Ideally, one wishes that David had never needed to write this psalm. He was doing so well, or so it seemed, up until this time. In the same way, ideally, you and I wish that we had never needed to pray this psalm in response to some sinful action in our own lives. But this would be a denial of both the reality of who David was as a sinful, flawed “man after God’s own heart” and who we are as flawed, sinful “children of God”. And, by the way, I for one, have been so thankful for this psalm when I have needed it, and that has been quite a few times in my life!
So, why then did David write this psalm? The title gives us the context as follows:
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
The story is found in 2 Samuel 11-12.
But first some background.
David, the youngest son of Jesse, the shepherd boy, the mighty warrior, the refugee fleeing from King Saul, had become king of Israel after the death of Saul. Things had gone very well and David was very popular and his kingdom was thriving. In fact, God had richly blessed him in all that he did, and as far we know David sought to honour God in his worship and his actions.
Normally, David went out with his armies when there were enemies around, but in verse 1 of 2 Samuel 11 we read that:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army…But David remained in Jerusalem.
Maybe there was a good reason for this, we are not told, but we soon discover that David at home faced another “enemy”, the one we all face at times, the one the Apostle Paul described in Romans 7:21-24 as follows:
Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
[Note: Paul, thankfully, doesn’t finish there, but answers his own question: Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! ]
So, David is tempted, and sadly, ignoring the consequences (or maybe, thinking that as King he was above such consequences) he allows sin to take him prisoner, and we read:
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (2 Samuel 11:2-4)
As a result of this brief, lustful, adulterous encounter Bathsheba becomes pregnant and so David finds himself on the slippery slope leading to lies, deceit and eventually murder in order to cover up what had happened. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier of David’s, dies in battle (as planned by David) and we read:
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord. (2 Samuel 11:26-27)
Even if not appreciating the story, one has to appreciate the honesty of the Bible narratives concerning people like David, who is described “warts and all”. Maybe that is why we can learn so much from these stories, because we can relate to even the most heroic of characters, due to their similar struggles to us.
As the story progresses further, we begin to see the ongoing conflict between David in denial and the fact as stated clearly above, i.e. the thing David had done displeased the Lord. David described the feeling in Psalm 32:3-4 as follows: When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
And so, God in his mercy sends the prophet Nathan to confront David.
Father, if we are honest, there are often times in our lives when we not only face temptation but also give in and sin against you. It is in these times that we need your mercy and forgiveness. If we then find ourselves in denial then please send along a Nathan to bring us back to reality. Amen