Prayer For Guidance.

Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near  and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” – Jeremiah 42:1-3 ESV

Have you ever been at a loss as to what to do? Maybe you have found yourself going through what appears to be the discipline of God for something you have done and you want to know what your next steps should be. The people of Judah found themselves in that very predicament. They were surrounded by the military forces of Babylon and under the disciplinary judgment of God for their persistent sin and rebellion against Him. In fact, Jerusalem had already fallen to the Babylonians and thousands of their friends and fellow countrymen had already been taken captive to Babylon. They were the remnant that had been left. Their king, Zedekiah, had been captured by the Babylonians as he attempted to escape the city at night. He was taken to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonian, where he was forced to watch as all his sons were killed right in front of him, then he had his own eyes gouged out. The remnant that had been left knew their days were numbered. They had no king, no army, and no hope. There were some among them who wanted to turn to Egypt for help. Rather than take their problem to God, they thought they could solve it themselves with a little outside help. Others were recommending flight. We should just run away, they counseled. Some were even suggesting Egypt as the destination for their flight. So what should they do? Wisely, if not a bit too tardily, they decided to ask God. So they asked Jeremiah to go to God on their behalf and ask Him for guidance. What did He want them to do? You see, they were confused and divided. They asked, “that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” Now that all was in a shambles and they had no other viable options, they suddenly decided to take their problem to God. They even promised to do whatever God said, if only He would answer them. “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God” (Jeremiah 42:5-6 ESV). But would all this prove to be too little, too late? Would God refuse to answer their request because of their consistent refusal to listen to His prophets and their call to repentance?

God answered. He made them sweat it out for ten days, but He answered. “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land” (Jeremiah 42:9-12 ESV). God’s answer was conditional. It contains an if-then statement. God promised to build them up, to plant them, to relent, to be with them, to save and deliver them, to show them mercy and allow them remain in the land – IF they would simply remain in the land and trust Him. Everything in them said to run and God knew it. He knew what they were thinking. He knew they were wanting to turn their attention to Egypt and place their trust in them. But while everything around them looked bleak and beyond hope, God wanted them to know that He was not done. He would even cause the king of Babylon to show them mercy. But if they refused to listen to God and took matters into their own hands, God would punish them just as He had their friends and neighbors. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them’ (Jeremiah 42:15-17 ESV).

Even in the midst of our most difficult situations, including those that are the result of our own sin and rebellion, we can call out to God for help and guidance. But we must be willing to listen to what He has to say. God will answer. He will give us direction, but we must obey Him – even when it seems to make no sense. Fear and flight may seem the most logical next step, but if God says, “Stay!”, we must stay. There is only one thing worse than refusing to seek guidance from the Lord, and that is to refuse to obey His guidance once you have sought it. God’s will may not make sense to us. His guidance may seem counter intuitive. Everything in us may scream that our way makes more sense, but we must obey. God answers when we call. But the question is whether we will obey when He answers.

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Prayer For Leadership.

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

Moses knew that his days were numbered. While had had been the one to lead the people of Israel from captivity all the way to the edge of the land of Canaan, God had told him that he would not be the one to take them into the land. It all went back to an event that had happened during their time of wandering in the wilderness. They had come to the wilderness of Zin. Moses had just recently buried his sister, Miriam. When the arrived at Zin, they found no water, so the people did what they were so prone to do. They complained bitterly to Moses, questioning his leadership and wondering why they had ever allowed him to take them away from Egypt. Their complaining made Moses angry, but he and Aaron took the matter before the Lord, and God gave His answer. “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). God was going to provide water for the people and their livestock – miraculously. But the Scriptures make it clear that Moses did not follow God’s instructions carefully. “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’  And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock” (Numbers 20:10-11 ESV). Rather than speak to the rock, Moses chose to strike it. He made it all about him. He let the people know just how angry he was and just how undeserving they were. He really did not believe that God was going to provide for them, which is why he sarcastically said to the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” We know that Moses did not believe it was going to happen because God immediately responded, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12 ESV).

