Psalm 51:4
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
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(4) Against thee, thee only . . .—This can refer to nothing but a breach of the covenant-relation by the nation at large. An individual would have felt his guilt against the nation or other individuals, as well as against Jehovah. The fact that St. Paul quotes (from the LXX.) part of the verse in Romans 3:4 (see Note, New Testament Commentary) has naturally opened up an avenue for discussion on the bearing of the words on the doctrines of free-will and predestination. But the immediate object of his quotation appears to be to contrast the faithfulness of the God of the covenant with the falsehood of the covenant people (“Let God be true, and every man a liar”). The honour of God, as God of the covenant, was at stake. It is this thought which appears in the last clauses of this verse.

That . . .So that (or, in order that) thou art (or mayest be) justified in thy cause, and clear in thy judgment. The Hebrew, rendered in the Authorised Version when thou speakest, is often used of a cause or suit (see (Exodus 18:16-22, “matter,” &c), and it is here plainly used in this sense and is parallel to judgment. The clause seems to imply not only a sense of a breach of the covenant, but some manifest judgment from Jehovah in consequence; and, as usual, it is of its effect on the heathen that the psalmist thinks. The Divine honour would be justified when the suffering nation confessed that condemnation and punishment had been deserved. This was apparently the meaning read in the words by the LXX.

Psalm 51:4. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned — Which is not to be understood absolutely, because he had sinned against Bath-sheba and Uriah, and many others; but comparatively. So the sense is, Though I have sinned against my own conscience, and against others, yet nothing is more grievous to me than that I have sinned against thee. And done this evil in thy sight — With gross contempt of thee, whom I knew to be a spectator of my most secret actions. That thou mightest be justified — This will be the fruit of my sin, that whatsoever severities thou shalt use toward me, it will be no blemish to thy righteousness, but thy justice will be glorified by all men. When thou speakest — Hebrew, in thy words, in all thy threatenings denounced against me. And be clear when thou judgest — When thou dost execute thy sentence upon me.

51:1-6 David, being convinced of his sin, poured out his soul to God in prayer for mercy and grace. Whither should backsliding children return, but to the Lord their God, who alone can heal them? he drew up, by Divine teaching, an account of the workings of his heart toward God. Those that truly repent of their sins, will not be ashamed to own their repentance. Also, he instructs others what to do, and what to say. David had not only done much, but suffered much in the cause of God; yet he flees to God's infinite mercy, and depends upon that alone for pardon and peace. He begs the pardon of sin. The blood of Christ, sprinkled upon the conscience, blots out the transgression, and, having reconciled us to God, reconciles us to ourselves. The believer longs to have the whole debt of his sins blotted out, and every stain cleansed; he would be thoroughly washed from all his sins; but the hypocrite always has some secret reserve, and would have some favorite lust spared. David had such a deep sense of his sin, that he was continually thinking of it, with sorrow and shame. His sin was committed against God, whose truth we deny by wilful sin; with him we deal deceitfully. And the truly penitent will ever trace back the streams of actual sin to the fountain of original depravity. He confesses his original corruption. This is that foolishness which is bound in the heart of a child, that proneness to evil, and that backwardness to good, which is the burden of the regenerate, and the ruin of the unregenerate. He is encouraged, in his repentance, to hope that God would graciously accept him. Thou desirest truth in the inward part; to this God looks, in a returning sinner. Where there is truth, God will give wisdom. Those who sincerely endeavour to do their duty shall be taught their duty; but they will expect good only from Divine grace overcoming their corrupt nature.Against thee, thee only, have I sinned - That is, the sin, considered as an offence against God, now appeared to him so enormous and so aggravated, that, for the moment, he lost sight of it considered in any other of its bearings. It "was" a sin, as all other sins are, primarily and mainly against God; it derived its chief enormity from that fact. We are not to suppose that David did not believe and notice that he had done wrong to people, or that he had offended against human laws, and against the well-being of society. His crime against Uriah and his family was of the deepest and most aggravated character, but still the offence derived its chief heinousness from the fact that it was a violation of the law of God. The state of mind here illustrated is that which occurs in every case of true penitence. It is not merely because that which has been done is a violation of human law; it is not that it brings us to poverty or disgrace; it is not that it exposes us to punishment on earth from a parent, a teacher, or civil ruler; it is not that it exposes us to punishment in the world to come: it is that it is of itself, and apart from all other relations and consequences, "an offence against God;" a violation of his pure and holy law; a wrong done against him, and in his sight. Unless there is this feeling there can be no true penitence; and unless there is this feeling there can be no hope of pardon, for God forgives offences only as committed against himself; not as involving us in dangerous consequences, or as committed against our fellow-men.

