Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight…
Last month we began to look at this line from David’s powerful Psalm 51. Written in response to David’s many great transgressions in the tragic story of Bathsheba, his original sin of failing to lead the people God placed him over led to a host of sins. In the words of Martin Luther:
In this deed there appear other sins than merely the one with Bathsheba. To his adultery he added a very wicked plan. He pronounced the man who had stolen his poor neighbor’s ewe lamb worthy of death. Meanwhile he did not see his own sin when he murdered Uriah, who was undoubtedly a good man and faithful to his king, and took away his wife. He wanted to look like a holy man who loved right and justice. This doubled the sin. Not only did he cover up the vicious murder of Uriah, but other Israelites also perished, and the name of the Lord was blasphemed. Thus he went beyond the Fifth and Sixth Commandment to sin against the First, Second, and Third as well. Nor would he have left inviolate the Fourth, about duty toward parents, if it had stood in the way of the adultery he desired… One by one he broke almost the whole Decalog. –Luther’s Works, v. 12
David’s corruption had consequences that were felt by the whole nation of people God had given him to care for. Instead of caring for those God had given him, David used them. Power is a dangerous thing to hold. It seems to creep over us when we have it. Like so many with power, he became polluted with it. David fell. In the end we can scarcely number all those who were hurt by his actions. So how is it that he can say “against you and you only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight?” This is the question that confronts us.
First let me say there is no definitive answer to make. We can only hold the glimpses of truth we seek for and find in Scripture tentatively. We never fully understand God or God’s intentions. We are always seeking new understanding and approach as seekers. It is the search and the struggle to understand that matter here, for these lead us to God. An encounter with Scripture is an encounter with the Living God for prayerful hearts. I really enjoyed studying this and hope you did to. I am grateful to God who meets us as we study the Word. So, let’s get to the point (finally!), which as always is subject to change…Many people have offered opinions that I have read about and argued with in my study. Some explain David’s offense against God alone as meaning that since David was the King, technically speaking he can do whatever he wants with his subjects and not break the law. Clearly this is no true argument for it misses the entire point of the narrative. The point is that even kings who make laws do so only under a higher Law. This David finally understands thanks to the faithful Nathan who confronted him with the truth. Notice what David says at that moment: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
Whenever you hurt someone (including yourself), you hurt God even more. You know what it’s like to be hurt. And you know what it’s like to see someone you love hurt. You know the deep pain of loving someone who is suffering greatly and you cannot help them as you wish you could. You must stand by and watch. Think of this as only a dim shade of the pain God feels when those he loves suffer. This truth broke through like the cock crowing to David. As the sound of Nathan’s words “You are that man” reached his ear, David knew they were true. Oh how we hurt God when we hurt anyone God loves. David’s heart was shattered as he caught a glimpse of the pain he’d caused God.
That is why his Psalm resonates with us in such power. David is truly repentant and in his grief he shows us all how horrific sinning against anyone is. His grief is clear and complete. He knows he is helpless against it. He has betrayed and hurt the One who created, called, loved and blessed him. David sees himself as he really is and knows he cannot ever make it right on his own. He begs God to cleanse him for he cannot. As authors Erich Zenger and Frank–Lothar Hossfeld write in Hermeneia Commentary, the verbs David uses describe his actions as:
“filth that befouls his living space, clothing, and even the inner being. Accordingly, he pleads that God will “blot out, wipe away” this filth as one washes out a bowl, that God will thoroughly wash the petitioner as one washes clothing (Exodus 19:10), or as cloth is drenched and rinsed in the fulling process (Isaiah 7:3), and cleanse him to the innermost depth, as one refines ore by melting it to produce precious metal (Malachi 3:3)… it is not simply a question of removing guilt in the sense of the restoration of a previous state, but rather of transformation and change of the human being “attacked” by sin.”
John Calvin says that David’s “eyes and his whole soul were directed to God, regardless of what man might think or say concerning him. To one who is thus overwhelmed with a sense of the dreadfulness of being obnoxious to the sentence of God, there needs no other accuser. God is to him instead of a thousand.”
David is lost in sin. He cannot help himself and he knows it. Yet he only dares approach God because he knows who God is. This is a particular God. YHWH. David knows YHWH does not retain his anger forever, for he abounds in mercy and delights in steadfast love. Before such a God, David sadly yet hopefully casts himself down and begs for mercy. David bares his soul before God and holds nothing back. Here we see his true heart and trust, and his knowing of God. He knows something of the depth of the pain he has caused God by causing pain to others. David might have thought: “My God, when I hurt her, how you suffered. Dear Father, when I sent him to die, how you wept. Holy One, when I made him lie for me, how you sorrowed.” Though he does not name all those he has sinned against, his confession and begging plea for help make it clear that he understands something of the pain he has caused others. Whether you sin against another or yourself, the disregard of the will of God is behind it. For you have trampled on his beloved. The pain you give causes God to suffer the most, for his love is the greatest by far.
In David’s beautiful Psalm we have the picture of a penitent heart and the pattern we are to follow if we are to learn to please God and not pain him. In this we are invited to join the man after God’s own heart: those who take care lest they grieve him, seeking always to please him, will find themselves caring for and not using those whom he loves.
I’ll see you in Church,