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Psalms Series Two

Penitence

Psalm  51

Lesson audio

It’s a curious thing. The story of Moses and the exodus made for a classic movie on a grand scale. It’s still shown on television regularly. But the story of David and Bathsheba, best done by Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward in the 1951 production of that name, seems to be a minor footnote. It’s purchased now and then over the Internet, dutifully listed in their filmographies – but causes no excitement. Spectacle sells. You’d think that sex would sell too – except the story isn’t about sex. It’s about repentance and restoration.

You’ll find the story told in Second Samuel chapters eleven and twelve. Briefly, David has an affair with Bathsheba – who’s married to one Uriah the Hittite. She gets pregnant. David tries to cover it up, killing Uriah in the process. Nathan, the prophet, exposes David. The baby dies, but then God forgives and restores David. Their next child is Solomon.

In the process David composes Psalm 51. Perhaps excepting Psalm 23 – perhaps – it is the most powerful Psalm in the Bible.

The Sinner’s Cry

Psalms 51:1-2 NIV For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions. (2) Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

One good thing about David’s sin with Bathsheba; he’s in no position to bargain. So on what basis does he approach the Holy God to ask for forgiveness and mercy?

  • He appeals to the character of God: his unfailing love. God is love; David knows it – and knows that his situation requires nothing less.
  • He appeals to God’s “great compassion.” The good news is that God understands David; which is also the bad news, of course. Fortunately for David, he understands God.

It’s interesting to see what David does not use as a basis for his appeal:

  • He does not appeal on the basis of his own merit. David, after all, is said to be a man after God’s own heart. He could have said something like, “Nobody’s perfect, but I’m better than most.” He didn’t.
  • He could have appealed on the basis of his position. The king is an important fellow, after all.
  • He could have appealed on the basis of his past performance. Look at all he’s done for God; surely God could cut him some slack, right?
Against God alone

Psalms 51:3-4 NIV For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me. (4) Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are proved right when you speak

and justified when you judge.

Most of us are really proficient at lying to ourselves. Perhaps the reason David’s heart is so near to God is that he doesn’t lie to himself – he “knows his transgressions.” It’s an important point. You can tell when you get there because you realize that your sin is against God alone. How so? Often enough we sin against others – but we have the consolation that they have done something against us. Their hands are dirty too.

But it’s exactly that which tells us that our sins are against God. In any sin his hands are clean. But his children are the ones sinned against – and if you hurt my children you anger me, right? So it is that our sins are against God.

God alone has the right to accuse us – because his hands are clean. A similar principle is found in criminal law; the state accuses the criminal, not the victim. In crime we judge against the standard of the law. If one Mafioso shoots another, we don’t pick between them, we convict the murderer. So it is with God.

Who goes to hell

There is a significant side point here. Have you ever asked how a loving God could send anyone to hell? The answer is relatively simple. All of us have a choice to make. We sin – that’s a fact. The choice is what to do about it. Some choose mercy; others choose pride. Hell only takes volunteers.

Steps of Redemption

Psalms 51:5-6 NIV Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (6) Surely you desire truth in the inner parts [1] ;

you teach [2] me wisdom in the inmost place.

Often considered the “proof text” of original sin, this passage points out the problem common to all mankind:

  • Like it or not, we are all sinners – by our very nature.
  • God, however, wants us to be full of truth and wisdom.

Which is inherently a conflict. The first step in resolving any conflict is to acknowledge that it exists. So let’s face it.

God cleanses; man rejoices

Psalms 51:7-9 NIV Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (8) Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice. (9) Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquity.

A study of the word “hyssop” in the Bible quickly reveals that it is closely associated with two things: ceremonial cleansing – and the Crucifixion. It’s associated with cleansing blood. David saw it in the law of Moses; we see it in Christ. His blood is the method of our cleansing.

Notice the reaction! David doesn’t mope about, wallowing in his own self-pity. He rejoices. This is not long-faced religion, but joyous. Man should rejoice at his forgiveness.

God, you see, is the one who pays for it. He’s the one who has to blot out or hide from the sin. It’s always like that; it’s the reconciler who pays for the reconciliation. It’s expensive, too.

The new heart

Psalms 51:10-12 NIV Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (11) Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me. (12) Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Here is the core of reconciliation: the new, pure heart. May I point out the verbs?

  • Create - only God can create; Satan can only twist what God creates. Only man is the creating creature, in the image of God. Only God and man can forgive. Forgiving creates anew the heart after God.
  • Renew – it’s not something different; it’s the same spirit that was there before the sin. God doesn’t want you to somehow be different – but to be in his likeness.
  • Restore the joy – What a surprise; God does not want you to be in the dumps about it. He wants you to know the joy of salvation. There is nothing “halfway” about this.

Repentant Service

Psalms 51:13 NIV Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will turn back to you.

If restored, we are saved to serve.

  • You can’t serve without being restored – it just won’t work. You don’t have the capability.
  • But if you are restored, you must serve – you can’t help it.

Have you ever noticed that it’s the great sinners who make the great saints? Now you know why.

Praise

Psalms 51:14-15 NIV Save me from bloodguilt, O God,

the God who saves me,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. (15) O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

Praise?

  • Praise is necessary if you are to have a right relationship with God. It is the fundamental recognition of who God is. It says that you know He is worthy to be praised, and therefore you do. Without it, you are talking to an imaginary God.
  • It is praise for the God who saves me. It’s personal. I’m happy he saves us; I’m glad he saves you. But it’s essential that he saves me. Do you see it?
  • Praise for what? He restores us to righteousness by his righteousness; therefore his righteousness is what we praise.
Humility

Psalms 51:16-17 NIV You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (17) The sacrifices of God are [3] a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart,

O God, you will not despise.

It is a fact of human nature: we’d just as soon buy off God with something we sacrifice. It’s like a traffic ticket in our minds – pay the ticket, the speeding is somehow forgiven. But it’s not – and if you don’t think so, check with your insurance company. It’s paid – but not forgiven.

Why doesn’t this work? Because sin corrupts all of you – and all of you must be the sacrifice for it. Partial measures won’t work – it takes “all.” We saw this at the Cross.

But if “all of me” must be sacrificed, then where is pride? Isn’t it denied, by the very act of asking for forgiveness? To ask forgiveness is to say you can’t pay the price yourself – and that is humility.

Sacrifice

Psalms 51:18-19 NIV In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;

build up the walls of Jerusalem. (19) Then there will be righteous sacrifices,

whole burnt offerings to delight you;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Part of reconciliation is faith that God will reconcile. How does David express this? By saying that things will be restored; things will be good; God will bless the nation again. And once things are restored, God will again accept the sacrifices commanded.

Do you see it? As long as you refuse to humble yourself and ask forgiveness, your works mean nothing, for you are not right with God. But once you do, and he grants you forgiveness, then your works will be rewarded in accordance with his generosity.

This lesson is rather much an outline. Letters on paper cannot express what the heart must go through. I suggest you try it out; you won’t need this lesson once you do.

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