As a result of his unbelief at the wilderness of Zin, Moses lost his right to lead the people into the Promised Land. And yet, as disappointed as he probably was, when the time came for the people to make their long-awaited entrance into the land, Moses prayed that God would provide them with a worthy leader. He knew the people of Israel well and recognized that they would be like sheep without a shepherd if God did not provide them with a capable leader. As much as he would have liked to have been that leader, he knew it was not to be the case. But rather than pout and have a pity party for himself, he prayed. While he had been constantly mistreated and disrespected by the people of Israel over the years, he loved and cared for them. He wanted the best for them. And he knew that godly leadership was one of their greatest needs. So he asked God to “appoint a man over the congregation.” He wanted this to be a man of God’s choosing, not the peoples. He also knew that it would not do for some self-appointed leader to step to the fore and claim responsibility for the well-being of the people. His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron had tried that once before and it had resulted in God striking Miriam with leprosy for her insubordination and presumption (Numbers 12). Moses understood that the only kind of leader that would work would be a God-appointed leader. He desperately wanted God to provide the people with someone who could lead well because he listened well to God. He longed for someone who had a relationship with God like he did. God had told Aaron and Miriam, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6-8 ESV). Moses knew what it was like to have God speak to him directly and clearly. He had even been given the privilege of seeing God’s glory and living to tell about it. Moses was painfully aware that godly leadership was only possible with God’s help. He had struggled in leading the people of Israel for over 40 years and, even with God’s help, it had been difficult and, at times, impossible.

The people of God still need godly leadership. But how often do we pray for God to raise up men and women of His own choosing to lead His people? How many times have we prayed for God to appoint the right individual to lead the body of Christ and provide them with godly direction for the future? Moses knew that even God’s people were prone to godliness without godly leadership. And if you study the history of the kings of Israel, you see this fact proven out time and time again. Ungodly kings repeatedly led the people to make ungodly decisions. Ultimately, godlessness if disbelief in God. Just as Moses struck the rock because he doubted God, so godless leaders tend to make decisions apart from God because they don’t truly trust God to lead them. They take matters into their own hands. They rely on their own wisdom and strength. But God’s people must be led by God and we must pray that God provides men and women who have a heart for God to provide leadership for His people.

In Wrath Remember Mercy.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 ESV

How well do you know God? How intimately are you acquainted with His character and how does that impact the way you view life and influence your prayers? Habakkuk was a prophet of God who lived during the seventh-century B.C. and prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah during the period of time before they went into exile. Those were difficult days. The people were rebellious. The nation had had a long succession of kings, most of whom had failed to lead well or serve God faithfully. Habakkuk’s job was to call the people to repentance. Like virtually every prophet of God, his message tended to fall on deaf ears and he experienced little to no success for his efforts. Earlier, Habakkuk had prayed another prayer, asking God to explain Himself. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV). Habakkuk was struggling. He had a difficult, if not impossible job to do. He found himself surrounded by sinful, rebellious people, living in a society where wickedness was rampant. Even the governmental and legal systems were perverted and failing to do their jobs.

God’s response to Habakkuk was simple and direct. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:4 ESV). He went on to tell Habakkuk of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. The once great nation would fall and the people would be taken into captivity as a result of their consistent rebellion against God. And Habakkuk was not shocked by God’s news of Judah’s pending doom. He simply stated, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He trusted God, but he was confused that He would use an even more wicked, immoral and godless nation to punish the chosen people of God. Habakkuk was wrestling with what he knew about God and how it all fit into his current circumstances. He asked God, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 ESV). Habakkuk was having an internal struggle with what he knew about God and what he saw happening all around him. He was surrounded by injustice and inequality. He helplessly watched as the wicked seemingly enjoy success at the expense of the godly. And then God had told him that the godless, pagan Babylonians would be His chosen instrument of punishment on the nation of Judah.

Judah was looking and praying for salvation. He was asking God to remedy the dismal situation in Judah. But God revealed that judgment was coming, and it would be coming from a source that would shock and surprise most people. God was going to answer Habakkuk’s prayer, but in a way that was unexpected and seemingly unjust. All of this was so confusing to the poor prophet. He trusted God, but he also couldn’t help but look around and see the sinful mess in which the people of Judah found themselves. Everything was topsy-turvy and upside down. Wickedness was winning out over righteousness within the walls of Jerusalem and now God was going to use a pagan nation to destroy those very same walls and the nation that lived within them. And Habakkuk knew that God was justified in His actions. The people were going to get exactly what they deserved. Which led Habakkuk to pray, “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” Habakkuk knew what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel. God had used the nation of Assyria to punish them, destroying their capital and taking their people into captivity. Habakkuk understood the nature of God’s sovereignty, justice and power, and it caused him to fear God. It was not a cowering, run-for-your-life kind of fear, but a sobering reverence and awe that resulted in a healthy respect for who God was.

