Psalms 51–53: God’s Unfailing Love & God’s Compassion

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 18: Wednesday

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:1–2

Today’s Bible reading is Psalms 51–53. Spend time in prayer before you begin reading, asking God to give you a humble heart to hear His Word, to learn, and to know Him and to know yourself.

These three psalms are from David, the sweet psalmist of Israel. Perhaps second only to Psalm 23, is Psalm 51 the most recognizable of David’s psalms. It was, of course, written when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Don’t race through it because of its familiarity, but read it slowly, carefully, and ask God to search your heart. David has committed adultery, and sent a man to his death to cover up his adultery. Read how he casts himself upon God, according to Your loving­kindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion.

Derek Kidner writes,

“This is the fourth, and surely the greatest, of the seven ‘penitential psalms’ [Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143]… It comes from David’s blackest moment of self-knowledge, yet it explores not only the depths of his guilt but some of the farthest reaches of salvation. The last two verses show that the nation, in its own darkest hour, found words here for its own confession, and its re-kindling of hope.

“The psalm can be studied for its themes, as well as in its progress from pleading to assurance. Much is to be learnt about God, sin and salvation in the course of it. It is rewarding, as well, to study the varieties of speech: the imperatives of request, the present and past tenses of confession, and the futures (more than appear in most translations; see comments**) which thankfully take hold of saving grace.”1

The title of Psalm 52 is A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.” Psalm 52 was written about events that happened years prior to the circumstances of Psalm 51. David, as the title implies, was fleeing from Saul for his life. If you’re unfamiliar with why David wrote this psalm, take a few minutes and read the story in 1 Samuel 21:1-9 and 1 Samuel 22:7-23 before you read the psalm. Kidner writes:

“The title links the psalm with one of David’s bitterest experiences. In flight from Saul, he has talked Ahimelech the priest into giving him a few provisions; and now Ahimelech has been massacred. The informer was the Edomite Doeg, and it was he who carried out the slaughter.

“We have two of David’s utterances on this. One is his outcry to Abiathar, Ahimelech’s son: ‘I have occasioned the death of all . . . your father’s house. Stay with me . . .; you shall be in safe keeping’ (1 Sa. 22:22f.). The other is this psalm, where he reflects first on the kind of man that Doeg is, who carves out his career by slander and intrigue; but then, too, on the brevity of such success. Finally he renews his trust in God, who stands by His own as surely as he, David, has promised to stand by Abiathar.”2

Psalm 53 speaks of the fool and the workers of wickedness. Kidner writes, “Apart from a few details, and the greater part of verse 5, this is identical with Psalm 14.”3 These Psalms are quoted in Romans 3:9–12 as part of Paul’s great indictment of all men as sinners.

These are rich, wonderful psalms. After you read them, take the time to think on what they say about who God is. Remember this is God’s Word. God, Himself, is telling us who He truly is. We need to know the God of our salvation and to know the lovingkindness of God endures all day long whether we are confessing our own sin or devastated by the evil acts and arrogance of the wicked.

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.
I will give You thanks forever, because You have done
it,
And I will wait on Your name, for
it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.
Psalm 52:8–9


Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
David’s harp & crown, Saint James the Greater Catholic Church (Concord, North Carolina) – stained glass: Nheyob. (CC BY-SA 4.0). On the home page the featured quote under the image is from the New International Version. See my March 27, 2021 post, Unfailing Love.
1,2,3Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72, (Inter-Varsity Press: London, England: 1973) 189, 60; 194; 196.
**On Psalm 51:6 on page 191, Kidner notes, “A series of futures, not imperatives, beings with 6b (Heb. 8b; lit. ‘thou shalt teach me. . .’), to the end of 8. Coverdale’s version, in the Prayer Book, is almost alone in reproducing them as the affirmations which they are.” Kidner wrote this before the NASB was published. Compare Coverdale’s translation at its link with the NASB 1995, and you can see the NASB does use the future tense, but in my opinion, Coverdale is even stronger in affirming what God will do.

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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