It was springtime for King David, but he chose not to go out with his army as they continued to make new conquests. That year, the king chose to stay home (2 Samuel 11:1). Late one afternoon, as David was strolling about on the flat roof of the royal palace, he noticed a woman bathing on the outdoor patio of one of the houses close by. She was stunningly beautiful. Upon inquiry David learned that she was Bathsheba, and that her husband was far away serving in the army. David was king, and he could have whatever (and whomever) he wanted. Instead of seeking out one of his own wives, he sent for the woman, and they spent the rest of the night together.
Some time later, David received a letter with a short message. The letter said, “Your majesty: I’m expecting a child. What do I do now?” It was signed in her own handwriting: “Bathsheba.”
King David went into action immediately. He tried to cover the whole thing up! He arranged for Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) to have a brief furlough, but Uriah was a good soldier. He would not go home and sleep with his wife while the other soldiers were roughing it out on the battlefield. So David arranged to have Uriah killed in battle. His plan succeeded. Then David did what may have seemed like an act of kindness. He took Uriah’s wife (who was now a poor expectant widow) as his wife.
This despicable affair might have ended there. But one day, almost a year later, the prophet Nathan came to see the king. He told David about two men. One was a rich man who owned many flocks and herds. The other was a poor man who lived nearby, and had nothing but one precious little lamb which he had purchased and raised. The rich man stole the poor man’s lamb and used it to make a feast for a visiting friend.
David had been a shepherd boy when he was younger, and without doubt he had a pet lamb from time to time. When he heard the story of this injustice, with great indignation he said, “Who is this fellow? He deserves to die.” Nathan looked David in the eye, and with great courage, he said, “You are the man!” And David got the point. David recognized that he had sinned, and he was overwhelmed with guilt.
David and Bathsheba’s baby was born. But within a week the child died. David, who was once “the sweet singer of Israel,” was now a broken-hearted man.
The 51st Psalm is a cry for pardon and forgiveness. It is a plea from David’s broken heart. David says, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; and according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, [and] thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51:1-4a).
We may not have sinned in the manner in which David did, but that each of us has sinned is evident. If God would flash upon a screen a record of our lives, all of us would cringe and bow our heads in shame.
But where should a sinful person go? To whom should we turn when our hearts are fairly bleeding with regret?
The answer is clear in verse 1 of the 51st Psalm. David went to God. He poured out his heart before the Lord, and begged for His mercy.
1. David’s Confession (Psalm 51:1-6)
David had sinned grievously against God. His sin was inexcusable, and he took all the blame. He spoke of “me,” “my,” and “mine” all the way through. The Psalm does not have one word of excuse.
Have mercy upon me; wash me; cleanse me. David simply and honestly said, “I’m guilty, and I need forgiveness.” In this chapter, David used three distinct words for sin: transgression, iniquity, and sin. Transgression (in verses 1, 3, 13) carries the idea of revolting or rebelling. Iniquity (verses 2, 9) conveys the thought of the perversion (the depravity) of his nature. Sin (verses 2, 3, 4, 9) translates the word that means “falling short” and “missing the mark.”
In committing adultery with Bathsheba, David had revolted against what he knew was God’s law. He gave in to the perverse desires of the flesh, and he stumbled and fell way short of God’s expected standard.
David also used three distinct terms for forgiveness: blot out, wash away, and cleanse. Blot out means to wipe away, as one wipes away tears. Wash away means to scrub, just as one scrubs dirty clothes. Cleanse means to make clean, like washing clothes and rinsing them in a river. The dirt in David’s life was so ingrained that a mere light soaking would not do. He does not ask for a mere rinsing, but for a thorough and repeated scrubbing!
The memory of Uriah the Hittite kept cropping up in David’s mind. He was burdened by the sense that he sinned greatly against God. He says, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:3-4a).
David, of course, knew that he had sinned against people as well! He knew that he had sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba. He had sinned against his friend Ahithophel, who was Bathsheba’s grandfather. And he had sinned against the baby boy who was born to Bathsheba.
But while sin is against man, it is also against God! In fact, the sin against God is so enormous and so fearful, that any offenses against a human being fade into the background when compared with the offense against our holy God.
