Psalm 51 part 1 – The poor man’s ewe lamb

Psalm 51.1-6 and 2 Samuel 11 and 12

A rich and a poor man lived in the same city. The rich man had many sheep and cattle and the poor man had only one ewe lamb. When the rich man received a visitor, he took the poor man’s only lamb to prepare a meal for the visitor. The lamb, being a ewe, was the poor man’s only hope for a future as from it he could breed more sheep. This is the story Nathan the prophet told David 2 Samuel 12.1-10 to expose to him the depth of sin he had committed against God and Uriah the Hitite. 2 Samuel 11 It was a case of sin mounting upon sin through the abuse of power. In the Harry Potter books there is a mirror where you see the greatest desire of your heart. Psalm 51 is like a mirror that has exposed David’s heart as God sees it.

The opening stanza vv 1,2 is a plea to God for mercy purely on the basis of God’s love. There are no excuses offered or bargaining on the basis of other good things he has done.  He knows he has no capacity to cleanse himself from sin. He knows God knows his actions and his heart. One sin led to another. He coveted another man’s wife and by abusing power committed adultery with her.  To cover up his sin he tried to hide his adultery by making it plausible that Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s child and when this failed because of Uriah’s loyalty to the king and his fellow soldiers, he conspired with his leading general to murder Uriah. In legal terms because of David’s power and status there were no consequences for David and he got to make his mistress, whether forced or willing, his wife.

Only when confronted with his sin did David repent and plead for mercy. Just as God through Nathan convicted David of his profound sin and rebellion against God, who had blessed him greatly, so it is God, whether through the direct action of the Holy Spirit or by other means who convicts us of our sin. Verse 3, ‘For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,’ v3 accurately describes how God penetrates our consciousness and raises our awareness of our need for cleansing. Clearly David had treated Uriah with fatal abject disregard and yet David’s words addressed to God are, ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.’ v3 This not to ignore the criminal injustice done to Uriah, but to emphasize that all sin is fundamentally against God.

David recognizes that God has the right to judge and is right in his judgements. v4 He also understands that he is intrinsically rebellious against God. vv 5,6 This is frequently a major obstacle that prevents people from seeking God’s mercy as our pride does not want us to accept it. Paul confesses the truth of his inbuilt rebellion against God in Romans 7.19-20, ‘For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.’

Can you remember a time when you became particularly aware of rebellion against God’s ways and a need for his mercy?

Have mercy on me, O God – Graham Kendrick

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