Psalm 51

Talks for Growing Christians

David Confesses His Sins and Pleads for Mercy, Cleansing, and Restoration

Psalm 51

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Lesson Number 38

Background Notes

Doctrinal Point(s)

  1. Unconfessed sin in a believer’s life results in guilt and broken fellowship.
  2. Confessed sin in a believer’s life results in joy and restored fellowship.

Practical Application

  1. You can’t sin in a vacuum.


  1. What is the occasion for this penitential psalm?
  2. How did Nathan confront David? What was David’s response?
  3. Is verse 5 in this psalm saying that sex in marriage is sinful?
  4. Should believers today pray as David did in verse 11?
  5. Explain the reference to hyssop in verse 7.
  6. What do the last two verses of this psalm, regarding the prosperity and blessing of Jerusalem have to do with David’s confession of sin?


  1. This psalm was written after the prophet Nathan confronted King David for his great sins of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12).
  2. Nathan confronted David with a story of a rich man who had many flocks and herds, but took a poor man’s one lamb in order to provide a meal for a traveler. David determined that this rich man should make restoration fourfold. When Nathan told David, “Thou are the man,” David did not try to justify or hide his sins any longer.
  3. No, David is speaking here of the sinful nature that everyone possesses from the time of conception. We don’t become sinners when we sin. We sin because we are sinners by nature.
  4. In light of the further revelation of New Testament teaching, believers today do not need to pray this prayer, because we are assured of our eternal security. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us permanently. Ephesians 1:13 says we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit.”
  5. Hyssop refers to the branches of a plant that was used for applying the blood of the sacrifice. It was also used in the ceremonial cleansing of unclean leapers and in the purification from defilement associated with death. David realized how separated he was from the Lord and how desperately he needed to be cleansed in order for fellowship to be restored.
  6. Prophetically, when restored Israel of the future confesses their sin of spiritual adultery and rejection of their Messiah, the Lord will forgive hem and establish His earthly kingdom of blessing from His throne in Jerusalem. Practically, David realized that as a king his sin affected the nation.


  1. As believers, our salvation is secure, but it is possible for us to grieve the Holy Spirit with our sins. Our fellowship with the Lord is disrupted when we have unconfessed sin in our life. What has your experience been when you had unconfessed sin? How did you feel once you confessed it? See 1 John 1:9 in this connection.
  2. Unconfessed sin breaks our fellowship with the Lord. Likewise, our unconfessed offenses against fellow believers break our fellowship with them. Do you have broken fellowship with one of your brothers or sisters in Christ? Will you go to them and do your part to be restored?


  1. You can’t sin in a vacuum. This means all our sin affects others somehow. It may seem you “get away with it” for awhile, but the consequences of sin are sure. How is your sin affecting your family, friends, and fellowship with God?

Key Verses

  • “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” Psalm 51:4
  • “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7
  • “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

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