A lesson from the life of David
According to the heading in the A.V., the fifty‑first Psalm is the expression of David’s sorrow and penitence after his double sin of adultery and murder. In trying to arrive at a proper understanding of this penitential Psalm, we should not forget that prior to writing it David had been in an impatient attitude for many months. It was after the prophet Nathan’s visit and the enormity of his guilt had been brought home to him that his pent up, deliberately repressed feelings found vent in this spate of self‑condemnatory words—words which have been the medium of repentance for countless thousands of men and women, in more recent times, when throwing themselves upon the mercy of Almighty God.
This black spot, the blackest spot in his whole life, shows that David was a man of like passions with other men; that in unguarded moments the black depths of his heart showed how even the best of humankind is fallen in sin. It shows the truth of Paul’s dictum "there is none righteous". The inclusion of such a story in Holy Writ shows that the Divine Author has drawn a true picture of man when He said that the heart of man was desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. It is included, not because God approved of the sin, but for the very opposite reason, because He disapproved and strongly condemned it, and that it might serve as a model of His clemency and grace to the thousands who should repent and confess their weaknesses and shortcomings. It stands on record as a permanent testimony that man’s life is barren and cheerless when earth‑born clouds intervene between God and His earthly creatures, and illustrates the truth of Jesus’ words that "man does not live by bread alone" but only when in touch with the words of the Lord.
It was after the birth of Bathsheba’s child that Nathan came to David to tell him that the death of the child was to be part of the punishment for his sin. The better part of a year must therefore have elapsed between the sin and the deep repentance for it of which this Psalm is the expression. What had been going on during this time? What had David been doing all this while? The Scriptures do not say directly, but certain hints are given which help somewhat. We may form some conception from our own particular experiences of sin not immediately repented of—of sin never honestly faced, never dragged out into the light of God’s presence and there confessed. David was trifling with his better self; playing tricks with his conscience. He was substituting diligence in his duties as king and magistrate—his duty to man—for his duty to God. He heard and settled the disputes and grievances which came before him as Israel’s chief judge (as did Solomon later when asked by the two women to decide whose child was living and whose dead); he received petitions addressed to the throne; he went up to the house of God to worship; he endeavoured, no doubt, to conform to and administer the law with even greater diligence. This we realise from his hot anger against the rich man who took the poor man’s ewe lamb to feed his visitor, as Nathan unfolded the parable. (2 Sam.12)
It is likely that he had reasoned within himself again and again that he had done nothing more than eastern monarchs did at any time they pleased. Was it not the commonest thing for an Oriental despot (and was not David such a despot) to send for any woman he pleased to become a member of his harem, and to get rid of any man who stood in his way either by violence or strategy or both? "What more have I done than is done every day by my fellow sovereigns?" David might say and think, and would he not make recompense for it by more attention to the administration of the law in coming days, throwing his protection over the weak and oppressed; the rich man should smart for his theft of the ewe lamb when brought before his tribunal!
David had lulled his conscience to sleep so much that he did not recognise his own portrait in the parable of the prophet while it was being narrated to him. Not for an instant did he realise that his own conduct had been much more reprehensible, wicked and hard‑hearted than the rich man. All these months he had been hushing up his sin, trying to silence his conscience by his activities (his war with the Ammonites for instance) until the Spirit of God winged those four words, "Thou art the man" to his guilty, restless heart. It was with David as it must be with all who leave their misdeeds unconfessed, he was restless and wretched. Listen to his own words in Psalm 32:3&4, written also about this time, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old...day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into (like) the drought of summer." There was such a hard, dry, stiff, formal life all these months, so unlike the constant play and uprush of spiritual emotions in his earlier and happier days. His conscience was asleep, his soul was in chains, his creative genius was stifled, his life was like a summer’s drought.
Oh! how many others, like David, have played tricks with their conscience over some unconfessed sin or weakness, and have carried their burden for days and weeks and months until the drought of summer has come over them too. All the joy of the Truth has gradually disappeared; all the gladness of soul has evaporated, the songs have turned to sighs and perhaps an attempt has been made to substitute service for repentance, and the longer the fight has been attempted against the voice of the Lord within, the cooler the Altar fires have become until love has waxed cold.
You who read this, if the joys of the Lord which once you knew have been lost; if your soul is in chains, will you not ask yourself the reason why? Is there some dread spectre in your life, some weakness unconfessed, unrepented of? Is there some earthborn cloud intercepting a Father’s smile and blotting out the sunshine of His love?
Read the story of David, and profit thereby, for God was very gracious to him though He left him not unpunished. It is not necessary that there should have been anything so flagrant as David’s sin to shut the windows of heaven over one. Spiritual dryness and lethargy can come about by sheer neglect, or it can be the result of some little "incident" where we could not have our own way, and hence we have failed to assemble together, and slowly the drought has crept over our souls. No stimulus from fellowship, no iron sharpening iron, no occasional songs of praise to lighten the load on one’s shoulders, and later on, no joy of exultation in the morning and evening prayer, till we shrink from the bending of the knee—and then, all the little weaknesses unconfessed and unforgiven. Then the heaven becomes as brass and there is no rain for us. So David’s experience became our experience. Spiritual dryness, spiritual lethargy, spiritual deadness, the loss of "the first love," the loss of the response to the things that once stirred the soul. How tragically sad and how prevalent!
God grant to all such a message from some faithful Nathan, which may start the tears of repentance flowing and bring down the showers of blessing to end the drought and cause the blooms and fragrance of restored verdure (greenness) to shoot forth again in the heart.