A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollThe sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Psalm 51:17

This verse falls near the end of Psalm 51, a psalm composed by David after Nathan called him to account for his adultery with Bathsheba. Read Psalm 51:1-6. In what way does verse 6 set the stage for verse 17?

1     Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2     Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3     For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4     Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
5     Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6     Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom
in the inmost place.

Verses 7-9 are about the work David asks God to do because of his (David’s) sin. What does David really want?
7     Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8     Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9     Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Verses 11-16 are a plea from David. Have you ever felt this way? David knows that he cannot be reconciled with God as long as the blots and stains of his sin remain? What does he think is necessary for his reconciliation?

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,
and sinners will turn back to you.
14    Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness
15    O Lord, open my lips,
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. 

Coming to the end of this long penitential prayer, David makes a startling statement. How does the statement in verse 17 enhance the meaning of the statement in verse 19?

17    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
18    In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19    Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Would you agree that verse 17 is the climax of this psalm-prayer? If not, which verse do you see as the most powerful statement of the message of this psalm?

When was the last time you felt as guilty as David felt when he wrote this psalm? Have you ever come to God with your shame as David did? Think of your shame and the disappointment you feel about yourself. Pray this prayer for yourself.

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