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A broken and a contrite heart
Psalms 51:17 We may sometimes despair when we realize how much we’ve disappointed God. That’s a good thing…
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
Psalms 51:17 NASB1995
The psalms of King David are like a topographical map of a man’s soul. In the psalms, we see the gratitude of a shepherd boy who, through his unfailing faith in God, became a king with power and wealth. In those verses we see thankfulness from the heights of David’s life… but then come the days when things aren’t going so well, when David has sinned and knows it, and he is in the depths of despair.
In Psalm 51, David is a broken man, seeking forgiveness from a God he has disappointed greatly with his sin. Of this psalm, Enduring Word says:
James Montgomery Boice noted that this psalm has been long beloved by believers: “It was recited in full by Sir Thomas More and Lady Jane Grey when they were on the scaffold in the bloody days of Henry VIII and Queen Mary. William Carey, the great pioneer missionary to India, asked that it might be the text of his funeral sermon.”
“This great song, pulsating with the agony of a sin-stricken soul, helps us to understand the stupendous wonder of the everlasting mercy of our God.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
David knows that God doesn’t want an animal sacrifice as retribution for his sin, what God really wants is for David to show that deep in his heart, he understands that he did wrong and that he is truly sorry for committing his sins. David, as a rich man, could have sacrificed whole flocks of lambs and goats if he knew that God wanted that. Instead, David knows that God wants his heart instead.
David realizes how empty animal sacrifices are as a gesture of contrition, and how valuable his broken spirit and broken and contrite heart are to the Lord. A broken spirit shows the deepest type of humility toward God. Matthew Poole says of the broken and contrite heart:
“This is opposed to that hard or stony heart, of which we read so oft, which signifies a heart insensible of the burden of sin, stubborn and rebellious against God, imminent and incorrigible.”1
David’s heart was now aware of exactly how his sin affected not only his life, but his entire relationship with God. Having gone through the depths of despair as a result of sin and reaping the consequences of his actions, David heart, mind and soul were totally open to repentance.
Enduring Word’s David Guzik has this to say about the last part of the verse:
These, O God, You will not despise: It’s easy to imagine that many in David’s day would despise his broken and contrite heart. What he did — taking whatever woman he wanted and killing anyone who got in his way — these were expected conduct for the kings of the world. Perhaps his neighboring kings were mystified as to why any of this bothered David. To him, it did not matter what others thought; God did not despise his broken and contrite heart, and that was enough.
When we sin, recognize that sin, and seek repentance, we may sometimes despair when we realize how much we’ve disappointed God. That’s a good thing, as it is exactly how we can bring Jesus closer and give Him more control in conducting our lives.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, as I study Your Word, I understand the critical importance of humility and a contrite spirit. It often takes a deeply broken heart, mind, and soul before we allow Jesus to enter our lives to lead and guide us. Please reveal to me areas of my life where I still need to submit to Your leadership, so that my life may be a living sacrifice to You. I pray in the name of Jesus, AMEN.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org.
Quotes from Enduring Word used with written permission of the author.
Poole, Matthew "A Commentary on the Holy Bible" Volume 2 (Psalms-Malachi) (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968)