Psalm 51

Psalm 51: a broken spirit

Psalm 51
Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
(1) Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
(2) Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!
(3) For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
(4) Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in our sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
(5) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
(6) Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
(7) Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
(8) Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
(9) Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
(10) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
(11) Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
(12) Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.
(13) Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
(14) Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
(15) O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
(16) For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
(17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(18) Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 
(19) then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Well, here we are, the place where king David’s sin and great pain is exposed to generations and generations of believers.

And we wonder why?

That is the question: why are we drawn to this? Does this make us angry or sad? Does this deepen our faith in God or make us question it? If David is in fact “a man after God’s own heart,” then what happened?

Read 2 Samuel 11-12 for the story of David, Uriah, Bathsheba, Nathan, and an unnamed baby boy.

Note verse 1 of this story in 2 Samuel 11. Some commentators, including Nathan himself as he wrote in his own words, point out that David should have been off fighting with his men, like he had always done. David was a soldier, a great warrior. He had no business being home while his men were out in battle.

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 Samuel 11:1

David should have been with his armies, but he was home instead. Was he bored? Did his boredom lead to wandering eyes?

Whatever happened, his wandering eyes led to adultery which led to murder and a huge cover up for his sin, even to the loss of a child.

This story is sad. Was Bathsheba forced to do what David asked? Did she go to him willingly? But that does not matter at all; she never had a choice. If she found David desirable or not, it wouldn’t have even crossed her mind to say no; the choice was never hers to make as a woman.

And Uriah was just doing his job. We don’t know if he was a good husband, but the Bible records that he was a good soldier and faithful patriot- following orders, caring for others, fighting to the death for his people, his commanders, and his king.

And then, there was a child who suffered.

What a sad mess.

But here’s the thing: history records all kinds of things like this. No other monarch in history would have thought twice about killing off one of his soldiers to take a woman for his own. A baby born to a king with a woman married to one of his captains- there are movies about such things!

Powerful men never cared who they hurt, why is this story different?

In that day, and if any other king but David, Nathan would have lost his head for confronting a king’s wickedness. Kings could do what they wanted without consequence. King David is the only one who would respond in this way.

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. 
Psalm 51:1-2 NLT

In Nathan’s account of the story (as written in 2 Samuel), he had just finished telling David that God knew what he had done and that there were going to be consequences for his choices. Nathan had great faith in his God, but he possibly stood there expecting to face the wrath of a king.

Instead, David responded like this;

Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
2 Samuel 12:13

No, “she seduced me” or “that’s what happens when I’m bored and can’t find anything to do.” No, blaming his actions on someone else. David knew he screwed up.

So, in true David fashion, he called upon God’s unfailing love, His mercy, and lovingkindness, the covenant hesed love that the Lord had poured out on His people since the time of Abraham. David was an Old Testament believer. He didn’t know about the New Covenant of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

He did what he knew how to do: he cried out to God and begged for His mercy.

For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner- yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there. 
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me- now let me rejoice. Don't keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.
Psalm 51:3-9 NLT

David recognized and claimed his sins. In fact, it almost seems a relief to him to acknowledge and lay his sin at the foot of the throne of God. Some say a year had passed between his affair with Bathsheba and Nathan’s confrontation. That’s a long time.

David admited his sin, and then he goes on to say to God that he sinned “against you, and you alone.”

But wait!

David committed sin against Bathsheba, certainly against Uriah, against their families, against his own family, and on and on.

What does he mean when he says the sin was against God and God alone?

Some say that a king answered only to God. A king could choose a married woman for himself. A king could have his own soldier killed if he wanted to. And therefore, a king would only have to stand before the throne of God and answer for his deeds after death.

While this is probably part of it, we know that David valued human life; he valued God’s creation. David loved God and knew right from wrong, even as king.

I believe that David realized- or finally accepted- at that moment, that God had been present when he took Bathsheba. God had been in the room when David wrote the letter to Joab to have Uriah killed. God was on the battlefield with Uriah when he died.

God is present when we sin.

That changes things.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

David realized that his sin had cut him off from God, the most important relationship in his life. Maybe for a whole year, he has been running and hiding and covering up the sin he committed. Maybe he recognized it, maybe he didn’t, but when Nathan confronted him, it was all over. He realized that his sin had put a wedge between himself and God.

God was his joy.

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me- now let me rejoice. 

Our sin separates us from God. When we confess our sin and acknowledge that we have sinned, to the one we wronged and certainly to God, then He is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Create in me a clean, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 
Psalm 51:10-12 KJV

In these three verses, David begs for the mercy of God. He doesn’t say “clean my heart.” David asks God to create a new heart for him. David begs God not to cast him away, like when Cain murdered his brother Abel in Genesis 4. He also begs God not to take His Spirit away, like He did with king Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).

David’s greatest fear was God turning His back.

The Spirit is my wisdom; leave me not to my folly, he is my strength, O desert me not to my own weakness. Drive me not away from thee, neither do thou go away from me. Keep up the union between us, which is my only hope of salvation.

Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.”

Sin steals our joy.

Sin steals the joy of our salvation because it cuts us off from God. And what a dark place that is.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. 
May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51:13-19 NIV

David’s first order of business was to teach others and lead them back to God. His sin had gotten in the way of his leading the people in the way of the Lord.

Little did David know that his sin and repentance would continue to lead sinners back to God thousands of years later.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. 
Psalm 51:17 NLT

David knew what many religious leaders today fail to see- God doesn’t need sacrifices. He wants our hearts. David would have offered the sacrifice required for sin, but his heart was the sacrifice. His broken spirit was the sacrifice.

This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" declares the LORD.
"These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.
Isaiah 66:1-2
Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

Remember how God saw David’s heart from the beginning? This is our Mighty God who saves. He doesn’t desire empty sacrifice or the monotony of religious practices. He sees our hearts. He wants our hearts to be His.

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

Finally, David closes his repentance psalm with a plea for God to not punish his people because of his sin. Who knows what had been going on for the people of Jerusalem during the year that David had turned from God. But now that David had given God his heart, he pleads that God’s wrath be turned away from His children of Zion.

What a beautiful Psalm this is. What a testament to the brokenness of man and the mercy of a loving God. And we’ve answered our question from the beginning; “What does David’s great sin teach us today?”

Clearly through the mess David made with his wandering eyes, twenty-five hundred years later we can see a way out of our own sin. Nothing is too big for God to handle. All He desires is our hearts.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

Father in heaven, thank you for your word. Thank you for the promise of your forgiveness when we screw up. Thank you for not turning your back on us. You are good and faithful, and we so often fall short. We don’t deserve what you offer, but thank you, Father, that you still do. Help us to keep your word in our hearts today. May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Heidi xoxo

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