A Prayer for Cleansing (August 12, 2018)
Psalm 51: 1-12
A Prayer for Cleansing
This is one of the seven Petitional Psalms, which are the psalms that the church has identified as prayers and hymns that can help you ask God for things. And with this psalm it is a prayer for pardon and cleansing. Those two things go hand-in-hand: you can’t request pardon without asking also to be cleansed as to not do it again, but also you can’t be cleansed without having been forgiven for what came earlier. So what came earlier for the author in this case?
The Psalmist is nice enough to tell us at the beginning what David has done right before writing this psalm. We’re told that David wrote this after Nathan the prophet had confronted him regarding the situation with Bathsheba. You may remember Bathsheba from your Sunday school class, but my guess is that you got a watered down version of the story in some sense, and also that Nathan wasn’t involved in your story. So let’s talk about what happened here.
David, as Kings were prone to do in the time, decides to go to war, but this year David it’s not going with the army. The army goes out to war and David stays at home. And David is a little bored at the castle, and so he goes up into the upper floors and he looks out the window. And in the house next to the castle is a beautiful woman, the wife of one of his soldiers, and she is bathing. And David likes what he sees. So he sends for her and he brings her in to his bedroom, and he reaps the benefits of being the King. And everything was fine and Bathsheba goes home (now it probably wasn’t fine for her). But everything was fine for him…for a month. Then Bathsheba sends word that she’s pregnant, and her husband hasn’t been home for two months. What are we going to do?
So David sends for her husband to come from the front lines and come back to Jerusalem. And he encourages her husband to go and visit her; and they will simply say that the baby was his and not the King’s. But he says “how can I do that when my friends are still in the army? I will serve you, King, but I will not go and visit my wife.” And so David writes a letter that says to have the army go and attack the city, and when they have initiated the attack, then pull back and leave Uriah alone in the front line so he is killed. And he sends a letter back with Uriah and this happens. After the period of morning was over David takes Bathsheba to be his own wife, and they just lie and say well this baby must have been premature, and isn’t it wonderful God is blessed this union so quickly?
That’s probably the story that you know, but Nathan is what we are concerned about. Nathan is a prophet of God and we’re told that Nathan comes to David shortly after this has all gone down, and the scripture in second Samuel 12 says the following:
“the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
You are the man. And were told that David’s response is formulated here in this psalm. Sometimes I think that we believe that God cannot possibly forgive our sins. Like, yes I understand that God forgives little Joey for stealing a candy bar at the local shop, or that God forgives Jim Bob for telling his wife that she doesn’t actually look fat in that. I get those kinds of things. But surely not what I’ve done; surely what I’ve done is unforgivable.
I’m going to hope that what you have done is not worse than what David just did. David breaks five of the Commandments – Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, thou shalt not lie. David breaks five of those. I’m going to hope that you’re sin is not as bad as killing someone to cover up adultery. If it is, please don’t tell me; I don’t want to know. But, assuming that your sin is not greater than that, I want you to hear what God does in David’s life here.
This psalm is ultimately about God’s forgiveness. It is about God’s character of mercy, of love, and compassion. It is not a psalm about David or David’s actions. You see, David was right in what he said to the prophet Nathan: the man deserves to die. David deserves the punishment his predecessor got. Saul committed sin and God no longer had any relationship with him, and instead took a shepherd boy from the field tending the sheep, and says “this man, this little kid David, he will be the next king.” David now deserves that punishment. He deserves to have God cut off all ties with him now. But that’s not what happens; God chooses to keep the relationship going. And God chooses to keep relationships with us going in spite of our sins, in spite of our flaws. And thanks be to God for that. That’s who God is.
But why does God choose to stay with David and not with Saul? I believe the answer to that is because David chose to keep a relationship with God and Saul did not. David chose to do what it took to get back in good standing with God and Saul did not. God desires faithfulness; God desires someone who will indeed work on trying to be a better person, and try and live the way that you’re supposed to live. God cares about what happens going forward. And David is saying “I want to be changed, I want to be cleansed, I want to no longer be headed for sin. And Saul never did that. He wanted forgiveness for the past would, but he never really asked in a motivation where he would change the future and try and avoid sinning in the future; with the results that David was able to connect with God and Saul was not. So how did David get there?
