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

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 18: Wednesday

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

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. You may be familiar with the song by the Sons of Korah, in which they use the New International Version translation of Psalm 51 for the lyrics:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

Psalm 51 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 had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then sent her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to his death in battle 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 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
And I will hope on Your name, for
it is good, in the presence of Your holy ones.
Psalm 52:8–9 LSB

Because of who God is, when David has been betrayed and is fleeing for his life, he can say, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.

Trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.

Give God thanks forever, because He has done it

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Olive Tree, Mount Carmel: Amit Haas. (CC BY 2.5).
Psalm 52:8 on home page: Coverdale’s translation of Psalm 52. See page 40 of the pdf.
As for me, I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God; my trust is in the tender mercy of God for ever and ever. I will always give thanks unto thee for that thou hast done; and I will hope in thy Name, for thy saints like it well.
Psalm 51, Fort Collins: Josh Applegate. (CC0 1.0).
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 or the LSB was published. Compare Coverdale’s translation at the link (pp. 39–40 of the pdf) with the
NASB 1995 and the LSB to see the use of the future tense in those translations. I think Coverdale is even stronger in affirming what God will do, and showing David, and our, complete dependence on God: But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts, and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. God is the one who will make us understand wisdom; God is the one who will cleanse and wash us from sin; God is the one who will make us hear of joy and gladness.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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