What Psalm 51 means
There are several important words in Psalm 51. Three of them are words that we also find in Psalm 32: *disobedience (or disobey), *sin, and doing bad things. They are what we do. Then there is what God does. He washes us, he cleans us, he forgets what we have done and he hides his face from our *sins. The other two important words in the psalm are spirit and *sacrifice. Both of them mean two things.
· either a name for God, as in verses 10-12
· or a name for the part of us that lives when our body dies as in verse 17.
· either an animal that they burnt and ate part of
· or an animal that they burnt completely.
Verse 1: "Give mercy" means "do not hurt me although you should hurt me". Another way to say this is "have mercy". The word "forget" in this verse and verse 9 really means "blot out". It is *like putting black paint on a picture so that you cannot see it.
Verse 2: David wants God to wash away the bad feeling ... what we call the guilt ... that comes when we do wrong things. Then he will feel clean.
Verse 3: "Always in front of me" means that "I keep on seeing it so that I know that I have done wrong".
Verse 4: Though David killed Uriah, it was God’s law that he did not obey. So David feels that it is only God that he has *sinned against.
Verse 5: David says that when he was born he had a tendency to *sin. This means that he often wanted to *sin even though he knew that it was wrong. We are all born with this tendency. Christians call it "original sin".
Verse 7: Hyssop was a plant. The Jews used its leaves to paint blood on the wood over their doors when they remembered the Passover. It is the blood of Jesus that makes us clean. "Whiter than snow" is a Jewish way to say "very, very clean".
Verse 8: "The bones that you broke" means "my body that you hurt".
Verse 9: "Hide your face" means "look away from". The Jews thought that if God hid his face, he would not see what they did. For "forget" see verse 1.
Verse 10: The word "create" is very important. It means "make" ... but only if God is the maker! The Bible starts by saying "In the beginning God *created the *heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). Only God could do it. And only God can make a new *heart for a person. A new *heart really means a new person altogether. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "If anyone is in Christ he or she is a new person" (2 Cor 5:17). "In Christ" means "a Christian". "New person" here is "a person that God has *created again" or "a new creature". David wrote Psalm 51 a thousand years before Paul wrote Corinthians. Christians understand what David wrote after reading what Paul wrote. This means that we do not read it as Jews, but as Christians. And Christians are "born again" or "new people" because God has *created them again. He does this when they become Christians! The spirit in verses 10-12 means the *Holy Spirit, another name for God. It is the part of God that he puts in us when we become Christians.
Verse 11: Both parts of this verse mean the same: David wants to be with God.
Verse 12: The bad feeling (guilt), that David had, stopped him feeling happy. This special feeling that God gives to his people we call "*joy". Only a new creature (verse 10) has Christian *joy.
Verse 13: The people that fight against God we call "rebels". People that fight against their governments are rebels. God is the government for the whole world, so people that fight against him are also rebels. How do we fight God? When we do not obey him and when we do what we want to do.
Verse 14: This is a difficult verse to translate from Hebrew. The Hebrew words say, "Take away from me blood-guilts". I have translated "guilts" as "the bad feeling that I have" and "blood" as "because I killed someone". David does not say in this psalm that he killed Uriah.
Verse 15: The word is "*Lord", not "*LORD". Nowhere in Psalm 51 does David call God "*LORD". Remember, *LORD is the *Covenant Name of God. This means that it is the name that his servants use. Did David not use it because he felt that he was so bad? Nobody is so bad that God will not *forgive them! He will *create a new man or a new woman from everybody: we only have to ask! "Open my lips" is a Jewish way to say "let words come from my mouth"
Verse 16: The Jews had rules which told them to *sacrifice animals. This meant that they killed the animal, then they burnt it on a table that they called an *altar. They thought that this made God happy. There were two groups of *sacrifices. In one group, they only burnt a bit of the animal. They ate the rest of it. This is the animal *sacrifice in verses 16 and 19. In the other group, they burnt all the animal. This is the burnt offering of verses 16 and 19. This verse says that *sacrifice does not give God pleasure if people do not obey him.
Verse 17: God wants a special sort of *sacrifice. (The word here is animal *sacrifice.) He wants people to be sorry when they *sin against him. This is what "a broken spirit" and "a broken heart" mean. Instead of fighting (rebelling) against God, people with broken spirits and *hearts agree with God.
Verses 18 and 19: Now you can see why these two verses are probably not by David. They want to *sacrifice animals again, although David knew that this was not what God really wanted. *Sacrificing animals only made God happy if the people were sorry for their *sins.
Something to do
1. Find the important words (we call them "key" words) in Psalm 51. There is a list of them at the start of What Psalm 51 means. Mark them in some way, so that you can see where they are on the page.
2. Study Psalm 50 again. Where does Psalm 50 say that God wants people to obey him, not *sacrifice animals to him?
3. Learn to say Psalm 51:10 by heart. (This means that you can say it without looking at the words).
Jesus said, "Did you not hear what David did? He was hungry and so were the men that were with him. He went into the house of God. He ate the special bread that was there. He broke the rules when he did this, so did all the men that were with him. The rule was that only the *priests should eat the bread". (Matthew 12:3-4) (The special bread told the people that God had fed them with manna. He did this when they came out from Egypt. Manna was another special bread that God sent from *heaven.)