The Plea of a Humbled King - Psalm 51, Part 1
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000
There is only one kind of person that never does anything wrong -- the dead kind. Though some of you may nod off now and then, I don't believe any of you, at the moment, are dead.
Christians are not people who never do wrong. But what makes them different is what happens inside them when they do wrong. And what happens inside can't hide itself for long. So we expect to see some evidences of this change in a Christian's life.
God's word doesn't set us up to be hypocrites about our moral lives. It calls us to be humbly honest. We need to admit when we sin. But, it also calls us to deal with our sins in the right way: toward ourselves, God and others. One of the great helps in remembering our right response to our moral failures is Psalm 51. Commentator William Plumer called this psalm The Sinner's Guide.
The Psalm begins with a very helpful title:
The Psalm titles are part of the inspired text. In the original Hebrew text, this title is the first 2 verses. Our verse 1 is the Hebrew verse 3.
It begins by giving us the background:
For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
This is a text, not only for David, not only for private meditation, but for use in the public gathering of the people for worship. Its a song to teach us by this king's amazing example, how we too should deal with our sins.
But the lesson has a tragic beginning
2 Samuel 11 tells of David's fall into the depths of sin. One night in the Spring, while his armies were off in battle, King David watched from his palace roof as Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was bathing herself. His physical desires for her were strong so he had her summoned to his palace. There, the king was intimate with her. In the days following she came to him and told him that she was pregnant with his child.
David had sinned horribly; and his first response made it worse.
He shamefully used his power as king to cover up his sin by deception and violence. To make Uriah think it was his own child, he called him home from battle to be with his wife. If he slept at home a few nights, perhaps he would think that Bathsheba's baby was his. But Uriah was a very noble man. He would not sleep with his wife while his men were still out on the battlefield away from home.
In frustration David entertained Uriah and got him drunk with wine, thinking that then, with his judgment impaired, he would go home and sleep with his wife. But still Uriah didn't spend the night with Bathsheba.
Desperate hearts do foolish and cruel things. So David sent Uriah back to battle with sealed orders from the King for Joab his commander. Joab was to place Uriah in the fiercest part of the battle and withdraw the troops leaving him to be killed. Perhaps with the husband out of the way no one would know that he hadn't been with his wife. Joab obeyed the king and after the next great battle, Uriah was dead.
When the report came back, Bathsheba mourned her husband for a respectable time, then was taken as the wife of the King. In time a son was born to Bathsheba.
David might have thought he had gotten away with his wickedness. But God sees all our sins: even those we suspect are in secret.
God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin.
2 Samuel 12 tells us how the prophet skillfully brought David to realize his offense.
13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.It was at this time that David wrote Psalm 51.
14 However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die."
We learn that David, the slayer of Goliath, the great King of Israel, and author of many psalms; was, as we are, just a sinner saved by grace.
If the great King David could fall so horribly, so could any of us.
We fail to live up to God's holy standards every day. We may not daily commit capital crimes like adultery, and plotting a man's death. But our sins are all offensive to God.
We can look at people in the Bible like Judas or Jezebel and label them as exceptions. But they, along with the Hitlers and Mansons of our world, are like us -- descendants of Adam.
Sin is the universal trait of all of us:
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men ...The Bible tells us how depraved that makes our heart ...
Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?In Romans 3:10-12, Paul quotes from the Psalms saying ...
10 as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one;Yes, as hard as it is to admit, people like us could do as wicked a thing as David did. If we don't -- its because of God's loving work to restrain us from doing wrong.
11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, There is not even one."
Philippians 2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.Who was Judas, Hitler or Manson? Each was but a fallen sinner, not restrained by God's mercies. How immoral our lives would be if God did not hold back the flood of depravity in us. But he does!
James 1:17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.
If there is a moment of obedience in our lives ... It should be a cause for humble thankfulness to God who holds back our sin. When we falter and sin we should be humbled to see the depravity that lurks within, and we should be quick to come in repentance, trusting in the Savior to forgive and restore.
