Psalm 51 (NIV & KJV): Text, Meaning, Commentary & More

Psalm 51 is a reminder that despite our flaws and failures, God remains merciful and is always ready to forgive and renew us.

In this article, we will explore the meaning and significance of this Psalm and its enduring relevance for us today.

What is Psalm 51?

Psalm 51 is a hymn in the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, attributed to King David. It is a prayer for forgiveness and a plea for God’s mercy. The psalm reflects on David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, and expresses contrition and a desire for inner renewal.

It reads as follows:

Psalm 51 (NIV – New International Version of the Bible)

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

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

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51 (KJV – King James Version of the Bible)

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

Literary analysis

Psalm 51 is a lament psalm, which is a type of psalm that expresses sorrow and seeks divine help and comfort. Overall, it is a powerful expression of penitence and a testament to the transformative power of forgiveness and grace.


The psalm has a clear structure, with an opening confession of sin (vv. 1-4), a plea for forgiveness and restoration (vv. 5-9), a declaration of faith and commitment (vv. 10-13), and a prayer for the vindication of the psalmist (vv. 14-19).

Throughout the psalm, David uses rich and vivid language to express his deep contrition and longing for forgiveness.


The themes of Psalm 51 include confession, forgiveness, restoration, and renewal.

David acknowledges his sin and asks God to cleanse him, both inwardly and outwardly. He acknowledges his dependence on God’s mercy and expresses his desire to live a righteous life.

The psalm also includes elements of hope and trust, as David looks forward to God’s redemption and restoration.


In terms of literary style, Psalm 51 is known for its use of parallelism, a common feature of Hebrew poetry. This involves the repetition of similar thoughts or phrases in successive lines, creating a rhythm and reinforcing the message of the psalm.

Theological interpretation

Theologically, Psalm 51 highlights several key truths about sin and forgiveness.

First, it emphasizes the reality of sin and its consequences. David recognizes that his actions have caused harm, not just to others, but also to himself and his relationship with God. Second, the psalm affirms the importance of confessing sin and seeking forgiveness. David confesses his sin openly, and recognizes the need for God’s cleansing and restoration.

At the same time, Psalm 51 also highlights the compassionate nature of God. David recognizes that God is merciful and slow to anger, and that his hope for forgiveness lies in God’s grace and mercy. This is a fundamental truth about God that is reflected throughout the Bible, and is one of the key messages of the gospel.

Notable verses: Commentary on verses 10-12

Psalm 51:10

Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

This verse is a plea for God to purify the speaker’s heart and give them a steadfast, unwavering spirit. It is a request for spiritual renewal and for the removal of sin and guilt. The speaker recognizes their need for a change of heart and is asking for God’s help to achieve it.

Psalm 51:11

Psalm 51:11 says, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”

This verse is a continuation of the speaker’s plea for renewal and forgiveness. The speaker fears that if God were to turn away from them or remove His presence, it would lead to their ruin. They ask God not to withdraw His Holy Spirit, which they understand as the source of life and strength. The speaker is expressing their deep dependence on God’s presence and grace, and their fear of losing it.

Psalm 51:12

Psalm 51:12 says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.”

This verse is a continuation of the speaker’s request for spiritual renewal. They ask God to restore the joy and peace that come from salvation and to give them the strength and willingness to serve Him. The speaker recognizes that true joy and purpose come from a relationship with God and is asking for God’s help to deepen that relationship.

The impact of Psalm 51 throughout history

Psalm 51 has been meaningful for individuals and communities throughout history for several reasons:

  • Confession and repentance: The psalm provides a model for confessing sin and seeking forgiveness, which has been an important spiritual practice for people of faith across many cultures and generations.
  • Comfort in times of suffering: The psalm’s themes of penitence and renewal have provided comfort and hope to those who have experienced setbacks in life.
  • Emphasizing the mercy and grace of God: Psalm 51 highlights the compassionate and forgiving nature of God, which has been a source of solace for many believers throughout history.
  • Inspiring worship and devotion: The psalm’s powerful language and vivid imagery have inspired countless hymns and worship songs, making it a meaningful part of religious services and personal devotions.
  • A model for spiritual growth: By emphasizing the importance of confessing sin and seeking forgiveness, Psalm 51 has served as a model for spiritual growth and transformation, inspiring many people to seek a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.

Relevance of Psalm 51 today

Psalm 51 speaks to contemporary issues and challenges in a number of ways. Despite being written thousands of years ago, its themes of sin, guilt, contrition, and the longing for divine mercy remain relevant and resonate with people today.

Some of the ways in which Psalm 51 speaks to contemporary issues and challenges include:

  • The universality of sin: The psalm acknowledges that all people are prone to sin and in need of forgiveness, a message that is just as true today as it was in ancient times.
  • The power of repentance: By expressing his deep remorse and seeking God’s forgiveness, King David demonstrates the power of true repentance and the transformative effect it can have on the human heart.
  • The need for humility: The psalm also teaches us the importance of humility, as the psalmist acknowledges his unworthiness and relies solely on God’s mercy for salvation.
  • The hope for renewal: Despite the depth of his guilt, the psalmist clings to the hope for renewal and restoration through God’s forgiveness, a message of hope that is as pertinent now as it was in the past.

These themes, among others, make Psalm 51 a timeless expression of the human need for divine mercy and a valuable source of comfort and encouragement for people facing the challenges of the modern world.

Frequently asked questions

What does Psalm 51 mean?

The psalm expresses the psalmist’s deep remorse for his sin and guilt and his longing for restoration and renewal through God’s mercy. The psalm also acknowledges God’s holiness and the psalmist’s unworthiness, and implores God to cleanse him and create in him a pure heart.

The overall message of Psalm 51 is one of contrition, humility, and the hope for divine forgiveness and restoration.

Who wrote Psalm 51?

Psalm 51 is attributed to King David in the biblical book of Psalms. According to the biblical account, David wrote the psalm after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband Uriah.

When was it written?

The exact date of the composition of Psalm 51 is uncertain, but it is believed to have been written by King David during his reign in ancient Israel, likely sometime between 1010 and 970 BC.

What kind of Psalm is Psalm 51?

Psalm 51 is considered a lament psalm or a psalm of repentance as it expresses sorrow and seeks divine help, comfort and forgiveness. The psalm reflects King David’s contrition and serves as a model for confessing sin and seeking God’s mercy.

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