“ Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.”
– Psalm 51:1 –
Commentary by Enduring Word
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness: The title of this Psalm gives the tragic context for David’s plea. He had sinned in murder, adultery, the covering of His sin, and in hardness against repentance. It took the bold confrontation of Nathan the Prophet to shake him from this (2 Samuel 12); yet once shaken, David came in great honesty and brokenness before God.
Have mercy upon me, O God is the prayer of a man who knows he has sinned and stopped from all self-justification. David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13) – a good and direct confession, without excuse and with clarity.
David asked for mercy, and that according to the measure of God’s loving kindness. This is God’s hesed, His loyal love, His covenant mercy. It was a well-phrased request with the eloquence of true brokenness.
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies: In slightly different words, David repeated the thought of the previous appeal. He had before experienced the multitude of God’s tender mercies; he asks for this outpouring again.
Multitude of Your tender mercies: “Men are greatly terrified at the multitude of their sins, but here is a comfort—our God hath multitude of mercies. If our sins be in number as the hairs of our head, God’s mercies are as the stars of heaven.” (Symson, cited in Spurgeon)
David used several words to speak of the kindness he desired from God. “Mercy denotes God’s loving assistance to the pitiful. Unfailing love[lovingkindness] points to the continuing operation of this mercy. Compassion[tender mercies] teaches that God feels for our infirmities.” (Boice)
Blot out my transgressions: David felt a register of his many sins condemned him and he wanted the account of them to be erased. The blotting out may refer to David’s own conscience, or to God’s accounting of sin – or perhaps to both.
Blot out my transgressions: “The plea, blot out, means ‘wipe away’, like the writing from a book (cf. Exodus 32:32; Numbers 5:23).” (Kidner)
Blot out my transgressions: “Out of thy debt-book; cross out the black lines of my sins with the red lines of Christ’s blood; cancel the bond, though written in black and bloody characters.” (Trapp)