David surely understood that others had been damaged by his sin. Bathsheba’s reputation was soiled. Her marriage was broken. Her husband was murdered. Her heart was grieved by the death of the child that was born. Uriah’s life was brought to a bloody end because of David’s sin. David sinned against his own family. It was also a sin against the nation, as David was king of Israel.
But David saw that ultimately sin is an insult and injury to God. God’s love was wounded. God’s grace was trampled underfoot. It is true that David sinned against his fellow human beings, but transgressions go much farther than that. Sin, in reality, strikes at the very heart of God!
David’s sin still has repercussions in our day. Think about what happens even in our day as a result of David’s sin. Several years ago a cynic on the streets of Chicago was making fun of God. He said, “You mean to tell me that David was a man after God’s own heart? Doesn’t your God say that He is a holy God?” And then he made some filthy statements about David and his sexual relationship with Bathsheba, and said, “What kind of God are you serving?” David’s sin long ago gave opportunity for an enemy of God to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14).
God, through the prophet Nathan, said to David, “David, you hurt Me!” True, David also hurt Bathsheba and Uriah, and his family, and his nation. But Bathsheba is now gone; the society of ancient Israel is no more; but God and His Word are still surviving, and people still laugh at God because of David’s sin! So ultimately, the worst damage is the injury done to the cause of the holy Lord God Jehovah. Every sin against man is still more a sin against God.
The statement in verses 5-6a is often misinterpreted: “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The statement does not mean that the sexual relationship within a proper marriage is sinful. The Amplified Bible says it this way: “Behold, I was brought forth in [a state of] iniquity; my mother was sinful who conceived me [and I too am sinful].” David was a son of Adam, a member of a fallen race. And like all of us, David was born with a propensity to sin. Corrupt actions flow from a corrupt nature. But instead of disciplining that nature, David allowed it to gain control over his actions.
We have inherited a sin nature. The disposition to do wrong lies deep in each human life. Who taught you to sin? Did you ever tell a lie (or act out a lie)? Where did you learn to lie? You didn’t have to go to school to learn to be dishonest. Did your parents actually train you how to deceive others?
A newspaper columnist said that one of the most painful exercises in the human experience is guilt. She said that guilt can ruin your day. It turns up when you do something dishonest, or hurtful, or selfish, or just plain mean. Maybe it was the result of thoughtlessness, or an uncontrolled tongue, or maliciousness, but anyhow, you did wrong, and the sense of guilt is bothering you. The point the columnist was making is that guilt is a pollutant, and we don’t need any more of it in the world.
But the fact is that no matter how often a person tells himself that he’s a good person, it seems he eventually discovers that sometimes he just cannot help thinking, saying, or doing wrong things, and then afterward he feels guilty about it. We feel guilty because we are guilty of sometimes thinking, saying, or doing wrong things, and all the counseling offered by well-meaning persons cannot bring relief from the guilt. You may feel better for a while, especially if you can place the blame on someone else (which is often what some psychiatrists try to do). But that only intensifies the guilt, because it adds dishonesty to the sin that caused the guilt feeling in the first place! Because of the original sin (human depravity), mankind is given to pride, greed, lust, hatred, impatience, laziness, procrastination, etc. All these things can crop up in our hearts, and we need to be quick to confess our wrongs.
Sin is not just a surface problem; it is a problem deep within. God desires truth “in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6). The Lord’s penetrating gaze searches the innermost recesses of a person’s mind, and it is there that our God is looking for honesty and truthfulness.
2. David’s Cleansing (Psalm 51:7-12)
First Kings 15:5 says that during his lifetime, David did what pleased the Lord, and had not turned aside from what God had commanded him “except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his provision for Uriah’s death are black scars on his character. It would be hard to find, anywhere in the Bible, a more thorough exposure of the ravages and damages done by sin.
In earlier years, David had been able to take his harp and make the halls of the palace ring with joy and gladness—but not anymore! David experienced the effects of sin in his life. He was once the sweet singer of Israel, but now his life had become a tangled mess!
In this section David repeatedly calls for cleansing. He had a deep sense of guilt, and he knew that the same God Who created all things was the only One Who could restore him and cleanse him.
