Today we will consider two Psalms (two of my favorites!) that David wrote regarding the incident of his sin concerning Bathsheba (2 Sam 11). The first is Psalm 51, which is believed to have been written after David was convicted by the prophecy of Nathan (2 Sam 12:1-15). It is a Psalm of repentance. David begins with a prayer for mercy (51:1). The first word for mercy points to God’s grace, the second to His love. Note that David prays this according to God’s steadfast love, our Hebrew word hesed (חֶ֫סֶד). David then asks God to wash him – a plea for his sin to be removed (v. 2, 7). David then confesses his sin (v. 3), which is against God first and foremost, Who would be perfectly right to judge David (v. 4). Verse 5 speaks to the fallenness of humankind, and verse 6 to the regenerate heart we need for salvation. In verses 9-10 David is asking for his sin to be taken away and for God to recreate his heart (justification) and to renew uprightness within him (sanctification).
In verse 11 we have one of the few explicit references to the Holy Spirit. Here, David is praying that God would not do to him what He did to Saul in removing His Spirit from him (see 1 Sam 16:14). In verse 12, David is not saying that God has taken his joy. Rather, as we saw, David sought worldly comfort and pleasure over obeying God (laying on his couch and having sinful relationships with women rather than leading Israel against the inhabitants of the land – see 2 Sam 11: 2-4), and he is asking God to sovereignly turn him back to finding joy in obedience.
David then prays to God that He would use him as a means of turning hearts to God. He will preach faith and repentance (v. 13), and if God would remove his sin, he will praise Him (vv. 14-15). Note that David will not praise God until his own heart is right. In verses 16-17, David, who has been functioning as High Priest remember, tells God that he knows He does not want a sin offering or a burnt offering. David understands that those sacrifices pointed to the need for God to take away the sin that required such things (remember Hebrews?). Rather, God wants repentance and faith. In verse 19, then, the “right sacrifice” is repentance and faith; only then God will accept the worship of the people.*
Psalm 103 is believed to have been written by David after the death of his son (2 Sam 12:15-23). David knows that God is just and righteous. So even in the worst of earthly circumstances (the death of a child), he can praise God (103:1). He prays that he would not forget the goodness of God in this troubling time (v. 2). In verses 3-5 David expounds this goodness: God is a God Who saves! Note again the steadfast love (חֶ֫סֶד) of the Lord is at the center of this. David again praises God for His righteousness (v. 6). We have seen that David time and again has left judgment to God because of his faith that He would judge justly.
Beginning in verse 7, David points us back to the time of the Exodus. He references the giving of the Law to Moses, and God’s sovereign salvation of of His people. Then, David quotes from the book of Exodus. He is quoting in part what God said to Moses in Exodus 34:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6–7 (ESV)
David says the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (v. 8). But then, instead of going on to talk about His judgment for the guilty and His visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, David says that God will not keep His anger that He is slow to (v. 9). In fact, God will not deal with us according to our sins at all, or repay us according to our iniquity (the same word God used when He said He would visit the iniquity on the children and the children’s children) (v. 10). Because that is how great God’s hesed (חֶ֫סֶד) is toward those who fear Him (v. 11). These are the “us” of verse 10. These are those whose transgressions (the same transgression God would forgive in Ex 34:7) God has removed as far as the east is from the west. And the idea here is that they are infinitely far from each other! If I travel north, I eventually reach the end and start going south, and vice versa. But east or west go on infinitely! In verse 13, David likens God to a Father Who has compassion (the same root as the word David uses for that second “mercy” in 51:1) on His children.
God would be perfectly just to punish us for our sin. But for those who fear Him, He does not! He instead removes them from us (which David prayed for in 51:2). Rather than visiting that iniquity on our children, He acts as our loving Father and shows us compassion. And think about David coming to these conclusions and praising God for them in the wake of his own son just dying. And he continues! David knows that we are dust, a vapor, a weak flower (vv. 15-16), which is why he knows he will join his son in death (2 Sam 12:23). But death is not the end! For those who fear God (and who have had their sins taken away), the hesed (חֶ֫סֶד)** of God lasts for eternity – from eternity past (election) to eternity future (New Heavens and New Earth)! And His righteousness – not His payment for iniquity – is for children’s children. Think about David praising God for that in the wake of his son just dying!
And how will God do all of this? How can He be true to what He said in Exodus 34 and what David says here in Psalm 103? He will visit the iniquity of David – and of us! – on His Son. Bless the Lord! He is praised for His sovereign power over angels (v. 20), over man (v. 21) and over all of creation (v. 22). Because in His sovereign power He made a way for iniquity to be paid for. Because His love for us is so great that He left the heaven that is so far above the earth (v. 11), and removed our sin infinitely far from us (v. 12).
*This is a great song based on this Psalm: https://open.spotify.com/track/0zT7fiLCZl34FRxOR7fgow?si=1295e7d492234a75
**As I said, this is my favorite word in the Old Testament. As we have gone along, do you see how this “steadfast love” is always upon those who He has saved? This is how God loves us!