And done this evil in thy sight - Or, When thine eye was fixed on me. Compare the notes at Isaiah 65:3. God saw what he had done; and David knew, or might have known, that the eye of God was upon him in his wickedness. It was to him then a great aggravation of his sin that he had "dared" to commit it when he "knew" that God saw everything. The presence of a child - or even of an idiot - would restrain people from many acts of sin which they would venture to commit if alone; how much more should the fact that God is always present, and always sees all that is done, restrain us from open and from secret transgression.

That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest - That thy character might be vindicated in all that thou hast said; in the law which thou hast revealed; in the condemnation of the sin in that law; and in the punishment which thou mayest appoint. That is, he acknowledged his guilt. He did not seek to apologise for it, or to vindicate it. God was right, and he was wrong. The sin deserved all that God in his law "had" declared it to deserve; it deserved all that God by any sentence which he might pass upon him "would" declare it to deserve. The sin was so aggravated that "any" sentence which God might pronounce would not be beyond the measure of its ill-desert.

And be clear when thou judgest - Be regarded as right, holy, pure, in the judgment which thou mayest appoint. See this more fully explained in the notes at Romans 3:4.

4. Against thee—chiefly, and as sins against others are violations of God's law, in one sense only.

that … judgest—that is, all palliation of his crime is excluded; it is the design in making this confession to recognize God's justice, however severe the sentence.

Against thee, thee only; which is not to be understood simply and absolutely, because he had unquestionably sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and many others, who were either injured by it, or scandalized at it; but comparatively. So the sense is this, Though I have sinned against my own body and conscience, and against others; yet nothing is more grievous and terrible to me, than to consider that I have sinned against thee; partly upon a general account, because this is the chief malignity and sinfulness of sin, that it offends and injures the glorious and blessed God; and partly upon particular reasons, because I set thee at defiance, and having used all wicked arts to conceal my sins from men, and being free from fear of punishment from them, I went on boldly in sin, casting off all reverence to thy holy and omniscient Majesty, and all dread of thy judgments, and because I sinned against thee, to whom I had such numerous and peculiar and eminent obligations, as thy prophet Nathan truly suggested to me, 2 Samuel 12:7,8.

In thy sight; with gross contempt of God, whom I well knew to be a spectator of my most secret actions.

That thou mightest be justified; the particle that is not taken causally or intentionally, as if this was David’s design, but eventually, as it is Exodus 11:9 Psalm 30:12 Hosea 8:4. This will be the fruit or consequent of my sin, that whatsoever severities thou shalt use towards me and mine, it will be no blemish to thy benignity, or righteousness, or fidelity, but the blame of all will rest upon my head as I desire it may, and thy justice will be glorified by all men.

When thou speakest, Heb. in thy words, i.e. in all thy threatenings denounced against me by Nathan, and in any further sentence which thou shalt see fit to pass upon me.

When thou judgest; when thou dost plead or contend with me, or execute thy sentence or judgment upon me. Or, when thou art judged, as it is rendered Romans 3:4, for the word may be taken passively as well as actively; when any man shall presume to censure time, as not keeping thy covenant and mercy promised to David.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,.... All sin, though committed against a fellow creature, being a transgression of the law, is against the lawgiver; and, indeed, begins at the neglect or contempt of his commandment, as David's sin did, 2 Samuel 12:9; and being committed against God, that had bestowed so many favours upon him, was a cutting consideration to him, which made his sorrow appear to be of a godly sort; wherefore he makes his humble and hearty confession to the Lord, and who only could forgive his sin;

and done this evil in thy sight; for with respect to men it was secretly done; and was only known to God, with whom the darkness and the light are both alike;

that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest; not that David committed this sin that God might be just, and pure, and holy; but this was the event and consequence of it: God, by taking notice of it, resenting it, and reproving for it, appeared to be a righteous Being, and of purer eyes than to behold sin with pleasure; see Exodus 9:27. Or these words may be connected with his acknowledgment and confession of sin; which were done to this end and purpose, to justify God in his charge of it upon him, and in threatening him with evils on account of it, by the mouth of Nathan the prophet: or with his petitions for pardoning grace and mercy; that so he might appear to be just to his promise, of forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, to humble penitents; and particularly that he might appear to be just and faithful to his Son, in forgiving sin for his sake; whom he had set forth, in his purposes and promises, to be the propitiation for sin, to declare his righteousness, Romans 3:25; see Romans 3:4.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou {e} speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