Habakkuk appealed to God, asking that “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known.” He wanted God to reveal His divine plan of judgment to the people. He wanted God to make it known that His wrath was coming, so that the people might yet return to Him and be revived. And God was using Habakkuk as His chosen instrument to accomplish just that end. But when all was said and done, Habakkuk knew that, whatever happened, they were dependent upon God’s mercy. God had every right to be angry. He had been faithful. He had provided blessing upon blessing to His people, but they had chosen to repeatedly and persistently rebel against Him. Now judgment was imminent. So Habakkuk pleaded that God would “in wrath remember mercy.” He knew His God to be loving, faithful, merciful and kind. While He was obligated to punish sin, He was also consistent in extending mercy. Even His punishment would be an expression of His love for the people of Judah. He would use it to bring them to an end of themselves and to create in them an awareness of their need for Him. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV). Habakkuk was placing his hope, faith and trust in what he knew about God. He was going to trust Him to do the right thing, regardless of whether it made logical sense or not. He was learning to judge his circumstances through the lens of God’s character, rather than the other way around. God’s ways are not our ways. But His ways are always just, righteous and loving.

Finger-Pointing Prayers.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” – Joshua 7:6-9 ESV

The nation of Israel had survived 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the land that God had promised them. Once they set foot in Canaan, the land of promise, they had experienced an extraordinary victory over the city of Jericho. God had delivered this walled city into their hands in a miraculous fashion that clearly revealed it was a divinely ordained victory. Under God’s direction, Joshua had led the people around the walls of Jericho in a grand processional for six straight days. On the seventh day they marched around the circumference of the city seven times. At the end of their last lap, seven priests blew seven trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls fell. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill military engagement. But that’s because it was God’s doing. Nobody could claim credit for the victory but Him.

But the joy of the victory was to be short-lived. Because the next city to be attacked was Ai, a much smaller town that should have been a breeze compared to Jericho. The problem was that “the people of Israel broke faith in regards to the devoted things” (Joshua 7:1 ESV). Just prior to their final “victory lap” around Jericho, Joshua had warned the people “the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). But a single individual would choose to ignore Joshua’s warning and take some of the forbidden plunder for himself. Achan ended up stashing a costly cloak, 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels in his tent. As a result of his sin, the Israelites would suffer an unexpected and humiliating defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. Routed and demoralized, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5 ESV). And it is within that bleak context that Joshua, the God-appointed heir to Moses’ mantle as leader, brought his case before God. His was a very blunt and bleak prayer. It reflects Joshua’s confusion over what had just happened. He began his prayer by asking, “Why?!”

“Why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all?” He was looking for an explanation. He wanted answers. What he had just witnessed made no sense to him. They had gone from overwhelming victory to inexplicable defeat. At this point, Joshua had not idea why this tragedy had happened. He didn’t get it. He didn’t like it. And as far as he was concerned, God had some explaining to do. Had it been God’s plan to release them from captivity in Egypt and drag them across the wilderness for 40 years, only to allow them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Amorites? Joshua even sarcastically commented that it would have been better had they just been content to stay in Egypt. In essence, Joshua questioned God’s integrity and intentions. When he couldn’t explain his less-than-acceptable circumstances, he was quick to blame God. Not only that, he jumped to the worse-case-scenario, automatically assuming that all was lost. Once every other nation caught wind of their defeat, the days of Israel’s existence as a nation would be numbered. It would be just a matter of time before they were just a memory.

