“The man who has done this deserves to die!” Strong words! Especially coming from a ruler who had the power to put the guilty man to death. But there was a huge problem. Nathan was a prophet sent to tell King David about a great travesty of justice. A powerful man had taken advantage of a poor man and robbed him of a very precious possession. David fumed as he heard the story. He immediately decided that the man deserved death.
The huge problem? Nathan had been referring to something King David himself had done in robbing another man of his wife. To the King’s surprise he heard these strong words being addressed to him. “You are the man!” said Nathan to David. What a shock to David to discover that the object of his sudden anger was himself! He was guilty! Guilty of coveting what belonged to another! Guilty of injustice! Guilty of immorality! Guilty of murder! Through Nathan’s rebuke he at last recognised it.
We may wonder why it took so long for David to see the enormity of his sin. There is an answer. The same process takes place today in human lives everywhere. Deliberate sin hardens those who engage in it. That’s what the writer of Hebrews 3:13 warns, But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. A person commits one sin and seems to get away with it. Then comes another temptation and the person yields to that. Still nothing seems to happen. And so it goes on, as deliberate sin seems to bring no immediate consequences. What is happening of course it that the person is becoming less and less sensitive to sin and to guilt. Their consciences become hardened. Paul described those who live a lie as David was doing, like this, … Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 2 Timothy 4:2, (NIV) OR Their sense of what is right and wrong has been burned as if with a hot iron. (New International Readers Version). They become insensitive to the sinfulness of their own sin. King David was a classic case.
David however did change. He did become penitent. We see it in the opening verse of Psalm 51 as he cried out to God for mercy, Psalm 51:1, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. … . The word for “transgressions” is from “pesha” which was often used to describe rebellion, including rebellion against God. David had indeed rebelled against God in a number of ways. David knew the law of God and said he delighted in the law (meaning the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament), Psalm 40:8, I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” However he rebelled against what God had said in the law. We see how David had broken many of the commandments in the Decalogue or the Ten Commands that God had given to His people in the Law.
David had begun to make a whole series of wrong choices. He broke the tenth commandment in terms of coveting another man’s wife when he saw Bathsheba bathing. Instead of turning away his gaze he deliberately chose to keep on looking. His looking soon turned into lust. Lust led him to another dangerous choice. To enquire more about Bathsheba. In spite of being told that she was married to a man named Uriah he made another wrong choice and had her brought to him. In that sense he deliberately broke the commandment “You shall not steal” by stealing another man’s wife in his absence. When Bathsheba came into his presence, David broke another commandment by making another wrong choice. He chose to commit adultery with her knowing she was another man’s wife.
When Bathsheba became pregnant to him, David continued his series of wrong choices. He chose to have Uriah recalled from the war on the pretext of finding out from him how the war was going. In reality it was to get Uriah to sleep with his wife so that Uriah would be seen as the father of the child to be born to Bathsheba. David’s plan didn’t work the first night. So he chose to have Uriah stay another night. Still his plan didn’t work. So David chose to try to get Uriah drunk so that his plan might work in those circumstances. Uriah was too committed to his task as a soldier to take advantage of marital privileges that his comrades on the battlefield were denied. (Rather shocking when you think about it that David did not share his commitment when he was the real leader of the army of Israel. But as 2 Samuel 11 begins, In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And … remained at Jerusalem. David should have been out leading his troops. Instead he had chosen to relax at home. He was out of God’s will. Being out of the will of God opened him to temptations he would not have been exposed to if he had been in the will of God. Instead of being “on guard” as the commander of the army, he was caught “off guard” at home while shirking his responsibilities as the King.)
David had behaved abominably as the King of the nation. Worse was to follow. Uriah would eventually come to know that the child to be born to Bathsheba was not his. To cover his affair with Bathsheba, David chose to get rid of Uriah. Here we read of the man “after God’s own heart” planning the deliberate murder of one of his own soldiers. He implicated Joab the commander of the army in the plot by having him post Uriah at the forefront of the battle. Not only that but Joab was instructed in the letter David sent by the hand of Uriah, to draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” Despicable stuff! David chose to have Uriah carry his own death warrant to Joab. Poor Uriah! He thought he was serving his King and country as he carried this important communiqué from the King. Uriah would never have suspected that his King could be so deceitful.
We gain some insight into how far David had departed from the will of God when he was told that Uriah and others had been killed in battle. His response was shallow, callous and uncaring, Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another, 2Samuel 11:25. ( It was almost as thouigh David held his hand to his mouth, yawned and stated in a bored manner, “Ho, Hum! That’s war for you! People die! Don’t worry about it!” His hard heartedness meant that he devalued people, even his own troops. No sadness about the loss of life. Just relief that Uriah had been “got rid of”.
