“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (v. 17).
Psalm 51 was given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and through the hand of David as a model of what true repentance looks like. There is much that we can learn about repentance from this text, not the least of which is that we should strive for thoroughness in our repentance.
For instance, we see in Psalm 51:14 that David asks the Lord to deliver him “from bloodguiltiness.” He refers here to nothing less than his wickedness in arranging for Uriah’s death (2 Sam. 11:14–15). David is not content to repent only for the adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, as evil as that relationship was. Instead, he confesses every aspect of his sin related to what happened with the wife of Uriah. He knows that he must confess all that he has done wrong if he is to experience the full joy of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.
The thoroughness of David’s repentance is also on display in his pleas for God to cleanse multiple parts of him—his mouth, tongue, and lips in particular (Ps. 51:14–15). It might seem strange that he refers to these portions of his body, but note that God’s Word frequently highlights the defilement of these areas. For example, Isaiah says, “I am a man of unclean lips,” after glimpsing the Lord of Israel, the one true God over all (Isa. 6:5). Paul uses the image of the throat as an open grave in order to highlight the sinfulness of mankind (Rom. 3:13–14). These regions of uncleanness can give way to the holy praise of God, but only when the Lord cleanses them (Pss. 5:11; 13:6). In fact, the thorough cleansing that we receive when we confess our sins to God purifies even our lips and tongue, enabling us to worship the Lord in truth and with the freedom of His pardon.
Speaking of forgiveness, David notes in Psalm 51:16–17 that the Lord does not desire sacrifices. This is not a condemnation of the old covenant sacrificial system but a recognition that in themselves, animal sacrifices could not atone for sin. Sorrow for sin—repentance—had to accompany the sacrifices or they would avail nothing. Similarly, Jesus’ blood covers the sin only of those who truly repent (Heb. 10:26). What God wants from us is contrition—the sorrow for offending Him—and not merely attrition—the sorrow for getting caught doing wrong. The Lord will never reject the contrite heart that rests in Jesus for pardon (Ps. 51:17).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Sometimes our sorrow is like that of a child who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar—we are sorry that we are in trouble but not sorry for offending the Lord’s holiness. In our repentance, we must always pursue contrition, seeking to be sorry not only for the consequences of our sin but also for rebelling against God. The Lord will never turn away anyone who exhibits true contrition.