This passage is seldom used as a model for prayer. Joshua’s brutally honest verbal fusillade is rarely held up as a healthy example of proper prayer etiquette. And yet, God answered Joshua. He didn’t reprimand him. He didn’t respond with a haughty, “Who do you think you’re talking to, young man?!” Seeing Joshua lying face first in the dirt with his clothes torn as a sign of mourning, God simply said, “Get up!” Then He asked for an explanation for Joshua’s actions. “Why have you fallen on your face?” (Joshua 7:10 ESV). But before Joshua could respond, God gave His own answer. He provided an explanation for what had just happened. “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:11-12 ESV). God was more than willing to accept responsibility for Israel’s defeat, but He would NOT accept blame for their sin. Joshua could question God’s intentions and motives, but he should never have questioned His integrity. There was and always is a very good reason and explanation for what God does and for what He allows. He is never out of control, caught off guard, mistaken, or ever unjust in His interactions with men. Whether we like or understand the circumstances of our lives, God is sovereignly overseeing each moment. Joshua’s prayer was based on ignorance. He was pointing fingers at God, questioning His intentions and doubting His integrity. But little did he know that sin had entered the camp. Because they had failed to keep God’s command to devote all the plunder to destruction, God was forced to devote them to destruction. Their circumstances were self-inflicted, but God ordained. It was not wrong for Joshua to ask God, “Why?” But it was wrong for him to doubt God’s character. There was a perfectly good reason for their defeat, and it had nothing to do with God’s power or His failure to keep His promises. Our prayers should always begin with what we know about God. His character is unquestionable. His integrity is unshakeable. His intentions are always justifiable. It is perfectly okay to ask God why, but it is safe to say that any blame to be had will never be His. We must always be willing to say along with David, you are “justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).

A Global Blessing.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;  then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. – Psalm 51:18-19 ESV

Psalm 51

David had sinned against God. What he had done had been a personal affront to the sovereignty and holiness of God. David had disobeyed God’s commands and he had come under the judgment of God for his actions. But as the king of Israel, David’s sins had a far more global impact. As the nation’s divinely appointed leader, his actions would have far-reaching ramifications. Not only would David lose the son born out of his illicit affair with Bathsheba, he would endure years of watching his family implode. The prophet, Nathan, had warned him. “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun’” (2 Samuel 12:10-11 ESV). And these intra-family disputes would end up having a dramatic influence on the entire nation of Israel, because they would lead to the eventual takeover of David’s throne by one of his own sons. David’s sin would end up negatively influencing the entire nation of Israel, and he knew it. So David closed his prayer with a request that God would “do good to Zion” and “build up the walls of Jerusalem.” He was asking God bless the nation and protect it. He knew that, in reality, it was God who had made Jerusalem great and had turned the people of Israel into a powerful nation. David’s selfish, passion-driven sin with Bathsheba had put the entire nation at risk. As the king went, so went the nation. His leadership set an example for good or bad. We see over and over again in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, that when they served the Lord faithfully, the people followed their example. But when they rebelled against God, the nation did as well.

David’s own son, Solomon, would prove to be a prime example of this truth. Late in his reign, in his old age, after having given in to his love affair for women and having amassed for himself 1,000 wives and concubines, he began to worship their false gods. Solomon had disobeyed God’s explicit command forbidding the kings of Israel to marry multiple wives. He had also disobeyed God’s command to not marry outside the nation of Israel. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:4-6 ESV). And the people would follow their king’s example, worshiping false gods just as he had done. As a result, God split the kingdom of Israel in half. He divided the nation and a long line of kings would rule and reign over the divided kingdom, many leading the people into further sin and rebellion against God.

So David prayed. He begged God to bless the nation in spite of him. He realized that Israel’s glory was the result of God’s goodness, not his effectiveness as a king. Any blessings that Israel enjoyed were the result of God’s goodness. Any military victories they had experienced had been God’s doing, not his own. David knew that, without God’s help, Israel was defenseless and his leadership as king was ultimately useless. They needed God. And David was not content to simply pray for himself. He felt a strong responsibility to lift up the entire nation and intercede for them before God. David knew that he had let his people down. He had failed to lead responsibly and had put the nation at risk with his actions. They needed a righteous ruler and a faithful sovereign, and David knew that God was the only one who fit that description. God’s blessing of the nation would result in the people turning back to Him. They would recognize His sovereign, powerful hand and once again offer Him the sacrifices and offerings He demanded and deserved. David understood that if God could create a new heart for him and renew a right spirit within him, God could do the same for the nation of Israel. He was asking God to do what only God could do: Restore and renew the nation. He wanted God to bless and protect them. David may have failed, but he knew His God never would. David may have proved himself unfaithful, but he was counting on the fact that God never would.

