This is a song of personal repentance, about David's own confession and forgiveness. We could well wonder how it found a place among the songs composed for public worship. How could anyone have sinned as David had sinned? But the truth of the matter is that everyone HAS! Not that everyone has committed adultery. Not that everyone has committed murder. Not necessarily have any of us done all these things. But just as David had to confess, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight," so every one of God's people have to make the same confession - regardless of specific sins - because all of our sins are against GOD.
David composed this song to provide all the people, including us, with an example of the one thing that can be done about sin against God. He's provided us with an example of confession. It's a good example, an excellent example of the only thing a sinner can do about a relationship with God that has, after all, been broken.
David begins by begging for mercy. That's what we too need to do! In fact, lovingkindness in the face of undeservedness - mercy - is what every sinner needs all the time. What then should be our cry? It should be the cry of David: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" The word for "wash" is the word the Hebrews used for washing clothing, etc., and that's appropriate because sin results in a soul that's filthy and needs laundering. And the point here is that unless GOD launders it, it must remain unclean upon us.
That's what David knows he has to say next. He has to admit, "For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." It just won't go away. It's going to take the action of a merciful God to really rid him of it.
And though every sinner is God's creation, yet we must remember that the sin belongs to the sinner, not to God the Creator. The whole race fell away from Him, and that fall remains the responsibility of each sinner. We have to say with David, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me!" He's talking about us - about the fallen race we all belong to.
But while sin belongs to the sinner alone, cleansing from it can only be accomplished by God, because it has to be a cleansing of the heart and soul. David makes allusion to Leviticus 14:6, 7, in which hyssop is used for symbolic cleansing of a leper - a harsh kind of cleansing needed because of the clinging results of leprosy - and sin. So the sinner confesses his sin and begs merciful cleansing.
But those who have come, early in the morning, to sing this minor-keyed song of repentance need next to turn to a major key. They have confessed the awfulness of their sin, and now they need to confess the perfect and complete cleansing that God CAN accomplish! They need to sing, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow!" When GOD does that, when He answers the plea for mercy, then the next words will be true: "Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice!" Only God can bring such forgiveness. Only God can COMPLETELY reverse the effects of sin in the inmost being!
Once God grants that gracious miracle, then the sinner can hope for even more - he can hope for a future life free from the sins of the past! In fact, the song goes on to pray for that very thing: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me!" It's what every sinner needs. It's an expression of dependence upon God's Spirit for every moment of life!
With such a miracle of forgiveness and cleansing, the sinner can then even help others like himself. He can hope for the truth of the following words in which he says, "Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You!" Not only so, but all this forgiving, cleansing work of God is the only - but adequate - means for opening the lips of the sinner for praise. So David sings, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise!" Let us not presume to worship God without His cleansing.
Looking back on the way God has dealt with him, David - and every sinner - can say, "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart - these, O God, You will not despise!" The repentant sinner can say this because he has learned that relief can only come through confession!
So, after such confession, after such forgiveness, then God's people can look forward to spiritual prosperity, to freedom to worship Him from a clean conscience.
How is it with you? Have you seen what sin really is in God's sight? Do you know God well enough to realize, at least a little, the ugliness of sin against Him? Do you confess it with broken heart? Do you really care? It's the caring sinner that God forgives and justifies through His Son.