Have mercy!

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! – Psalm 51:1-2

Psalm 51

David found himself in a very difficult spot. As the king of Israel, he was held to a higher standard by God. Yet David had not only committed adultery with Bathsheba, but when he discovered that his illicit affair had resulted in her pregnancy, he had her husband, Uriah, killed in order that he might marry her. And it had taken the bold confrontation of the prophet, Nathan, to convict David of his sin and bring him to a point of repentance. This psalm or song, is in the form of a prayer. It reflects David’s heart as he considers the gravity of what he has done and comes before God in repentance and in need of forgiveness.

David begins his prayer with a cry for mercy. He knew that he could never make up for what he had done. Even a radical change in behavior would not wipe out what he had done. He stood before God as guilty and worthy of divine punishment for his sin. David had violated any of a number of God’s commandments. He had coveted another man’s wife and then followed through on his desires. He had stolen another man’s wife. He had committed adultery. His initial attempt to cover up what he had done was a lie. And then he had arranged for the murder of Uriah to pave the way for his “legal” marriage to Bathsheba. So when David came before God, he did so completely dependent upon the mercy of God. He was guilty and unworthy to stand in the presence of a holy, righteous God. So he appealed to God’s mercy and love. He knew that he did not deserve God’s forgiveness and that there was nothing he could do to earn it. He stood before God as condemned and worthy of divine discipline for his actions. David appealed to God’s mercy. He was asking God to not give him what he deserved, but to give him what he did not deserve: Grace. David knew the character of God. He knew that without God’s mercy and grace, he was in trouble. He also knew that it all began with confession and repentance. He had to own up to what he had done. His guilt was undeniable. His punishment was unavoidable, unless God chose to extend mercy and show grace. God knew the full extent of David’s sin. He also knew the dark depths of David’s heart which had led to his sin. So there was no sense in David trying to cover up, deny, or hide what he had done.

David’s cry for mercy was an admission of his guilt and an expression of his understanding of God’s right and responsibility to punish him. He didn’t attempt to rationalize his sin away. He didn’t try to minimize or dismiss it. He didn’t justify or pass blame. He was guilty and he knew it. He was worthy of punishment and he confessed it, placing himself on God’s mercy. He asked God to blot out his transgressions. The New Living Translation puts it this way: “blot out the stain of my sins.” David was fully aware that there was nothing he could do to remedy his problem. He could not fix what he had done. In essence, he was covered with the blood of Uriah, the man he had had murdered. The stains were obvious, point to his guilt and reminding him of his well-deserved condemnation. So he asks God to remove the stains. This was a cry for forgiveness. He needed God to do for him what he could not do for himself. In another one of his psalms, David wrote: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 1-3:8-12 NLT). David knew from experience that God was merciful, loving, gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving. And when God forgave sin, it was as if He blotted it out of our lives forever. That is why David prayed, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” He didn’t just want forgiveness, he wanted complete absolution. David wanted to be free from blame or guilt, to be released from the consequences, obligations, and penalties of his sin. And only God could make that possible.

We must never forget that our sin is serious. God does not take it lightly. He is holy and just, and obligated by His very character to deal with sin righteously. He cannot overlook it or ignore it. He cannot turn a blind eye or act as if it never happened. David would learn that his sin had consequences. The child that Bathsheba had as a result of her affair with David would die. David’s sin would not go unpunished, but God would also extend to David His unfailing love and mercy. He would restore David to a right relationship with Himself. He would allow David to remain as His chosen king. And He would continue to bless him. But it all began with David’s willing confession of his guilt and his humble submission to God’s mercy and love. David’s brokenness would lead to blessing. His repentance would result in restoration.

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