Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
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.
In order to really and truly understand what is going on in today’s passage we have to first understand the context in which this passage occurs. And to begin to understand we need look no further than the title and heading for this psalm which you will notice, if you are reading this passage either in a physical Bible or on a Bible reading app, says this “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” Now I’m sure all of you probably remember the story of David and Bathsheba, but in case you don’t here it is again.
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.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die. ”
So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
Joab sent David a full account of the battle. He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”
The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.—2 Samuel 11:1-27
Hopefully you will have noticed that there are three bigs that we get out of this story. And those three things are:
- David was somewhere he was not supposed to be.—You see David as the king and leader of the people of Israel he should have been at the front with his men as he usually was. However, it was exactly because David was someplace he was not supposed to be that led to the next thing that we see in this tragic story.
- David saw something that he was not supposed to see.—Because David had not gone up to the front with his men, he was free to take a walk on the roof of his palace at night, probably because he couldn’t sleep because he knew he should be leading his men from the front. And it was because David was free to walk along the roof of his palace at night that led him to see Bathsheba bathing. Now let’s clear something up right here and right now. David was not the only one at fault in this story. Because Bathsheba was just as guilty because she was somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be and she saw something she should have never seen. And all this led to the third thing that we see in this tragic story.
- David and Bathsheba both did something they never should have done.—Both David and Bathsheba were guilty of the sin of adultery. David was guilty because he invited Bathsheba over to his palace and Bathsheba was guilty because she accepted David’s invitation knowing full well what that invitation really meant. However, David was guilty of doing something else that he never should have done. And that last thing David was guilty of was having Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, killed when he couldn’t get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so that David’s and Bathsheba’s infidelity could be covered up.
You also should have noticed that this tragic story ended with this words, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.” Which leads us into the next bit of context that helps us to understand our passage from Psalms for today, and that next bit of context is this:
The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.”
After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”
David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”—2 Samuel 12:1-23
Now that we know what David did and God’s response to what David did, it is time to see what David’s response to God’s response is. And that is exactly what we see in Psalm 51.
This psalm starts with the phrase “have mercy on me.” What this means is that all who have sinned and are overwhelmed by feelings of guilt can find forgiveness, spiritual cleansing and a renewed relationship with God. This psalm shows how mercy can be found. David’s request for forgiveness and spiritual renewal is based on God’s grace, mercy and unfailing love. Christ’s death for our sins provides this forgiveness to all who humble themselves, confess their sin, entrust their lives to God and depend on him to help change the sinful behavior.
Verse 3 says this, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” What David is saying there is that at times, it may be difficult to believe or accept that we have been forgiven, especially when it seems that God has not yet restored his blessing on us. A person who has known the joy of spiritual salvation, then falls to the depths of spiritual failure, may experience a continued grief and spiritual struggle before sensing that his or her relationship with God has been fully restored. David’s experience reveals how serious, frightful and emotionally devastating it can be to defy God after having known his generous blessings.
Verses 4 and 5 say this, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David here is not saying that he had not wronged anyone else by his serious offense, adultery and murder, but that his greatest sin had been against God and his Word. David here is also acknowledging that he was born with a natural pull toward rebellion against God. Yet he does not offer this as an excuse. He takes full responsibility for his own sinful nature. Ever since sin entered the world, every person is born with a selfish desire to go his or her own way and satisfy his or her own pleasures, even if it causes pain and suffering for others. This sinful behavior can be overcome only by accepting God’s forgiveness, provided by Jesus’ death for our sins, and by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through those who devote their lives to Jesus.
Verses 10 and 11 say this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” All God’s followers need his Holy Spirit to purify their hearts. The change brings on openness toward God, a hatred and resistance toward sin and a greater desire to fulfill God’s highest purposes for their lives. They will, at times, also need a renewed spirit that will keep them sensitive to God’s presence and empowered to serve God. Only the God who created us in the first place can re-create us from the inside out and restore us to true Godliness. For you see David knew that if God removes the power and presence of the Holy Spirit—who exposes sin, guides people toward God and empowers them to serve God’s purposes—then all hope of renewing his relationship with God is gone.
Verse 12 goes on to say this, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” The Lord restored David’s joy, but we should notice the following two things about David’s life.
- Scripture clearly teaches that we will reap what we sow. That is to say, however we conduct our lives will have a direct impact on what happens to us in return. “The one who sows to please the sinful nature…will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit…will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). As a result of David’s sin, he suffered lifelong consequences in his own life, in his family life and his kingdom.
- The dreadful consequences that David experienced should instill in us a proper and holy fear that keeps us from defying God and turning our hearts away from the mercy he has already shown us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
And lastly verse 17 says this, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” People make personal sacrifices—sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad reasons. That is why God is not overly impressed by what we can do for him. What God really desires is for people to recognize their helplessness without the strength of God and surrender their situations to him. He will not turn away a broken and humble heart that is full of grief and regret over sin. When people put aside their selfishness and pride and cry out to God for his forgiveness, they can be sure that he will accept them. Which is what David did and is what we must do when we sin against God, because all of the misdeeds and wrongs that we have committed are in reality committed against God. And that is why David was and still is considered a man after God’s own heart. Because as we have seen David was far from perfect, but David did admit his imperfections and genuinely repent of those things that made him imperfect. And if we want to be men and women after God’s own heart then that is what we must do also. Because remember, God truly wants us to have “a broken and contrite heart.”
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Numbers 11:24-13:33, Mark 14:22-52, Psalm 52:1-9 and Proverbs 11:1-3