The Meaning of Psalms 51:4 Explained

Psalms 51:4

KJV: Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

YLT: Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done the evil thing in Thine eyes, So that Thou art righteous in Thy words, Thou art pure in Thy judging.

Darby: Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in thy sight; that thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, be clear when thou judgest.

ASV: Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest.

What does Psalms 51:4 Mean?

Verse Meaning

David had finally come to the place where he was willing, not only to call his sin what it was, but to admit that it was sin against God primarily. Obviously he had sinned against Bathsheba and her husband, but David rightfully admitted that the worst thing he had done was offending God. He made no attempt to blame God for what had happened but took full responsibility himself. He acknowledged that his Judge was guiltless and that he was guilty. Taking personal responsibility for our sins is an important part of true confession.
"To say "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned" may invite the quibble that adultery and murder are hardly private wrongs. But it is a typically biblical way of going to the heart of the matter. Sin can be against oneself ( 1 Corinthians 6:18) and against one"s neighbour; but the flouting of God is always the length and breadth of it, as Joseph saw long before ( Genesis 39:9)." [1]
"Once we understand that no sin is against a fellow human being alone and that all sin is transgression against God, we will no longer treat it so lightly." [2]

Context Summary

Psalms 51:1-10 - The Prayer Of The Contrite Heart
This psalm is a ladder which climbs from the horrible pit, with its miry clay, into the heights of sunny joy, where the song breaks from the forgiven penitent. Here is the cry of the lost sheep which has been torn by briers, harried by wild dogs, drenched in the morass, but which the shepherd has found and brought home rejoicing. This path has been worn by myriads of penitents. Psalms 51:17 was written on the wall of St. Augustine's cell.
There is no doubt as to the occasion or the authorship of this psalm. It abounds in references to 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-31. It is remarkable that such a confession should have been handed to the chief musician; but the publicity thus given has made it a means of grace to myriads. Note the epithets for sin: transgression, "the violation of law;" iniquity, "crookedness from the straight line of rectitude;" sin, "missing the mark." However much God longs to forgive, He cannot, until confession is made. We must acknowledge our lapse from virtue! Blot out, as from a record; wash, as foul stains from linen; cleanse, as a leper by the touch of Christ. Our only plea is the multitude of God's tender mercies. [source]

Chapter Summary: Psalms 51

1  David prays for remission of sins, whereof he makes a deep confession
6  He prays for sanctification
16  God delights not in sacrifice, but in sincerity
18  He prays for the church

What do the individual words in Psalms 51:4 mean?

Against You You only have I sinned and [this] evil in Your sight done that You may be found just when You speak [And] blameless when You judge
לְךָ֤ לְבַדְּךָ֨ ׀ חָטָאתִי֮ וְהָרַ֥ע בְּעֵינֶ֗יךָ עָ֫שִׂ֥יתִי לְ֭מַעַן תִּצְדַּ֥ק בְּדָבְרֶ֗ךָ תִּזְכֶּ֥ה בְשָׁפְטֶֽךָ

לְךָ֤  Against  You 
Parse: Preposition, second person masculine singular
Root: אֵב  
Sense: fruit, fresh, young, greening.
לְבַדְּךָ֨ ׀  You  only 
Parse: Preposition-l, Noun, masculine singular construct, second person masculine singular
Root: בַּד 
Sense: alone, by itself, besides, a part, separation, being alone.
חָטָאתִי֮  have  I  sinned 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Perfect, first person common singular
Root: חָטָא 
Sense: to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness.
וְהָרַ֥ע  and  [this]  evil 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Article, Adjective, masculine singular
Root: רַע 
Sense: bad, evil.
בְּעֵינֶ֗יךָ  in  Your  sight 
Parse: Preposition-b, Noun, cdc, second person masculine singular
Root: עֹונָה 
Sense: eye.
עָ֫שִׂ֥יתִי  done 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Perfect, first person common singular
Root: עָשָׂה 
Sense: to do, fashion, accomplish, make.
לְ֭מַעַן  that 
Parse: Conjunction
Root: לְמַעַן 
Sense: purpose, intent prep.
תִּצְדַּ֥ק  You  may  be  found  just 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Imperfect, second person masculine singular
Root: צָדַק  
Sense: to be just, be righteous.
בְּדָבְרֶ֗ךָ  when  You  speak 
Parse: Preposition-b, Verb, Qal, Infinitive construct, second person masculine singular
Root: דָּבַר 
Sense: to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing.
תִּזְכֶּ֥ה  [And]  blameless 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Imperfect, second person masculine singular
Root: זָכָה  
Sense: to be clean, be pure, be clear.
בְשָׁפְטֶֽךָ  when  You  judge 
Parse: Preposition-b, Verb, Qal, Infinitive construct, second person masculine singular
Root: שָׁפַט  
Sense: to judge, govern, vindicate, punish.