With verses eighteen and nineteen, David concludes his psalm to God that people call “The Sinner’s Prayer.” In the prior five devotionals written on other verses of Psalm 51, we learned David recognized his sin and understood God as loving, kind, compassionate, and omnipotent. He realized he sinned against God and only God could cleanse him from his sin and guilt. David pled with God and asked Him to purify him ceremonially and wash him spiritually. He asked for his joy and gladness to be restored to him. David asked God to create a clean heart and renewed spirit within him. He realized his unworthiness to live in God’s presence or have His Spirit live in him. David asked God not to cast him away from Him or remove His Spirit. He knew he did not deserve God’s forgiveness. David understood with God’s cleansing, re-creating his heart, and renewing his spirit, he was God’s child and would live forever with Him. He had a basic understanding of the Messianic hope the New Testament reveals to and for humanity. David recognized God’s greatness and salvation as opposed to his sinfulness and finiteness. He realized he had nothing worthy to give to God in gratitude and love that was sufficient for what God did in his life except to give his greatest possession – his life.
With these words, David continued to speak to God in this Psalm. He said in Psalm 51:18-19, “By Your favor do good to Zion: build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.” With these two verses, David showed he understood his sins affect other people. The decisions he made, whether good or bad, affected the people immediately around him and the people he led – Israel. Have you ever considered the decisions you make affect people and the surrounding environment? More often than not, when we are most determined to have our own way, we do not think consider how the decision will affect other people or the environment. David understood this.
David asked God to show His favor and do good to Zion. What did he mean in this sentence? Notice David used the proper noun, Zion, in this part of verse eighteen, but used “Jerusalem” in the second half of the verse. Was he repeating himself for emphasis? Did David mean the people of Jerusalem both times? Zion is the mountain upon which David built his palace. It is the highest mountain in Jerusalem. Zion basically means “fortification.” Zion and the City of David are the same place – where David conquered the Jebusites and established as his fortification, his palace. The people in David’s fortification were his soldiers, servants, wives, and children - the people closest to him for whom for whom David was imminently responsible. David asked God not to punish Zion – the people for which he was imminently responsible – for his own personal sins. With this understanding of Zion, we can understand the favor of which David spoke. He requested God give His delight and pleasure to the people of Zion instead of discipline for which only he deserved. David realized his sins affected other people and asked God not to hold them against innocent people.
When David spoke of Jerusalem in the second half of this verse, he referred to the capital of the united nation – all Israelites. He asked God to establish Israel and cause them to continue, not to discipline them for his sins and cause their destruction. David realized, as the leader of the nation, his sins affected himself, those closest to him, and the nation. He knew God’s righteousness and justice required discipline for sin and did not want every Israelite punished for the wrong he did. This verse shows David’s heart. He had the care of the nation in his mind and prayed for them to God. He was not a selfish leader, but one who sought the best for the people of God’s nation. Do national leaders today consider their actions and decisions as affecting the people they lead and, so choose not to do them if they do not help the nation? Many national leaders do not consider the welfare of their people, only of themselves. This same principle applies to leaders of organizations and businesses, too. Are leaders concerned for the welfare of their people primarily and of self secondarily? Do they realize negative consequences will befall their people and themselves for selfish decisions they make? Each of us is a leader in one way or another and we each must consider this before we act or speak.
With verse nineteen, David explained God’s accepting of the people of Zion and Jerusalem meant they were righteous and not guilty of his sin. They could offer righteous and acceptable sacrifices to Him. These sacrifices David spoke of were burnt and whole burnt offerings of young bulls on His altar. The sacrifices David mentioned are important. Moses taught about burnt sacrifices offered to God in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Burnt sacrifices were the highest level of sacrifice in the Old Testament. The word “burnt” comes from the Hebrew word ‘olah. It means “ascent,” literally going up in smoke. Smoke from the burnt sacrifice rose as a soothing aroma to Him (Exodus 29:18). The parts that made the most aroma were where the fat of the animal was. The burnt offering was the complete burning of every part of the animal except the skin, which the priests kept. Burnt sacrifices were for festal (Numbers 28:11-29:39), daily (Exodus 29:38-42 & Numbers 38:3-8), Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10), occasional, and voluntary offerings (Numbers 7 & 1 Kings 8:64). Of most of these sacrifices, the priest apportioned the meat between God and the people who offered the sacrifice to Him. They offered it to renew their relationship with God (Leviticus 1:9 & 6:8-13). These offerings were a social feast and a giving back to God. David meant the people of Zion and Jerusalem could offer righteous burnt offerings in keeping covenant with God. Do we need to go before God with offerings to celebrate and renew our relationship with Him? How long has it been since you spent time with and honored Him with your self and your offering?
Besides the “burnt offerings” David first mentioned in verse nineteen, he stated God would accept their “whole burnt offerings” because their righteousness was untainted by his sin. These “whole burnt offerings” were different because people were to give the whole offering solely for God’s pleasure. No part of the offering would be eaten by the people offering it. Only four other offerings mentioned in the Old Testament were exclusively for God – the vegetable and cereal offerings, and the offerings of a bull by a priest for himself or for the people for sins, the latter of which burned outside the camp/city. The whole burnt offering, other than the four just mentioned, was not for atonement and sacrament, but communion with and devotion to Yahweh God. The people received no part of the sacrifice. This offering was a voluntary honorific sacrifice of the best and most costly possession the person had – a bull. The person who gave a bull gave voluntarily from that which God blessed him. The bull was the most costly sacrifice as compared to other animals God said were acceptable for other offerings like a ram, dove, or lamb. By doing this, the person/people offered complete surrender to God’s service. This whole burnt offering, too, foreshadowed the Messiah’s offering of Himself for the salvation of humankind. Would you give your most valued possession as an offering to God to be totally surrendered for His purposes as a promise to commit yourself completely to Him? A whole burnt offering in David’s time implied this.
What are you willing to give today to honor God in total surrender to Him?