According to psychologist Dr. Linda Gottlieb, the practice of psychotherapy is losing its client base. In 11 years the number of patients receiving psychological interventions plummeted by 30 percent (1997-2008). The reasons for this decline are complex, but Dr. Gottlieb focuses on one trend: psychotherapy involves the long, hard work of facing our own issues and problems, but many people today would rather blame others for their problems. In other words, psychotherapists used to see patients who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves. Now they see more patients who come in "because they wanted someone else or something else to change." As one of Gottlieb's colleagues put it, "I'd see fewer and fewer people coming in and saying, 'I want to change myself.'" (Source: Matt Woodley, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Lori Gottlieb, "What Brand Is Your Therapist?"The New York Times2012) This is a sad commentary on what’s happening within our society. People are not willing to take personal responsibility for their problems but would rather blame others for their problems. Also they don’t want to change. But this is quite the opposite of what happened to a character in the Bible who really messed up. He didn’t pass blame on others but eventually owned up to the terrible mess he caused – as a matter of fact he made it public by writing Psalm 51.Background to Psalm 51
Psalm 51 was written by David as well as Psalm 32. Both of them were written at the time when David was overburdened with the weight of his sin when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and responsible for the death of her husband Uriah. In the midst of his penitence he wrote Psalm 32 and 51.
Psalm 51 is the most eminent of the penitential Psalms and most expressive of a repentant heart. The Psalm itself is profoundly moving. It lets us see right into the soul of a person who loves God yet fell into grievous sin. In this psalm David pours out his heart before God, pleading for mercy, pardon and desiring to change. He has been made to see himself through God's eyes, and he is heart-broken. He makes no excuses and simply accepts God's rebuke and admits his responsibility.
Historical Background to Psalm 51 (2 Samuel 11:2-5 & 12:1-14)
David had violated Bathsheba by engaging himself in a sexual relationship with her as a married woman. He had conspired to kill Uriah, her husband, by making sure that he was put in a compromising position on the battlefield so that he lost his life. So he was guilty of adultery and murder.
David's sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah were already a year old. David had tried to cover it up but he was finally exposed. The prophet Nathan came with the word of the Lord, like a sword, to reprove King David. The word of the Lord is like a sword which penetrates deep into the heart to judge the thoughts and attitudes of a person.
In Hebrews 4:12-13 it teaches that, "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
This is a very sad chapter in David's life, his great fall into sin. David's sin is recorded as a warning to all, that anyone who thinks that they stand strong let them take heed lest they fall.
Though David fell in sin he still had a responsive heart to the word of the Lord. He had a heart after God. He confessed and repented and he wrote Psalm 51 to publicly declare his confession.
David weeps before the Lord; he is a broken man, a broken and humble king. His need was great, his need of God's mercy and he begs God for it. His sin is inexcusable and he takes all the blame. No rationalizing his sin away, no excuses.
Through this psalm we see God recovering David's spiritual life through confession and brokenness.
Notice the language that David uses, it’s "me" and "mine" all the way through the psalm. “Have mercy on me, Oh God,” “blot out my transgressions,” “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” etc.
David takes full responsibility for his sin and wrongdoing. He willfully and deliberately sinned against God and those involved. Through this Psalm he does not make an apology but a confession. There is a difference between the two. Let me explain. In the wake of numerous public confessions by fallen politicians, sports figures, and business executives, Susan Bauer in her book The Art of the Public Grovel, offers a helpful distinction. She says, "An apology is an expression of regret: I am sorry. A confession is an admission of fault: I am sorry because I did wrong. I sinned." Apology addresses an audience. Confession implies an inner change … that will be manifested in outward action. (Source: Paul Wilkes, The Art of Confession Workman Publishing, 2012, pp. 4-5). David does not give an apology but rather a confession and a willingness to change.
Many times in human nature people don’t want to admit that they have done wrong. They cover up their sins with their selective words or shallow apologies. This is lying – deceiving others and ourselves and lying to God. Lies are darkness, whereas God's truth is light. When we lie, our character erodes. When we cover sin, we lose God's light, fellowship and character. Scripture teaches this. Proverbs 28:13, Whoever conceals their sinsdoes not prosper,but the one who confessesand renounces them finds mercy.
We need to confess and disclose our sin. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” How does one expose them? First by confessing to God, and may I go so far as saying that we need to expose them to a close brother or sister in the Lord. Accountability is important in the Christian life. We need each other and to pray for each other.
Actually James 5:16 teaches this principle, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
You see, David not only confessed his sin before God but also before the people. He wrote Psalm 51 and it was written so that everyone could read it. We’re reading it!
