Psalm 51: My Sin is Ever Before Me

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For some time I have been reflecting on Psalm 51. This is David's Psalm to the Lord after Nathan rebuked him for killing Uriah the Hittite and taking his wife, Bathsheba, as his own. (You can read the account in 2 Samuel 12.) Easily the most universally recognizable verse from Psalm 51 is verse 10 (Psalm 51:10). This is a wonderful piece of Scripture, but I'd prefer today to focus on another, verses 3-4.

The Centrality of my Sin and its Offense to the Lord

Psalm 51:3-4 are the most striking verses of the chapter because David recognized the centrality of his sinfulness; he knew the focus of the matter was on his sinful heart and nothing else. How can I know that? Let's take a deeper look at verse 3:

3 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.

At first glance, there's not much to see here. This is one of those verses we tend to skim through, nod twice, and move forward. However, in Hebrew poetry there is a specific style that can be employed by the author called chiastic [kahy-as-tik] parallelism. Let's put aside that the mere mention of chiastic parallelism has obviously betrayed me as a seminary student, and focus on why this matters to you. In this style, the first element in Line 1 corresponds to the last element in Line 2, and the last element in Line 1 corresponds to the first element in Line 2, and so on. Confused? An easier way to understand is perhaps to see it like this:

A - B
  B - A.


3 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.

So what? Well, the key element of this style of Hebrew poetry is that the middle element (B, or David's sin) is the author's focal point, and everything else (A) merely supports it. In this context, the verse should be read in a way that highlights, above all else, David's sinfulness.

One of many applications is that we should also highlight, in our own lives, our own sinfulness. Don't blame others who tempted you. Don't make excuses for yourself. Don't, above all else, don't ignore your sins, burying them deep down. Instead, confess them, making them the central point of your repentance, free from any attempt to justify yourself. David's words further drive this point home in the first half of verse 4:

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight, ...

David set an incredible precedent for believers of every generation that followed: It is our sinfulness, our recklessness, our arrogance to think we can do as we please, satisfying our own selfish desires, that is the root of our broken relationship with God. This is why he said, "Against you, you only, have I sinned...." Have you ever thought about that statement? Surely David did not sin against God alone: he sinned against Uriah by murdering him; he sinned against Bathsheba by tempting her into sexual sin; there is certainly an argument that he sinned against Israel by abusing his power as their king to accomplish his own selfish desires (what a horrific abuse of his office!).

Yet, David said that he sinned against God and God alone. Why? Because David knew that his sin, although harmful to others, was, by its very nature and at its very core, the greatest offense to his Creator, his God, because his God was the standard by which David was measured, and David did not act righteously as God is righteous.

So much more could be said about this, but I'll leave you with this: I implore you to test yourself in the fires of Psalm 51:3-4 and see if you come out unscathed. Do you own your sin? Do you see it as the central driving force of the broken relationship between you and your God? The man after God's own heart did.

Alex Moore