Read | Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Respond | Bryson Sewell
It is unlikely that any of us will have had someone murdered in order to sleep with the murdered person’s spouse. But this is exactly what David did. We need to reflect on this for a moment. The esteem accorded to David in Scripture often blunts the reality of his action in our minds, so that we see David, the Great King, as somehow less culpable, somehow less monstrously wicked. In our churches we often focus on the great deeds David performed, on the side of his humanity which we like, which we feel comfortable sharing with our children. And yet David, the famed King of Israel, used his authority, his position of power, his influence, his political office, to have a man murdered in order to slake his lust on the murdered man’s wife. It is as horrendous as it sounds, as worthy of our severest condemnation as we can muster, simply evil.
But God calls David a man after his own heart. The intellectual dissonance in this declaration is massive. A murderer is a man after God’s own heart. An adulterer of the worst sort, who uses his power to subject a woman to sexual objectification and abuse, is a man after God’s own heart. If we are to make any sense of this, two paths are open to our minds: in the first, God approves of these actions, so that David is acting in accordance with God’s character when he has a man murdered and sleeps with his wife; in the second, something utterly strange is at work. We know that the first path is false, so we must ask in what way is David a man after God’s own heart, in light of the terrible sins he has committed? This is how we come to Psalm 51.
This is a psalm of brutal honesty with God. David has recognized his own wickedness, the evil he has committed, and the harm he has done to others. He doesn’t only recognize it, but it haunts him, it breaks him, it cripples him, and he stands naked before the Most High as a man who has been disrobed of any self-defense, any pride, any sufficiency. David here is a man who recognizes that he has no standing with God but turns to the Lord anyway, throws himself at His mercy, hides nothing, confesses everything, and puts his trust in nothing or no one else than God. David has learned God’s character through his life, and thus declares in verse 17:
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (New Living Translation)
These words are not hollow as David utters them, but reflect the reality of his brokenness, his humility, his recognition of how he has transgressed the One who made him and others made by the One. In Psalm 51 we learn so clearly that God desires our hearts, our affection, our reliance on him, our turning to him, even and especially when we have committed sins of the greatest consequence. This is what it means to be a person after God’s own heart, to turn with a broken spirit and repentant heart to Him who mends what is broken and forgives what is repented.