June 29, 2016
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Bible is its unapologetic grittiness. It’s not naïve of the world we live in. It’s not ignorant to the sin and pain our lives are filled with. It’s filled with story after story of honest portraits of the human condition. 2 Samuel 11-12 is a clear example of this.
David’s lust leads him to sleep with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his loyal men of war. After he sleeps with her, she conceives and he then scrambles to hide the pregnancy, ultimately resorting to placing Uriah at the front of battle—effectively murdering her husband. What does this have to do with Psalm 51? This is the song David sings to God in the wake of his sin being found out. Here, David desperately pours out his heart in repentance to God. We’re given front row seats to what it looks like to walk through this kind of self-inflicted darkness and plead for God’s grace...
The constant refrain of David’s song is a plea for God’s mercy and steadfast love to remove his sin and blot out his transgressions. He wants to be clean. The full weight of what he has done is now bearing down on him. He committed an appalling evil against Bathsheba and Uriah and their families. Imagine being Uriah’s mother? Or Bathsheba’s father? The anger and sadness they might feel. David’s lust cost these people profoundly. Yet, for some strange reason, David’s pleading here is centered only on his sin against God—why is this?
Here’s one likely possibility: David is guilty of sinning against other humans here, yes, horribly so—but the reason for all of this sin is that he “despised the word of the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:9). He did not honor or love God’s guidance in his life, and therefore he scorned God and did what he felt was good, even if it was just for a moment of fleeting pleasure. Every horizontal wrong we commit against our fellow image-bearers begins with dishonoring our Creator. In fact, because God is infinitely valuable, our disobedience to him pales everything else. We are unable to fix the brokenness with others if we refuse to address the brokenness that exists between us and God.
David says that he was born in iniquity and conceived in sin. This isn’t a reference to his biological birth, but rather, the spiritual reality that pervades all humankind (Ephesians 2:1-3, Matthew 15:10-20). Does this mean that David is trying to say that his sin isn’t ultimately his fault? Not at all, as the entire psalm is very clear about. David is simply expressing the truth that anything good in him must come from God. He can’t manufacture a clean heart—the kind he needs—on his own. This needs to be done by God. The reason this prayer even exists is because David can’t even begin to clean up his act without God doing something miraculous in his soul. David’s unwavering plea and hope is for God to take his corrupt and wicked heart out and pour out his mercy by giving him a clean heart.
Let’s be clear: David is after a lost joy—not a fleeting happiness, but real, concrete joy that he once held close. The kind of joy that is only experienced in the presence of God (v. 11) and that inevitably leads to a bold witness of God’s goodness and mercy (vv. 13-15). Isn’t this what we all want, especially in the wake of our own sin and a seemingly constant inability to do what is right? God has given us the words and the thoughts and the feelings of David to help us on our way. This is how we should look at our sin. This is how we should feel about our hearts. This is how we should pursue our relationship with a God who is both blazingly holy and beautifully merciful.
Be honest with God about your sins. Confess them to him. Plead with him to be made whiter than snow. Ask God to set the broken bones of conviction so that they can rejoice in him. Rejoicing in God’s mercy is a compelling witness for a God who delights in broken and contrite hearts.