The final part of the whole sordid business was the taking of Bathsheba by David to his house, and his marriage to her in perhaps the shortest possible time. This was to lessen the time between the marriage and the birth of the child. Deception continued. We read one of the greatest understatements in the Bible, But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, 2 Samuel 11:27. A stronger statement is made in the Septuagint Greek version of the Bible where the translation is, the thing David had done was evil in the eyes of the Lord. “Evil” here is from ponēros, meaning wicked or malicious. David was deceived about his own wickedness. God was not. God in His mercy sent Nathan the prophet to open the eyes of the spiritually and morally blinded King.
Can God ever forgive such ongoing deliberate sin?
David prayed, Psalm 51:1 …Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2) Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! The words he used in asking God to forgive him show his understanding of God as a God of mercy. He asked God to “have mercy” on him. The word is “chanan” denoting a desire that God treat him graciously. We see that his confidence in asking God for mercy lay in the way he saw God as having “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy”. His sin might have been heinous but God’s mercy was abundant to cover even heinous crimes.
Having become very aware of his sin he wanted it to be taken away from him. He used 3 different expressions to indicate the extent of the forgiveness he needed.
i). He wanted his transgressions “blotted” out where “blot out” is “machan” meaning to “erase” or “wipe out” completely. It is also used in verse 9, Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. David wanted all trace of his transgressions to go, so that even God would not look upon them any more.
ii). He saw his need to be “washed” from his iniquity, verse 2. “Wash” is from “kabas” meaning to trample underfoot as in the washing of garments. “Iniquity” is from “avon” often used to describe deeper levels of sin such as perversity or depravity. It may also include the guilt arising from such sin. David carried a lot of guilt because of deliberate sin and rebellion against God. He wanted his “filth” completely removed by a vigorous wash. He wanted God to cleanse him inwardly.
iii). He desired that God “cleanse” him from his sin. “Cleanse” is “taher” a word used often in Leviticus where it was used for ritual cleansing and in other places for moral cleansing. “Sin” here is “chattath” used for sin against God (including idolatry) and against fellow humans. It is also used in verse 3, For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. He knew he needed cleansing. He repeated this request to be “clean” in verse 7, Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
He realised he had sinned against God in sinning against Bathsheba and Uriah. Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. He had deliberately broken God’s law. He needed forgiveness from God for sinning against Him in the many things he had done which were contrary to the law of God and to the will of God for him as the King of God’s people.
He knew he needed to be different. He needed a clean (tahor) heart Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. “Clean” here is the adjective of the verb found in verse 2. He needed God to cleanse him and to create in him a clean heart. He needed a renewed spirit within him to become a more trustworthy, reliable person.
He knew he was guilty of shedding blood. The blood of Uriah and perhaps that of the soldiers who were deliberately sent to the battlefront with him. Psalm 51:14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
He wanted to know restoration of the joy of his salvation. Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation. He knew what he was missing from being out of fellowship with God. He wanted that joy back. He also knew he needed to be strengthened, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (In the Greek Septuagint, the LXX, the reading is establish me with thy directing Spirit.) It is the Holy Spirit of God who enables our spirit to be willing to do the will of God.
He wanted to be released to be able to praise God once again, 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. He realised that because he had sinned, God could withdraw His Holy Spirit from him as He had done with Saul when he had rebelled against God. 1Samuel 16:14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. David prayed that God might not do that with him, Psalm 51:11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
The whole Psalm is the cry of a man who knew he had done terrible things in the sight of God. However he believed in the love and mercy of a righteous but loving and forgiving God. This God could not only forgive him of his sins but could also cleanse him and make him to be different. That was David’s sincere cry in this Psalm.
This Psalm is a great encouragement to those who believe that their sins are too great to ever be forgiven by God. You can’t become much more guilty in life than David became. If God could forgive him for all his sins when David cried out to him for forgiveness, then there is hope for those who have done perhaps more or less than David. It is not so much the depth of human sin that is the deciding factor. Rather it is the depth of God’s grace and forgiving love that makes it possible for humans to be forgiven today.
BUT! And it’s a very big BUT! But we need to approach this loving, gracious, forgiving God with the same penitence for our sin that David showed, calling our sin by its real name, “sin”. It means asking that He forgive us of all our sins. It means asking Him to cleanse us and to renew us with a new spirit so that we live always for Him. It means from that point always being “on guard” in the centre of His will and never allowing ourselves to be caught “off guard”, out of His will, when temptations come.
Questions for consideration by individuals or groups. (Added 21 Sept 2016)
Question 1. It took King David some time before he could confess his sin to God. Why does it take us a long time sometimes to admit that we have sinned or done or said the wrong things?
Question 2. Hebrews 3:13 talks about being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In what ways is that seen in the story of King David in this article?
Question 3. In what ways do you think people are being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin in today’s world. Give some examples.
Question 4. In Psalm 51:1-2 what expressions indicate the depth of David’s repentance before God?
Question 5. Do you think God should have forgiven David for simply praying those words in Psalm 51, especially verses 1-2? Why or why not?
Question 6. What other verses in Psalm 51 show the sincerity of David’s repentance? Are they words we should pray to God ourselves today? Why or why not?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.15. Posted on Monday 7th March 2011