The Heart of Repentance (Psalm 51)

Psalm Study Guide (Week 4)


Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (Psalm 51:17)


All of life is worship. We cannot escape from God’s glory as revealed in His creation. We cannot feign ignorance of God’s revelation through His Word. The only question is whether we will worship God or something else. There can be no other answer. We were made to worship. Last week, we saw the great psalmist, David, worshiping the LORD by expressing his confidence that the LORD is his shepherd. His faith in God is worshipful to God because it expresses his reliance upon (and the reliability of) God.

We now leave the beautiful and tranquil 23rd Psalm in order to study Psalm 51, which is anything but tranquil. The subscript of the psalm informs us that David wrote this psalm after Nathan spoke to him about Bathsheba, which can be read in 2 Samuel 11-12. This was, by far, the darkest moment of sin in David’s life. He had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, and when she became pregnant, he had her husband killed as a cover up. David went months thinking that he managed to fully hide his sin until God sent Nathan to rebuke David.

From this rebuke, David pens one of the most insightful chapters in all of the Bible. We have modeled for us within this psalm the heart of repentance. David humbly and brokenly begs God to cleanse him of sin and to restore his joy in the LORD’s salvation. Within this psalm, there are many important keys for us to learn from David of how repentance is a form of worship.

Read verses 1-2 and discuss the following.

  • In beginning his petition for forgiveness, David sets the foundations of his prayer upon God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy. This shows that David is completely reliant upon the LORD’s grace for forgiveness. In what ways is this similar to how we believe in the gospel?

Read verses 3-6 and discuss the following.

  • Here David claims that his sin was only against God; however, we know that his sin also did great damage to Bathsheba and, of course, Uriah. What does David mean then by saying that he only sinned against God?

Read verses 7-12 and discuss the following.

  • In the midst of the guilt of his sin, David prays to hear joy and gladness. By comparing his guilt to having broken bones, we know that David was burdened with the weight of his transgressions, but still he prays that they would rejoice in being broken. How is David able to take comfort, and even rejoice, in the breaking of his spiritual bones that God is doing?

Read verses 13-17 and discuss the following.

  • David claims that the result of God forgiving his sin will be David teaching sinners about the LORD. Out of his gratitude, David will gladly and boldly declare the glorious goodness of the LORD. How ought our approach to evangelism be similar to these verses?

Read verses 18-19 and discuss the following.

  • In making a prayer for Zion, David understands that his sins have impact upon others in Israel; thus, he also prays for God to do good to them as well. In what ways can our sin harm or impact others?


  • Note David’s desire for more than simply forgiveness of his sins; he longs for God to fundamentally change his heart. Prayerfully consider if this too is your heart’s desire.
  • Consider David’s thought on sacrificing to God, which he knew that God wanted to come from gratitude, not from obligation. Consider also your own offerings and giving to God, whether they come from gratitude or obligation.

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