Theme: Confession of Sin
In this week’s lessons we see from the life of David the biblical way to deal with our sin, and learn what God’s response is toward us when we do.
Scripture: Psalm 51:1-9
Psalm 51 seems to be constructed on the basis of parallel statements in sets of threes. In part 1 we have already had three words that describe God as being merciful: mercy, love and compassion. We have had three words for sin: transgressions, iniquity and sin. In this second section of the psalm, in which David confesses his sin (vv. 3-6), we find three strong statements:
I am aware of my sin (v. 3). This may seem self-evident and almost trite. “If David is confessing his sin, he must have been aware of it; if he were not, he would not be confessing,” we might think. But it is not at all trite, since most of our problems with sin begin at just this point. We do not confess our sins because we do not believe ourselves to be sinners, and this is because we do not recognize that what we do is sin.
Moreover, David was very much aware of his sin. Psalm 32:3, 4 seems to be a comment on his state of mind at this time, for he speaks there of his bones “wasting away” and of his “groaning all day long.” He says that before he confessed his sin his “strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”
I know that it is sin (v. 4). In my judgment, this is the meaning of the much discussed sentence, “Against you, you only have I sinned.” Many people have objected that this is not entirely right since David had not only sinned against God; he had also sinned against Bathsheba, against her husband Uriah, and even against the nation that eventually also suffered for his wrong doing. Commentators usually answer that the offense against God was so great in David’s mind that it more or less forced these other lesser matters from his thinking.
Yet that hardly seems right. I think J. J. Stewart Perowne is on the right track in his excellent treatment of this statement. He approaches it in two ways. First, sin by its very definition is against God, since it is only by God’s law that sin is defined as sin. A wrong done to our neighbor is an offense against humanity. In the eyes of the state, which measures it by its own laws, it may be a crime. But only before God is it a sin.
Second, it is only because God is in the picture that even a wrong done to our neighbor is a wrong. It is because our neighbor is made in God’s image and is endowed with rights by God that it is wrong to harm him or her. Perowne writes, “All wrong done to our neighbor is wrong done to one created in the image of God; all tempting of our neighbor to evil is taking the part of Satan against God, and, so far as in us lies, defeating God’s good purpose of grace toward him. All wounding of another, whether in person or property, in body or soul, is a sin against the goodness of God.”8 Only when a person sees that is he or she ready to acknowledge that God is utterly right in his words and justified in his judgments, which is what David says in the latter half of verse 4, a verse the Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 3:4. David did exactly that when Nathan came to him and exposed his sin, confessing, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13).
I confess that sin springs from my thoroughly evil nature (v. 5). This is the most perceptive statement of all, for it is the equivalent of what we today call the doctrine of original sin. When David says, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” he is not blaming his mother for his sin, of course. The whole tone of the psalm is against any such idea. David is confessing his sin and taking full responsibility for it. He is confessing that there was never a moment in his existence when he was not a sinner. As one of the older commentators says, “He lays on himself the blame of a tainted nature instead of that of a single fault.9
Verse 6 provides the positive side of this same truth. It teaches that God desires inward purity. This goes along with verse 5, for David’s sin was that of an inward nature disposed to sin as well as the act itself, and what God requires is a pure nature as well as upright conduct. The second half of the psalm develops this thought further. In other words, the sinner has two needs: pardon for sin and purity of heart. The first half of the psalm talks about the first, verses 10-12 describe the second.
Study Questions:

What are David’s “three strong statements”?
Why is the third statement said to be the most perceptive?
What important point does verse 6 make?

Application: Remember that every person is made in the image of God. Therefore, to commit a wrong against someone else is a sin against God himself.
8J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 315, 316. Original edition 1878-1879.
9F. W. Robertson, quoted by J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, p. 418.

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