Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Feasting on the Word
A plea for re-creation
This psalm asks for more than forgiveness. It is an all-out plea for re-creation. Using words such as “cleanse,” “restore,” “wash,” and “blot out,” this pleading prayer is tired of cheap crutches and temporary balms. While it begins rooted in a particular sin, the psalm sees David’s act of violence against Uriah as the tip of the iceberg. Sin is a brutal and undeniable aspect of the human condition, and we have as much say about that as we do about our genetic makeup. But hidden in the psalmist’s desperation is the key to healing—God’s is a creative mercy, a grace that can take the dust of our broken hearts and generate abundant life.The dramatic language of the psalm gives flesh to the deepest hurts of those in the pews, calling on the Almighty to wash, purge, and recreate these broken lives. The preacher must not lessen the power of the language in the interest of being polite. The Christian calendar, despite our best efforts to tame it, provides for the range of human emotion; from anger to alleluia, from weeping to wonder. Let this [Lenten season] tell the truth it must: grace does not come without grief. For our hearts to heal, we must first be honest about their brokenness.
SOURCE: Content taken from Key Word Commentary: Thoughts on Every Chapter of the Bible ; Mark Water; Copyright © 2003. Amg Pubs. All rights reserved.
The psalm's historical background
In order to understand what this psalm is saying and how it applies to our lives, we need to start by reading its superscription. The events of 2 Samuel 11:1–12:23, instrumental for understanding the psalm’s message, are the psalm’s historical background.
SOURCE: Content taken from CHRIST-CENTERED EXPOSITION COMMENTARY (32 Volumes); David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida (Editors); Copyright © 2013-16. Holman Reference. All rights reserved.
Understanding the Bible Commentary
Uniqueness of Psalm 51
Every psalm is special, but with this one we feel that we enter upon holy ground. While it is a confession of sin, it reflects an intimacy with God few psalms can rival. In most psalms, blame for a lamentable condition is attached to enemies or to sickness, but this psalm is uniquely introspective before God.
God's Justice Bible
Justice out of injustice
Ps 51:10 Justice out of Injustice David’s prayer for mercy springs from his own horrible acts of injustice. God’s justice characteristically sets right what is broken—and so David accepts judgment (v. 4) but prays that God will bring more than judgment.
SOURCE: Content taken from GOD'S JUSTICE BIBLE: The flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil notes by Tim Stafford; Copyright © 2016. Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Life Recovery Bible
Humbly seeking God's forgiveness
Ps 51:10-13 David had already seen what happened when God removed his Spirit from King Saul—it was the beginning of his bitter downfall (1 Samuel 15–19). David wrote this psalm of repentance after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then arranged for her husband’s death (2 Samuel 11–12). On the surface, David’s sins were far worse than Saul’s. Why did God forgive David and offer him restoration? David was humble and broken about his sin. He admitted it and asked for God’s help and forgiveness. Saul was never willing to admit his sins; he continued in denial. If we try to hide or deny our sins, we are in grave danger of judgment. But if we are sensitive to our sins and humbly seek God’s forgiveness, there is hope for us, no matter how great our past sins. God will remove any taint of guilt and restore our joy.
SOURCE: Content taken from THE LIFE RECOVERY BIBLE notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE
Sin hurts us and others
Ps 51:4 Although David had sinned with Bathsheba, David said that he had sinned against God. When someone steals, murders, or slanders, it is against someone else—a victim. According to the world’s standards, extramarital sex between two consenting adults is acceptable if nobody gets hurt. But people do get hurt—in David’s case, a man was murdered, and a baby died. All sin hurts us and others, but ultimately it offends God because sin in any form is a rebellion against God’s way of living. When tempted to do wrong, remember that you will be sinning against God. That may help you avoid the danger.
SOURCE: Content taken from LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES, Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
NIV Application Commentary
Knowing our sin
Sin has a long history in each of us. The psalmist expresses this by saying, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps 50:5). Whether we want to accept the theological position of “original sin” and all its implications, most of us must admit that there is not a time before which our motives were pure, unselfish, and undistorted. We may explain our choices and responses in life as under the influence of family or society contexts, and these do have great effects on who we are and who we become. Regardless of the influences on our lives, we know that we have been essentially self-absorbed and self-centered for as far back as we can remember. We are the center of our universes, and all others are evaluated as they enter our orbit in regards to how their presence affects our hopes, dreams, and sense of physical and spiritual well-being. To find the roots of sin is not to solve it. Ask any drug addict, alcoholic, or sex addict whether knowing the sociological roots of his or her habit makes beating the addiction any easier. But it can help us see the grounds for the distorted choices and decisions we make and can aid us in building the resolve to break this chain of negative consequences by making different choices in the future.
SOURCE: Content taken from NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY: OLD TESTAMENT All rights reserved.
Catholic Bible Study
Lament of a Repentant Sinner
by Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study)
The Responsorial Psalm, attributed to King David, is the most famous of the seven Penitential Psalms. We join with the psalmist in his heartfelt contrition for his sins and his deeply felt desire to reconcile himself with the Lord as we call out, “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”
Most famous of the seven Penitential Psalms
This psalm, attributed to David, is the most famous of the seven Penitential Psalms (Ps 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 123). The psalmist expresses his heartfelt contrition for his sins and his deeply felt desire to reconcile himself with the Lord. He begins his prayer by acknowledging that he is a sinner, and he asks God to take away his sins that have damaged his relationship with his Lord (verse 3-4).
The focus of verses 12-13 is on God’s grace. More than simply wiping the slate clean of his confessed transgressions, the psalmist desires an intimate relationship with God. He seeks a profound change of heart, similar to the relationship between God and His people described in Jeremiah 31:33-34 in the First Reading (written five centuries after David). He asks God to restore him with His own Spirit so he will have the joy of coming before God’s Divine Presence in the Liturgy of Temple worship and to have a place in the future promise of salvation. Restoration to fellowship with God also gives him the authority he needs to teach other sinners about God’s grace and mercy and to encourage them to repent and return to fellowship with the Lord God (verses 14-15).
SOURCE: Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission.
PIANO: Francesca Larosa
Ps 51 – Create a Clean Heart in Me
Official LIVE video with the vocal line included to help you sing along! (Perfect for cantors to prepare for Sunday mass)
King David’s motivations
Psalm 51 Music and Reflection. Create in me a clean heart O God! (Sarah Hart version) Commentary at 0:28. Music begins at 2:39. Johan van Parys gives more background about King David’s motivations in writing the lyrics for Psalm 51.