2 Samuel 11 tells the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba. He did not go out to war as usual. While at home, he lusted after Bathsheba and then committed adultery with her. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David called her husband home in an attempt to get him to go into his wife so that he would think that the child was his. Uriah refused, so David got him drunk. But Uriah still wouldn’t go to her. David then sent him back to the battlefield with secret instructions to Joab, his military leader, to put him in a place where he would be killed. Evidently, David thought his despicable acts were not known – 2 Samuel 11:27 – “…But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” NKJV
2 Samuel 12:1-14: “Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’” So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” NKJV
Have you ever wondered what David was thinking while all this was going on and how he was feeling as the days went by when he thought his sin was unknown to others? David knew better – he knew that adultery, murder, lying, causing others to sin, and drunkenness were wrong. How did David respond when his hard heart was broken when Nathan said, “You are the man?” The answer to this last question is found in David’s prayer for forgiveness in Psalm 51.
1) A cry of repentance and restoration
Confession – Psalm 51:1-2: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” NKJV
David’s prayer recognized the enormity of what he had done. He saw his sin not just as “a meaningful relationship,” “a weakness of the flesh,” or “an indiscretion.”
He used three terms to describe his sin! First, he called it “transgression” (v. 1), which means “to step deliberately over a property line, to trespass, to go beyond God’s will.” David admitted that he had gone where he should not have gone.
Second, he spoke of his sin as “iniquity” (v.2a). To commit iniquity is “to violate an established standard, to turn aside and follow one’s own way.” Adultery and murder were forbidden in the Ten Commandments. David could not claim that he was ignorant; he knew that his behavior was sinful when he did it.
Third, he spoke of his failure as “sin” (v. 2b). This word means “to miss the mark, to fall short of God’s standards.” It conveys the idea of shooting an arrow at a target and missing, or straying off a straight path like a wandering sheep.
David is saying, “I have been guilty of it all.” “Transgressions” in verse 1 is plural. Sin had multiplied – one sin had led to another sin. All these sins were on his heart. He says, “I need to have these blotted out!”
Psalm 51:2 – “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” NKJV
This means more than a dipping or soaking! The original language carried the idea of how a woman took the family’s dirty clothes to a river or creek. She would dip and soak them and then scrub, twist, beat, and pound them to get them clean. This illustrates that though our cleansing by God is perfect and complete, it may not be easy. David was forgiven, but he also suffered enormous personal consequences because of his sin.
Psalm 51:3 – “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” NKJV
David’s sin is ever before him, haunting him, tormenting him, torturing him. He realized he was a sinner, and he was willing to acknowledge his sin. He says, “…and my sin is always before me.” One paraphrase says, “It haunts me day and night.”
He is defeated and broken by his sin – he cannot escape it. His lies had colored his world black. His adultery had stained him. And he was guilty of the murder of another man. He tried to hide his sin, but that isn’t possible.
Proverbs 28:13 – “You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up, then God will show mercy to you.” GNB
David’s confession was short, swift, and direct: 2 Samuel 12:13 – “Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.” NLT
David makes no excuses for his sins. He does not make a vague confession, saying, “If I have done anything wrong.” He does not call his sin a slip, a mistake in judgment, or a questionable action. He did not minimize his guilt or evade his responsibility. There is nothing superficial about David’s confession – he takes complete responsibility for what he did.
David went to God like a prodigal son returning to his father, with no excuses, just asking for mercy, willing to accept judgment – whatever it might be – as long as he could return to the fellowship with God he had once known.
Psalm 51:4 – “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” NKJV
What are most people usually concerned about when they sin? “What if my friends find out? What if my parents find out? How will it affect this person or that?”
Think of what David did to Bathsheba; to Uriah the Hittite; to Joab, his commander-in-chief; to the people; to his own children. His sin affected people in every direction. There is no such thing as a victimless sin.
Unlike David, our first thoughts are not usually – “It makes no difference if anybody finds out or not. After all, God knows it. I have hurt God!”
What does David mean when he says his sin was only against God? Our sins may harm our friends, neighbors, and family, but we must understand that sin is first and foremost against God. Whether it affects anybody else or not, it always affects God! Sin always hurts the sinner and sin always hurts God.
Cleansing – Psalm 51:5 – “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” NKJV
Many explanations have been given for verse 5 to include the “doctrine of original sin.” Most likely David is making an emotional statement about how sinful he has been. He was not saying that he had inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin. David was figuratively speaking of the inclination we all have toward sin. He is saying that he was brought into a sinful world, and that he soon took up the practice.
