-Sorrowful Songs Of A Contrite Heart

Picture Frame DAVID’S PENITENTIAL PSALMS Sorrowful Songs Of A Contrite Heart
In Hebrews 11 the Spirit of God provides a list of Old Testament saints whose faith prevailed in the worst of circumstances. And yet, as we examine the lives of these notables, we perceive that there were times when even the elite of the elect behaved like the least of all the saints. Indeed, some of these saints committed shocking sins, even by the lapsed standards of modern wickedness. What then shall we say of Noah (Gen. 9:21), Abraham (Gen. 16:3), Sarah (Gen.18:12,15), Moses (Num. 20:11), Samson (Jud. 16:1) and Gideon (Jud. 8:27)? These Scriptures catalog failure unexpected from such favored friends of God. Yet, if they failed, only God’s grace will preserve us who have yet to finish our course! What can we learn when David is included with distinction in Hebrews 11:32? How does this commendation compare with his confessions of sin in Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51? For did not this same servant of God defile his neighbor’s wife and then slay his neighbor when the law called for the death of the royal adulterer? What else can we say other than “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered ... unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity” (Ps. 32:1-2 KJV). For which of us, when obliged to confess failure, has not been thankful to confess “Thou, LORD, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee” (Ps. 86:5)?

Daily Discipleship 
Whereas the death of Christ has covered us for all eternity, yet post-conversion sins must be forgiven if we are to maintain uninterrupted fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. While spiritually speaking, “Whosoever is born of God … cannot sin” (1 Jn. 3:9), yet in the practical world of daily discipleship, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). But, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

This same remedy was practiced by David in Psalm 32:5-6. In other words, a disciple can speak directly with God and his private confession of sin will achieve forgiveness and cleansing. However, in the event of gross sins, God will demand public confession. In these circumstances at the very least, the offender will have to speak to his or her brethren. There are also matters relating to the law of the land. In David’s case, his forcing of Bathsheba together with his manslaughter of Uriah were breaches of Mosaic Law. In parallel, Paul lists many sins which would demand church discipline (1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-11; Eph. 5:5). In other words, David’s adultery and manslaughter could not be purged to perfection without his also being punished publicly. While the penitential psalms are a guarantee of forgiveness, David had to endure the temporal consequences of his transgressions. He had compromised his fellowship with God, and for this cause the Lord had to remove him from the palace for a season. During this interlude, David was cut off from the altar of burnt offering. As an ancient precedent, Adam and Eve, though clothed with coats of skin, were driven out of Eden (Gen. 3:24). We also know that the incestuous man of Corinth suffered excommunication with a view to restoration (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Cor. 2:7).

Temporal Chastisement
Despite David’s failures, all of his sins were forgivable. But there is no forgiveness for those who refuse to repent or admit failure. It is not to the king’s credit that he conspired to avoid public disgrace and confessed guilt only after Nathan the prophet caused him to condemn himself out of his own mouth (2 Sam. 12:5-7). Thereafter, the prophet forewarned David of the temporal chastisement he must endure if his life were to be spared. And so, the penitential psalms describe the miseries of a disobedient saint. While David’s eternal salvation was not in doubt, he had lost its joy for a season. He was also fearful of the Holy Spirit being taken away from him (Ps. 51:11-12). For in Old Testament times saints were not blessed with the unbreakable seal of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). The Spirit’s presence was contingent upon obedience and faithfulness (Jud. 14:6; 16:20).

It is not to King David’s credit that he did not feel compelled to plead for forgiveness until his offense had become the talk of the city. But if the scandal was now officially out in the open, David’s contrition had to be made public as well. Strangely enough, the royal psalmist did not confess the nature of his sins in the first three penitential psalms. Whereas David refrained from describing his sins, yet there is no doubt that he confessed the same to his God in pursuit of forgiveness. He says “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Ps. 32:5). Surely the apostle John had these principles in mind when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). In other words, those who confess their sins to God are guaranteed both forgiveness and restoration.

While we must confess our sins, we must never seek to justify ourselves by blaming others (Gen. 3:12-13). Nor dare we plead that we were only responding to provocation. In other words, wicked deeds done in the heat of anger or lust need to be forgiven. For no matter how sorely provocative the circumstances or invitation, we need to have our sins purged. There may also be need for practical restitution as in Exodus 22.

As for those who have provoked or seduced us, they must answer to God for themselves: “Every man shall die for his own sin” (2 Chr. 25:4). While we are commanded to love our neighbor, we are permitted to loathe ourselves utterly when we recall our shameful failings (Ezek. 20:43). Though we may never forgive ourselves when we fail God, we must always be disposed to forgive others who trespass against us (Mt. 6:12,15; 18:35).

Judge Not!
Even so, some finicky person will be quick to ask, “Surely the redeemed who know better are less forgivable than sinners who do not know Lord?” How can this be? If God will forgive those who never did any good, will He fail to forgive those who after years of service have fallen into transgression? If God is prepared to forgive the worst sins of the worst sinners, will He not hear the repentant groans of His own erring children? If we learn nothing else in the penitential psalms let’s at least learn that “there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:4).

