The Prayer of the Prodigal King in Psalm 51

Confession of Wickedness

“You are the man (2 Samuel 12:7)!” These words from the prophet Nathan pierced to the core of King David. The Lord exposed David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murderous coverup. What would David, the prodigal king, do?

David had already declared that such wickedness deserved death. The Lord used the words of the prophet to grant repentance to David. The 51st Psalm is David’s prayer of confession and repentance before God.

In this prayer David acknowledges his wickedness. He now understood the vileness that God witnessed in him from heaven. Any prodigal who returns to the Father must likewise grasp his own wickedness. God is not calling the righteous to himself. He is calling sinners.

The confession of David does not make light of his actions. He does not make excuses. He does not trivialize. No attempts at shifting the blame come from his lips. He owns his filth before God. He knows that only God’s mercy can save him.

We see the repentant heart in action by observing the words David chose to describe his actions. He did not label them as mistakes, lapses in judgment or character flaws. Instead he called them transgressions, iniquity and sin. These three words paint a thorough picture of David’s guilt.


Transgression means to act in rebellion to God by going beyond what God allows by law. The Prodigal King rebelled against his King by violating his law. He was a law breaker. Breaking the law proves that the subject to the king has attempted a coup. He has attempted to dethrone God and make himself sit in the highest throne.

Prodigals are rebels. They revolt. They replace the God-centered life with a life centered on self. This is transgression.


While transgression emphasizes wicked action, iniquity stresses the character of the action. The word means to have a crooked bent when one should be straight. Iniquitous actions spring from a perverse or crooked character.

David acknowledged that he did not simply overstep the boundary when walking too closely to it. His adultery and murder occurred because his heart was warped and not straight.

Prodigals do what they do because they want to do so. The desires of their hearts are wicked. This definition prevents any from being labelled as an accidental prodigal.


The final word David used in his confession was sin. When this word is carried over into the New Testament it is defined as missing the mark. We are to aim our hearts and actions to God and his glory. When we sin we have missed that target.

Missing the target is not due to poor aim or to being too weak to pull the bow far enough. What we aim to hit, we hit. Our sinfulness is an indication that we desire something other than God and his glory.

Paul described it, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The arrows of the prodigal are aimed at glory for the creature and thus fall short of the target of the glory of God.

It is important to note that David did not confess wickedness that was fleeting or temporal. He said, “behold, I was brought forth in iniquity (a bent, crooked character), and in sin (missing the target of the glory of God) did my mother conceive me (Psalm 51:5).”

He was from birth by nature and by his actions a wicked man. Once he owned up to that, he cast himself solely on the mercy of God. He would look to the coming Christ as his only hope.

The prodigal does not simply dust off his filth and stroll back into the presence of the King of Kings. He is bidden. He is drawn. He has his heart awakened to the glory of God. He trusts not in his raggedy and tattered robes. He trusts alone in the righteous garments of Christ.