Ezekiel 18:20 – “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” NKJV
Jesus pointed out that a little baby is pure and holy: “…for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). A little baby is ready, just as he is, for heaven.
David did not believe that if that baby died without undergoing certain ceremonies, he would end up lost. No, he planned to see his little baby in heaven someday! 2 Samuel 12:23 – “But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” NKJV
Psalm 51:6 – “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” NKJV
Dishonesty was a major problem with David in this episode. He had refused to see himself as a sinner or to admit that his actions were wrong. God wants us to be honest, especially with ourselves. So David prays for a sincere heart.
David is saying, “If I am going to be able to make any significant change, it must come from inside.”
David knew that unless the heart is broken, unless the heart recognizes that sin is against God, there can be no restoration.
Psalm 51:7 – “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” NKJV
The Hebrew word for “wash” is not the word used for simply washing your face, or rinsing a dish. It refers to the washing of clothes by beating and pounding them against a rock or a scrub board. David is praying for a thorough cleansing from sin. This word was used for cleaning a filthy, defiled garment when it was so bad it had to be sent to the “fuller.”
The fuller was a skilled specialist in cleaning exceptionally dirty clothing. He was called a fuller because he used a bleaching agent called “fuller’s earth.”
To put this in modern day terms, David is saying, “Bleach me! Wash me! Steam me! Clean me!”
“Hyssop” was a plant that was used in the Old Testament in certain ceremonial cleansings – when one had contact with the dead, when one was cleansed from leprosy, etc. But hyssop was not used for the sin of adultery or murder. David is saying, “God, even though there is no provision in the law for the use of hyssop for sins like mine, I know You can make me clean.”
Psalm 51:8-10: “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” NKJV
We sometimes think of sin as something insignificant, a small mistake, but sin is terrible! Sin destroys happiness, lives, and hope.
David’s sin brought disruption to his fellowship with God and he wants that fellowship back. His physical bones were not broken, but spiritually he was devastated. He is pleading for forgiveness, for a cleansing which will bring a removal of his guilt so that he can be happy again.
He wants God to wash away his sin and to turn away His face from it and blind Himself to it. He needs to be recreated, given a new heart. It is evident to David, however, that he must bring God an honest heart, a broken heart, and a contrite heart in order to get a “new heart.”
Psalm 51:11 – “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” NKJV
When a person became a king over Israel, he received a special measure of God’s Spirit. God was with him in a special way. When David’s predecessor, Saul, turned against God, God removed His Spirit from him and Saul literally went crazy. David knows that the same thing can happen to him, and it scared him to death!
No true life can be enjoyed apart from the presence of God, and David knew it. So he begs God to not take the Holy Spirit away from him.
Psalm 51:12 – “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” NKJV
David knew that the forgiveness of God and the presence of God would bring great joy into his life, which would lead to peace, praise, and preaching!
2) A cry of resolution
In the closing verses, David makes a “cry of resolution.” David is not simply thinking about the moment. He is not saying, “I just need to get my sins forgiven and all will be well.” He is resolving, with God’s help, to live a different kind of life. He is saying, “I am going to be the kind of person I should be.”
His first resolution is that he will tell others what God has done for him: Psalm 51:13 – “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” NKJV
David is saying, “If you will forgive me, God, my joy will overflow, and I will tell everyone about it. I will teach sinners Your ways. I have every confidence that, as a result of that teaching, those sinners will be converted.”
David’s second resolution is that he will again praise God: Psalm 51:14 – “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.” NKJV
David is pleading for God to deliver him from the guilt of the murder he had committed, the blood that was on his hands. Remember, there was no sacrifice for the sin of murder. David could do nothing to remove that sin from his soul. God had to do it.
But, David says, “If you will deliver me from that guilt, God, I will sing of your righteousness!”
Psalm 51:15 – “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.” NKJV
When sin is in our lives, when our conscience is tearing us apart, it is hard to sing as we should. It is hard to pray as we should. It is hard to open our hearts to God because we do not want God to see deeply into our sinful hearts, which will only grow harder the longer we put off repentance. But David says, “God, if You will forgive me, my lips will be loosed, and I will again sing praises unto You.”
Contrition – Psalm 51:16-17: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise.” NKJV
The only proper way to deal with the guilt of sin is to humble ourselves and become truly penitent – with a “contrite heart.”