Indeed, we would dare say that this is the point of our study. For saints who fall can be forgiven and restored. Otherwise an impetuous Peter would have wept himself to death of a broken heart (Lk. 22:62). Without dispute, it is always better to do well than to seek forgiveness. Likewise, it is always better to seek forgiveness than to die in disgrace. David repented, but the name of his son Solomon is conspicuous by its absence in Hebrews 11. Therefore it is with humility that we must approach the penitential prayers of David.

Since Psalm 51 predates Psalm 3, we perceive that chronology is not critical to the interpretation of Psalm 6. Indeed, I am persuaded that the four Psalms under consideration relate to David’s sins against Bathsheba and Uriah. In other words, Psalm 6 describes the usurped king’s death-like weakness and exhaustion as David was forced to flee from the homicidal wrath of Absalom. In this we perceive that even though our transgressions are forgivable, yet they shall incur temporal consequences. In other words, serious sin may result in our being forced to suffer open disgrace and loss of fellowship for a season (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Cor. 2:7).

As for Psalm 32, the king rejoiced because he had been forgiven utterly and eternally. At the same time he bewailed his indolence for not confessing his sin sooner. In Psalm 38 the king was distressed by the sorrows and sicknesses arising from the temporal effects of his sin. This suggests that while David had returned to the paths of righteousness, he was undergoing the chastening of God and the abandonment of his fellows. If great men are capable of great mistakes, great friends are capable of great fickleness when their friendship is tested in the hour of need. For this cause Job also was abandoned by family, friends and servants when God’s hand was heavy upon him. Therefore David bewailed his condition when he cried, “My lovers and my friends … and my kinsmen stand afar off. They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long” (Ps. 38:11-12).

Classic Contrition
Psalm 51 is the classic confession of a repentant disciple who seeks forgiveness. As such, the apostle Paul was able to quote from 51:4 when pursuing the proof of justification by faith alone (Rom. 3:4, 26). Likewise, Paul utilized Psalm 32:1-2 to prove that eternal righteousness is imputed to those who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 4:7-8). However, common to all the psalms under consideration is that unconfessed and secret sins will cause the offender open shame, if not in this life then in the next (Ps. 90:8; Rom. 2:16). In the case of those who know the Lord, these hidden offenses shall harm their rewards (1 Cor. 3:15).

Shameful Sins
In the event of serious sin, our first reaction is to conceal our guilt from our fellows. For this cause Psalm 6 reveals that God who sees all, has afflicted His servant as a means of bringing him to repentance, confession and restoration. These Fatherly afflictions reveal that all was not well with the psalmist. For gross sin not only grieves God but it also provokes Him to hot displeasure, especially so when the offender conceals his or her guilt behind a hypocritical cloak of piety. Indeed, so heavy was the hand of God upon the sinner of Psalm 6 that he feared losing his life. Therefore he pleads, “Oh save me for Thy mercies’ sake. For in death there is no remembrance of Thee: In the grave who shall give Thee thanks?” (6:4-5).

At this point we emphasize that this text does not teach that the soul sleeps between death and resurrection. David was here referring to the human body which is totally insensible in death. Therefore he asked in another place, “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth?” (Ps. 30:9). In other words, dead bodies doomed to decompose do not return to give God thanks. And so, even in the case of the world’s worst sinners, Paul declared, “He that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:7). In other words, David prayed that he be spared to return to the Lord with thanksgiving and devotional service. He also hoped to become a living example of a saint restored to full fellowship. So he also pledged, “Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee” (Ps. 51:13).

The Bloodless Offerings Of Confession
It is noticeable that David made no reference to the blood of sacrifice when confessing his transgressions. Thereby he anticipated the teaching that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Therefore David stated, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17). For what need is there of another sacrifice since Christ has “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26)? What need is there of sacrifice when “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7)? Therefore, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

Sins Of Commission And Omission 
We may categorize David’s major offenses under four headings. Firstly, the king provoked divine wrath when he commanded Joab to number the armed forces of Israel. Secondly, David defiled Bathsheba while her husband Uriah was valiantly fighting the enemies of the Lord in the field of conflict. Thirdly, David slew Uriah when he commanded Joab to, “Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die” (2 Sam. 11:15). But if David congratulated himself on learning that Uriah had been killed according to plan, “the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Sam. 11:27). Fourthly, the situation worsened when David neglected to confess his sins and seek the forgiveness of God. But even though the king did his utmost to hide the matter, his aggrieved Lord and His sneering enemies knew all about it (2 Sam. 12:14).

What About Us?
In summary, if the first three offenses were sins of commission, then the fourth was the sin of omission. For having sinned by doing what was wrong, he sinned again by failing to do what was right. We are all familiar with this pattern in our own lives. For have we never done that which God has forbidden? Or have we never failed to do that which God has bidden? And so, if we have not fallen into the grosser sins of David, it is only by the grace of God: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

By Tom Summerhill


With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website:


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