An Acceptable Sacrifice.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;  you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

Psalm 51

David had committed a serious sin. He had willingly and deliberately disobeyed the law of God. He was well aware of what God’s Word said regarding his actions. “But those who brazenly violate the Lord’s will, whether native-born Israelites or foreigners, have blasphemed the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community. Since they have treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command, they must be completely cut off and suffer the punishment for their guilt.” (Numbers 15:30-21 NLT). When David had been confronted by the prophet, Nathan, regarding what he had done, Nathan had used a fabricated incident to trick David into confessing. He told David a story about a rich man who, although he was wealthy and had many flocks of his own. decided to steal the one lamb the poor man owned in order to feed his guests. David was shocked and infuriated by the story and exclaimed, “As surely as the Lord lives, any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!” (2 Samuel 12:5 ESV). Unknowingly, David had pronounced his own sentence. He was worthy of death and there was no sacrifice he could make that would satisfy God for what he had done. He had “treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command.” He had blasphemed the Lord. And no amount of sacrifices were going to fix his problem.

What God wanted was a broken and repentant heart. God desired for David to understand the depths of his own depravity and to come before Him in humility, his heart crushed by the weight of what he had done. The nature of the sacrifice that God desired was internal, not external. David could offer the blood of bulls and goats, but if his heart was not broken over what he had done, and if he was not fully convinced of his own sin and God’s righteous obligation to punish him, his sacrifices would be worthless. David acknowledged that if there had been an appropriate sacrifice he could have made, he would have done so. He would have done anything to rectify the situation. He would have spared no expense. But what God wanted was a legitimate brokenness over his sin and a humble admission of his guilt. It was essential for David to understand that there was nothing he could do to fix his problem. He was completely dependent upon God for His mercy, love and forgiveness. Sacrifices made with unrepentant hearts were unacceptable to God. Years earlier, when Saul had been king, God had commanded Saul to go into battle against the Amalekites. He had told Saul to “completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3 NLT). But Saul had disobeyed. “Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:9 NLT). When Saul had been confronted by Samuel about what he had done, Saul had justified his actions. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20-21 NLT). His actions were completely justified in his own mind. He was unrepentant and his heart was far from broken over what he had done. That’s when God had Samuel break the bad news to Saul. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV). It was at that point that God rejected Saul as the king of Israel. Any sacrifices he would have made would have been unacceptable because his heart was unrepentant.

In contrast, David knew the full ramifications of his actions and he was crushed by what he had done. Which is why he had started his prayer with the confession, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). Rather than justify his actions or blame Bathsheba for causing him to sin, David owned up to his actions. He admitted his guilt and was legitimately sorrowful for what he had done. He knew that all he could bring to God was his brokenness, and it was up to God to supply mercy, grace and forgiveness. David couldn’t buy his way out of his circumstances. He couldn’t pay God off. On more than one occasion God had warned the Israelites, “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices? I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” (Isaiah 1:11 NLT). “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living (Amos 5:21-24 NLT).

God knows our hearts. He recognizes when we are truly repentant and when we are simply going through the motions. The sacrifice he desires is a life that is totally dependent upon Him. Paul writes, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). We need God for salvation. We need the blood of Christ for our constant cleansing from sin. We need the Spirit for our ongoing sanctification. We need to live in constant reliance upon God for his mercy, grace, forgiveness, cleansing and transforming power in our lives. That is an acceptable sacrifice to Him.

 

Reason To Praise.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. – Psalm 51:14-15 ESV

Psalm 51

David was guilty of murder. He had arranged for the death of an innocent man, all in order to justify his taking of that man’s wife. What started out as an act of adultery ended up leading to murder. And David was fully aware of his guiltiness before God. But because he knew of God’s unfailing love and mercy, he asked God to deliver him from the very guilt he deserved. The Hebrew word David uses is natsal and it literally means, “to snatch away.” David was asking God to reach down and rescue him out of the predicament in which he found himself. Like someone who finds himself drowning in a river, David desperately called out to God for deliverance. He couldn’t save himself. David could confess his sin, but he couldn’t do a thing about his guilt. He needed salvation. He required God’s divine intervention and deliverance.

