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Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Psalm 51.1

Psalm 51 is the best known of the Penitential Psalms. The line at the top of the Psalm reveals that it is King David's personal confession, when the prophet Nathan confronted him with his heinous behaviour in raping Bathsheba and then, when his attempt to cover-up by summoning her husband - Uriah - home from the front-line of battle failed, he doubled his crime by ordering his general - Joab - to arrange Uriah's death by sending him to wherever the fighting was fiercest. All crimes in ancient Israel were commutable according to the temple system of sacrifices, except for rape/ incest and murder. In committing both, David had put himself beyond the pale. So he has no option but to throw himself onto the mercy of God.

Few will sink as low as David (just has few will ever scale the heights to which he rose in his better moments). However we can all learn from David because we all have our highs and lows. Eventually everything leads back to God because God is the supreme being to whom we are accountable. David had a lot of apologising and reparations to do and make but he is spot-on in beginning with God. He does not hide his guilt (ref. "my transgressions") yet he appeals to God's greater mercy (ref. "your unfailing love"... "your great compassion"). God has taken the initiative in committing to us his covenant of love. David has broken his side of the bargain - as do we all when we sin - yet he recognises that God is better and on this conviction his confession and eventual restoration are built.



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