Repentance in the Psalms

Previously, I alluded to the fact that the sort of path of righteousness in which we are to walk is a character marked by the practice of justice, mercy, and faith. And as those who are fallen and redeemed works-in-progress, our practice of righteousness must include a humble attitude along with contrition and repentance when we stray from the path. I’d like to elaborate on that contrition and repentance.

Yahweh, do not rebuke me in your anger;
Do not discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, Yahweh, for I am weak;
Heal me, Yahweh, for my bones are shaking;
My whole being is shaken with terror.
And you, Yahweh​—​how long?
I am weary from my groaning;
With my tears I dampen my bed
And drench my couch every night.

– Psalm 6:1-3, 6

When I kept silent, my bones became brittle
From my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me;
My strength was drained as in the summer’s heat.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
And did not conceal my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,”
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

– Psalm 32:3-5

A soul that’s conscious of its own guilt is restless. Shame is heavy upon the righteous one who has done wrong and strayed from the path. The anxiety can make such an individual weak and sick. The sin-burdened soul of the righteous one can be disengaged, distracted, and drained of the strength and focus to carry out daily life with diligence. Such sad souls seek relief; they seek forgiveness and restoration from God who has been grieved.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom Yahweh counts no iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in Yahweh.
Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice, O righteous,
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

– Psalm 32:1-2; 9-10

In repentance and more so in the love of God, the righteous man finds great relief and joy in his forgiveness and justification by God. He trusts in the steadfast love—the khesed or covenantal faithfulness—of God.

Psalm 51 is the premier example of a prayer of repentance. As you may know, this Psalm is a memorialization of King David’s repentance of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah after being confronted by the Prophet Nathan. Read all of Psalm 51 and note several key examples to follow:

  • Appeal for forgiveness is an appeal to God’s mercy, loving-kindness, magnanimity, compassion, and so forth—to his righteousness for his Name’s sake
  • Full responsibility for the sin in taken and candidly confessed
  • Acknowledgement that all sin is ultimately and truly against God
  • Acknowledgement that God is truly a just and righteous Judge
  • Acknowledgement this isn’t merely about feeling awful (though that does seem to be the case) but is about a disruption in a loving relationship with God
  • Desire for reconciliation with God and the restoration of the abiding comfort and consolation of his Spirit
  • Acknowledgement that this isn’t just about actions but cuts right to the heart of the sinner seeking forgiveness and restoration, that truth would go all the way down
  • Acknowledgement that forgiveness and restoration have a purpose that exceeds the sinner and seeks the conversion and reconciliation of other sinners to God
  • Acknowledgement that forgiveness and restoration have a purpose that exceeds the sinner and seeks the reestablishment of right worship in attitude and action

This is the shape of robust prayers of repentance made by the the righteous man when he strays from the path of righteousness. This is the way in which the righteous man will get up once again after he has fallen down. In fact, a righteous man will do this despite how he may feel about it. He’ll do what is right first and learn to feel what is right in due time.

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