Psalm 51 is the Chronicle of David’s Repentance:
There was a time when kings went out to battle. Yet there was at least one king who stayed at home. While his army and country were engaged in a fierce war on the battlefield (cf. 2 Sam. 11:14), he was engaged in a different but equally fierce war. We don’t know why this king decided to stay at home, perhaps he was tired, lazy, apathetic, or hurt, but he decided to stay home nonetheless. And that decision affected his life more than any other decision in his life.
The story is recorded for us in the Bible—2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. It follows the days in the life of this king while his army was away. One day, while walking about his kingdom he began to stare at a woman in a neighboring home who was bathing. The wicked dragon of lust began to rear its ugly head and the king was quickly engaged in the sin of adultery. It’s easy for any man to imagine what was going through this king’s mind as he stood there gawking at his neighbor’s naked wife. What conceivably began as a stolen glance quickly degenerated into lustful staring and ultimately the act of adultery. For this king sent for the woman of his lust and sinfully lay with her. We might term this as a “one night stand”, for the Scripture says that she returned to her home. But that is not the end of the story but the beginning. Later that woman passed a message to the king telling him that she conceived a child in that one act and that he was the father of the child that was growing in her womb. His sin would surely be exposed. In his mind, however, that just could not be. The King of Israel could not be exposed as a common adulterer. He could not be seen as guilty of such sin; what would the people think?
He tried deceit—perhaps he could trick the woman’s husband into returning from the battle, lying with his wife and then he would think (as would everyone else) that the child was his. So he sent for the man, even made him drunk, but the man would not go into his wife. For him, that was dishonorable while his comrades were on the field of battle; so he refused to enjoy the comforts, pleasures, and privileges of home while his friends were in the throws of death and destruction. The king tried everything that his mind could conjure up to bring this man to go into his wife, but nothing worked. You can imagine the helplessness that was rising inside the king’s heart. What could he do? Just then it occurred to him. He reasoned that the only way to cover up his sin was to send her husband back to the battle carrying his own death warrant. He sent a note along with Uriah for the commander of the king’s army. When the note was delivered the commander must’ve read it in surprise but accommodated the request nonetheless. The king commanded that Uriah should be sent to the front lines of the fiercest battle and that the rest of the army should pull away, without Uriah’s knowledge. Thus he was assured Uriah’s death.
When the deed was complete, King David, perhaps wanting to appear to be the gracious hero in all of this sent for Bathsheeba, Uriah’s wife, and publicly made her his wife. There it was, the perfect cover up. David would come out of this whole thing “smelling like roses”, as they say. Not only would no one find out about the affair but they would think well of David for so graciously marrying the widow of a fallen comrade and carrying for her in that way.
The sin that we cover, God will uncover… The sin that we uncover, God will cover.
According to 2 Samuel 12:1, the LORD Himself sent a prophet to king David. If David thought he had successfully covered his own sin, he was miserably mistaken. For God had already revealed David’s sin to Nathan, the Prophet of God. And in this chapter king David is confronted by the Prophet of God regarding his sin. It was the LORD who had sent Nathan to David.
God often chooses to confront our sin via His messengers. I think of Elijah confronting Ahab or John the Baptist confronting Herod or even the Apostle Paul confronting the Apostle Peter regarding his sin. I myself have often been rebuked while listening to a sermon either live or through recorded media. Often I have been confronted by a God-honoring friend who loves me and is caring and diligent enough to lovingly and boldly confront a particular sin in my life.
When Nathan comes to David he begins to tell him the story of a rich man and a much poorer man. The rich man had many flocks but the poorer man had only one lamb. While the rich man prepared to receive a guest in his home he decided that he would not take a lamb from his large flock to prepare a meal for his guest but rather than he would take from his poor neighbor. He took that one lamb from his neighbor and prepared a meal for his guest from the only lamb of his neighbor.
David heard this and was outraged (2 Sam. 12:5). He was so outraged in fact the he pronounced a death sentence upon this man. Interestingly enough this was not the penalty prescribed by the law in Exodus 22:1. The penalty for such a crime was restitution not death, that was however the punishment for adultery and murder (cf. Lev. 20:10; 24:17). Unknowingly David condemned himself to death. At this point Nathan boldly declared, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7).
David had committed two sins for which the Mosaic Law provided no forgiveness. For deliberate murder and adultery death was the inevitable penalty. He knew that before God there was no forgiveness through any sacrifices which he might offer or any gifts which he might present. . . .
There is but one way back to God and David knew it. It is through the merits of the Lamb of God (Boice, James, Psalms, quoting Murdoch Campbell, p. 425).
There could be no more cover-ups. We would be right to assume that David’s life had been pretty miserable through this whole time. There probably are few people who are more miserable than a sinning child of God. We have ample evidence of that recorded for us in Psalm 51.
In Psalm 51 God has provided us with an illustration of humble repentance. In many ways, this Psalm needs only to be read and pondered. Yet there is much benefit in a protracted study of its contents and meditation upon its truths. It is the account of a man coming face to face with his horrible sin. In this account, king David records his depiction of his repentance as he responds to his sin before the Lord.
Having been confronted with his sin, what’s a man to do? Where can he go? He would do well to follow the advise of the write of the old hymn, “Where Could I Go?”
Living below in this old sinful world,
Hardly a comfort can afford;
Striving alone to face temptations sure,
Where could I go but to the Lord?
Where could I go, O where could I go?
Seeking a refuge for my soul?
Needing a friend to help me in the end,
Where could I go but to the Lord?
He must go to the only One to whom he must give account and he is the One who can graciously heal and forgive.