Theme: Sinners Then Shall Learn from Me
In this week’s lessons we learn that confession of our sin also involves the desire for our inward renewal, as well as the fact that what we do affects other people, for good or ill.
Scripture: Psalm 51:10-19
Restore the joy of your salvation. The third of David’s requests in this section is that God restore the joy of his salvation. It is important to note that David is not praying that God would restore his salvation, as if he had lost it and needed to get it back again. It is not the salvation he has lost, but the joy of it. As long as he was living in sin he had no joy. His fellowship with God was broken. Now that he has repented of his sin, found cleansing and is seeking a renewed spirit, he wants to have that joy again.
How relevant to many people’s thinking today. Many think that the way to joy or a good time is by sinning. They think that godliness is dull. Actually the opposite is the case. Sin brings sorrow. Righteousness brings rejoicing. Allowed to continue, sin will remove every good thing from our lives: joy, health, wealth and at last even life itself. Only righteousness will restore them. One commentator notes wisely, “The fact that the psalmist prays for so many things in vv. 7-12 indicates how many things he knew he had lost when he plunged into sin.”6
Religion is a personal thing, and the confession of sin is particularly personal. We must confess our sin, not someone else’s. But this does not mean that true religion can ever be individualistic or entirely private. We see this in the last two sections of the psalm. For having been forgiven, cleansed and renewed by God, David now recognizes that he has a duty to those about him. In section five he vows to teach what he has learned about sin and forgiveness to other sinners, so they may confess their sin and turn back to God too. In the final section he prays for Zion, which was also affected by his transgression. As I pointed out in the first study of this psalm, Psalm 32 is probably the fulfillment of the vow in verses 13-15.
There are two things that David says he is going to teach others: 1) the “ways” of God (v. 13), and 2) “your righteousness” (v. 14). The “ways” of God is a broad designation which usually means the path of righteousness set out in the law. “Righteousness” itself usually means that upright character of God that we associate with his holiness. Probably neither of these terms means exactly that here.
In the context, the “ways” of God probably means his ways with sinners, that is, the way in which he afflicts them in their sin and accounts them righteousness on the basis of the sacrifices, which point forward to the atoning work of Christ, when they confess it. Psalm 51 would require this interpretation all by itself, since that is what it is about. But if Psalm 32 is the fulfillment of the vow David makes to teach God’s ways to others, the point is even clearer. For that psalm contains a painful description of the psalmist’s state when he was continuing in his sin, as well as the very verses Paul quotes in Romans to show that David understood the doctrine of justification by the grace of God through faith and trusted in it: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1, 2; cf. Rom. 4:7, 8). This is what needs to be taught to sinners. It is what gospel preaching is all about, in our day as well as in the past.
Similarly, the word “righteousness” in verse 14 is not so much the righteousness of God as he is in himself, but rather his righteousness in the justification of sinners. Perowne therefore says rightly, “The righteousness of God is that attribute according to which he gives to every one his own, to those who with repentance and faith turn to him, the forgiveness which they ask, and which he has promised to bestow.”7 It is exactly the way the word is used in 1 John 1:9, where we are told, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” In that verse the word “just” (dikaios) has the same root as the word “righteousness” (dikaiosune) and means that God acts justly and in faithfulness to his promise when he forgives sin. He is just because he does it on the basis of Christ’s atonement, and he is faithful because he has promised to forgive all who will confess their sin and come to him through faith in Jesus.
What is the third of David’s requests, and why does he need to ask for this?
What does David recognize as his duty once he has been forgiven?
Explain the two things David wants to teach others.
Reflection: How can you follow David’s example by teaching others the reality of their sin and the need for God’s forgiveness?
6H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 405, 406.
7J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 422.