Sin may become little and unimportant to us, but it's not little to God. It was our sin that put Christ on the cross. Scripture says that, “He himself bore our sins”in his body on the cross(1 Peter 2:24). My sin and yours is why Christ had to suffer and bleed and die. Oh, how that ought to break our hearts when we sin against our Lord.
Verse 1"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love according to your compassion.”
David pleads for God's mercy, he is begging like a hungry beggar beseeching for food. The fear of the Lord has gripped his soul where once that fear was not there. You see David had drifted away from God, his heart and love for God had grown cold. His heart was callus, and eventually it deceived him.
"The heart is deceitful above all things who can trust it." (Jer. 17:9).
For a year David got use to his sin, he was complacent about his sin. After a while it didn't bother him and his conscience was numb. He lived with it for about a year until God spoke through Nathan.
Sin is very deceitful. It makes us blind and hardhearted toward God.
David wept and asked God to be merciful to him. He was prostrate, broken before the Lord and he is appealing to God’s grace and compassion. Why? Because he knows he cannot appeal to justice. He understands what he deserves.
He knew that God was a compassionate God who is willing to forgive when we repent.
Later David wrote Psalm 103 and declared that truth. We read in verses 8-12, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Verses 1b and 2 “Blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
David uses 2 great words for sin in verse 1 and 2:
1/ Transgressions: a high-handed revolt against the divine law of God. It is breaking or transgressing the commandments of God, especially the 6th and 7th. “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:13-14).
David felt dirty and stained by his sin. He asks God to "blot out my transgressions". In essence he was asking God to erase away his high-handed rebellion against God’s divine law. He was asking God to forgive his deliberate act of adultery and murder. He broke the law and he pleads for mercy and forgiveness.
2/ Iniquities: revealing all the perversion of his fallen nature and character. It literally means crookedness. Iniquity is not an action but the character of an action – it’s an evil desire within the character of the person even before they commit the sinful act. James 1:14-15 makes this clear, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their ownevil desire and enticed.15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Iniquity is the character of an action, it’s the evil desire within the heart and then it leads to the act of sin. Basically David is saying, “I committed adultery because there is adultery in my heart. I covered it up because there is pride in my heart; I murdered because I am selfish and didn’t want to get caught in my perversion. Please, O God, wash me and clean from this horrible mess! ”
“Blot out … cleanse me”
It is the most terrible thing when you feel unclean and dirty. It is awful to feel the weight and the guilt of your sin. David knew that his sinful motives and acts were recorded. In Psalm 56:8 David talks about a scroll or record that God keeps, “Record my lament;list my tears on your scroll —are they not in your record?” From this we learn that things that happen in our lives are recorded. Also Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 20:12 talks about the books of the evil deeds of the people that are recorded. It’s like a diary. David’s diary contained a record so foul that he pleaded with God to blot it out. He could never undo the past and what had been written had been written. BUT God could blot out the damning record against him.
Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, even I, am he who blots outyour transgressions,for my own sake,and remembers your sinsno more.” Through Christ we have one of the greatest blessings and absolute assurances of our sins being blotted out or washed completely. Revelation 1:5, “To Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” That’s what Christ does for us when we ask for forgiveness and repent from our sin he washes us clean and blots out every trace of our sin. Oh, how David desired to be clean before the Lord and restored into a rightful relationship.
Later on after David begged for God’s mercy and to erase his transgressions, he went to worship God.
We read in 2 Samuel 12:20 "Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped."
Notice that David could not worship the Lord until he was clean. There are times when we have sinned that we need to go before the Lord in brokenness and ask him for forgiveness and cleansing before we can truly worship.
God will not listen to our prayers and worship if we harbor sin in our lives. In Psalm 66:16-20 we read,
“If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”
Those whose consciences charge them with any gross sin should again and again pray over the truth of this psalm.
Before you give into temptation remember how it affected David. We need to count the high cost of committing sin and in the end we will be less inclined to commit it. As Christians our souls were purchased at the highest cost possible – the death of our Lord. Sin grieves God and hurts His heart (Gen. 6:6).
As I have reflected on this Psalm and situation in David’s life, one thing stood out. That is, even when David felt unworthy, he knew that he still belonged… God did not abandon him. It’s like the parable of the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son”… (Luke 15:18-19). BUT the wayward son was restored into rightful relationship – because he belonged to the Father.
We have an encouraging passage of Scripture that teaches that there is hope and forgiveness when we fall into sin.
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2).
Are you covering sin or conquering sin in your life? Confess any known sin and ask the Lord to clean your heart. He wants to forgive you so that he can restore you in rightful fellowship with him.