Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 51

Sinner made new

Our selfish choices separate us from God. They also profoundly affect the people entrusted to our care. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story: God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

A David psalm. When the prophet Nathan came to David over his affair with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me
O God, in your unfailing love.
Blot out my offenses
in the overflow of your grace.
2 Wash away all my guilt
and purify me from my evil
3 for I’m well aware of my offences—
they haunt me day and night.
4 Against you and you alone have I sinned
doing what you clearly marked out as evil.
So your charge against me is right
and your verdict is just.
5 I was born into rebellion
born to rebels as I was.

6 You desire truth where no one else can see.
So teach me your wisdom in my heart of hearts.
7 Purify me with hyssop and I’ll be pure.
Wash me and I’ll be whiter than snow.
8 Fill me with such laughter and song
that the bones you’ve crushed will dance for joy.
9 Look past my sins and wipe away all my guilt.

10 Create a clean heart in me, O God
one that beats with pure and faithful love for you.
11 Don’t banish me from your presence
or withdraw your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and make my heart long to obey you again.
13 Then I’ll teach fellow rebels about your grace
and they’ll come back home to you.
14 Wash this monstrous blood off my hands
O God, my savior!
Save me and I’ll sing for joy
about your forgiveness.
15 Unstop my mouth, Lord
and I’ll tell everyone what you’ve done for me. 

16 You don’t want mere sacrifices
or I’d give them to you.
Offering a whole-offering
with just a sliver of my heart
is a sham you won’t accept.
17 The sacrifice God accepts
is a heart broken up over its sin.
A heart that’s humble and contrite, O God
you won’t ever spurn.

18 Do all the good to Zion you long to do.
Rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.
19 Then you’ll be pleased
to receive true sacrifices—
burnt-offerings and whole-offerings.
And young bulls will be offered up on your altar.

Throughout his affair with Bathsheba, David’s ritual sacrifices were simply offered to keep up religious appearances. But camouflaged or not, sinful self-indulgence brings no joy like that of knowing God. So when Nathan finally confronted him, David confessed his sin against YHWH. Since all sin is ultimately against God, David sees his sins against everyone else—even against the man he had murdered, Bathsheba’s supremely loyal husband—as nothing next to his sins against God.

Clinging to God’s unfailing love and mercy, David asks God to cleanse and restore him to fellowship with him. Rebel that he is, he also asks God miraculously to give him a pure heart that longs to obey.

Only thus remade will David’s joy overflow and God empower him to guide fellow rebels back home. David will tell them that, devoid of the broken heart it’s supposed to be expressing, sacrifice means nothing to God, but also that God welcomes all who renounce their sins and look to him for mercy.

David’s rebellion has ravaged the city he’s guardian of, God’s terrestrial home and earth’s unique point of access to heaven. So David concludes by asking God to right that wrong too by healing the breach in Zion’s protective walls—a perfectly Davidic metaphor for Zion’s restoration. Zion’s sacrificial system functions as it should only if God restores the divine-human order David’s sins have disrupted. Hence, he naturally concludes with his people enabled to worship freely once again.

On my own, Jesus, I can clean only the outside of my cup. But you require purity and truth inside it too. Purify my heart so I can know the joy of unbroken fellowship with you. Only so renewed, can I offer worship that pleases you and represent your gracious rule on earth. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray this profoundly simple prayer:

Create a clean heart in me, O God
one that beats with pure and faithful love for you.


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.