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TEXT: II Samuel 11:1-12:15, Psalm 51
SUBJECT: Psalm 51#1: The Sin
Today, with God's help, I hope to begin a short study of Psalm 51. Not every part of the Bible speaks to every believer with equal force. This is because it is hard to see how the dietary laws of Israel, for example, apply to us in the Church; and then there are the genealogies, name catalogues that meant so much to the people who first read them, but to you and me, next to nothing. We all know these obscure parts of the Bible are God's Word, but we don't know what to do with them.
The 51st Psalm is not an obscure part of God's Word. It speaks to us where we are-in sin, guilt, and fear-and it cries out for what we need most-mercy from on high.
We read the Psalm just now, but what we didn't read was the inscription. The words are not inspired by God, but I think they're true. I believe Psalm 51 was written by David-
When Nathan the prophet went to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
The Psalm stands on its own, of course, and can be read without knowing the story that lay behind it. But the story helps us understand it better, and more to the point: it helps us appreciate the mercy of God more than we would without it. The story is a sad one-and sickening in parts-but it's also good for us. It goes something like this:
There once was a king in Israel, whose name was David. Unlike most leaders, he did not come to power by birth or wealth, cunning or brute force. He was chosen by God for the purple, and anointed by His servant, Samuel, who was the greatest prophet between Moses and Elijah.
From that day on, David was Israel's champion, and some years later, it's ideal king. Like George Washington, he was
First in war,
First in peace,
And first in the hearts of
his fellow countrymen.
Even in his own day, people thought of him as a forerunner of the Messiah, a type of the King whom God would one day send to save His people from enemies worse than the Philistines, and to rule them with the Lord's own justice and mercy. Their hopes were well founded. David was a type of Christ and his kingdom came closer to God's Perfect Rule on Earth than any other.
Then something happened. The rains stopped, the sun came out, and the kings in that part of the world began mustering their armies for war. They all went out that spring-Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, they all did.
Except the king of Israel.
No longer young, he was still the most feared man-at-arms in the Middle East. Even in his fifties, David wielded the sword and spear like none other, and the Lord was with him, and through him He-
Commanded victories for Israel.
This year, instead of leading his troops to war himself, he stayed home and sent Joab to do the fighting for him. The general was not a good man, but he was a very effective soldier, and beat the Ammonites to a pulp.
While Joab and his men were risking their lives, what was David doing? He was lounging around on his patio. David was not a king like other kings; he was the Lord's Anointed, and if they were permitted to wallow in luxury, he wasn't! He was called and equipped to fight the battles of the Lord, to crush the kingdoms of man and to bring in the Lordship of God.
But, instead of doing what He was meant to do, there he is, loafing around in his pajamas-you might say-looking for something to dispel his boredom.
THE FIRST SIN
It didn't take long to find it. Peering down from his roof, David saw a lovely woman taking a bath in a nearby stream. 'Who's she' he wondered and then he was told who she was-
Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
The words should have stopped David dead in his tracks.
First, because she was a married woman-and not even the king was free to commit adultery.
Second, because she was the daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah, both of whom were members of David's bodyguard. They were two of the thirty best men he had. He knew them personally, they had risked their lives together and won the spoils of war side-by-side with their king.
Third (though it's not mentioned here), she was the granddaughter of Ahithophel, who was David's chief advisor, the man he turned to for wisdom, because, the Bible says-
And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracles of God.
As shameful as it is in its own way, this was not an anonymous woman, a nameless, faceless body he used for an hour and sent on its way. This was a lady whose family David knew, a family loyal to him, and a family he should have loved. But the only love he felt that day was for himself! He preyed on the woman and the people he was sworn to protect.
Waving off the cries of conscience and the stricken faces of her servants, he called for Bathsheba, had his way with her, and sent her home none the worse for the wear-he thought.
THE SECOND SIN
A few weeks later, someone handed David a secret message. It was from the young woman, and informed him she was with child and he was the father.
This was a sticky situation for the king, for while other kings did this all the time, the king of Israel didn't. He too was under the Law of God, and it had adultery as a capital offense. He might die for what he had done; standing with the wronged men, his crack troops might have quit on him. At the very least, there would be a public scandal.
He had to find a way to cover up his sin. Which was easy enough to do. Call Uriah home from the war; like every red-blooded soldier on leave, he'll make a beeline for the bedroom, and the baby born to Bathsheba will be taken for his. That's an easy one.
Except for one thing: Unlike David the king, Uriah the Hittite was deeply loyal to the armies of Israel. If Joab and the others are not sleeping with their wives, Uriah is not sleeping with his. If he cannot camp with David's soldiers, he'll camp on David's back porch!
Stymied by the man's loyalty, David sends Joab an order: Lay siege to Rabbah, put Uriah on the front line, and pull the other men back. No doubt with a bad taste in his mouth, Joab follows the order, and, of course, Uriah is killed.
Word is brought back to the king, who accepts it with the outward dignity of a soldier, while laughing to himself at how clever he has been in fooling God.
Of course he wasn't quite as clever as he thought he was, for chapter 11 ends with these ominous words-
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
Some weeks later, Nathan the prophet came to see David about a terrible man in Israel. Technically, what the man did was an infraction of the Law, but what he really did was the worst thing Nathan ever heard of.
He was a rich man whose flocks filled the grassy hills near his home. His neighbor had not done as well for himself; in fact, he owned but one ewe lamb, and she was his pet growing up with his children, sitting at his table, and even taking a nap now and then. The lamb was very dear to the poor man; she was like his daughter.
One day the rich man had an unexpected company, and being the hospital man he was, he laid a fine table for them, with the main course a tender rack of lamb.
His neighbor's lamb!
