4. The Prayer Series: Praying for Mercy, Forgiveness and Cleansing - Dan Davis (Psalm 51) THE PRAYER SERIES

The Prayer Series – Praying for Mercy, Forgiveness and Cleansing

The Prayer Series
  • While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture. Almost every aspect of man’s relation to God is depicted in these poems: simple trust, the sense of sin, appeals to a higher power in time of trouble, and the conviction that the world is in the hands of a loving God. Join us in this 4 week series as we learn how to pray more God-centered prayers and enjoy more focus in prayer.
4. Praying for God's Mercy, Forgiveness and Cleansing (Psalm 51)
  • God wants our hearts to be right with Him.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • Sin requires that we confess our sin to God and throw ourselves on His mercy. (Psalm 51:1 & 2) 
  • The root offense of our sin is that we sin against a holy God, have always done so since birth, and require His forgiveness in order to be purified. (Psalm 51:4-7)
  • Cleansing from sin involves restoration of relationship with God, of joy and of our spirit, and results in the restoration of our desire to praise Him. (Psalm 51:8, 12, 14 & 15)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Do you understand your sinful nature, and that you continue to sin; and are you ready to confess your sin to a holy God?
  • Are you able to confess that your sin, though it harms others, is actually sin against God Himself?
  • What restoration do you need as a result of your confession of sin?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What does it mean for God to have mercy on you? What is God's mercy, and how “large” is it?
  • What is the relationship between God's love and His mercy?
  • Why did David need God's mercy? What is the effect God's mercy would have on David?
  • What are transgressions? What is iniquity? What is sin? What are these three things in David's life?
  • What is the effect of one's transgressions on one's relationship with God?
  • What are the anticipated blessings to David from God's mercy?
  • How does David want to continue on as a result of being forgiven and cleansed by God? In other words, in what way does he want to be renewed? (hint: Psalm 51:10-12)
  • How does David's being forgiven and cleansed affect his desire for others to know God? How does it affect the nation, Israel?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • Do you need God's mercy?  Why?
  • Are there any sins that you need to confess to God and ask for His mercy and forgiveness?
  • If you confess your sins to God, will He grant His mercy towards you and forgive you?
  • Why do you sin? Where does sin come from, and why are you infected with the “sin disease?”
  • What is the solution to the “sin disease?”
  • How are you like David in terms of needing God's mercy, forgiveness and cleansing?
  • Do you want “wisdom in the secret heart” from God (Psalm 51:6b)
  • What happens to your relationship with God when you sin? When you continue in sin?
  • How can your relationship with God be renewed if you sin and realize your sin?
  • Do you desire to pray Psalm 51:10 & 11 in particular?
  • If you feel the need to confess sin to God and receive His mercy, forgiveness and cleansing, write out your own version of Psalm 51, using your own words, and make it your prayer to God. And don't wait to do it … seek restoration now, and you will be glad you did!
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
Psalm 51 is a “penitential” Psalm which is a type of “lament” Psalm. As such, this Psalm, the last we will look at in this Series, is quite different than the prior three Psalms we studied. Psalm 51 is highly personal as it relates specifically to the Psalmist’s own situation and spiritual needs. In fact, this is a Psalm of David, which issued from a difficult time in his life, as the superscript tells us: “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” So, what is this all about? II Samuel 11:1-12:25 tell us the story.

David was king over Israel, his throne having been well established and various enemies of Israel defeated (II Samuel 8:1-3, 6, 14-18; 10:13 & 14). There were still battles to be fought, however, and these occurred in spring and summer when the weather was better. One particular spring, the Israelite armies went to battle, but David stayed home, contrary to the normal practice of the king joining his troops in battle. (II Samuel 11:1). While home in Jerusalem, David got up from his bed one evening and took a walk on the roof of his palace home which overlooked Jerusalem (II Samuel 11:2) While walking, and because his palace home was on a higher elevation than the homes and structures around the palace, he saw a totally unsuspecting, beautiful woman bathing at her home. He inquired about her and was told who she was. In fact, her father was one of David's “mighty men,” (II Samuel 23:29) and his father was Ahithophel, one of David's most trusted advisors (II Samuel 15:12). Her husband was also one of the “mighty men.” (II Samuel 23:39). It is thus entirely reasonable to suggest that David was acquainted with this woman and knew where she lived; and also to suggest that she was drying herself on the roof of her house in the cool air in order to be seen by the king. David then had her brought to his palace where they had intimate relations (II Samuel 11:2-4). She subsequently returned to her home and sent word to David that she was pregnant (II Samuel 11:5). The woman’s name was Bathsheba, and her husband, Uriah the Hittite, was with the Israelite army that was away in battle (II Samuel 11:3, 6 & 7). When David learned Bathsheba was pregnant, he had Uriah brought back from battle and asked him to go to his house, David’s thinking being that the pregnancy could be thus covered up. However, Uriah would not go into his home and wife, for he was dedicated to his men who were still in battle, and would not dishonor them in such a way (II Samuel 11:8-13). Once Uriah was back to the battlefront, David had him placed at the fiercest point of fighting, knowing that he would likely be killed which was, in fact, what happened (II Samuel 11:14-25). After Bathsheba mourned her husband’s death, David brought her into his home to be his wife; and she gave birth to a son (II Samuel 11:26 & 27). Thereafter, Nathan the prophet came to David and confronted him with his sin, to which David then confessed, and then pronounced God’s judgment on David (II Samuel 12:1-15).