The penalty for David’s two sins of adultery and murder was severe. At best, he deserved alienation from God. At worst, he deserved death. But here he was, begging God for mercy and forgiveness. He was asking God to forgive and deliver him from his well-deserved guilt. In essence, David was asking God to commute his death sentence. The seriousness of David’s situation sometimes escapes us. We are so used to reading this Psalm and so accustomed to viewing God as merciful, loving and always forgiving, that we fail to recognize what David did – that God is holy and obligated by His nature to deal with sin in a just and righteous manner. He cannot ignore or overlook it. To do so would make Him an unjust judge. He also cannot be impartial, treating David differently just because he was a man after His own heart. God loved David, but He was not going to disregard David’s sin. David’s sin deserved death. And while God would spare David’s life, the baby born as a result of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba would die. The prophet, Nathan, shared with David the judgment of God. “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:13-14 ESV). Not only that, Nathan warned David that one of his own sons would end up doing to him what he had done to Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV). David would escape death, but he would not escape the discipline of God.

It is most likely that David wrote this psalm after he had received this bad news from Nathan. He knew punishment was coming. He would mourn the death of his young son. But he would also praise God for His loving deliverance of his life. David had deserved death, but he had been allowed to live. He had been allowed to continue serving God as king of Israel. While his actions had forfeited him that right, God had shown him mercy, rescuing him from his guilt and shame. And David would go on to praise God for all He had done. David had promised God that he would “sing aloud of your righteousness” and “declare your praise.” And David would do just that. He would write many more psalms declaring the greatness, goodness, graciousness and glory of God. He would spend years singing of God’s mighty deeds and shouting about God’s unfailing love. David’s life would not be easy. He would see one of his own sons rape his half-sister. He would watch as one of his other sons took revenge by murdering the brother who had committed this act. David’s sin would have long-lasting implications. He would experience God’s forgiveness and deliverance, but he would not escape the consequences of his actions. Our sins, while forgiven by God, still have consequences. Our actions have implications. David was graciously forgiven by God and allowed to live, rather than die as he deserved. But David’s sin would have a ripple effect that impacted the lives of his children. David would have to watch as his infant son died. But immediately after David received the news of his death, the Scriptures tell us, “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20 ESV). David praised God. He knew that God had been just in all that He had done. David didn’t rail against God. He didn’t become angry and bitter. He knew that God had saved him. He realized that God had delivered him from the guilt of his sin and provided him with life when what he had deserved was death. He had reason to praise God, so he did. He had motivation to be grateful, so he was. In spite of David’s sin, God had been loving, gracious, kind and forgiving. And David was forever grateful.

The Joy of Salvation.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:12-13 ESV

Psalm 51

David had experienced the joy of God’s salvation on more than one occasion in his life. He had known what it was like to have God step into his circumstances and perform a miracle of deliverance. Now he was asking God to do it yet again. The NET Bible translates verse 12 this way: “Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!” David had had a front-row seat when God delivered him from the giant Goliath; his own king and employer, Saul; and on numerous occasions from the Philistines. David knew what it was like to be in a difficult spot and then to have God do the seemingly impossible. He also knew the joy that always followed those events. There was nothing like watching God work and realizing just how much he loved and cared for him. He was not alone. He was not defenseless or helpless, no matter what his circumstances might say otherwise. God was good and far greater than any individual or incident. So David asked God to restore to him the joy that accompanies God’s salvation. He wanted to experience the incomparable euphoria that comes from knowing that the God of the universe has been your deliverer. God’s deliverance is permanent, not partial. It accomplishes the impossible.David was asking God to save him from his own sin. He was miserable as a result of his moral failure. He had confessed, but he need God’s forgiveness and deliverance from his own sinful nature.

David knew that deliverance from God produced a highly beneficial byproduct: a willing spirit. When David prayed, “uphold me with a willing spirit,” he was asking God to transform him into a person who willingly obeys. When we see God work miraculously in our lives and deliver us from difficult circumstances, we are much more prone to obey. God’s deliverance tends to breed increased dependence and obedience. But if we’re not careful, it can be short-lived. It is so easy for us to forget what God has done and fall back into our patterns of willful disobedience. David knew that God’s salvation tended to produce in him a more willing spirit. And that willing spirit became a witness and testimony to all those around him. When we live in dependence upon God, allowing Him to fight our battles for us, we have the joy of seeing Him work. That life of willing reliance upon God becomes a walking testimony to all those around us. David knew that if God could forgive him of what he had done, others would take notice and be more willing to return to God for forgiveness and salvation from their own sins.

