Youth at First - June 2014
“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! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 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 judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Psalm 51:1-6
A few weeks ago (May 18th to be exact), our scripture reading in worship came from Psalm 51:1-12. It’s always been one of my favorite psalms, and I could definitely write more than one article on it, but I wanted to point out just a few valuable insights here.
Many of the psalms have a title sentence that comes before the text of the psalm begins, and these titles can sometimes provide valuable insight into the setting of the psalm. In the case of Psalm 51, the title statement says, “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This provides a whole new dimension to the thoughts and emotions David expresses next.
The story of David and Bathsheba is one of the more popular Old Testament narratives, but it will be helpful to recount here. Found in 2 Samuel 11, David sees Bathsheba bathing on a roof, lusts after her, commits adultery with her, tries to cover up her pregnancy by bringing Uriah her husband home from war and getting him drunk, lies to him, and ultimately sends him back to the front lines with a sealed letter containing the command of his death. It’s absolutely the low point of David’s life, as he deals with the sins of lust, adultery, lying, pride, murder, and deception. David does something we all do: in a moment of weakness he committed a sin, and instead of confessing it he tried to cover it up by spiraling into whole other types of sins.
In 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Nathan the prophet comes before David and exposes and condemns his sin, likely in front of a court full of people. David’s evil secrets become public, and he has no choice but to acknowledge them. This is a place we’ve all been in one way or another; we’ve all been exposed in a lie or busted in some dark secret. We all know the shame, the guilt, and the embarrassment that comes from such a situation, and Psalm 51 provides us with three great insights (obviously there are more, but we’ll stick to three for now) into the proper response. David throws himself upon God’s gracious love and begs for mercy, but in doing so, he acknowledges three special ideas in verses 4-6:
1. Our sins and transgressions are chiefly oriented against God himself (v4). Did David’s sins do harm to Bathsheba? Yes. Against Uriah? Considering he was murdered over it, absolutely yes. Against the nation of Israel? Anytime a king covers up a conspiracy, that counts as a sin against his subjects. Yet David here proclaims that his sins were against God and only God. In this physical world it becomes all too easy to forget that everything exists from and for and through and to Him (Rom 11:36). All of our actions, all of our interactions, all of our thoughts, they all belong to God and they all are towards God first and foremost. (Matt. 25:31-40)
2. Our sinfulness is an innate condition; we are “brought forth in iniquity” (v5). The Hebrew word most often translated as “iniquity” comes from a root meaning “perversion” or “crookedness.” The idea is literally that we are crooked from birth. There is a straight way that life is meant to be done, but because of the Fall and sin, we instead are bent. We are crooked people.
3. God cares less about outward action than he does inward intention (v6). There are any number of biblical passages that rail against the hypocrisy of empty actions, and this has unfortunately been one of the greatest failures of much of modern evangelicalism. We become so focused on lists of Do’s and Don’ts that our faith becomes simply about the words we say, the clothes we wear, the things we drink (or don’t drink), or the way we act. We have a bad habit of boiling the Gospel down to simple behavioral modification, which is absolutely damning. God expects holiness from us, of course, but a central gospel truth tells us that we are unable to live up to that holiness on our own. If we try to hang our hats on good behavior, we will surely fail. Only through inward faith in Christ’s salvation can we be redeemed, and part of the call of discipleship is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2).
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