Psalm 51 has long been one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and I came to love it because of Jon Foreman’s song White as Snow. Other people may shy away from this psalm because it’s entirely about sin. However, it’s pretty humbling to read (and even more humbling to sing and confess to God yourself!).

I came across MacArthur’s notes on this passage in the MacArthur Study Bible. They were so helpful in reminding me of the power of this psalm.


If you didn’t know already, here’s the background of Psalm 51:

“This is the classic passage in the OT on man’s repentance and God’s forgiveness of sin. Along with Ps. 32, it was written by David after his affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, her husband (2 Sam. 11–12). It is one of seven poems called penitential psalms (Ps. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). To David’s credit, he recognized fully how horrendous his sin was against God, blamed no one but himself, and begged for divine forgiveness.

OUTLINE: Plea for Forgiveness (51:1–2); Proffer of Confession (51:3–6); Prayer for Moral Cleanness (51:7–12); Promise of Renewed Service (51:13–17); Petition for National Restoration (51:18–19).”


Ps. 51:1 steadfast love. 

“Even though he had sinned horribly, David knew that forgiveness was available, based on God’s covenant love.”

Have you ever been overwhelmed by your own sin, to the point of believing that God would abandon you? Or perhaps, you are so frustrated by what you have done, you become severely depressed and don’t know how you can keep on going? Sin can make us feel as if we are entirely unloveable.

But MacArthur points out here in his notes that David, before apologizing for his sin, calls on God’s unconditional love. Remember, David just MURDERED someone. Murder! I can’t image the weight of the shame and guilt he must have been carrying. I’m so thankful that the Bible doesn’t cover up the mistakes God’s people. Instead, we can read this and be encouraged.

Ps. 51:4 Against you, you only. 

“David realized what every believer seeking forgiveness must, that even though he had tragically wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, his ultimate crime was against God and his holy law (cf. 2 Sam. 11:27). Romans 3:4 quotes Ps. 51:4.”

When we sin, it is so important to remember that our mistakes are ultimately against God. I can think of two good reasons for meditating on this idea. The first is that we don’t want to act as if our sin only has to do with other people—it affects our relationship with God and we need reconciliation with Him. We need to ask for forgiveness! But also, we know that God is faithful and just to forgive us, and it is His forgiveness that matters. We are able to move past our sin and pursue holiness, even when the people we have sinned against won’t accept our apology.

Ps. 51:6 you will not delight in sacrifice. 

“Ritual without genuine repentance is useless. However, with a right heart attitude, sacrifices were acceptable (see v. 19).”

What kind of rituals surrounding repentance have we created? Maybe at your church, you recite a prayer of repentance each week. Or, it may be that you have a habit of asking God for forgiveness, but it’s become numb to you. God cares less about the action and more about the heart. Make sure to take the time you need to truly repent of your wrongdoing. Your relationship with God (and own struggle with sin, guilt, and shame) will be better for it.


MacArthur Study Bible NASB NIV NKJV ESV Olive Tree

These insights were inspired by the MacArthur Study Bible. Not only are there notes about Psalm 51 that I didn’t cover, but there are thousands of other notes, giving insight to all the passages of the Bible! This study Bible comes in three different translations: NKJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB. Head on over to our website to learn more about it.


  1. The 51st Psalms s the foundation of my church and our faith. The entire church recites it twice every Sunday during Sunday school. I and my family know it by heart. It is a true acknowledgment of our sin, which is daily, and a perfect scripture to ask for God’s forgiveness. We live in a sinful world therefore God’s forgiveness is essential to our existence.

    • Lauracise Hughes

      Mr. Walter
      You are so right…. I went to a revival last night and during devotion Psalm 51 is what was read…. how ironic I get conformation in email this morning.

    • Anil Christian

      Yes,praise God, In all my past life,I made many mistakes, and commited sin. And I was in deep agony of those sin,and every time it was psalm 51 that bring me back to God. And comfort me fully.praise Jesus.

  2. Tonight I went to hear a testimony from a leader of an orphanage out of Honduras. She called her time of prayer for her seeking God’s will a gut wrenching time with God. PS 51 is the same & we all brothers & sisters need gut wrenching times of prayers for His will to be done in & through our lives for His purpose.

  3. Mrs Jessie richardson

    Psalm 51 is the psalm that brought me to salvation many years ago it was my hearts cry to God because I knew I had sinned against him and him only , It is a wonderful cleansing psalm and I read it every now and then to remind myself of Gods great mercy and forgiveness

  4. Dr. Benjamin Howe Nongo

    Truly a life changing encounter with psalm 51. We are fighting a titanic war with temptation . In this case David lost the war but won the bible , because he realized &a confessed .may we all be like King David all the times. Amen.

  5. Davids sin still had consequence, but with forgiveness did not self destruct. Bible tells us one against it self ….self destructs, even mathematically is zero. Sin … every separation from Gods will… Gods love …thought, word, deed…even guilt, shame, self-condemnation falls short Gods will and plan. Receive fullness forgiveness and move forward in thanksgiving.
    Purposed…. note Davids later years sons rebellion … not murder again… same grace received and extended.

    Also, meditate Scripture Peter denial… rooster crowed three times… Jesus concern … make sure specifically Peter comes, not mention rest disciples by name, wanted him specifically let it go and come. What about Judas?

  6. Agyekum Daniel

    Will God forgive a sin that is repeatedly committed??

    • Yes. Christ suffered and died for our sins; you are forgiven. Pray for knowledge and strength to stop repeating the sin. But remember, if you have accepted Christ, you are full of the Holy Spirit…you are equipped to stop sinning.

    • Carlos Teixeira

      Exactly, when we commit sins against the God’s word we are going to face the consequences. The son of David died even he had regretted. We need be alert to any kind of temptation to not fall down. One thing we can do is to read the Bible everyday and meditate about his mercy and justice.

  7. I have always thought the Psalms were a sort of Call to Arms for men who follow God (my apologies to my wife and other women). David talks a lot about What God will do; What he will do; and what People should do. Here is what God has allowed me to draw out of this passage:

    REQUESTS – Have Mercy on me; Blot out my transgressions; Wash away all my iniquity; Cleanse me from sin; Cleanse me with hyssop; Wash me; Let me hear joy and gladness; Let the bones you crushed rejoice, Hide your face from my sins; Blot out my iniquity; Create in me a pure heart; Renew a steadfast spirit in me; Don’t cast me out of your business; Restore to me the joy of your salvation; Grant me a willing spirit; Save me from bloodguilt; Open my lips; make Zion prosper; Build up the walls of Jerusalem.

    David’s Self-Analysis: I know my transgressions; My sin is always with me; I will teach transgressors Your ways; My tongue will sing of your righteousness; My mouth will declare your praise.

    David Commentary: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.

  8. I recently was convicted in a huge way of my sin – Galatians 5:19, and have been crying and praying for the past week. I believed that my sin committed just like David did, was unforgivable and unpardonable and that I was going to hell – because it was committed after the crucifixion of Christ, and David did it before the crucifixion of Christ. So I have been very, very sad and crying out to God to forgive me. Psalm 51 and Psalm 88.