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  • John Lenschow

Have Mercy God!

Psalm 51

Ash Wednesday-The First Day of Lent

1. Recognize the Context: Book Context:

The book of Psalms is grouped with the Old Testament books we call poetry. Each Psalm is a self-contained literary unit. Many were set to music, as several headings indicate, and they include various Hebrew poetry features.



The book of Psalms became Israel's book of worship because it enabled the people to express themselves to God. This expression came in the range of human emotions, including praise, thanksgiving, sadness, repentance, anger, fear, hope, etc. Today, these Psalms allow Christians to honestly express themselves to God, especially as we sometimes lack the necessary words.


Literary Context:

The Psalms were classified into various categories. One type of Psalm was known as the Lament. These Psalms expressed sadness and concentrated on individuals (Psalm 51) or the corporate community (Psalm 44). While Lament Psalms voiced sorrow throughout, by the end, they turn to hope as the Psalmists realized God was the only one who could intervene in their situation.


Historical Context:

The Psalm headingt presents the historical situation surrounding this Psalm. Many Christians are familiar with Psalm 51 and the historical situation. The Prophet Nathan has confronted King David about his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, her husband, in an attempt to cover it up (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25).


2. Read the Scripture: Psalm 51

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.


3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

you taught me wisdom in that secret place.


7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquity.


10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.


13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Savior,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise.


18 May it please you to prosper Zion,

to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,

in burnt offerings offered whole;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

3. Reflect on the Scripture:

In verse 1, David immediately seeks God’s forgiveness by calling out for his mercy. This verse contains vocabulary reflective of God’s self-identification to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 with the words mercy (grace), unfailing love, and compassion.


Verses 1-2 make use of a device in Hebrew poetry called parallelism. This term indicates the relationship between two (or sometimes three as here) lines of Hebrew poetry. The connection may occur with the nouns, verbs, or adjectives. Here is an example of synonymous parallelism, in which the second and third lines restate the first line using similar words or phrases. It includes words for forgiveness and for sin.

Blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.


The point of the repetition is for emphasis and highlights the seriousness of the wrongdoing and the need for forgiveness.


In verses 3, David acknowledges an awareness of the magnitude of his sin, again using synonymous parallelism. Since David has sinned against God, he is just in his judgment.


David acknowledges he was born into sin. This sinful nature he inherited, like every human, came from Adam and Eve and their rebellion in the garden of Eden. However, David knows that God ultimately desires faithfulness and wisdom.


There is more to this Psalm, to which we will return, but this seems like a good place to stop. There is much to prayerfully consider for this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.


While hardly any reader can relate to this specific life situation, every Christian can relate to the pain and sorrow of sin and the need for God’s forgiveness.


Remember, there is such a thing as godly remorse. Conviction draws you closer to God, while condemnation draws you away. The Devil wants you to feel condemnation and be drawn away from God. He would even try to use this Psalm and Lent, whatever it takes. Don’t let him!! Go to God this Lenten season!


4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider the character of God the Psalmist introduces in verse 1-mercy, unfailing love, great compassion.

Today, prayerfully reflect on your need for forgiveness and the phrases used to describe this.

Today, prayerfully consider your own sinfulness and God’s righteousness.

Today prayerfully reflect on how sin has been passed on from our first parents and our need for a Savior.


To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. What do you need to confess to God today specifically?

During Lent, is there a trusted friend with whom you can pray?

During Lent, can you take some time to journal?

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

Read and Study the verses above. Read and study the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25.