The Prayer of the Prodigal King in Psalm 51

Asking for Forgiveness

King David was forced to face his death deserving sin by the confrontation of the prophet Nathan. Deep conviction stirred the heart of the one who God would later call a man after my heart (Acts 13:22). David would cry out to God by confessing that he was guilty of transgressions, iniquity and sin.

Since God is holy, wicked men cannot hope for fellowship with the Creator…unless this holy God grants forgiveness. The penalty for sin is death, alienation or separation from God. By his own words to Nathan, David knew that he deserved death.

In Psalm 51 David repeatedly asks for forgiveness. Let’s examine the eight lines David employs in this request.

1. Have Mercy on Me (Psalm 51:1)

David’s first plea was to ask for God’s mercy. All of the other requests are restatements of this foremost request. Please understand that mercy is not something we deserve. Often sinners will demand mercy for sins against one another. You cannot demand what you do not deserve.

David’s request was not a demand. It was a request. God had every right to take David’s life as payment for his sin. The only thing a sinner can do is to cast himself on the mercy of God. I deserve death. We all do. But genuine conviction of sin will lead us to begging God for his mercy.

2. Blot Out my Transgressions (Psalm 51:1)

This request of David flows out his request for mercy. He asks God to remove the stain of his sin from the books of God. David needs a divine eraser. He needs God to treat him as though he were innocent. He is not innocent, but God does blot out because that penalty for that sin has been paid by the stainless blood of Jesus.

David desires blotting out of his transgressions. Transgressions are the acts of rebellion against the sovereign Lord. David had attempted to place his throne above the throne of God. Forgiveness would mean the removal of this act of treason from David’s account.

3. Wash Me Thoroughly from My Iniquity (Psalm 51:2)

Iniquity is that crooked manner of living. When David acted in this manner, he polluted himself. He was dirty. He asked God to wash him from this filth.

4. Cleanse Me from My Sin (Psalm 51:2)

Sin is missing the mark of God’s glory and holiness. It is the pursuit of sinful pleasure over and against the pursuit of holiness. Like iniquity, sin dirties and defiles. David recognizes that he needs to be cleansed.

5. Purge Me with Hyssop (Psalm 51:7)

In the sacrificial system, hyssop was used to sprinkle blood on the person who was considered unclean. It was a manner of purification from that uncleanness. David’s soul was sore like that of the skin on a leper. He needed the cleansing which came from the sprinkling of blood.

6. Wash Me and I Shall Be Whiter than Snow (Psalm 51:7)

Again David asked to be washed from the filthiness of his sin. Sin had stained his heart. He knew that he did not possess anything which would wash this stain away. But should God wash him, he would be whiter than snow.

Later, the prophet Isaiah would echo these words when he wrote, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

7. Hide Your Face from My Sins (Psalm 51:9)

Normally one would ask God to let his face shine upon him (Numbers 6:25). But when polluted by sin, David begged God to hide his face. Later Peter would ask the Lord Jesus to depart from him due to his wickedness.

We do not desire for God to look upon our sinfulness. Only when God looks away and looks upon the blood of the lamb can we hope that we will again look upon us with mercy and blessing.

8. Blot Out All my Iniquities (Psalm 51:9)

David has already asked God to blot out his transgressions. Now he asks for his iniquities to be blotted out. He desired to be thoroughly forgiven.

All told David asks God for mercy eight times in this psalm. Our forefathers in the faith used to refer to this as thoroughly repenting. Do not ask for forgiveness for one sin while holding firmly to a host of other sins. Ask that God’s mercy do its full work.

Keep in mind that God can only forgive because a price has been paid for our sin. That price was the life and blood of the Lord Jesus. Mercy is not cheap. We can really only ask for mercy when we also place our faith squarely on the person and work of Jesus.

When you sin, take these eight requests for mercy and make them your requests.

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