I think Psalm 51 lays out David’s path pretty clearly. This is a psalm that helps you down the path toward a Godly life, toward being justified with at least God, and toward salvation. The psalm begins with a recognition that he has sinned, which for David is not really difficult because he just gotten in express written letter from God, through the prophet Nathan, that says “you have sinned.” We don’t often get prophets that come knock on our door and say “you have sinned” in this way, but I will say that God still points out to us our sins if you’re open to it. God still tapps on our shoulder to say “that was uncalled for, and that’s not what we need to be doing.” Maybe in your prayer or in your worship or in your devotional life, God taps you on the shoulder and says “this is where you have sinned. This is where I want you to work in your life.” I don’t know the inner part of your soul well enough to be able to tell you where you’re sin is, but I’ll tell you that you do sin, that it does exist, and that God will point it out.
And David’s response is to request mercy and cleansing. As I said before, the cleansing is important. David does not simply desire to be forgiven; David desires to be transformed. It’s important to note that in this psalm David does not talk about his specific sins that he just did, but rather he talks about the fact that he likes to sin; the fact that he desires to sin and that he wants to change that. He wants to be transformed. It is like his life was a ship, and that ship has capsized, and instead of praying “God please save my ship,” which is what Saul had prayed, David is saying “God, right the ship. Turn me back the way I’m supposed to be. Transform my life that I can do what I was meant to do.” It is important that when we come to God we know we come to God recognizing that our boat is capsized and that we are requesting that it be righted, not simply that it survive.
David continues in the psalm by asking for wisdom and for cleansing, with a hope for joy. David’s request here is for nothing short of justification; is for nothing short of salvation with God. When you make your request, do not sell yourself short! When you’re asking for God to forgive you, you’re asking for an act of God anyway, literally, you might as well go all out. David here does not simply request that God help him do better in the future, David says “turn your face from my sin.” In other words, ignore what I just did in all your future interactions with me, God; and create in me a clean heart, a new heart, help me to be better. This will never happen again, but let us start fresh.
And that is not to say that David avoids the consequences of his actions. The child that Bathsheba is carrying dies very quickly after birth, and I can’t help but think that part of that would’ve been the stress the Bathsheba was under during the pregnancy. The stress she’s dealing with: she was raped by her neighbor, her husband was killed by her rapist, her rapist then kidnaped her and marries her. And she’s dealing with that on top of the typical pregnancy problems. And I imagine that wasn’t good for the health of the baby; and the baby dies.
David does not escape the consequences of his actions. One of the things that the prophet Nathan says to David is that the sword will never leave his house; there will always be turmoil and strife between the children, and that still comes to pass. There are rebellions, and there are problems, and his children are killing others of his children throughout the rest of his time because the turmoil that happens within his family. David does not escape that consequence of this action. In fact one of Bathsheba’s children in a conflict with one of his other wife’s children is ultimately what will cause him to abdicate the throne early to avoid another Civil War. David does not escape the consequences of his actions, but in his interactions with God, he begins anew. And he does appear to be a changed man in all of this interactions going forward throughout the book of 2 Samuel.
David finishes this passage with the “so that,” the reason why he is asking this. David’s “so that” was that he might teach other sinners to come and know God and to love God the way that he had. I would encourage you this week to open up your Bible at home and pray Psalm 51 at least once during the week, if not every day, and we’re going to offer a prayer very similar to it. This is the path toward God for a sinner like me, like you, and I want to encourage you: if you had come in here today thinking that God could forgive others, but couldn’t possibly forgive you, I want you to pray with me; if you’ve been here and you weren’t quite sure of things, but maybe God is tapping on your shoulder today to say “hey, I love you, I’m ready to forgive;” if you feel like you just need to recommit yourself the following God again, to ask again that God might make you even better as we go forward in this life, I want you to pray with me. And then, after we’re done, as it says in the bulletin every week but I point it out this week, you can come forward and you could offer specific prayers with me here, and I welcome that during our next song. Or you can send me an email, send me a text message, the info is on the bulletin. I want to help you, like David wanted to help others; I want to help you to be able to come and have a relationship with this God that I love. So pray with me, if you need to.
Would you pray? Heavenly Father, you have called us to be a certain kind of people, and we admit we have failed so many times. We have done what you have said not to do; we have done what we promised we wouldn’t do.Ihave sinned against you. Forgive me God. Cleanse me. Turn your face from my iniquities, and create in me a clean heart that will love You and that will love your children around me and that will lead them to you. I pray this, God, for me, in the name of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, and my savior. Amen.