Broken and whole

Our reading today is a famous psalm of contrition, Psalm 51. The great King David, the high water mark of Israel’s history, the man after God’s own heart, has sinned greatly. In this psalm, David is deeply aware of his guilt and sin. You can read in 2 Sam 12 how God (via Nathan the profit) used David’s own anger at the injustice of a hypothetical parallel sin to pierce his heart so that the reality of his iniquity came crashing down around him.

In some ways this psalm is uncomfortable reading. It seems deeply personal, and also tragic that Israel’s greatest king could sin so greatly. And yet there are several things in this psalm that I love – that give me great hope.

Even David Sinned

I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me

The fact that the great King David, the man after God’s own heart, sinned so greatly, reminds me that all fall short of God’s standard. None of us are righteous in our own nature. We all need to throw ourselves on The LORD’s mercy as David does.

David Owns His Sin

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me

Yes, God had to shock him and wake him up to see what he had done, since David appeared to be hiding from his sin because he thought his sin was hidden from sight. Yet when David comprehends what he has done, he knows immediately its impact. He doesn’t glory in it. He doesn’t wallow in it. He doesn’t beat himself up with it. He just owns it, and confesses it.

David Knows His Sin is Against God

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgement

This verse used to bother me. Surely David sinned, as Matthew Henry puts it, against Bathsheba and Uriah, against his own soul, and body, and family, against his kingdom, and against the church of God!

I think David’s insight is that at the root of all this, is the very nature of sin; that it drives a wedge between us and God; that to sin against another made in the image and likeness of God is to sin against God himself, because God loves them so much that an affront to them is an affront to God.

David Knows He Can’t Fix It on His Own

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

David knows he needs God’s mercy. He cannot justify himself. He calls on God’s mercy.

David Knows He is Saved by Grace Alone

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

There is no act of penance here, no “Hail Mary’s” or “Our Fathers” to be said. David does not try to earn his forgiveness. Nor does he try to appease a capricious or fickle God. Rather he relies on the steadfast nature of the God he knows is unchanging. He pleads with the only one who can deal with his sin to cleanse him. He asks to be washed, and cleansed with Hyssop.

It was the Hyssop plant that his forefathers used to spread the sign God provided, the blood of a lamb, on the door frames so that God’s judgement would pass over. It was the Hyssop stalk that was raised to Jesus mouth when he hung on the cross. God provides the sacrifice for us to be counted clean. There is nothing we can do to cleanse ourselves or earn his Forgiveness.

David Knows What Follows Forgiveness

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.

The joy that comes from forgiveness of our sin should lead us to proclaim God’s goodness to the world so that sinners will return to God.

It’s often said that it’s good to learn from the best. Matthew Henry observes of David in this psalm “The best men, if they sin, should give the best example of repentance”.

As we all sin, it is good that we have such a clear example of what repentance looks like

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 a willing spirit.


2 thoughts on “Broken and whole

  1. Thx James. I too have been (and probably still am) uncomfortable with David’s statement that only against the Lord has he sinned. I can’t help thinking about Uriah who who has had his wife, his honour, his life taken away by the scheming David.This passage shows that God is willing to forgive all who come to him in true repentance including me!. I wonder if David as the years rolled on would mull over all of this with ongoing regret at what he had done……..particularly as things seemed to fall apart as God poured out his discipline and judgement.

  2. Thank you James. When we really take our sin seriously we will also be like David. Godly sorrow is what he showed. We too are encouraged in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 that,”Godly sorrow leads to repentance”. I remember after accepting Jesus as my Lord and Saviour 18 years ago that for the next week or so every night I would be in a deep weeping state because I understood that Id sinned greatly against God against Jesus Who died on the cross so I wouldn’t be punished eternally. That my life of selfish living was truly an offence to a holy God Who really loved me so much that He send Jesus to take the punishment that I deserved.
    This godly sorrow is a mark of the Christian. A deep conviction of our sin whether brought to us by Gods Word i.e. in Church or directly under the Holy Spirits conviction will lead us to a deep repentance. Unless our hearts have become hardened. That we have become desentitized to Gods Word and the Spirits conviction. That is a terrible and a dangerous place for the believer to be.

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