What does Psalm 51:4 mean?
ESV: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
NIV: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
NASB: Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
CSB: Against you--you alone--I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge.
NLT: Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.
KJV: 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.
NKJV: Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
Verse Commentary:
Although David had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, he saw his sin as primarily against God. He refers to his sin as evil in God's sight. Sin is never unseen by the eyes of a holy God. As Hebrews 4:13 points out, everything is "exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." God had clearly commanded Israel: "You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:13–14). David had disobeyed God by violating both commandments.

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had arranged for Uriah to be killed on the battlefield. Therefore, he had sinned primarily against God. Genesis 9:6 says, "whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." Murder, then, violates God's image. David acknowledged that God is just and always renders a correct verdict in matters involving evil (Psalm 51:4). He recognized that his fate rested in God's hands, and God would do the right thing.
Verse Context:
Psalm 51:1–7 is David's plea for mercy and cleansing. He admits he has sinned against God. His approach to confession is to take God's attitude toward sin. He sees his sins as transgressions, iniquity, evil, and the result of his lifelong offensive nature. First John 1:9–10 corresponds to this passage by teaching believers to confess their sins—to agree with God's stance about those sins—with the promise of God's forgiveness and cleansing.
Chapter Summary:
This psalm opens with David's plea to God to show him mercy. He asks God to blot out his transgressions, wash his iniquities, and cleanse him from sin. He admits his sinning was against God. He also confesses his human sin nature. David asks God to make him as white as snow by purging him with hyssop. He longs for joy to return to him, but knows he was suffering because God had turned away from him. He pleads with God for a clean heart and a right spirit. He does not want God to cast him aside and remove His Holy Spirit. David longs for a renewal of the joy of his salvation. If cleansing from sin occurred and joy returned to him, David would teach transgressors God's ways, and sinners would be converted. He promises near the end of the psalm to declare God's praise if God would forgive him. He knew it would be futile to offer a sacrifice to God, because God delights in a broken and contrite heart and not in sacrifices offered with an unrepentant heart. David closes the psalm with a prayer for God to bless Jerusalem.
Chapter Context:
Second Samuel 11—12 provides the sad background for Psalm 51. Instead of being out on the battlefield and leading his troops, David was walking on the roof of his palace. A woman named Bathsheba was taking a bath on a neighboring roof. David lusted for her and had her brought to the palace, where he committed adultery with her. Learning later that she was pregnant, David summoned Uriah, her soldier-husband and one of David's mighty men, to come home from the battlefield. He expected Uriah to have relations with Bathsheba so it would appear that Uriah was the baby's father. But Uriah did not touch Bathsheba, so David launched an alternate plan. He arranged for Uriah to be put on the frontline of battle and be killed. The plan worked, but the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. Overcome with guilt, David poured out his heart to the Lord in confession. Psalm 51 records his confession, and Psalm 32 reports the forgiveness he received from the Lord. Even though he was forgiven, David's sins still carried life-ruining consequences.
Book Summary:
The book of Psalms is composed of individual songs, hymns, or poems, each of which is a ''Psalm'' in and of itself. These works contain a wide variety of themes. Some Psalms focus on praising and worshipping God. Others cry out in anguish over the pain of life. Still other Psalms look forward to the coming of the Messiah. While some Psalms are related, each has its own historical and biblical context.
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