But it is so easy for us to forget what God has done. His times of deliverance can be quickly forgotten and the joy experienced during those times can fade away. The Bible is full of stories illustrating that reality. In Psalm 106, the psalmist recalls God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. “So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise” (Psalm 106:10-12 ESV). God saved them and they sang His praises. But then they forgot. “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 106:13-15 ESV). Their joy quickly turned to sorrow. Their songs of praise turned to moans of agony and pain. The bottom line is that “t
hey forgot God, their Savior” (Psalm 106:21 ESV). It is so easy to do. God had even warned the people of Israel not to forget Him. When they stood on the edge of the land of Canaan, waiting to enter into it and take possession of it, God warned them, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that David’s prayer was the result of his sin with Bathsheba. But his sin with Bathsheba was the result of his unwillingness to go to war. Instead of leading the armies of Israel against the enemies of God, he chose to stay home. And his decision led to his immoral actions. In essence, he got fat and happy, choosing to enjoy the luxuries of kingship rather than risking his life ridding the land of enemies of God. His heart was lifted up and he soon forgot God. But God used David’s disobedience to bring him back. He got David’s attention. And now David longed for God’s salvation and the joy that accompanies it. Oh, that that would be the desire of every Christ-follower today. What a difference it would make if we longed to see God work in our lives, delivering us from our own self-inflicted pain and rescuing us from our enemies. We would know the joy of God’s salvation, and be able to tell others of His unfailing love and ability to deliver mightily.

Renewed From Within.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. – Psalm 51:10-11 ESV

Psalm 51

Dependence upon God. It’s a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. Most of us don’t like being dependent, but God created us to have a healthy dependence on Him. He created us, but He also sustains us. “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10 ESV). Not only do we need God for life, but we need Him in order to experience abundance of life. Since the moment sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, mankind has suffered from a broken relationship with God. Our hearts were damaged as a result of the fall, resulting in an internal disease that manifests itself in our outward behavior. The prophet Jeremiah gives us the sobering diagnosis: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Years later, Jesus would confirm Jeremiah’s diagnosis. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23 ESV). Mankind suffers from a deadly heart disease. The external sins we commit, as listed by Jesus, are simply the symptoms of a much greater problem going on inside. And David was well aware that his real issue was worse than even his sin with Bathsheba. He desperately desired a healed heart. He knew he would never stop himself from sinning unless God did something drastic. What he needed was soul surgery, a radical realignment of his very nature, something only God could do. While David was fully capable of confessing his sins, only God could cleanse and renew him. Only God could take care of the source of the problem, David’s sin-saturated heart. While David could admit that he had done wrong, he had no capacity within himself to stop it from happening again. He needed a clean heart and a renewed spirit. His natural inclination was to drift away from God. His heart was prone to give in to his sin nature, feeding his passions and desires, even when they were contrary to the will of God. Paul described this dilemma well. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). It’s interesting to note that David begs God, “take not your Holy Spirit from me.” He knew that God’s indwelling presence was essential for him to be able to experience true heart change. Without the Spirit’s help, David would be left to give in to the inclinations of his flesh, which, according to Paul, would result in a less-than-ideal outcome. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). David had just experienced the truth of Paul’s claim. Now he needed cleansing and renewal. He needed God to do what only He could do.

Admission of guilt does not eliminate responsibility or remove condemnation. It simply paves the way for God to perform the miracle of extending His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. When we come to Him with a heart broken by our sin and shamed by our disobedience toward Him, He offers us cleansing and renewal. In the words of the apostle John, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We confess, God cleanses. We repent, God renews.

