When is God Merciful?

Ps 51 (1-2)

The Psalms are a collections of songs, written by different people over many, many years. The Psalms have always been treasured because they express the most basic and fundamental human emotions in poetic form – they give voice to what so many of us experience in our lives. If you’ve ever had a favorite song on the radio that expresses emotions, fears, anxieties and values that particularly resonate with you, then you’ll understand why the Book of Psalms is such an important part of the Bible. These psalms do the very same thing, but from a spiritual perspective – which makes them much more valuable than the catchy song on the radio!

Psalm 51 has always had a treasured place in Christian’s hearts, because every Christian can see himself in David’s words. We can transport ourselves into David’s world, understand his fears, feel his anxieties and experience the aching shame of regret for our sin. This is the value of the psalms – they express the timelessness of human emotions towards God. It doesn’t matter when the Psalm was written; it conveys feelings and attitudes that are universal. Time does not and cannot render these emotions obsolete.

In this Psalm, King David is begging God for mercy:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions (Psalm 51:1)

  • Why is David asking for mercy?

He realizes that he has done something wrong, something wicked, something that God is not pleased with, something that is disgraceful to the Lord. Only somebody who belongs to the Lord by repentance and faith in Christ will actually feel ashamed of their conduct and beg for mercy.

There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God (Romans 3:11)

Now, this isn’t to say that unbelievers will never feel sorry for foolish and sinful things they do. What I mean is that it is impossible for unbelievers to feel a sense of accountability to the Lord, and a corresponding sense of shame and sorrow for their failure to serve Him. This is why the Apostle Paul warned us that, in our natural state as lost and rebellious sinners (cf. Romans 3:9-18):

  • There is nobody who is righteous
  • There is nobody who seeks God
  • Everybody is inherently worthless to God
  • There is no fear of God before anybody’s eyes

So, it’s important to realize that the only reason why David is even begging God for mercy in the first place is because he is a believer – and he therefore feels a profound and deep sense of sorrow and shame for his sins, so he begs God for mercy. Mercy is when God decides to withhold punishment that you deserve – this is what David is begging for.

  • What grounds does David have to ask God for mercy in the first place?

There two – (1) God’s lovingkindness and (2) the multitude of His tender mercies.

David can ask for mercy because he believes in God’s promise of the coming Savior – Jesus Christ. From our perspective, Jesus has already come, lived a perfect life for our sake, been tortured and executed for our sake, and rose miraculously from the dead to prove His jurisdiction, power and authority over Satan. From David’s perspective , this is all future – and he believes that God will do it. Know this – the only basis you have for begging God for mercy in the first place is if you have obeyed Jesus’ command to repent and believe the Gospel.

David is a believer in the future Messiah, Jesus Christ, and therefore has a right to lay claim to God’s lovingkindness and His tender mercy.

  • What does David ask God to do once mercy is granted?

He asks God to “blot out” out his transgressions because of the multitude of God’s “tender mercies.” If you belong to the Lord by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, then you have a perfect forgiveness and perfect assurance of forgiveness. Only a saved person can pray this kind of prayer.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2).


I can’t think of a more beautiful metaphor for the kind of forgiveness and mercy God shows to His adopted children. David speaks of a complete washing and cleansing from all sin, and the clear conscience that comes from knowing you’ve actually been forgiven.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

This is all present-tense, and this is the kind of forgiveness and mercy that David believes in and looks forward to – and asks God for. What Christian cannot read David’s words and reflect on his own life, his own moral failures, his own unworthiness and his own need for forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation and adoption into God’s family by Jesus Christ!?

More on Psalm 51 next time . . .

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