Pray for You?

If you have a prayer request, please email me at or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team from Maywood Baptist Church.

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