The Gospel According to Psalms: The Fall (Psalm 51)


Last week, we looked at Creation in Psalm 8, how God made everything good, to reflect His character. Man was given a special position, to rule over creation, and the privilege of bearing His image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27). This week we look at the Fall through Psalm 51, David’s prayer for cleansing and restoration following his sin with Bathsheba, his friend Uriah’s wife (2 Sam 11-12). David ultimately has Uriah killed in an attempt to cover up his sin. Like the sin of Adam and Eve before him (Gen 3:1-13), David’s sin was a statement of his belief that God was not good and that His plan was not right. He broke God’s laws, which reflect God’s character. Following a heart-rending rebuke from Nathan the prophet, David finds himself on his face before God, pleading for mercy and restoration.


David’s Pleas (vv. 1-2)

Transgression, Iniquity, Sin

Three different Hebrew words are used here to describe the depths of David’s wrongdoing.

  1. Transgression (peshah) is a word that describes rebellion against God. It was used to talk about military insurrections, where the existing system of authority was being violently rejected.
  2. Iniquity (awon) is a word which means walking astray from the path. A clear example of this connotation is found in Isaiah 53:6, where our “turning to our own way” means that our “iniquity” is laid on Him.
  3. Sin (hattah) is falling short of God’s righteous standard.


Pleas for Mercy

David asks God to have mercy on him, to blot out his transgressions, to wash and to cleanse him. David acknowledges that God’s law is righteous and that His character is good. He makes his pleas based on God’s abundant mercy (Ex 34:6-7).


Confession (vv. 3-6)

David says his sin is “ever before” him. He suffers under the weight of his condemnation (described further in Ps 32:4-5). In verse 4, David says that he has sinned “only” against the Lord, meaning that he has broken laws set by God. Often we minimize our sin by saying that we have not “hurt anyone” with our sin, but sin is always first and foremost against our Creator Himself. David’s statement about being conceived in sin refers to the fact that we sin by nature (no one has to teach us to sin) and by choice (no one makes us sin).


Restoration and a Clean Heart (vv. 7-12)

David wants to draw near to God and be in His Presence. He asks for God to create in him a clean heart. This word “clean” is the Hebrew bara which is the same word used in Genesis 1 when God creates the heavens and the earth. David understands that having a heart that is clean will require a miraculous creative act! If we are honest, we can see how we have also broken God’s law in our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We too are in need of a new heart (Ezek 36:26) that acknowledges God’s goodness and the righteousness of his law.


Sharing God’s Mercy With Others (vv. 13-17)

Here, David looks forward to telling others about the Lord’s mercy. David also discusses what God truly desires, not outward religious activity, but a heart that is broken over our sin and recognizes its need for grace.


A Picture of Restoration (vv. 18-19)

This psalm has always been used in public worship— in the medieval church, this psalm was actually recited seven times a day! The psalm turns to asking the Lord to bless the city, and offers us a picture of a culture that is walking in repentance. God wants His people to walk in humble repentance that remembers their need for grace.



Nothing has changed in human history— we still break God’s laws. Our disobedience to God communicates that we do not believe God’s goodness and that we see His laws as “limiting” instead of righteous. Like David (and Adam and Eve before him), we try to cover up our sin or justify it in some way. We must realize that all hearts are open before God (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Like Nathan the prophet, the Holy Spirit comes to us and convicts us of our sin. Even though it is uncomfortable, this is an act of God’s mercy. Through the cross, Jesus Christ shows that God’s laws are righteous and that a payment had to be made for breaking His laws. He also offers us the cleansing that we need in order to be brought into God’s Presence and offers us release from our guilt and shame. When we come clean and ask for His mercy, we acknowledge that God is gracious and that His ways are right.


Study Questions

  1. Read some of the other passages about having a contrite heart: Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; Joel 2:12-13; Luke 18:10-14. What is it about a contrite heart that God loves?
  2. This psalm focuses on making things right with God through confession. Read Matthew 5:23-24. What is the relationship between reconciling with people we have sinned against, and our right relationship with God?
  3. Once you have confessed your sin before God, what are some Scriptures that are helpful to remind you of your right standing before Him? Read them regularly and commit one to memory!
  4. Read the law in Leviticus 14:1-7 about how a leper is to be cleansed by a priest. Note the use of hyssop. How does this show us a picture of how Jesus cleanses our sin and takes it away from us?