Some said he had married her to make an honest woman of her. A decent and honest gesture in the wake of so much that was indecent and dishonest: the affair, the pregnancy, the attempted cover-up, the conveniently timed death of her husband in battle.
David loved Bathsheba. Loved her from the moment he saw her, even if that moment was one in which he should have never been looking to begin with. Drunk with his own power David determined to do more than look. He “sent messengers to get her” (2 Samuel 11:4). This act wreaked havoc with the life of a woman and eventually destroyed the life of her husband.
David knew this. Though he loved Bathsheba, he lived every day with the reality of what he had done. The life he had made for himself and the life he had taken from another. His marriage had nothing to do with making an honest woman of Bathsheba. What David yearned to do was make an honest man of himself. For this he needed help.
Enter Nathan the prophet. Nathan created a parable and told it to the King. A very wealthy man had thrown a dinner party for his rich friends by stealing a cherished lamb from a poor neighbor. David was outraged. “The man who did this deserves to die” (2 Samuel 12:5). Nathan made his point with a simple reply. “You are the man.”
At this David finally told the truth about himself. Broken by the prophet’s words, David unburdened his soul with words of confession that continue to be used by people of faith nearly every week.
Psalm 51 is one of the psalms that have been connected to a specific story. In the history of our own nation, the “Star Spangled Banner” is a song that we connect directly to Francis Scott Key’s observations of the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814. The story is foundational to the song and the song gives a deeper meaning to the story.
In the life of Israel, the story of David and Bathsheba gave texture to the prayer-poetry of Psalm 51. And today, the Holy Spirit uses the prayer-poetry of Psalm 51 to shed light on the details of our own stories. The Psalm helps us tell the truth about ourselves. That’s what confession is all about.
This week we will spend some time pondering some things that we typically work hard to avoid. We’ll meditate on Psalm 51 and think about the nature of guilt, the power of confession and the reality of grace. Our aim is to understand how these things work in our own varied stories.
The point of all of this is not dwell on what we euphemistically call “our mistakes.” The focus of Psalm 51 is actually not on a particular act or behavior or bad choice. The focus of the Psalm is not on something we’ve done but on who we are. To pray Psalm 51 is to recognize that sin is real and that is goes deep. It’s a condition, not a mistake.
Most of what we hear in our culture today runs directly counter to the message of Psalm 51. This Psalm is not for the faint of heart. We’ll be learning to tell the truth about ourselves this week, gradually making our way to the good news of grace and forgiveness. That’s where confession always takes us.
When you talk to God is confession regularly a part of that conversation?
Merciful God, be our help and guide in these days as we seek to deal honestly with you about who we are. Make us deeply aware of your holiness and not just our sin. Lead us closer each day to the joy that comes in knowing the power of your grace in our lives, we pray. Amen.