16th April 2020
King David wrote this psalm after the prophet Nathan rebuked him with a message from God because David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1-26). David had messed up spectacularly. How had he got to this low point? He was the boy who had defeated Goliath and risen to become King David. He had been anointed by God and called a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). How did he become an adulterer, schemer and murderer? It is not clear, but 2 Samuel 11:1-2 tells us that David was in his bed one evening at the time he had sent his army off to war. Why did he remain in Jerusalem? What was he doing in bed? Perhaps he was tired, bored or perhaps he had lost his focus. Whatever the reason, David was not where he was supposed to be. He saw Bathsheba having a bath on her rooftop, sent for her, slept with her, got her pregnant and found himself with a problem. He tried to cover up his wrongdoing by sending for her husband Uriah and trying to get him to sleep with Bathsheba so there would be no suspicion about her pregnancy. Unfortunately for David, Uriah was a righteous and loyal man who steadfastly refused to sleep with his wife whilst his fellow soldiers were still fighting in battle. In this way, Uriah did the exact opposite of what David himself had done. Finally, David sent Uriah back to fight in the battle and instructed Joab, the head of the army, to place Uriah within the fiercest fighting and then withdraw from him so he would be struck down (2 Samuel 11:15). In 2 Samuel 12:1-14, the Lord sends Nathan to rebuke David and David finally realises he has gone too far. The Lord forgives David, but his firstborn child with Bathsheba dies because he has “shown utter contempt to the Lord”. There is further trouble and bloodshed in David’s family. In the rest of 2 Samuel, we read about the far-reaching consequences of David’s sin.
Psalm 51 is essentially a lesson in how to say sorry and repent properly. David starts by asking God for mercy and cleansing from sin (v1-2). He believes in God’s unfailing love and compassion. He acknowledges his transgressions and realises that he has done evil in God’s sight and that God’s verdict is just (v3-4). He acknowledges his sinfulness from birth (v5). He knows that despite this, God wants him to be faithful (v6). He asks God to cleanse him from sin (v7) and knows that God is able to do this. He asks God to give him joy and gladness and to teach him to rejoice despite his situation (v8). Then he asks for restoration (v10-12). He asks that God will create in him a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within him. He begs God not to cast him from His presence or take His Holy Spirit from him. He asks for restoration to the joy of salvation and for a willing spirit to sustain his faith. Then he pledges to teach others from his own experience. He vows to tell others of God’s righteousness and he asks God to help him to give praise (v13-16). He offers God his broken and repentant heart (v17) because he knows that no other offering will make up for his sin. Finally, he realises that his actions also have consequences for Israel and asks for God’s blessing on his people. He promises that the people in Israel will worship Him and offer righteous offerings.
These passages show us how easily we can fall into sin when we are not careful, when we have lost our focus, or when we are not in the right place. We can fall into temptation, lies and deception. It will never end until we acknowledge our sinful nature and repent. God may send people like Nathan into our lives to advise us and we need to choose to listen to wise counsel. When we choose to repent, we can be assured that God’s love is unfailing and his compassion is great. God wants us to be fully restored to Him and He will give us what we need to be able to do this. We can be confident that we will have the fullness of joy and when we acknowledge that He is our salvation. We can use the verses in Psalm 51 to guide us when we need to seek God’s forgiveness and restoration.