Psalm 51: The Great Psalm of Repentance

(19 verses, 2:10 to read)


What I am about to READ

  • Psalm 51 is the greatest of the penitential Psalms, King David’s great prayer of repentance.


  • This Psalm is the cry of a desperate heart before God, a broken and contrite heart that is clinging to the Lord’s mercy for life and hope.
  • In this Psalm we see clearly the two parts of repentance: 1) contrition over sin, and 2) faith in the Lord’s mercy.
  • David is terrified because of his sin. He knows that God will punish his sin (see 51:4).
  • David also knows that his sin is not only dangerous for himself, but for the entire people of Israel.
  • He is to be the father of the Messiah. So he prays, in 51:18-19, for a restoration of the city and the worship of the temple.


  • This Psalm is occasioned by King David’s sin of adultery and murder, and the his repentance after being confronted by the Prophet Nathan. (See 2 Samuel 11-12) This entire episode is shocking, but the Holy Spirit has it in the Scriptures as a warning and comfort to us. Even King David, a “man after the Lord’s heart” is not immune from such wickedness, AND even such wickedness is not immune from the Lord’s mercy.
  • This Psalm is one of the seven penitential Psalms. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143.)
  • The restoration of the Holy Spirit is an important part of repentance. In 51:10-12 the Holy Spirit is named three times, the “Right Spirit,” the “Holy Spirit,” and the “Free Spirit.” The names of the Holy Spirit also extol His office, so the Spirit justifies us (“Right Spirit”), cleanses us (“Holy Spirit”), and liberates us (“Free Spirit”).


  • This Psalm is worth praying over and over.
  • In liturgical Lutheran congregations we pray Psalm 51:10-12 each Sunday after the sermon. Psalm 51:15 is the opening verse for the daily prayer offices of Matins and Vespers.
  • Psalm 51:5 is one of the primary texts teaching original sin.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post below, or join the conversation in our Facebook group:
-Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller


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