Psalms for Families: Devotions for All Ages, Psalm 51

Psalms for Families, by Robert J. Keeley and Laura Keeley, is a devotional book for the entire family designed to help parents explore the riches of the book of Psalms with their children and teens. These devotionals will help parents learn more about the psalms as they teach their children about praise, prayer, and lament. This book contains four devotionals on each of our selected psalms as well as notes for adults that provide additional information and background.

Introduction and Full Series

Devotional 1, Devotional 2, Devotional 3, Devotional 4, Notes for Adults

Psalm 51

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin
.
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place
.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice
.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me
.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem
.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Prayer

God of mercy,
I don’t do the things I am supposed to do. I do things I know I shouldn’t do. Forgive me. I know I have sinned. Please wash me, cleanse me, give me a new heart. Thank you for loving me, even when I fail. I know that you can make me whole again. Amen.

Psalm 51 Sin

Psalm 51
Devotional 1: Sin

If there is one thing all people do, it’s sin. And we don’t just sin every once in a while—we sin a lot. If we pay attention, we are constantly reminded of our sins— things we have thought or done or said that were bad, or maybe things that we didn’t do or didn’t say that we should have. People in the Bible sinned too, even really good people like King David. In Psalm 51, David tells God that he has sinned. He uses other words for sin, like transgression and iniquity, but it all means the same thing.

Read Psalm 51: 1-3:

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.

David was clearly filled with shame because he had done something awful. These are serious words for a serious sin. David’s sin not only affected him, but it also affected people around him.

Imagine that you’re playing in a soccer game and the referee makes a call you don’t like. It makes you angry, but you know you can’t say anything to the referee. So, instead, when you finally get the ball, you kick it so hard that it slams right into another player’s face. It was an accident, but that accident happened because you were angry. Now another player is hurt. Your coach and others players might not feel like they can trust you to be in control of yourself while you play. Your anger didn’t only have an impact on you—it had an impact on other people too. That’s one of the worst things about sin. It not only affects us, but it also affects the people around us.

David felt bad about what he did. He told God about how sorry he was, and God forgave him. Are there some things that you are sorry about?  God will forgive you, too. All you need to do is ask.

Enter the Psalm: In your prayer today, leave some quiet time for everyone to pray silently and think about the things they are sorry for. Then ask God to forgive your sins.

Psalm 51 A Clean Heart

Psalm 51
Devotional 2: A Clean Heart

Read Psalm 51:10-12:

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

In Psalm 51 David asks God to create a clean heart inside him. He isn’t just asking God to forgive his sin, he is asking God to change him on the inside. David used the same word for “create” in Hebrew that is used when God created the world. So it’s like David is asking God to take out his old heart and make a brand new one. This is not just a little fix to get it right—this is major heart surgery. David knows he didn’t just do one thing wrong; the problem is deep inside him. David hints at this in verse 7:

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

If you lived in Israel at the time of David, you would know about “hyssop.” Hyssop is a plant that is easy to find in Israel, and people used it to clean things, kind of like a detergent. Hyssop was also part of the cleansing of people who had the disease called leprosy. A person with leprosy was considered unclean. People with leprosy did not live with their families. They lived with other people who had leprosy. Even if people with leprosy got better, they still could not be with their families until they washed with hyssop and a priest declared that they were clean.

By mentioning hyssop, David is not just saying that he sinned. He is saying that he is unclean, like a person with leprosy.

We sometimes think that if we do just one or two things better, then God will be completely happy with us. David realizes that this is not the case. He knows that his heart needs a total cleaning, and that isn’t something he can do on his own. We can’t do it on our own either.

Enter the Psalm: Write the words of Psalm 51:7 and put them above the sinks in your home. For the next two days, whenever you wash your hands, brush your teeth or run the water, repeat these words out loud. Remember that God can and will forgive you.

Psalm 51 I'm Sorry

Psalm 51
Devotional 3: I’m Sorry

Do you think you’re a pretty good person? I think I am, and you probably do too. Most people do. Most people try not to do bad things, but we do bad things whether we admit it or not. Sometimes we have a hard time talking about or remembering anything bad or sinful that we have done. Part of the problem is that we are not even aware of some of our sins. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

There are lots of things in the world that aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Here are some examples:

In Michigan a gas pipeline broke, and over one million gallons of oil was released into the Kalamazoo River. Many of the animals, birds, and plants that lived in and near that river died. The people who lived near the river had to leave their homes because the smell was making them sick.

