If I were teaching an advanced course in the Classical Hebrew, the language of our Old Testament (The Jews call it “The Bible”), I would ask the students to translate Psalm 51. The language is not the poetic verbiage we have come to expect in poetic script. Psalm 51 is straight forward and simple words but selected by an inspired pen. The four words used for sin selected from among seven (I know of) are filled with meaning, spiritual and psychological—and they are correctly placed in David’s confession, in the narrative of his heart, that speaks not only to David’s adultery but all sin.
Scholars like to see this as a message of the Cross, a salvation call for the sinner to come to Christ for forgiveness. It most certainly is! But it is also written to Christians who need to find their way back to the Cross and reclaim what they may have left there, experiencing the forgiveness of Calvary. A closer look at the words of David’s prayer—words David knew well—is a revelation of God’s great heart and His desire toward His people. A cry for forgiveness is often accompanied with a remorse that reminds us how often we are prone to slip backward into sin, but may it never be because we mistakenly assume God’s heart of mercy is exhausted with us.
Beware, also, theological distancing. I refer to the ability to interpret David’s words academically but avoid any emotional contact or personal application of its inspiring message. Theological distancing is the art of extracting the theology from the text without owning its truth as a life-changing force, without discovering how the words apply to our faith. Theological distancing is an intellectual exercise which might allow us to pass a written seminary exam but fail at faithful living for Christ.
When David repented of His night of pleasure, he renewed His friendship with a God Who never really left him. David was, even with his human frailty and occasional waywardness, “a man after God’s own heart.”
God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22
There is more to this Psalm than a record of remorse. This Psalm reveals the secret to enjoying a friendship with God. This Psalm is in essence the revival of the soul, a restoration of faithful beginnings in service to God, a clear confirmation of real faith.