Psalm 51 is one of the most famous psalms in the psalter. It may have the single most famous context in which a psalm is written. The scribes saw fit to tell us this is “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.”
This is the lowest point in the life of the great King of Israel. He had experienced suffering at the hands of King Saul and others as a youth; he would later experience the rebellion and death of his son. But these tragedies did not compare to the spiritual low point that was his adultery with Bathsheba. Adding to his adultery, he then had her husband murdered, then lied about the whole thing, marrying Bathsheba and acting like nothing ever happened.
Then “The Lord Sent Nathan to David” (2 Samuel 12:1). Psalm 51 is David’s response to this interaction with Nathan, so before we study the psalm, I’d like to take today to study it’s context.
Please read 2 Samuel 12:1-6.
David grew up as a shepherd. He could relate to the love that a man would have for his sheep. David was a good shepherd, who cared deeply for his flock and fought of bears and lions to protect them (1 Samuel 17:34-35). The idea that a man would steal another man’s sheep and slaughter it was outrageous to the king!
After all, David was a good king: unlike his predecessor, David had followed God by defeating Israel’s enemies and ruling well. He knew how to make a right judgment—when he was making that judgment from a distance. But Nathan is about to bring the situation home for King David.
Please read 2 Samuel 12:7-15.
Talk about dropping a bomb! Nathan just calls David on the carpet and tells him plainly the horrible nature of his sin. God had given David everything, and would have given him more if he just asked, but instead David rebelled against God by committing adultery and murder. Now God would severely punish His servant.
When David confesses in verse 13, it is out of fear. He knows the punishment for sin is death! So, Nathan assures him “you shall not die,” for “the Lord also has put away your sin.” This is assurance that God has provided some sense of salvation for David’s sin. Yes, there are still earthly consequences that must be dealt with, so the child will die. This is tragic. But it is nothing compared to the eternal death that David faced for his rebellion against God.
When the prophet called out the king regarding his heinous sin, and the kings eyes were finally opened. He realized just how sinful he was. At the same time, he was assured that God has saved him, and he wouldn’t ultimately die. What was David’s response to this great salvation? He wrote Psalm 51, expressing his remorse over his sin, and reminding us why God called him “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
God is not looking for perfect people. God is looking for people who are willing to confess their sin and turn to Him in faith. David gives us perhaps the most theologically and emotionally powerful confession in all of Scripture. God forgives David, and grants him salvation. After He does this, David writes his confession, detailing 15 different aspects of that salvation: 15 Gifts God Gives Us in Salvation. We will look at each of these one-by-one over the next three weeks, as we slow down in Psalm 51. I hope you enjoy this mini-series as much as I do!
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