Scripture reading – Psalm 51

Click on this link to translate today’s Bible study to Arabic, Chinese, Russian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, or French. 

Our chronological reading of the Scriptures continues today with Psalm 51. In the psalm’s title, you will notice a detailed revelation of the circumstances that inspired David’s prayer. We read it was “when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsehba.”

Background and Setting of Psalm 51 (2 Samuel 12:7-12)


Nathan courageously confronted the king and said, “Thou art the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). With those words, David’s sins were no longer secret, and the prophet’s discourse revealed the depravity to which the king had fallen.

He had “killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword…taken his wife…and…slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon” (2 Samuel 12:9). The king learned the dreaded consequences of his sins would shadow his life, family, and nation. The LORD warned, “I will raise up evil against thee out of thine house…I will do this thing before all Israel” (2 Samuel 12:11-12).

David’s response to Nathan’s forewarning of God’s judgment is recorded in 2 Samuel 12:13, for the king confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD.” For us, Psalm 51 is David’s record of his penitent prayer and is a study of spiritual brokenness and sincere repentance. We are reminded that genuine brokenness is a contrition of one’s heart, an honest confession of sin, a longing for forgiveness, and a plea for restoration. 

Psalm 51 – A Prayer of Brokenness

The late 19th-century British historian Lord Acton observed, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I suggest that Acton’s remark is true not only of monarchs but also of politicians, leaders, teachers, and pastors. The same is true of men and women who, in their little fiefdoms, find themselves in unchecked roles.

In 2 Samuel 12, David was at the pinnacle of success and power, and as the ruler of Israel, accountable to man. The prophet Nathan’s words, “Thou art the man!”  (2 Samuel 12:7), humiliated the king but were instrumental in awakening a godly sorrow to repentance.

David Confessed His Sin and Earnestly Prayed for Forgiveness (Psalm 51:1-7)

Many have observed that the potential of egregious wickedness lies within all if given the right provocation.  When David wrote, “I was shapen in inquity: and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5), he acknowledged the sinful nature present within all men and women. Paul observed the same truth a millennium later when he wrote, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).

The king had covered his sins for more than a year. Although he was in the throes of guilt, he proudly maintained a regal façade on the throne and passed judgment on other men’s sins. One wonders how long David might have continued his charade if God had not commanded his prophet to confront him.  Understanding ancient monarchs held absolute authority and the power of life and death rested with them; we can appreciate the tenuous position in which Nathan found himself.

The words, “Thou art the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7) resonated in David’s heart.  He cried to the Lord, “Have mercy upon me, O God… 2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2). David acknowledged that only God can remove the guilt and stains of sin. He confessed his sins and prayed, “3 For I acknowledge my transgressions…4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight…”(Psalm 51:3-4a).

David Longed for a Quiet Conscience and Petitioned for Forgiveness (Psalm 51:8-12)

The king’s guilt haunted him, and his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah paled to those against God. David prayed, “10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me… 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Psalm 51:10, 12a). He longed for what God alone could give—forgiveness and restoration of his happiness and joy.

A Passion for Serving the LORD and Others (Psalm 51:13-17)

With his sins forgiven, David’s thoughts turned to teaching others the ways of a loving, merciful, just, and holy God (Psalm 51:13). He prayed for that which only grace might impart: Deliverance from guilt (Psalm 51:14a), a desire to praise God’s righteousness in song (Psalm 51:14b), and for the LORD to bless the words of his mouth (Psalm 51:15). He acknowledged, the LORD did not desire a multitude of sacrifices, but a “broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16-17).

Closing thoughts –

Like many in positions of power and authority, King David had found himself insulated from accountability. He had neglected his duties (2 Samuel 11:1), and his moral failure occurred when he was alone. He had been too proud to acknowledge, confess, and accept the consequences of his shortcomings (2 Samuel 11:6-22). God, however, loved the king and sent his prophet to confront him so that David might be restored.

A Loving Invitation: If you are concealing sin, be forewarned: You are living on borrowed time before the consequences of your sins catch up with you and your loved ones (Galatians 6:8; Psalm 32:3-4). Will you humble yourself before God, confess your sins, and believe that “whoso confesseth and forsaketh [his sins] shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith 

* You can subscribe to the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals by entering your name and email address at the bottom of today’s devotion.

The Internal Revenue Service recognizes Heart of A Shepherd Inc as a 501c3 public charitable organization. Your donation is welcome and supports the worldwide ministry outreach of