Against The Only Have I Sinned

Psalm 51 "Against Thee Only Have I Sinned" March 31, 2019


When you open your Bible, above certain chapters there is a title, like The Ten Commandments or The Birth of Jesus. Well, those titles are not in the Bible. You won’t find them in the original Hebrew or Greek. They were added by book publishers who wanted to make it easier to find things in the Bible.

I point that out because today, the title for Psalm 51 says, “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.” This title IS in the original Hebrew. The writers put it there to make it clear, this psalm was written, probably by David himself, after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet so we would know just why David was pleading for help. Let us listen for the Word of God…

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,

and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence

and blameless in thy judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,

and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Fill[
a] me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence,

and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
and sinners will return to thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,[
c] O God,
thou God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.

15 O Lord, open thou my lips,
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
16 For thou hast no delight in sacrifice;

were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[
d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices,

in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on thy altar.


I heard a story about a man who went for a walk. Unfortunately, he wasn’t paying attention. He slipped and fell, and he found himself tumbling down the side of a cliff. At the last moment, he manages to grab onto a branch. There he is dangling over this deep ravine. He yells to God for help: “O Lord, if you hear me, please help! Lord, are you there? Please help me!” Suddenly, he hears a Voice from heaven, and it’s God, and God says, “I am here.” The man said, “Thank you, God. Can you please help me?” God said, “Yes, of course, but you must do exactly what I say.” The man said, “Just tell me what to do and I will do it.” And God said, “Let go. Let go of the branch.” The man hung there for a moment thinking. He looked down at this long fall below him and then looking up at the cliff and finally said, “Is there anybody else up there?”


King David is hanging from branch. He wasn’t paying attention and now he’s in trouble. Perhaps the only worse than dangling off a cliff in realizing you have no one else to blame but yourself.

So, in Psalm 51, we hear David yelling for God:

Have mercy on me, O God!

Deliver me, O God!

Cast me not away from thy presence,

Get me off this branch and back up to where I am safe once again.


This was a big fall for David in more than one way. According to I Samuel, David was one of God’s favorites and now he’s barely hanging on.

The story goes that after Saul became king, Saul started to ignore God’s directions. God would tell Saul what to do and Saul would do something else. Finally, God had enough. So God sent the prophet Samuel. Samuel said, “Saul, since you have ignored the directions of God. the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and he will rule over his people.” There it is. It must have stung Saul. The Lord had sought out a man after his own heart and it wasn’t him. As we know, it was David.

David had found favor in the Lord. David, the shepherd boy, the youngest son of Jesse, David who killed lions and bears when he was just a boy. David who fell Goliath with one stone.

David, whose heart was like God’s. But, since he wasn’t paying attention, he’s hanging from a cliff and calling for help. The same beautiful, brave and blue-eyed David, whose music could calm the wrath of kings, whose courage was without question, and whose heart for God was unlike any other, was now hanging precariously, if not literally, at least spiritually.

David had fallen that day David looked out his balcony and decided to take Bathsheba for himself. It began with lust, and it ended with David making sure Uriah was then killed in the heat of battle.


It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? David commits some of the worse sins we can imagine and yet, David is someone after God’s own heart?

I think whats more confusing, is when David says, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.”

I think most of us would imagine David also sinned against Bathsheba, right? He sinned against Uriah. He sinned against his army. He sinned against his entire kingdom, for that matter.

But, David says it’s only against God, he has sinned.

The Old Testament Hebrews understood sin different from how we do. For them, sin was a failure to do what was right in relation to other people. By the time the New Testament came around, Jesus taught us that even our thoughts can be sinful. But for King David, sin was not bad thoughts. Sin was something we DID to one another. When David said, “Against thee only have I sinned,” he wasn’t ignoring his abuse of power with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah.


He was confessing a bigger truth:

When we harm one another, we are harming God.

When we say bad things about one another, when we gossip or insult, or generally do things which hurt one another, that disrespect is visited upon God. Jesus tried to tell us much in Matthew 25: Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto me.” He didn’t mean the homeless person we ignore is actually Jesus, but he’s saying that our callous behavior is behavior which is callous towards God. Our divisive behavior divides us from God. Our love for others is love for God.

Whatever snippy thing we say to the waitress, whatever sharp comment we have for the cashier, whatever arrogant comment for our co-worker or whatever snide remark we make behind our bosses back. David and Jesus would say, “Against thee and only thee, have I sinned.”

First and foremost, we delight in giving those people kindness knowing that devotion to others will eventually give us a heart after God.

That’s what David’s confession was all about. All those awful things he did to Bathsheba, to Uriah, his army, and his people, unraveled his heart for God. David was asking God to bind him back with forgiveness.


When Samuel said David had a heart after God, I think the most important word is AFTER. The word, after, here means to pursue. Samuel is saying that what made David special was his desire to go after God’s heart. Davie pursued God’s will. David sought a path which would please God. The moment he went after Bathsheba, he stopped going after God’s heart and was led by his own compass. David is like all of us, left entirely to our own directions, we get lost and, if we are not careful, we might just end up hanging from a cliff.


A few years back, the former WWW pro-wrestler and governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, made an infamous comment. He said, “Religion is a crutch for weak people.” He meant it as an insult, of course. But, when I hear someone say, “Religion is a crutch,” my first thought is, “Well, yes, but what makes you think you don’t have a limp?”

Religion, at least Christian religion, teaches us we have a limp. We call that limp, sin. We are not perfect and left to our own devices, we will wander off the path and get into trouble. I read somewhere that one reason people get lost in the wilderness is because one leg is stronger than the other, while trying to walk a straight line, we’ll inadvertently walk in circles.

Seems to me, one good reason for religion is to keep us from walking in circles, wandering off into the brambles and falling off cliffs.

David got into trouble because he forgot, like all of us forget, unless we humbly and continually pursue a life that is after God’s heart, we will likely fall from grace.


When I read Psalm 51, it occurred to me how embarrassing it must have been for David. I mean not only did he make some serious mistakes, but now those mistakes are immortalized on paper. We will forever know the reason behind Psalm 51, because it’s right there in the title.

When you and I make a mistake, most people forgive and forget. Not always, Some people hold onto our mistakes like burrs on a sock. But, at least our mistakes are not printed in a Bible where people can read about them from here to eternity.

Yet, what is also immortalized in Psalm 51 is what to do when we fail. David shows us. When we take a wrong turn, when we harm others, or when our hearts momentarily stop going after God, God will pull us back up.

Our forever tendency to wander is matched by God’s eternal desire to be gracious. David shows us what to do, and from here to eternity, we can open-up Psalm 51 if we ever forget. David said it better than I can:

Have mercy on me, O God, 2 Wash me thoroughly, and cleanse my sin! Purge me and make me clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Fill me with joy and gladness; Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation. Even if all I have to give is a broken spirit; O God, I know it will be enough.


This is all God needs to haul us back up and set us on the right path once again.



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