November 3, 2014.
There are few more emotional psalms in my opinion than Psalm 51. As many of you may know, Psalm 51 is written by David in response to his infamous sting of sins that he committed as he sat on the throne of Israel and coveted Bathsheba, one of his mighty men’s wife. The story starts out with some seemingly innocent events that may not have been sin, but probably shouldn’t have happened. David stays home from war when he should have been out with his army, then he takes a walk on his roof at night (which I’m sure he had done before and knew what was around) and “happens” to see Bathsheba bathing. Bathsheba was a beautiful woman and was pleasing in David’s eyes, thus the scheming and lies began to roll. First, he inquires who she is and a report is brought to him that she is the wife of Bathsheba, Uriah the Hittite’s wife, a man who had stood beside king David in his toughest times (I’m sure it was a real surprise to find out who she was…). Eventually, David sleeps with Bathsheba while Uriah is out at war, she gets pregnant, David tries to cover it up as he brings Uriah back and gets him drunk so that he will go sleep with his wife, and when all that fails, he has Uriah put on the front line of the hottest battle so that he may be killed. Sounds like a story straight out of a hollywood drama, doesn’t it?
Eventually, all of the sin catches up to David, as can be expected. God sends Nathan the prophet to rebuke David for his sin, but even after a parable, David doesn’t see what he has done. So Nathan has to be blunt and directly tell David that the story was about him and that God was not pleased with him. At this point, I’m not sure what Nathan was feeling, but if it were me I do think I would be terrified. You don’t just go up to the King and speak freely. How much more trouble would you be in if you went to the King for the sole purpose of rebuking him? But David was truly a man after God’s own heart and as soon as he hears the words of Nathan “You are the man!” he repents and God takes away the sin from him. But David would forever live with the consequences of his sin, as the sword would never depart from his house.
Before you get deep into this, I encourage you to read Psalm 51 and experience the penance and sorrow that David has for his sin yourself. I think there are many things we can learn from the example of David and how this situation was handled both by David and by God. I will discuss five key points that I think we should understand from this psalm, but I know that these are not the only lessons contained within. I pray we all meditate on these words.
1. A man after God’s own heart will repent.
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.”
One of the most striking aspects of this story to me is David’s immediate recognition of his sin and the way he humbles himself before God. After Nathan gives the long rebuke from the Lord, a rebuke that most of us would have gone into defensive mode after hearing, David simply says this:
“David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
(II Samuel 12:13)
On a number of occasions in scripture is David called a man after God’s own heart. I believe that this is one of the main reasons he was called such. Being a man after God’s own heart didn’t mean that David would never sin, or that when he did they would just be “little sins.” On the contrary, when David did something, he seemed to go for gold. But the difference between David and many other people who have been in similar situations is the humbleness of David when he realized what he had done. He didn’t try to defend himself. He didn’t make excuses. He simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Then he went out and wrote this emotionally wrenching psalm expressing his godly sorrow and repentance, calling upon the Lord his God, in whom he knew he could trust.
We see from the very opening of the psalm we see the true spirit of David. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” What if we all had this attitude? What if instead of hiding, covering up or justifying ourselves, we all came out and openly admitted our sin, what we struggle with and what we need help working on? Now I know that it might not be the best case scenario for every sin (though God had no problem with laying David’s “touchy” sins out before anyone within ear shot of Nathan), but I do believe we need to be more open about our sins at least with a subset of Christians who are willing to help us through them. David tried to hide his sin at first, but when it came out, it came out. And that’s when the healing began.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
2. God’s steadfast love and righteousness stand forever.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
David knew that his God was a righteous God, not standing for sin. But he also knew that He was a merciful God, whose steadfast love endured forever, and that He would welcome any wandering children home with open arms. David went to the Lord as an erring child who has seen his wrongdoing would be reconciled to his father. I don’t really read much fear in this psalm. That’s not to say that it isn’t a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (ref. Heb. 10:31), but I believe that David knew the love of His Father, and he knew that he was His child and he was loved by God. He also knew that while the sin remained, he could not be reconciled. Read Nathan’s rebuke from God. God would not stand in the midst of iniquity. But when David repented, God took away his sin. Both the righteousness of God and His steadfast love stand forever.
3. When we sin, we sin against the Lord.
“Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.”
Does this verse seem odd to you? It seemed odd to me when I first read it. Let’s count the people that David sinned against. He obviously sinned against Uriah, both in adultery, intoxicating him and murder. He put a stumbling block under Joab (though Joab really didn’t need a stumbling block, he was already a pretty bad guy) when he wrote the letter and basically gave the order for Joab to kill Uriah. He lied to the people around Him. He probably coerced (though how much of this would be complete speculation) Bathsheba into sleeping with him, since he was king after all. He set the wrong example before his family and kingdom. There are numerous people that were probably effected directly or indirectly by David’s sin. But he writes “Against you, you only, have I sinned…”
How can this be the case? I think we can understand this better when we understand who is the ultimate judge. When we sin, sure we sin against people in the since that we do things we shouldn’t to them, but ultimately we have sinned only against God, for it is His law that we have transgressed. When I sin, I am not breaking your law, my law or any other mortal’s law. You don’t tell me what to do, nor do I tell you what to do. My standard is not with men, but from God, and it is God from whom forgiveness comes. So, when we sin, we are ultimately only sinning against God, for He is the one who sets the standard. David seemed to grasp this concept well. He knew who was in charge and who he ultimately had to be in the right relationship with. It would do us good to understand the same.
4. God does not delight in sacrifice when we are not in the right relationship with Him.
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
I have seen many people fully believe that they can continue in sin and still praise and worship God. Their logic is that Christ died for their sins, cleansing them (which is very true), thus it doesn’t matter if they sin or not. They are forgiven. Whereas it is true that our sins are forgiven, and we are continually washed with grace (ref. I John 1:7), this is not unconditional. We cannot continue in sin that grace may abound (ref. Rom. 6:1-4). David says here that the Lord does not delight in sacrifice is the one who gives it is not in the right relationship with him. This is analogous to our worship today. It does not please God if we are continuing in sin without repentance but still worshipping Him as though nothing were wrong. This goes against the very message of Christ when he called us to repentance. How should we who died to sin still live in it? It’s completely contradictory. We see that David would go on to say that when things were put right, the Lord indeed would delight in right sacrifices once again.
“Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
When we are called to repentance, we need to be like David. He knew that he had to make things right, calling upon the mercy of the Lord and stepping forth to once again walk in the Spirit. Living for Christ doesn’t mean we will never sin, but it does mean we will continue to get up after we sin and press forward.
5. The story does not end with reconciliation.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.”
One of my favorite aspects of this psalm is what David says he will do once he is restored. This is not a psalm that is just about his reconciliation from the sins he committed, but a story of his walk with the Lord. Once he is restored, he said “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” David’s job was not done after he had been brought back. Once he was back, he then would take it upon himself to go to and help others come back just as he did. He would then sing aloud the praises of the Lord God.
When we sin and are reconciled, our story does not stop there. Perhaps we can even say that one of the reasons we are restored is to go out and restore others. We should be guardians of one another in love, not letting those we love drift away from the Father. We all drift from time to time, and isn’t it wonderful when someone is there to pull us back? Sure, it many not seem all that wonderful during the process, but in the end it will make a world of difference. We should not only rely on that person to draw us back, but we should also be that person for someone else. Let everything be done in love, including any rebukes we must give. We stand against a strong enemy, but the power of Christ is stronger still. In him we stand, if we keep in step with the Spirit.
Suggested Daily Reading: II Samuel 11, 12, Psalm 51.
Grace and peace.