When David heard the atrocious story, he said the man must repay his neighbor four-fold, as every sheep rustler must, but more than that, the selfish man must be put to death, because, David said-
He had no pity.
Nathan agreed with the king's ruling, the man was an outlaw of the outlaws, and one more thing, Your Majesty-
You are the man!
Uriah was a poor man. He had left his country, his family, and his inheritance, to live among God's people, and to serve the Lord and His Anointed, King David. All he had in the world was one, dear beautiful wife.
David, on the other hands, had a harem, all the women he wanted, and if he wanted more, he could have them with God's blessing. But he didn't want another wife, he wanted Uriah's wife! Like that cruel and greedy man in the story, he took what he wanted, and if he left his neighbor man with nothing in the world to call his own, so what?
Other kings would have sent Nathan to his death. Who is he to talk this way to the King? But, now, David was not just another king, he was himself again, he was the Lord's Anointed, and confessed what he did, and to whom he did it-
I have sinned against the Lord!
The Lord accepted the apology and put his sin away. As a way of chastisement, consequences would follow, including the baby's death a few weeks later.
But, David would not die for his crime-though he deserved to. And, his kingdom would not be taken away from him. In fact, the Lord would build a House for David, a Royal House, that would one day produce the King-the real King, our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the backdrop to Psalm 51. It was written by a man who knows the blackness of sin and the glory of grace.
What light does this story throw on the 51st Psalm? Quite a bit, actually, and here's some of it.
The best men are liable to the same temptations as the worst.
Think of all the things David had going for him, and how likely they would prevent him from falling into adultery, murder, and hypocrisy. The Bible says-
It is better to marry than to burn.
If David had no wife to sleep with, you might understand his sin. But as I said before, he had a wife, in fact, he had several of them. Blonde, brunette, redhead; fair-skinned, dark skinned; thin, voluptuous; tall, short; you name it and he had one. All he had to do was to walk into the bedroom and call for his favorite wife and the ugly story would not be in the Bible.
He also had age to tamp down his desires. The young have their raging hormones, but as some of us know only too well, hormones quiet down over the years. David was fifty years old, or more, when he took the other man's wife. Both the wisdom and the debility of age should have stopped him. But they didn't.
Think of the friendships he broke. He not only hurt the woman, whom he didn't know till that day, it seems, but the men in her family, men he knew well, and men whose trust he betrayed.
His long experience of God's favor should have made the deed unthinkable. But it didn't. Neither did his public position, from which his sin would stain the whole people and the Lord too. But what of it? In the despicable words of Woody Allen-
The heart wants what it wants.
The example of King Saul. Hadn't he been chosen by God too? Hadn't he received the anointing of the Spirit, no less than David? But, when he turned against the Lord, the Lord turned on him, rejecting him from being king and taking the dynasty away from his family. Surely this is a cautionary tale for David? But, alas, it was not.
When we read and hear of the awful things people do, it's easy to pray like the Pharisee-
I thank you, Lord, that I am not as other men are.
But you are as other men are; I am, we all are. Better to say-
There, but by the grace of God, go I.
We are not above temptations, not even the worst of them, The Bible says so, I Corinthians 10:13-
If anyone thinks he stands, let him take heed, lest he fall.
This is the first light our story throws on Psalm 51. Here's the second: Overcoming temptation depends entirely on the grace of God.
This was a full day for the king. He slept in late; he lolled in the patio; he bedded a new girl; had a nice dinner, a few drinks, listened to some music, and so on. But you notice there's nothing in the story about praying or meditating on God's Word, or doing the Lord's will, or visiting the Temple, or discussing the Law with his friends. Or asking God to search him, or confessing his sins to the Lord.
David had time for everything that day. Except holiness. I wonder if he's the only man who ever went a whole day without even a passing thought for God and His will for his life? Of course he wasn't the only person who had such a day. We all have had them-many of them. Even days we went to church, read the Bible, and prayed as if we were atheists!
Let us, remember, therefore, the words of our Lord-
Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation,
Resisting temptation takes more than good habits or a religious upbringing. It takes the grace of God-
Moment by moment.
The third lesson is hinted at in our reading and worked out in the following chapters: Sin takes an awful toll on the sinner and on the people he loves.
David was badly hurt by his own sin; so was Bathsheba; four of the king's sons died on account of it, and a daughter was raped. Israel was embarrassed by what the king had done, and to this day, the world remembers David for his adultery. He, in the words of Nathan the prophet-
Gave occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
There's no such thing as a victimless crime. Sin hurts people, including people you never intended to hurt.
The fourth and fifth lessons go together: Pardon should be sought for the worst sins, and when it is sought, it will be found.
Psalm 51 is not really about David's sin; it's about the pardon of his sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God (or tried to). Cain did the same thing, first denying he had any part in his brother's murder, then wandering away from the Lord, east of Eden. Jonah thought sailing to Spain was a good way to get away from his sin, while Judas thought the grave would cover it up.
They were all wrong. The only place you can get away from the guilt and power of your sin is God. Are you lying to God about your sins? Are you minimizing them, 'Well, Lord, I haven't been perfect'. Are you feeling the sting and trying to dull it in some other way?
Or are you, like David, coming clean with the Lord, telling him what you did and why you did it, and asking for nothing but His mercy?
If your heart is broken like his, it will also be healed, as his was. This is the message of Psalm 51. Not Be sorry for your sins (though you ought to be), but Be forgiven for your sins! Which you will be, for-
Who is a God like [our God], who pardons iniquity and passes by the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.
Do you need mercy and forgiveness? They can be had for the taking. Have you received mercy and forgiveness? Pass them along to others.
The love of God be with you. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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