Great Prayers of the Bible: David’s Prayer of Repentance


How is it that David is called a man after God’s own heart? How is it that when God is talking to David’s son, Solomon, he says; “Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked,
in integrity of heart and in uprightness…then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever as I promised David your father.” (I Kings 9:4-5) Then again, when God was reprimanding King Jeroboam, he said; “…and yet you have not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart; to do only what was right in My eyes.” (I Kings 14:8)

David is the man who used his power to seduce a woman named Bathsheba while her husband was at war on King David’s behalf. When she was found to be with his child, David arranged for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle to cover up the matter. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Is this a man after God’s own heart?

God looks at the heart

Yes, God says that he is. When God was directing Samuel the prophet to anoint a new king over Israel after he had rejected Saul, he told Samuel; “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) So despite his sin, God loved David’s heart. I believe that we have a glimpse into that heart which God so treasured when we read Psalm 51, which is a prayer of repentance. That psalm is truly one of the great prayers of the Bible.

After David’s sin, the Lord sent him Nathan the prophet to confront him. (See II Samuel 12). Instead of denial or excuses, David comes clean; “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13) But if that was all we were told about the incident we would have no idea about the depth of the repentance that David felt. Fortunately we have Psalm 51 which is a soul poured out before the Lord with great transparency and brokenness of spirit.

Psalm 51 is marked by true characteristics of repentance such as:

  • Appeal to the mercy of God
  • Honesty
  • Understanding of the severity of sinning against God
  • No excuses or justification
  • Desire to reform
  • Recognition that forgiveness is not deserved but by grace alone

In verse 2 David asks God to do three things. First he asks that his sin be blotted out which speaks of human records which can be erased. Then he asks to be washed thoroughly which compares forgiveness to the washing of clothes and clothes were often seen as an extension of the person. Finally he asks to be cleansed from his sin and this refers to liturgical ceremonial law. David wished to be separated from his sin in every way possible. He is not clinging to it with secret affection for it. No, he is rejecting his sin to the uttermost.

In his prayer, David acknowledges his sin “nature” and he holds out no hope that on his own he will be able to avoid sin in the future. He doesn’t do this as an excuse, “Gee, I’m only human” but as an expression of his brokenness and his need for God’s help and delivering power. David puts the burden of redemption on God: “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (verse 7) He is willing and desirous to submit to this deep cleansing of his innermost being.


Beyond being forgiven and cleansed, David wants restoration. This is something we should all seek. He does not want to be stuck in the guilt of his sin as he moves into the future. David says; “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” (Verse 12) David wants to repent and be done with it. Knowing God has removed his sin from him, David wants to experience joy again.

This is a wonderful hallmark of forgiveness from the Lord. If we truly repent, he removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12) We are free to move forward as if the sin never existed at all. What joy and freedom!

That release from guilt is what makes David able to promise something back to the Lord. After the joy of God’s salvation is restored, David says; “then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” (Verse 13) This is very interesting. How is it that this restoration of joy will enable David to communicate God’s ways to sinners so that they will be converted?

Freedom to be honest about sin

Have you ever noticed that those who have truly repented and received complete forgiveness are usually open and forthright about their past sin? I have heard such men and woman stand up and publicly tell the stories of their lives as alcoholics, adulterers, thieves, drug traffickers and more. I have heard the remarkable testimony of David Berkowitz, the notorious “Son of Sam” serial killer who terrorized New York in the 1970s. The transforming power and grace of Jesus Christ touched his life and he tells his story without hesitation.

When people listen to stories of God’s great grace they often feel that their own case is not hopeless and their own sin not unforgivable. They see joy on the face of the former sinner and they want that same joy. God is there to offer it.

As you read and re-read Psalm 51, what do you find you identify with the most? Is there a hidden sin that you need to repent of with the same heart David had? Do you find you haven’t been completely honest with God? Are you willing to accept the deep cleansing David desired? Do you need to have the joy of God’s salvation restored to you? Do you desire to have your testimony of God’s grace touch the lives of others?

David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 is one of the great prayers of the Bible. After you read it, it isn’t so hard anymore to understand why David was a man after God’s own heart. You and I can hold that same title; we can be men and women after God’s own heart. Repentance is the entryway. Come, enter in.

Read next about
Job’s prayer.

1 Comment

  1. Tarrence

    There is a kind of joy in repentance. I say “a kind of” because repentance is also arduous, humbling, exacting.


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