Near where we live, there’s a school whose old building needs repair. Classroom supplies are extremely limited. Some students don’t feel safe walking in the school’s hallways. Five miles away, though, is a school where the hallways are safe  and they have enough resources that each of the kids are given a computer to use.

In my grocery store, bananas cost $0.48 a pound. These bananas are shipped from faraway places like Honduras, Chile, and Panama. Apples, which are grown close to where we live, are sold for $1.29 a pound. How can it be so much cheaper to buy things from faraway places than it is to buy things that are grown within miles of where we live? One of the reasons is that the people who are paid to harvest the apples near our home in North America are paid a lot more than the people who pick bananas in faraway places.

Each of these things is an example of the world not being the way it is supposed to be. Oil should not damage the environment. All kids should have the opportunity to go to a safe school that has the supplies they need. People should be paid a good wage for their work, regardless of where they live.

Now, you didn’t personally spill the oil in the Kalamazoo River and you didn’t take money from the school that has a hard time finding equipment. You didn’t even decide how much to pay the people who pick fruit. But sin is bigger than just you and me. It’s bigger than any one of us. Our whole world shows the signs of sin. But even though we did not do those things, we need to realize that those sins are our sins too. We need to tell God we are sorry.

When we confess our sin to God we are being honest about ourselves and the world that we live in. We come to the realization that we are not good. Only God is really good. Listen to David saying “I’m sorry” in Psalm 51:4, 9-11: 

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

We are surrounded by sin and the effects of sin. But sin doesn’t just affect people. Sin also affects the world around us.

Enter the Psalm: Talk about sin and injustice in your community, in the country, and in the world. After the discussion, ask everyone to respond with “Lord, we are sorry.”

Psalm 51 The Joy of Salvation

Psalm 51
Devotional 4: The Joy of Salvation

Read Psalm 51:12-15:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness
.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.

David ends this very serious psalm about his sin by asking God to give him more than a clean heart. David asks God for joy. For David, it isn’t enough that God forgives him—David wants to be in a good relationship with God again.

David also asks God for “a willing spirit.” That means that he’s asking God to help him want to do the things that are right. 

In return, David says that he will tell others about how great God is and he will sing to God and declare his praise.

We might expect David to end by once again saying how sorry he is, but he doesn’t. Perhaps this is something we can learn too. God wants us to confess our sin to him, but he also wants us to tell others about him and praise him.

Enter the Psalm: Take turns saying something that you praise God for. Start with “God, I praise you for. . . .”


Psalm 51
More—I Have Sinned (Notes for Adults)

Psalm 51 is one of seven penitential psalms, or psalms that show great sorrow for sins. The superscription on this psalm indicates that this is the prayer of David after the prophet Nathan came to talk with him about his sin with Bathsheba. (See our note in the introduction to these devotionals about how we treat these superscriptions.) In that story, found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, King David not only has an affair with the married woman Bathsheba but, when she discovers she is pregnant, David calls her husband home from the war to try to hide the fact that David is the father of Bathsheba’s baby. When that doesn’t work, David sends Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to the front lines of the war and instructs his general to pull back the army so that Uriah will be killed.

After hearing about this, Nathan, a prophet of God, visits David and tells him a story about a rich man who steals a poor man’s favorite lamb. David becomes angry, calling for punishment for the rich man. Nathan tells David that he is that rich man, which shocks David into the realization of what he has done. David is contrite, and he says plainly that he has sinned against the Lord. There is punishment—the child conceived in this affair dies after a seven-day illness—but the remarkable thing in this story is David’s great penitence. He doesn’t try to explain away his sin or make excuses. He simply turns his heart to God and confesses.

We read David’s confession in Psalm 51. In this psalm, David begins with a prayer for himself (verses 1 and 2) and ends with a prayer for Zion, showing how closely linked the status of the king and the kingdom are. In between there is a clear confession of sin (verses 3-6), a call for cleansing (verses 7-9), a request for God to make him pure (verses 10-12), and a vow to praise God (verses 13-17). It is important to note that David does not spend the entire psalm laying out his sin. He does that clearly in the beginning, but then he moves on. He asks God to work inside him to create a clean heart, and then he turns to praise.

The story of David and Bathsheba is not one that can be easily told to children without some care, but that does not mean that we have to avoid this story. Even young children know what it means to do something wrong, and we can tell this story and talk about confession and about turning our hearts to do what is right.

The other remarkable thing about this story is that Bathsheba goes on to become the mother of another of David’s sons: Solomon, king of Israel, who is in the line of Christ. God forgives David and then uses David and Bathsheba in a powerful way. God is merciful.

 

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