But what should we do when we fall into sin? This example offers help for each one of us.
David cried out to God for grace:
Psalm 51:1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.There was no defense, no excuse. He made no attempt to list special circumstances. He didn't whine about hard it was being king. He didn't try to minimize what he'd done by reminding God that everybody sins.
David knew there was only one relief for what he'd done -- the grace of the God he'd offended. So he pleaded that his Heavenly King would be gracious to him.
David knew better than to ask for fairness or justice ... that would mean eternal torments and separation from God. Only the arrogant fool demands from God what he deserves. Instead, David called upon that Sovereign kindness that met the demands of justice for him. And that was not something any man could earn. It was available only as undeserved kindness.
That grace accords with two things
1. It comes to us because of God's lovingkindness.
lovingkindness is a compound English word, a kindness moved by love. It translates the original Hebrew word khesed which means mercy, or grace. Its the unearned favor which God shows toward us when we are forgiven.
2. And that grace is founded in God's great compassion.
We may have compassion on those who suffer from hunger, disease and oppression. But this compassion is so great that it reaches out to the unworthy. To those who break the law of God himself!
Its not a compassion like we have toward hapless victims of tragedy. But to thieves who use God's blessings for selfish purposes: who spend his tithe, who abuse their time and talents, who satisfy their desires by sexual sins, by gluttony, who look with apathy toward learning his word, toward devotion in prayer, toward faithfulness in supporting worship, toward the needs of the saints. who treasure more their earthly security and luxury, than growing in spiritual maturity.
David despised the ordinance of marriage to have sex with a beautiful woman. He deceived and planned a massive cover-up to protect his reputation and popularity. He even plotted against a man's life rather than confess his sin before God and man.
But God loved even this David! He loved Peter, who denied him three times. And this same unmerited grace is the only hope for each of us here, though we are at times still moral criminals against heaven itself.
Even our coming to him is an act of his own mercy toward the unworthy. Jesus made it clear that our first approach of faith is alien to our fallen hearts. Only when it is put there by God's mercy will anyone turn to him.
John 6:44 "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him ...God loves no man because he repents. Man repents because he is loved by God:
Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?As the Apostle John said, in 1 John 4:19,
We love, because He first loved us.David made his purpose very clear
He asked for grace so that his transgressions would be blotted out
The language David uses here is that of a judicial indictment of a court. In ancient times they were often written with ink on parchments. Commentator Adam Clarke points out that David was asking that whatever fluids were needed would be used by God to dissolve away the words of the judgment against him.
He didn't mean that somehow God would forget this part of real history. But that the charge of guilt would be removed by powers beyond men.
We know so much more than David did about how God would do this.
Abraham, Moses and David only knew that somehow God would satisfy justice in their place. Today we are privileged to know that Jesus accomplished this work by being born a man. He came to live among us; to suffer and die as a criminal on a cross. He represented his people as he lived a perfect life in their place. He represented those same loved ones as he died in their place for their sins.
David begged for mercy knowing that justice is only met for sinners by God's grace. We know that it was that grace that sent the Savior to take our guilt and punishment upon himself. When we sin, we call upon that same grace knowing the source from which this goodness flows in abundance.
Christians are not those who never do wrong. But they are those who must learn to handle their wrongs rightly.
David knew his sin was not excusable. Neither is ours. But in God's mercy, we have this psalm. It reminds us how we ought to deal with our transgressions as did this great ancient king.
And how great is that lovingkindness and compassion of God?
As Moses wrote in Lamentations 3 ...
21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.How do we know that he accepts our repentance and forgives us?
22 The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.
24 "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."
He promised it to us in his word -- and his word never fails. As Jesus said in John 6:37
"All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.As John later wrote in 1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.When you sin later today, tomorrow and throughout this week ahead (and if we are honest we admit that we each surely will) plead with God for his grace, for his lovingkindness and compassion and they will abound to us -- because he has promise it!
Don't let a moment pass where sin lingers unrepented of. Come to the fount of every blessing.