While our sin deserves God’s rejection and righteous retribution, He offers us restoration and renewal. David’s greatest fear was a loss of fellowship with God. He knew just how dependent he was upon God. He was nothing without God. That is why he prayed, “Cast me not away from your presence.” Alienation from God was a scary thing to David. Earlier in his life, long before he had become a powerful king, David had spent years living in exile, with a bounty on his head. He had known what it was like to feel alone and seemingly abandoned by God. In one of his earlier Psalms he had written, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2 ESV). He had cried out to God, “Be not far from me” and “do not be far off!” During those bleak times of his life, when he had been surrounded by external enemies and threats on his life, he had learned to depend upon and turn to God for help. And now that his life was threatened by an eternal enemy: his own heart, he turned to God again. He knew that unless God helped him, he was helpless and hopeless. But David knew the words of the Lord, spoken as the people of Israel stood on the edge of the Promised Land facing the enemies who lived there. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV). God would not abandon him or leave him to fight his internal battles alone. Our battle with sin is not ours to fight. If we try to defeat sin alone, we will fail. But if we recognize our need for God’s help and dependence upon His Spirit’s strength, we can experience victory. We can know what it means to be cleansed and renewed, from the inside out.

Cleansed by God.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. – Psalm 51:7-9 ESV

Psalm 51

David came to God humbly confessing his sin. He took full responsibility for what he had done and acknowledged that his sin had been against God. But David was not done. He came to God because he desperately needed something from God. Yes, he desired God’s forgiveness, but he greatly needed and wanted God to cleanse him from his sin, guilt, shame and brokenness. David’s sin had taken its toll on him. He was burdened by what he had done. He knew he had displeased God and as long as his sin remained unconfessed and hidden, he was miserable. In another one of his psalms, David gives a description of just what his mindset would have been. “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat” (Psalm 32:3-4 NLT). The purpose for David’s confession was far more than a guilt-free conscience. He knew that confession alone would not remove his sin. He needed God’s cleansing. The apostle John gave us an important reminder on the power of confession in the life of a believer. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10 ESV). Refusal to believe that we are even capable of sin may make us feel better, but it doesn’t fool God. To deny the sin for which God convicts us is to call Him a liar. But if we will own up to our sin and humbly confess it to God, He will not only forgive us but cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God doesn’t just remove the guilt, He takes away the cause of the guilt.

David asked God to purge him with hyssop. This was a reference to the practice of the priest sprinkling animal blood on the altar with a hyssop branch. The animal was killed as a substitute for the sinner and its blood was sprinkled on the altar as a sacrifice or payment for the sins of the individual. The writer of Hebrews, speaking of the Old Testament sacrificial system, said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). While David would have surely taken advantage of the opportunity to offer sacrifice for his sins, he was asking God Himself to make him clean. He wanted God to do for him what no human being could do: remove the stain of his sin completely. He asked God to restore his joy and gladness. He begged God to blot out all his iniquities. David’s broken relationship with God, caused by his own sin, was as painful and debilitating as an actual broken bone. He needed the healing of the Great Physician. Sin brings sorrow, guilt and shame. It leaves us alienated from God. And while we are responsible to come to Him in confession, we are completely dependent on Him for forgiveness and cleansing.

David was appealing to the mercy and love of God. He knew God well. He understood God’s holiness, but he also depended on God’s unfailing love and mercy. In another one of his psalms, David revealed his personal view of God’s relationship with him. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:10-14 ESV). That was what David was counting on. He knew that God understood his faults, failings and weaknesses. He understood and was counting on the fact that God was compassionate and kind. David was relying on God’s unfailing love. He knew that if God removed the guilt of his sin, it would be complete and permanent, as far as the east if from the west. The apostle John would have us remember that “Jesus came to take away our sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV) and “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Jesus died in order to pay the debt owed for our sins. He came to remove the penalty of death that hung over our heads due to our sin natures inherited from Adam, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). But John reminds us that “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). God has provided a means by which we can receive forgiveness and cleansing from ALL our sin – past, present and future. We will still sin, because we still have our sin natures. But the debt has been paid. The blood has been shed. All we must do is confess our sins and God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The result is the removal of guilt and shame, restoration of fellowship with God, healing from our pain and sorrow, and renewed joy and gladness. There is an old Scottish proverb that says, “confession in good for the soul.” David would agree. But it is not the act of confession that brings the benefit. It is the cleansing power of the blood of Christ that provides the gracious and complete forgiveness of God.