(e) When you give sentence against sinners, they must confess you to be just, and themselves sinners.

4. David’s confession to Nathan was couched in the simple words (two only in the Heb.), “I have sinned against Jehovah.” The additional words “thee only” have been taken as a proof that the Psalm cannot have been written by David. But they need not, as we have seen already, be pressed with such extreme logical precision as to exclude sin against man. All sin, even that by which man is most grievously injured, is, in its ultimate nature, sin against God, as a breach of His holy law; just as man’s duty to his fellow-man is based upon his duty to God and is regarded as part of it. Moreover the king, as Jehovah’s representative, was in an especial and peculiar way responsible to Him.

and done this evil] Better as R.V., and done that which is evil in thy sight. Cp. 2 Samuel 11:27, “the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of Jehovah”: and 2 Samuel 12:9, “Wherefore hast thou despised the word of Jehovah, to do that which is evil in his sight?”

that thou mightest &c.] Better, that thou mayest be justified when thou givest sentence: i.e., that Thy righteousness and holiness may be declared and vindicated when Thou dost pronounce sentence on my sin. When thou speakest is shewn by the parallelism to mean, ‘when Thou dost pronounce sentence.’ Be justified corresponds to the cardinal divine attribute of righteousness: be clear to that of holiness. Cp. Isaiah 5:16, “God the Holy One proves Himself holy in righteousness.”

But this is a hard saying. Can it be meant that the vindication of God’s holiness is the object of man’s sin? (1) Grammar forbids us to relieve the difficulty by rendering so that thou art justified (consequence) instead of in order that thou mayest be justified (purpose). (2) We might regard that as depending upon Psalm 51:3-4 a taken together, and introducing the object of the Psalmist’s confession. ‘I confess my sin, that thou mayest be justified in pronouncing sentence upon me.’The sinner’s confession and self-condemnation is a justification of God’s sentence upon sin, just as, conversely, the sinner’s self-justification is a challenge and impugnment of God’s justice (Joshua 7:19; Job 40:8; 1 John 1:10). (3) Probably however we are meant to understand that man’s sin brings out into a clearer light the justice and holiness of God, Who pronounces sentence upon it. The Psalmist flings himself at the footstool of the Divine Justice. The consequence of his sin, and therefore in a sense its purpose (for nothing is independent of the sovereign Will of God), is to enhance before men the justice and holiness of God, the absolutely Righteous and Pure. “The Biblical writers … drew no sharp accurate line between events as the consequence of the Divine order, and events as following from the Divine purpose. To them all was ordained and designed of God. Even sin itself in all its manifestations, though the whole guilt of it rested with man, did not flow uncontrolled, but only in channels hewn for it by God, and to subserve His purposes.… We must not expect that the Hebrew mind … altogether averse from philosophical speculation, should have exactly defined for itself the distinction between an action viewed as the consequence, and the same action viewed as the end, of another action. The mind which holds the simple fundamental truth that all is of God, may also hold, almost as a matter of course, that all is designed of God” (Bishop Perowne). In this connexion passages such as 2 Samuel 24:1; Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 63:17; Jdg 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9; 1 Kings 22:21, require careful consideration.

Such a view is obviously liable to misconstruction, as though, if sin is in any sense treated as part of the divine purpose, and redounding to God’s glory, it must cease to be sinful, and there must be an end of human responsibility. But the O.T. firmly maintains the truth of man’s responsibility: and St Paul, in applying the words of this verse to the course of Israel’s history (Romans 3:4) rebuts as the suggestion of an unhealthy conscience the notion that God is responsible for sin which He overrules to His glory.

