Thursday April 2, 2020
(Written after Nathan the prophet had come to inform David of God’s judgment against him because of his adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of Uriah, her husband.)Psalm 51:1-12 Living Bible (TLB)
O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions. Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed—it haunts me day and night. It is against you and you alone I sinned and did this terrible thing. You saw it all, and your sentence against me is just. But I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. You deserve honesty from the heart; yes, utter sincerity and truthfulness. Oh, give me this wisdom.
Sprinkle me with the cleansing blood and I shall be clean again. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. And after you have punished me, give me back my joy again. Don’t keep looking at my sins—erase them from your sight. 1Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires. Don’t toss me aside, banished forever from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
This psalm contains some very familiar words – asking for God’s mercy because of sin and the acknowledgment of our tendency to turn away from God’s direction. That certainly was the case for David, and this was his reason for writing this psalm.
To refresh the backstory found in 2 Samuel 11-12: David was king and as king he was responsible for leading his army into battle. He needed a breather, some R and R, and so he returned to his palace in Jerusalem. But his army continued to engage in battles. He relaxed and even took naps during the day. After one of these naps, he went walking on the roof of his palace. From this vantage point he could look down on the adjoining property. There he saw a beautiful woman bathing. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He sent a messenger to find out who she was. “Her name is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah,” was the reply. David desired her, wanted to possess her, even though he knew she was another man’s wife.
As king he could ask for someone to come to the palace. That “ask” was really a demand. He asked Bathsheba to come to the palace. She came and David had relations with her. She became pregnant. This was not in David’s plan since he could not blame paternity on her husband because Uriah, her husband, was away fighting the enemy. Since her pregnancy needed to be explained, David decided to call her husband home and have him sleep with his wife. Uriah did return from the fighting, but he refused to return to his own home; rather, he wanted to stay with his troops. Therefore, there could be no way that Uriah might be fooled into thinking this unborn child was his own.
Since that plan didn’t work, David told his captain of the troops, Joab, to put Uriah in a dangerous position on the front line when he returned to the battlefield. Joab followed David’s orders, and Uriah was soon killed. This then allowed David to marry Bathsheba, now a widow. In time the baby was born, and all seemed to be well.
God then sent his prophet Nathan to David. Nathan told David a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man wanted to have a feast and, rather than killing one of his own lambs for the feast, he took the only lamb that the poor man owned. David was outraged by the rich man’s selfishness. Nathan then drew the parallel between the rich man/poor man story and David’s treatment of Uriah. David saw how wrong his actions were and confessed his sin to Nathan. Nathan then told David that God had forgiven him but that because of this incident, the baby would soon die. This prophecy came true. David repented. This psalm was written during this time of repentance. David’s honesty in facing his sin shows how repentant he was and how desirous he was of regaining his close relationship with God.
Certainly, David sinned in a mighty way. He lusted after another man’s wife. By his actions he made her commit adultery. He deliberately had her husband killed in order to try to cover up his actions. That’s a lot of sinning.
None of us has traveled such a dark trail of sinning, but all of us do sin. In this time of sheltering in place, it is likely more difficult to get caught up in some kinds of sin. We have minimal contact with others, so it is more difficult to insult others, gossip about them, or do other hurtful things to them. Rather, our sins today are more internal. Perhaps we are having doubts about God’s love of God’s people when so many are contracting COVID-19. Many are sick and more will become sick. Many are dying and more will die. But many are recovering and many more will recover.
Perhaps one of the ways we can sin today is to be filled with worry and anxiety. It seems like this is the only thing we can do since we are powerless to do more than stay at home away from others. Situations such as we are now facing can lead us not to trust in God’s love for us and the promises God gave us through Jesus. But there is a real problem with getting caught up in worry and anxiety – it doesn’t help anyone or anything. It only makes us feel lost or alone or abandoned. It tempts us to feel that we have no one on which to rely but fate or ourselves. This is not where God would have us focus.
In these troubled times, our lack of faith and trust in God’s promises come from our focus on safety for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and neighbors. Certainly, keep praying for a cure or a vaccine or other ways to minimize the impact of this virus on those we love. Caring through prayer for ourselves and others is a very good thing, but we can also use this time to remember and give thinks for what we do have. And we do have much to be thankful for – especially a loving God Who is in control, even though it sometimes doesn’t much feel like it right now. God is ready to listen to prayers, prayers of concern, anxiety, for health, for the end of the pandemic, whatever is on our hearts. God is also always ready to listen, always ready to forgive. This psalm is a way to give voice to our concerns and to ask for a clean start – no more anxiety, no more worry, no more doubt. Instead let us bask in the joy that comes from confession and forgiveness and trusting in our Lord.
Some of these words of this psalm have been set to music. It is available on YouTube below:
“Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God” by Keith Green
Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a right spirit within me.Cast me not away from your presence,and take not your Holy Spirit from me.Restore to me the joy of your salvation,and uphold me with your free Spirit.
-Pastor Joyce Donigian