[Editor’s note: The next few articles are from Psalm 51, and I encourage you to read that entire Psalm as we begin this mini-study.]
To start with, though, I’d like to ask you a question: What are the most important parts of an apology? Whether said exactly or expressed in different words, we might think of phrases like, “I was wrong”, “I am sorry”, “I hurt you”, or “Please forgive me”. I looked up some suggestions online, and found general consensus on additional suggestions like, 1) explaining that I understand what I did, and how it hurt the other person, 2) appreciating both my own feelings and the other person’s feelings, 3) accepting responsibility (rather than making excuses), and 4) explaining how I will make things right, and keeping the offense from happening again.
The heading of Psalm 51 is pretty important. From the NIV, “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” Now, not all of the superscriptions in the Psalms were necessarily in the original versions (depending on whether the book of Psalms was compiled later in Israel’s history from existing spiritual writings), but even if they were added later, I think that we can learn something from them, especially when the heading matches the contents. And, in this case, the superscription might even be a part of the psalm itself (see NIV footnote).
Based on this note, we find that this psalm was written by David after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, with a parable about David’s sin with Bathsheba. The larger account can be found in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25, but if you’re not familiar with these events, or if you would just like a refresher, let’s review:
- David saw a woman named Bathsheba while his army was deployed (but he remained in Jerusalem). He slept with her, and got her pregnant.
- To try and cover this up, David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah summoned back from the army, but Uriah wouldn’t sleep with his wife while his fellow soldiers were deployed, even after David got him drunk.
- So, David had Uriah bring a note to Joab (a military commander), telling Joab to set Uriah up to get killed by the enemy. When this order was carried out, Uriah wasn’t the only soldier who was killed.
- David took Bathsheba as his wife (not his only wife, though), and she gave birth to a son.
- In the next chapter, Nathan the prophet comes to visit David, and tells a parable about a poor man who had a single lamb and cared for it like a daughter, as well as a rich man who had lots of livestock. The rich man had a visitor, and took the poor man’s one lamb to feed the guest.
- When David got angry and threatened to punish the rich man, Nathan explained that the story illustrated the way that David had taken all that Uriah had.
- David received punishment for his actions, including the loss of his and Bathsheba’s child a week later. David spent that week’s nights wearing sackcloth and fasting, seeking God’s grace once the child became sick, but the prophesied punishment for David’s sins was carried out.
I’m not sure if this Psalm was written before or after the child died, but I’m hoping that this context will help us understand the depths of David’s sin, and the depth of his sincerity. While the next few articles are meant0 allow us to study this Psalm a little further, let’s take a look at just the first couple of verses this week to get started:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalms 51:1-2 NIV
David starts with his request. He goes directly to the God of grace and mercy, and asks for his sins to be forgiven. He appeals to God’s love and compassion, and asks to be made clean again: not just a little bit, but entirely. He asks for forgiveness. I would say that’s a good way for us to start, too, when we bring our gravest sins to God.
If you want to learn how to make a good, honest, sincere apology, read all of Psalm 51 today. And, for more study on that psalm, come back here for the next few articles.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 16, 2022
- The Lookout, October 16, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 1, S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, © 1999, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.