David’s prayer in Psalm 51 is so Messianic (but not obviously so) and I love it! Here’s how: David lived in the time of the Temple, animal sacrifices, Levitical priests, the Law. Very simply put, when you sinned in those days, God had provided a means for atonement, redemption, and forgiveness: animal (or grain) sacrifice. You sin, you kill an animal. You sin again, you kill another animal. Commit a really big sin? Kill another animal. Sin by accident? Kill an animal.
Here’s how David’s prayer in Psalm 51 is Messianic (I believe): there is no mention of sacrifice in it* (except for the sacrifices of “a broken spirit and a contrite heart”). There is no mention of the Law, or of a priest’s intercession – in fact, David is interceding on his own behalf! This is huge in Old Testament times! We read this with our post-Reformation lenses on, and we see what looks to us like a very sensible individual prayer of confession and request for cleansing directly from God. But David would have known better. In 1000 BC, you do not get cleansing by praying directly to God! No, you get cleansing by presenting your sacrifice to the priest at the Temple. Period!
But David does know better. He knows that sacrificing an animal for the millionth time for the millionth sin is not sufficient. He knows that the blood of an animal cannot really cover his sin, cannot truly cleanse him from guilt, cannot reestablish fellowship between himself and God. So what does David do? To whom does David turn? He turns directly to God Himself for cleansing and restoration. He is trusting in God alone to save him.
David saw God as Savior. Messiah! Only the God-man sacrifice would be truly sufficient to cleanse and redeem. Now, I don’t think David knew all about who Jesus would be and what He would do when He came. But David obviously did know that true cleansing comes not from the blood of a ram offered to the priest in the Temple. True cleansing comes from God alone, and something in David drove him to go directly to the Source to get it!
Question: What can David’s Messianic intuition in Psalm 51 teach us about going directly to the Source in our pursuit of perfection (a la Matthew 5:48)? As Christians, are we ourselves still hung up in some antiquated and insufficient system of achieving spiritual “perfection”, when the real eternal Perfecter stands available to us all the time?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:48
*David does mention burnt offerings in the very last verse of Psalm 51, but only after reestablishing a right relationship to God through a “broken heart” and a “broken and contrite spirit”.