The words “purge me with hyssop” (verse 7) refer to a sponge-like plant, the leaves of which were sometimes used to apply the blood of an animal on the altar of sacrifice. In Exodus 12:22, the hyssop plant was dipped in the blood of an animal, and then applied to the lintels and doorposts of the Jewish houses on the night when the death-angel came through.
The words “joy and gladness” (verse 8) indicate that David wanted the joy of the Lord in his heart again. He knew that his heart could only experience joy and contentment once again if he was honest before God. Then he could be assured of the Lord’s forgiveness.
In verse 9 David prayed, “Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.” David prayed that God would cancel the record of his sins when he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (verse 10). David was asking that his heart be renewed, restored, and transformed—and he knew that God was the only source of such renewal. David wanted to do his best never to fall into committing such a sin again!
Much depression in the lives of professing Christians today is caused by sin, often something from the past that is hidden away in the recesses of the heart. It may have been some so-called “big sin” like murder or adultery, or it may have been some seemingly small compromise, like having a short fuse with your spouse, or perhaps taking a long look at someone else’s spouse!
When we humbly confess these sins, the Holy Spirit washes the dirt from our souls. God will not cast us away, nor will He abandon us—if we are humble before Him! We need to claim the promise of 1 John 1:7, “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Even in Old Testament times, salvation came through forgiveness based on God’s grace. Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to the Messiah’s coming. Today, we look back in faith to the work of Jesus on the cross.
3. David’s Commitment (Psalm 51:13-19)
Having experienced God’s forgiveness, the psalmist vows to do three things:
- a. I will teach others (verse 13).
- b. I will sing about God’s righteousness (verse 14).
- c. I will praise the Lord God who forgives (verse 15).
David was now making a commitment to teach others the ways of God. It is futile to try to teach others how to walk in “the straight and narrow way” if we are not walking in that way ourselves! But when you experience the assurance of God’s forgiveness, others will notice what God has done for you, and you’ll feel compelled to tell them about the joy of sins forgiven.
Those who have been cleansed from sin, by confessing their transgressions, can then go to others and say: “I know the struggles you’re having; I’ve been there myself; I know what you’re going through.”
David declared that he would teach transgressors God’s ways and sing about His righteousness (verses 13-15). Verses 16-17 indicate that God expects sacrifices and worship. But He has an even greater delight in those who come to Him in simple obedience. What the Lord desires most of all is deep and sincere repentance—a contrite heart and a broken spirit! Many of the words of this Psalm have been repeated and rehearsed hundreds of times in the lives and testimonies of the people of God.
The 51st Psalm lays down the requirements for cleansing from sin. David’s repentance included a godly sorrow for his transgressions, confession of his sins, and a determination not to commit those sins any more. God forgave David’s sin and restored him into fellowship with the Father, thus enabling him to rejoice and tell others of the grace of God.
One young lady was sitting with a group of friends at an airport. As she watched the airplanes take off, she said, “I wish I could vanish out into space just like that airplane. I’d like to escape, and go somewhere, and start my life all over again!” She was young and attractive, and obviously a woman of financial means. Why did she want to vanish? Undoubtedly, the stain of making wrong choices in the past, and dabbling with sin, was filling her mind with a haunting desire to escape. She apparently knew nothing of the joy of restoration which God offers to those who repent and seek forgiveness.
Perhaps someone who is reading this message has lost the joy of his (or her) salvation. Perhaps you are a member of the church, but you are missing the peace of mind that only God can give. This would be a good time to pray like David did in the 51st Psalm.
Acknowledge your failure before God.
Humbly ask God’s forgiveness.
Renew your vows to Him.
Perhaps you’ve never committed your life to Christ. You can experience God’s forgiveness today. If you’ve never done it, come to Christ today. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Many years ago in London, Caesar Milan preached the Word and spoke freely to the unsaved about their need for salvation. After dismissal, he talked with the young lady who sang very charmingly, just before the sermon. Her name was Charlotte Elliot. She was impressed anew by the truth that “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” At home later that night, she couldn’t sleep. Finally, early in the morning, the young singer sprang from her bed, took a pencil and paper, and with tears streaming down her face, Charlotte Elliot wrote the words that many of us have sung through the years:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me.
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
I pray that you will have the courage to stand up for Jesus today!