As a converted man, David understood that animal sacrifices were really not doing anything except setting a pattern. Certainly, they were tutors to those who understood. The Israelites could sacrifice thousands of animals and not get a thing out of it, but David understood. He writes, "For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart."
That costs a man something! A person sacrifices of himself when wild human nature is being cut away, when he, by the exercise of his will due to his faith in God, determines to do or not to do something, even as Jesus later did. By the force of His will, buttressed by His faith, He would make himself do something, or keep Himself from doing something, that every fiber of His passionate being yearned to do the opposite. "These, O God, You will not despise."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Be a Priest
When David saw the enormity of his sin, he realized he had hurt God and His purpose. His sorrow, chagrin, and remorse reached deeply into his heart, mind, and entire being. Our opposition to God should create a similar deep emotional response in us, for we have all played major roles in our Savior's death. He died for our sins. Emotional sorrow alone is not the answer, however. Paul says godly sorrow produces repentance (change) toward salvation, while worldly sorrow is like saying, "I'm sorry I got caught. I'll be more careful next time I sin."
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Repentance
Broken spirit means "to be overwhelmed with sorrow." Contrite heart means "to be completely penitent, feeling remorse and affected by guilt, deeply regretful and wishing to atone for sin." "Broken spirit" and "contrite heart" are virtually the same thing. This is further confirmation that spirit is used as an aspect of mind that generates a wide diversity of activity, including, but not restricted to, conduct. It must be clean and right if the conduct that is produced is going to be beneficial. This alludes, then, to our motivations. What is in our heart? What is in our spirit? If our heart and spirit are not right, our motivations will not be right, and our conduct will have the aim of taking advantage, of controlling, of manipulating to one's own ends, self-centeredly rather than selflessly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 4)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Psalms 51:17: