Save Me From Bloodguilt: Psalm 51 (part 15)

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God,

God of my salvation;

My tongue will exult in your righteousness!”

(Psalm 51:16 {Psalm 51:14 in English Bibles})


What an amazing picture David paints for us in this verse!  Yet, to understand what he is showing us, we must understand the concept of “bloodguilt” in the Old Testament.  To begin with, blood represented life—it was seen as the life of a man and as the life of a beast (Genesis 9:4); hence the restriction against eating any flesh that still has the blood in it (Deuteronomy 12:23, Acts 15:20).  And, so that we do not end up being smug in our scientific advances, let it be said that there is great truth in this idea that life is in the blood, for when blood is lost, life ebbs away.  If you lose a little, say from a cut, it may be of little consequence, but when a pint is lost, one tends to get a little weak in the knees and light-headed.  And if too much is lost, one will die.  You can commit many crimes against another person, but the shedding of his blood is the most destructive, for it is one he may never recover from.

Hence the idea of “bloodguilt.”  If you are guilty of shedding the blood of another, you are guilty of his blood.  To take this idea one step further, in ancient Jewish practice, there was a member of the family who was seen as the “avenger of blood” (Numbers 35:19).  Were one of his relatives murdered, it was his role to put the murderer to death.  Note that this is not meant as a means of revenge, but as a means of exacting justice.  The blood avenger had rules and restrictions that he had to abide by, and this was simply one means by which capital punishment was carried forth in ancient Israel.  At the same time, God established places in Israel called “Cities of Refuge” where the guilty could flee if the murder committed was not premeditated (Numbers 35:11).  If you made it to the city of refuge before the avenger of blood could kill you, you were given sanctuary.  In turn, you were required to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; when the high priest died, you would be free to return without fear of retribution.

And in this ancient practice, we have a wonderful picture of Christ.  Beloved, our sin makes us guilty of blood—not just the blood of bulls and goats through the generation, but of the blood of one another, and most importantly, of the blood of Christ.  It was Christ, whose sacrifice was planned and set since before the beginning of creation (1 Peter 1:20), who shed his own blood as atonement for our sins.  The penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17)—thus sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).  Our own blood, being tainted by sin, both inherited and actual, is tainted and ineffectual in atoning even for our own sins, let alone for the sins of another, and thus, the necessity for another to provide a sacrifice for us.

Yet, the picture does not end there in terms of the idea of bloodguilt, for it is in Christ that we have our city of refuge—it is in Christ and in Christ alone that we who bear the bloodguilt of sin can flee for refuge.  And what is even more glorious is that is that Christ, the great High Priest, went to his death so that we might be forgiven, no longer convicted criminals hiding for their lives, but forgiven men and women forgiven and adopted as sons and daughters.  Oh, beloved, what a picture of Christ we have in the Old Testament laws of bloodguilt, and here, King David is crying out to God in faith that he would be delivered from the bloodguilt that his sin has brought him—forgiveness that only comes from God through Christ.  This is something that David understood well and looked forward in hopes for the day of seeing the Messiah come.

And as a result of the salvation that is given by God, David rejoices and exults in the righteousness of God.  The verb that David uses to describe his praise is !n:r” (ranan), which means, “to sing,” yet the verb is in the Piel construct, which, in Hebrew, intensifies the verb and gives it a sense of ongoing repetition.  Hence, the idea that David is conveying is of an exuberant, ongoing praise of God, rejoicing in song over and over again in praise.  Oh, were this to describe the praise that we give to God in the salvation that he offers us!

Beloved, in the wake of the forgiveness that God offers us, let us rejoice loudly and with every fiber of our soul.  Let praise flow from our tongues and let joy fill our countenance!  We are redeemed of God!  Christ has provided both a city of refuge and a sacrifice for our sins.  He has done for us what we could never dream of doing for ourselves.  And in Christ we are free and able to proclaim the good news to all that would hear.  And when those around us ask us why it is that we are filled with such joy, let us simply respond, “because Christ is my salvation!”

O worship the King all glorious above,

O gratefully sing his power and his love;

Our shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,

Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

-Robert Grant

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. 4 Comments.



  2. Lana,

    As a whole, Psalm 51 is a psalm of lamentation and seeking forgiveness over sin. In terms of bloodguilt, this literally refers to the guilt of someone who murders or otherwise accidentally kills another–you are guilty of their blood, in other words. Yet, this principle can also be applied to other sins as well for James reminds us that when we break part of the moral law (10 commandments) we are guilty of breaking them all. Jesus even intensified the law in the sense that thought of sin was explained by him as making one guilty of the sin.

    For the one who was guilty of blood, there was a city of refuge (as long as the shedding of blood had not been premeditated). You could flee to the city of refuge for protection and had to stay there until the death of the high priest.

    David’s cry for deliverance was one where he sought forgiveness for his sins of murder and adultery. But also, seeing David’s acute sense of forgiveness, this likely also expresses his grief over all sin. He is praying that God will remove from him the guilt of his sins so that he might sing with a clear heart and a pure spirit.

    For us today, we need the same forgiveness that David needed. In terms of application, we know that Jesus is the great high priest and that he did die and rose from the dead. Thus, in Christ, we are not only given a refuge from sin, but we are delivered from its power as well.

    If you look to the verses that follow, you will see David rejoicing in his forgiveness.

    So, ask God to forgive you. Trust in Jesus Christ as your only high priest who has forgiven you and made a way for your freedom. And then sing of God’s praise in the forgiveness you receive. If you are not trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior, I bid you to repent of your sins and ask the Lord to indwell your spirit and give you new life.

    Hopefully this adds some clarity,



  3. TRue hope for what seems hopeless. Bless you.


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