The quotation in Romans 3:4 is from the LXX, in which the Heb. word for be clear is taken in its Aramaic sense, be victorious, prevail, and the last word (when thou judgest) is ambiguously rendered. The Greek word may be passive, when thou art judged (as P.B.V., derived from LXX through the Vulg., and A.V. in Rom.), i.e. when Thy justice is challenged: but more probably it is middle, ‘when Thou comest into judgement.’ So R.V. in Rom. Cp. Jeremiah 2:9 (LXX); Matthew 5:40.

Verse 4. - Against thee, thee only, have I sinned. Though no sins could be more directly against man than adultery and murder, yet David feels that that aspect of them shrinks away into insignificance, and is as if it were not, when they are viewed in their true and real character, as offences against the majesty of God. Every sin is mainly against God; and the better sort of men always feel this. "How can I do this great wickedness," says Joseph, when tempted by Potiphar's wife, "and sin against God?" And so David to Nathan, when he was first rebuked by him, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13). And done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Clear in the eyes of the world, that is; free from all charge of harshness or injustice, when thou judgest me, and condemnest me for my sins, as thou must do. Psalm 51:4Substantiation of the prayer by the consideration, that his sense of sin is more than superficial, and that he is ready to make a penitential confession. True penitence is not a dead knowledge of sin committed, but a living sensitive consciousness of it (Isaiah 59:12), to which it is ever present as a matter and ground of unrest and pain. This penitential sorrow, which pervades the whole man, is, it is true, no merit that wins mercy or favour, but it is the condition, without which it is impossible for any manifestation of favour to take place. Such true consciousness of sin contemplates sin, of whatever kind it may be, directly as sin against God, and in its ultimate ground as sin against Him alone (חטא with ל of the person sinned against, Isaiah 42:24; Micah 7:9); for every relation in which man stands to his fellow-men, and to created things in general, is but the manifest form of his fundamental relationship to God; and sin is "that which is evil in the eyes of God" (Isaiah 65:12; Isaiah 66:4), it is contradiction to the will of God, the sole and highest Lawgiver and Judge. Thus it is, as David confesses, with regard to his sin, in order that... This למען must not be weakened by understanding it to refer to the result instead of to the aim or purpose. If, however, it is intended to express intention, it follows close upon the moral relationship of man to God expressed in לך לבדּך and הרע בּעיניך, - a relationship, the aim of which is, that God, when He now condemns the sinner, may appear as the just and holy One, who, as the sinner is obliged himself to acknowledge, cannot do otherwise than pronounce a condemnatory decision concerning him. When sin becomes manifest to a man as such, he must himself say Amen to the divine sentence, just as David does to that passed upon him by Nathan. And it is just the nature of penitence so to confess one's self to be in the wrong in order that God may be in the right and gain His cause. If, however, the sinner's self-accusation justifies the divine righteousness or justice, just as, on the other hand, all self-justification on the part of the sinner (which, however, sooner or later will be undeceived) accuses God of unrighteousness or injustice (Job 40:8): then all human sin must in the end tend towards the glorifying of God. In this sense Psalm 51:6 is applied by Paul (Romans 3:4), inasmuch as he regards what is here written in the Psalter - ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου, καὶ νικῃσεες ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε (lxx) - as the goal towards which the whole history of Israel tends. Instead of בּדברך (infin. like שׁלחך, Genesis 38:17, in this instance for the sake of similarity of sound

(Note: Cf. the following forms, chosen on account of their accord: - נשׂוּי, Psalm 32:1; הנדּף, Psalm 68:3; צאינה, Sol 3:11; שׁתות, Isaiah 22:13; ממחים, ib. Psalm 25:6; הלּוט, ib. Psalm 25:7.)

instead of the otherwise usual form דּבּר), in Thy speaking, the lxx renders ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου equals בּדבריך; instead of בּשׁפטך, ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε equals בּהשּׁפטך (infin. Niph.), provided κρίνεσθαι is intended as passive and not (as in Jeremiah 2:9 lxx, cf. Matthew 5:40) as middle. The thought remains essentially unchanged by the side of these deviations; and even the taking of the verb זכה, to be clean, pure, in the Syriac signification νικᾶν, does not alter it. That God may be justified in His decisive speaking and judging; that He, the Judge, may gain His cause in opposition to all human judgment, towards this tends David's confession of sin, towards this tends all human history, and more especially the history of Israel.

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