What Does Psalm 51:17 Mean?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:17(NASB)

Verse Thoughts

Blessed are the poor in spirit for it is only the heart that is broken before the Lord and truly humbled under a deep conviction of one's own unworthiness before a holy and righteous God, that a man or woman of faith can offer to the Lord the sacrifice of a broken heart - a living sacrifice, worthy of His acceptance.

It was David who wrote this psalm, and he was a man who loved the Lord and made many sacrificial offerings to Him. But David knew that the blood of bulls and goats was not the thing that pleased the Lord, but a heart that is broken before Him - a heart that is contrite and truly repentant. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."

It is only the soul who, through the Spirit's convicting work, is bereft of its own self-importance and which is smitten in genuine repentance of sin, that can offer the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit, which is so acceptable and pleasing to the heart of God.

David knew the darkness of his own heart. He knew he was a sinner who could not cleanse his own soul, which is why he prayed that God would create in him a clean heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within him. David knew his own broken fellowship with the Lord was the result of his own sin. He knew that only God could cleanse him and wash his soul whiter than snow. Joy and gladness in the Lord can only be restored in the one with a broken spirit and contrite heart.

Such lowliness of spirit proceeds from a heart of faith, which is looking to Christ as Advocate. It is only through Him that God's mercy, forgiveness, kindness and grace will wash away every scarlet-stain that clings to our sin-encrusted soul, when offered in brokenness of heart and true contriteness of spirit.

This verse not only refers to our initial justification, where the manifold sins of an unsaved man or woman are forgiven. It also refers to the crushing weight of a believer's post-salvation sins. The sacrifice of God is the broken spirit and contrite heart of the believer who desires to die to self and live godly in Christ Jesus.

Our union with our God can never be broken, but our fellowship with Him and our daily communion can be severed when the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life causes us to stray from the path of righteousness into the destructive dead-end of sin. It is the sacrifice about which David wrote that returns us into sweet fellowship with our Father in heaven.

Unlike David, Church-age believers need never be concerned that the Holy Spirit will be taken from us, for He took up permanent residence in our heart the moment we trusted Christ for salvation and He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us, even when we sin. But we can grieve the Spirit of God by our words and actions and we can quench the work He desires to carry out in our lives, when we are not looking to Jesus, and walking in humbleness of spirit and dependence on our Father in heaven.

When David recognised his own lustful sin, he offered his own sacrifice of a broken spirit and a contrite heart, and like David, we know that God will not despise such an acceptable sacrifice. But like David, we too must approach the throne of grace in brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit, for such is well-pleasing and acceptable to our holy God.

My Prayer

Loving Father, I understand more and more the importance of humility of heart, a contrite spirit, and the need to be broken before You. In this state, the beautiful character of the Lord Jesus can be formed and developed in me. Search me O God, and show me areas where I have not yet submitted to Your leading and guidance, for I desire my life to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to You. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

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Psalm 51:17 Further Study

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