So what we have in Psalm 51 is David's response to his sin. Think about it; David had some nine months to consider what he had done. Did he recognize his sin during that time frame? Or had David come to the place that he believed he could have whatever he wanted because he was the king and was thus “above the law?” Or was David dissatisfied with what God had given to him and thought he deserved more, such that if God didn't provide it, he would just take it? We don't really know the answers to these questions. What we do know from the Psalm, and from II Samuel 12:13, is that once confronted by God through the prophet, Nathan, David confessed his sin. And that sin included adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah; but it also included not being with and leading his troops in the battle, taking something that was not his (namely, Bathsheba), presuming on his position and power to get his way, and dissatisfaction with God. Once he confessed, however, David was acutely aware of the nature of his sin and desired restoration of his relationship with God. One tends to think that in these intervening nine months, David was likely not involved with wholehearted worship, unless he just went through the motions, but was more and more separated from God whether or not he realized it. When Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (I Samuel 12:7), David was faced squarely with his state of sin and rebellion, and however soon it was (though it seems it was very soon thereafter) after that confrontation that he wrote this Psalm, his words reflect his full understanding of not only his sin but of his acute need. His immediate problem upon the confrontation was that the punishment for adultery was death to both the adulterer and the adulteress (Leviticus 20:10), but God absolved him of that punishment when Nathan said, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

But David then needed to make his confession clear to the Lord. He thus begins the Psalm coming to God and begging for God's mercy (which is undeserved favor), and David bases his request on his trust that God's mercy derives from His love (compare Ephesians 2:4 & 5). Thus, he asks that God “blot out” his transgressions (i.e., his sins) in accordance with His “abundant” mercy. David knew that God's mercy was big enough and wide enough to take care of his sins, so his request is in keeping with who God is. David then makes the request specific: he pleads with God, to “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2) David's confession is clear; he knows his transgressions, and his sin is ever before him (Psalm51:3). But David goes farther by saying that he knows his sin was against God Himself, and that God is justified and right to pass judgment on him (Psalm 51:4). David recognizes that his sin was not isolated; he confesses that he was born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and that he knew right from wrong from the start (Psalm 51:6) and therefore is without excuse. Therefore, only God can make him clean and restore him, and he therefore pleads to God, “purge me with hyssop,” which is a reference to what priests would do when they cleansed and purified the leper (Leviticus 14:1-7). David asks for restoration, as he wants to find joy again in his God (Psalms 51:8), and desires that God hide His face from his sings and blot them out. David knows that his ongoing unconfessed sin is a barrier to his relationship with God, that it separates him from fellowship with God, for God sees the sin. Thus, David needs and asks that God no longer see the sin in him so that the basis for rejoicing can be given back to him. But David also knows that the action required for this restoration can only come from God, and from God's changing David's own heart. Hence the following requests: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10), “Cast me not away form your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me,” (Psalm 51:11), and “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12) Being excluded from God's presence, wherein is life, joy and fullness, is unimaginable to David at this point as he realizes the consequences of his sin. Only forgiveness and restoration from God Himself can deliver David, so he unhesitatingly asks for that restoration, and promises to use his experience as a lesson to other sinners so that they, too, will return to God (Psalm 51:13). But David again goes farther and even promises that he will speak and sing to others of his such deliverance so as to praise God for who He is and for His righteousness. (Psalm 51:14 & 15)

One would think David could have ended the Psalm at verse 15, with praise to God. But no, David doesn't end but goes on to declare that mere external actions or engaging in rituals designed to appease God are insufficient; sacrifices and offerings will not do and therefore, David will not offer or give (Psalm 51:16). Rather, David acknowledges that the state of a sinner's heart is the key, and that God wants a “broken spirit” and a “broken and contrite heart.” (Psalm 51:17. Compare Jeremiah 7:9-11) It is not a far stretch to say that in Psalm 51, David expresses a true broken spirit, and a broken and contrite heart; he longs for mercy, forgiveness and cleansing even as he asks, indeed begs God for such. But even beyond personal restoration, David recognizes the effect of his sin on the community, in this case the nation Israel. Certainly David's dalliance with Bathsheba would have become know, and perhaps there were even murmurings about the timing of Uriah's death. We cannot know, but even if facts were not known and shared one to another, one surmises that rumors were. Whatever the case, David's personal spiritual state had an impact on the nation he led. So he asks that good be done to Zion, to God's covenantal people, His children, His city, and by inference that good is the triumph of God's righteousness and the example of true worship from a broken and contrite heart such that when sacrifices and offerings are made, they will be made with the right heart attitude and be acceptable to God. (Psalm 51:18 & 19)


Psalm 51 is indeed an awesome Psalm, and we should have no trouble using it as another template for our own prayer life, for we, like David, are sinners in need of restoration. (See I John 1:8 & 9) No, we may not have committed the sins David did; but sin is sin, and all sin separates us from God. As believers, when we sin intentionally and do not confess it, our relationship with God is breached, our joy in Him is lost, and our spiritual compass is offset. We need God's mercy, forgiveness and cleansing; we need restoration. We would hope that coming to God in confession would not require the intervention from someone else to point out our sin (though that is sometimes necessary), but that we would recognize our own sin, call it what it is, and go to God who extends His mercy out of His love and offers forgiveness in Jesus Christ and cleansing, so that we might be restored in fellowship with Him. So, use Psalm 51 when you confront your own sin; allow the words of David to be your words; come to God with a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart. Out of His steadfast love, you will find God's mercy, you will receive forgiveness, and you will be cleansed, fully restored to right relationship with Him. Praise God!