For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when [a]Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Psalm 51 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For [b]I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You [c]are justified [d]when You speak
And [e]blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the [f]innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
7 [g]Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
[h]Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 [i]Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
9 Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.
This psalm was written by King David after being rebuked by Nathan. His heart was so hardened by sin that he needed Nathan to confront him intervention-style. We can recall the story. After David sleeps with Bathsheba and she conceives a child, David sends for Uriah the Hittite, her husband. Uriah was a faithful soldier in David’s army. He didn’t even return to his house knowing that the “ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths”. Instead, he slept with David’s servants, an act of true humility and loyalty.
David then schemes to have Uriah killed. We call this pre-meditated murder. David, knowing that Bathsheba would be showing soon, couldn’t call the local abortion doctor to take care of ‘the problem’. So, he covered his sin with an even greater sin by killing a fellow believer.
We do this too. We gossip and backstab. We judge others, even fellow Christians. We assume the negative about others, we find faults and criticize. Strangely, all of this is in an effort of self-preservation. James calls this behavior murder. It is character assassination. It is the living out of our sinful nature. And, it is ugly.
What’s worse is that we are unaware of the mechanisms we devise to cover over it. The older we are, the more skilled we are at hiding our sin. It takes an outside intervention by God to pierce through the rotten stink of our self-justifications.
Nathan had to approach David face-to-face. There was no self-directed repentance, here. After Nathan told David a story and rightly got David’s anger and indignation out, he boldly said to the King of Israel, “You ARE the man”.
It is the same for us as we hear or read the Law of God. This law points its long, bony finger at our sin. It reveals what we are otherwise too blinded by our own self-justification to see. It echoes “YOU are the man” in our soul.
This Psalm, then, is David’s response to the conviction of sin. God was gracious to David, because he sent Nathan to rebuke him about his sin. Instead, God could have slayed him. David knew this was an act of divine mercy, and on the basis of this mercy of God, appeals for more. He appeals for a complete mercy. He wants his sin blotted out. And, we do too.
Like taking a shower after a day of fishing (smelling like the catch), David asks God to wash him. He knows that it is only God who can do this. He’s the one who can cleanse. He’s the one who can make pure. In fact, He’s the only one.
And how does God do such a great work? How is it that His face is turned away from our sins? God the Father blotted out Jesus, the one who became sin on our behalf. He poured His wrath upon Christ on a cross outside of Jerusalem. He fulfilled David’s request on that very day. Jesus became THE MAN. Rather than acting to preserve the self, Christ becomes sacrifice.
He became the man for us, too; the scapegoat for all of your sin and mine.
He washed you with forgiveness at your baptism, even your infant baptism. He washes you with the absolution heard, “I forgive you all of your sins”. He washes you with the words, “whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” (1 John 3:20)
What is the lovingkindness of God? What is His compassion? God’s compassion, lovingkindness and eternal mercy are Jesus. And, His face is the face of forgiveness.
Blessed be His holy name,