To be “contrite” does not mean “feeling bad” about sin, but feeling crushed under the weight of guilt for what we have done. It means a genuine disgust of our sin as well as a determination to do differently.
David knew that sacrifices and burnt offerings would not atone for his sins of murder and adultery. He needed to repent.
There was once a man who wrote a letter to Revenue Canada saying, “I haven’t been able to sleep lately because when I filed my income tax I deliberately misrepresented my income. I am enclosing a check for $150.00, and if I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the rest.”
That’s not contrition. Contrition is a deep repentance that takes ownership of one’s sin; an ownership that leads to brokenness: Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” NLT
This does not mean that in Old Testament times God never desired sacrifices and burnt offerings (Leviticus). So what is David saying? First of all, as noted before, there were no sacrifices for David’s specific sins. But second (and most important), no sacrifice was worth anything without a broken heart behind it.
We need to realize how terrible sin is. Someone says, “But my sin is not like that of David’s. After all, David committed adultery and murder. I just have small sins. I gossip a little. I lie and cheat a little.” Sin is sin! All sin is against God!
Someone has said that white ants can pick a carcass clean faster than a lion. The “little sins” within us can destroy us just as quickly as David’s sins did him!
Is your heart broken and contrite because of your sin? We must understand outward actions and ceremonies won’t get it done. God seeks the heart first.
Isaiah 57:15 – “The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.” NLT
Confidence – David composed Psalm 18 to commemorate the power and works of God throughout his life and administration.
Psalm 18:20-22: “The Lord rewarded me for doing right; He restored me because of my innocence. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not turned from my God to follow evil. I have followed all his regulations; I have never abandoned his decrees.” NLT
Is David delusional? Has he deceived himself? No. And the proof is in 1 Kings 14:8 where in His rebuke to the evil king Jeroboam, the Lord says, “…But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted.” NLT
David is known as the “…man after God’s own heart…” (1 Samuel 13:14), not because he was perfect, but because he always returned to the Lord in humility, because he was big enough to acknowledge his sin, big enough to turn from that sin, and big enough to stay with the Lord!
Though his guilt was removed, the consequences of David’s sin lingered on. But David did not quit. David had a relationship with God that was not affected by outward circumstances. No matter what happened, he stayed with God. Thus, in the New Testament, thousands of years later, David is still known as a man after Gods own heart:
Acts 13:22 – “And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’” NKJV
Psalm 51:18 – “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem.” NKJV
Verse 18 reads like a request for God to bless Jerusalem, but I believe it contains a resolution on David’s part to be the kind of ruler he should be.
The purpose of walls was to provide protection. David’s actions had made Israel defenseless against her enemies. I believe David is pleading for Gods protection of Israel to be restored. David is praying that the harm he had done to his people would be undone! He realized that a nation is always affected by its leaders, a lesson that is taught throughout the Bible and illustrated throughout history. A leader’s bad judgment, a leader’s sins, have dragged nations into war and shame.
David had seen many people in the past killed and destroyed because of poor leadership. Now he says, “Don’t let that happen here! I have sinned. I know I have sinned. But still put your protection around your people!” David is coming to realize, perhaps more than ever before, the far-reaching effect of a single life.
Sometimes we think what we do is our own business, not realizing that not only are we affected, but our families, friends, and everybody who knows what we’ve done. If we could truly realize the power of influence and the effects our example is having on others, we would resolve to be better people as well.
Psalm 51:19 – “Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.” NKJV
In verse 19, David closes with this resolution: “God, if I’m forgiven, I resolve from this point forth not only to worship You, but also to always give You my very best!” May God help us to always give our very best!
Step by step, in covetousness, adultery, and murder, David had walked away from God. Only when he acknowledged his sin and the cause for that sin – his own selfishness – could he begin his journey back to the One who had loved and blessed him.
We too must recognize our sin for what it is, we too must understand how terrible our sin is, confess and repent of our selfishness, and give our lives to God if we want to get rid of the terrible guilt that can tear us apart and possess the joy of salvation.
We too must say along with David – “My sin is before me. My heart is broken. Help me, O God! I want to make things right!”
Joel 2:12-13: “That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” NLT
What was the Lord’s response to the cry of this brokenhearted man? Did the Lord forgive David? Did he ever know the joy of salvation again? The short answer to that question is found in Nathan’s words: 2 Samuel 12:13 – “Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.” NLT
The complete answer is found in Psalm 32:1-5: “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” NLT