Psalm 51 is one of the fruits of repentance which flows from godly sorrow. David wrote it because Nathan the prophet went to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba and rebuked him. It illustrates the diligence, the clearing, the indignation, the fear, the vehement desire, the zeal, the vindication (2 Corinthians 7:11) that grows out of the soil of a penitent heart.
The psalm is addressed to “the Chief Musician”. This indicates that this penitential psalm was intended to be used in a public setting. Instead of a royal cover-up, David is making a public confession of his sin.
David had sinned against God, thus despising Him personally (2 Samuel 12:10). David had done evil in Jehovah’s sight by despising His commandment (2 Samuel 12:9). David’s deeds had given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14). Therefore, the focus of his penitence was upon clearing and vindicating Jehovah’s holy name, not his own besmirched one. His zealous concern was that “You may be found just when You speak and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:4).
In this psalm, David seeks:
- To diligently, vehemently, and zealously defend and vindicate God’s holy nature and the just punishment he has received for his sin and wickedness.
- To vigorously express his indignation for his wicked and evil deeds.
- To beseech God’s mercy and forgiveness by blotting out his transgressions (v. 1), washing him thoroughly from his iniquity (v. 2), cleansing him from his sin (v. 2), purging him (v. 7), hiding His face from his sins (v. 9), restoring the joy of his salvation (v. 12), and delivering him from the guilt of bloodshed (v. 14).
- To offer the sacrifices of a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart (v. 17).
David’s example of repentance was written for our learning and our imitation.