Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 39
What I Read Today: Psalms 50-56.
What Stood Out About What I Read: Psalm 51: 1-4, “For the music director; a psalm of David, written when Nathan the prophet confronted him after David’s affair with Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts! Wash away my wrongdoing! Cleanse me of my sin! For I am aware of my rebellious acts; I am forever conscious of my sin. Against you – you above all – I have sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. So you are just when you confront me; you are right when you condemn me.’
Random Thoughts About What I Read:
I had been caught.
Red-handed. In the very act itself.
The specifics don’t really matter for our purposes here but suffice to say that, while adultery & murder weren’t the topics she and I would be discussing that afternoon, I had sinned. She was aware of it. We ran in the same circles even if we went to different churches, but she knew I followed Christ. And her confrontation was impassioned. That’s a nice way of saying she was livid.
And my friend pulled me aside and called it like it was. Through tears she told me how much what I’d done hurt her, my witness for Christ, and all sorts of other things that nobody likes to hear.
She finished. That really long awkward silence followed. It was only a minute or so but it felt like four weeks and five days.
“Well?” she asked.
“Well?” she asked, again.
“What do you want me to say?” I knew the answer. I just didn’t like the answer.
“That you’re sorry. That you want me to forgive you. That you want God to forgive you. That you won’t do anything like that again. You’re the one that put yourself in this position where people expect you to be different and be salt & light and you let a lot of people down. That you’ll make this right.” Vicki was a couple of years older than me and had seen me grow a lot, which is probably why she was so stern. My action must’ve seemed like I’d taken about 342 steps backward in her mind.
“Well, Vicki, you’ve given me a lot to think about,” was all I said.
She shook her head and walked off. So did I. The tension was going to take a while.
I went through all the stages while I was alone. While I didn’t really deny the act, I certainly denied the gravity of the act. I attacked her behind her back to no one in particular. I minimized what I did. I rationalized what I did. I downplayed the effects on these alleged people who were watching me. Who cares, man?
This went on for about a week.
Then the sleep wouldn’t come. So I took a late-night life walk. Still muttering about why Vicki thought she was so great and how this really wasn’t a set-back at all. Might even be a regular thing, man. I’m still not sure what all this fuss is about, right?
Until that point where you just stop walking, shove your hands in the kangaroo pockets as you lower your hoodied head and the voice in your brain says, “She’s right, you know.”
More silence. Then you say it out loud to yourself. “She’s right, you know.”
You finally start to walk again. “God, Vicki’s right…” and you spend the rest of the walk confessing and asking forgiveness and then you’re too emotionally tired after about half an hour of this. You crawl back into bed at 3:30am and fall asleep devising your list of people to apologize to.
And this only took about a week.
It took David nearly an entire YEAR before he penned this psalm. Of course, adultery and murder and all sorts of stuff were on his agenda…so I can cut him some slack.
Let’s look at a few elements of this psalm of confession today. In verse 1, David addresses God as “Elohim.” This is much more formal than other words for God…maybe it’s because of the situation he’s chosen to use a more formal address or maybe it’s because he felt further from God. Either way, this situation is more grave to David.
He praises God for his “loyal love.” David refers to God’s greatness. He refers to God’s compassion to lead off his prayer. He knows God is God, he isn’t Him, and that he’s going to have to throw himself on the mercy of the Court.
In verse 2, he talks about washing the iniquity from his clothes. To a Jewish person, this idea of changing into clean clothes would’ve been seen as a literary equivalent to starting a new life. In addition to this new life, he mentioned a “cleansing,” which a first century reader would’ve tied in with a temple ritual.
And David covers the three major Hebrew terms for sin here, too. Hata, is a failure to meet a standard. Pesha is a more active rebellion against the standard. Awon is a twisting of the standard. The English words are usually translated “sin,” “transgression” and “iniquity.” He admitted he didn’t meet the standard, then mocked the standard and then twisted the standard. Attacked & rationalized.
We’re not even out of verse 2, kids.
David admits he’d throttled God and he was seeing evidence every day. When he looked at his baby. When he looked at his wife, who he had caused to become a war widow. His sin was in front of him often. The consequences were living and breathing.
I happen to like the way the NetBible translates verse 4 above. While the NASB’s literal take of “sinning against God only” is certainly accurate, I’m pretty sure a strong case could be made for David’s big time list of other folks he’d sinned against. He’d likely fall asleep about 30 or 40 times making his list of folks he needed to apologize to in this mess with Bathsheba and all.
In verse 5, David realizes he’s been a sinner from the get-go and owned up to his responsibility for it, too. All too often we blame our circumstances or others and deny our part in sin. David got it, that’s for sure.
I often use verse 6 to help my students see through the idea that God didn’t view the act of making sacrifices for sin as the major part of atoning for sins. In other words, the idea of doing whatever sin you wanted and then coming to the temple and making the required sacrifice and then leaving the temple happy to do it again was NEVER the idea behind covering their sin. It was always a heart attitude which was to precede the sacrifice. A repentant heart is God’s desire no matter what Testament you happen to be reading.
Then verses 7-12 we see David not only asking for forgiveness, but asking to be restored. He knew he needed God to create a clean heart. As an aside, David knew what it was like to live with the indwelling Holy Spirit as well as what it was like to NOT live with the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this case it matters what Testament you’re reading, because in the older one, God didn’t permanently indwell His followers with the Holy Spirit. In the newer one, the Holy Spirit does not “come and go.” David was asking for the Spirit to stay with Him.
In verse 13, we see that we can and should be bold in trying to teach others from our mistakes. Culturally, we kind of shy away from teaching others lessons learned from our sin because, “Well, we did it, so what credibility do I have to talk about it?” How about first-hand experience with consequences, folks?
And then we see the turn in David…the true repentance. He’s going to go forward now. Again, his broken and contrite heart are WAY more meaningful than throwing a bull on the altar with no desire to deal with yourself and God.
It took him a year, folks. From confrontation to repentance. That’s a long time to carry that weight around.
But I understand it…even though it’s on a much smaller consequential scale.
But it was a weight to carry around.
And I did pray to God and ask forgiveness and, in fact, used this Psalm as a guide.
And, I did talk to Vicky about it. I said I was sorry and asked her forgiveness, too.
And I did talk to the others involved. They seemed socially awkward while I talked, maybe because they wondered why I cared to say I was sorry to them.
And, even though it was humbling, I finally felt free. The broken spirit and a contrite heart are starting points for us, no matter how many times we have to reboot.
(Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalms 57-63)