Delight in Sacrifices of Righteousness: Psalm 51 (part 20)

“Then you will delight in sacrifices of righteousness—

a burnt offering, even a whole one;

then bulls will go up upon your altar.”

(Psalm 51:21 {Psalm 51:19 in English Bibles})


“Then,” David begins, pointing back to the verse that stands just before it—then, in light of the goodness of God as it is expressed to Israel, then, David suggests, the people will respond in righteousness—not only with proper sacrifices on the altar, but in faithful living.  As David stated above—apart from faith and righteousness and a heart that is broken and supple in God’s hand, sacrifices are of no value to the individual.  And note how I translated the first clause of this verse.  Most of our major translations translate it as “right sacrifices” (ESV, NRSV), or “righteous sacrifices” (NASB, NIV), which implies nothing more than a proper sacrifice of animals on God’s altar.  Yet, the Hebrew literally reads, “sacrifices of rightousness”—righteousness being a noun and not an adjective—and should be translated as such (KJV).  David is not reflecting on the proper sacrifice of animals on the altar—that would contradict what he wrote in verses 15-17 (in the English numbering), David is using parallelism to connect the personal righteousness and holiness of God’s people to burnt sacrifices that are raised to heaven.  In other words, righteousness itself was the sacrifice before God.

There is also a note that must be said about the sacrifice of bulls.  In the ancient tabernacle and temple worship, many different animals were brought as sacrifice, and the kind of sacrifice that was to be given determined the animals that were to be brought.  One important aspect of the sacrifice of bulls is that they were used as part of the peace offering (Numbers 7:88; 15:8).  Thus, in the context of this psalm, a psalm of repentance where David is seeking to be restored to peace with God, a more appropriate allusion could not have been made.  At the same time, there is a stern warning set before us in that peace with God requires more than just the slaughter of bulls, but it demands righteousness on the part of the believer.

Oh, how we tend to neglect this important teaching as we seek God’s forgiveness for our sins.  How often do we simply apologize to God and then go right back to the sin that has been a part of our lives?  How often do we take for granted the promise of forgiveness that God gives us in His word?  How often do we live carelessly, neglecting the terrible price that Christ paid on our behalf as a result of sin?  How often do we go through the motions without backing up our prayers with righteous living?  How often do we seek God’s help in seeking righteousness?  We could go on, yet, beloved, remember these words of David and be reminded that without righteousness in living, sacrifices will avail you nothing.

Gracious God, my heart renew,

Make my spirit right and true;

Cast me not away from thee,

Let thy Spirit dwell in me;

Thy salvation’s joy impart,

Steadfast make my willing heart.

-from the Psalter of 1912



About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on April 30, 2008, in Expositions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Roger Schoenhals

    The statement that NIV translates Psalm 51:19 as “right sacrifices” is incorrect. My edition of the NIV (1985) states, “righteous sacrifices.”


  2. Thanks Roger for the catch. You are right in that the NIV and the NASB translate the phrase as “righteous sacrifices” while the ESV and the NRSV translate it as “right sacrifices.” The point, though, that I was making is still the same. It is not so much that the sacrifices (bulls, rams, etc…) were proper or “righteous” but instead that the believer’s righteousness itself was a sacrifice. Likely, I need to make that nuance a little more clear, but thanks for the comment.



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