Summary: How could David be the man after God's own heart?
The Prayer of a Man After God’s Own Heart
The first thing that we come across when we turn to Psalm 51 is that it is a Psalm of David. In 1 Samuel 13:14, God tells the prophet Samuel that after rejecting Saul as king, that He was going to replace Saul with a man after His own heart. Then God chooses David as that person. When one thinks of the beauty of the 23rd Psalm and the other psalms he wrote, you hear the voice of one close to God. When David stands up to Goliath because he is zealous for the Lord’s honor, He is a man after God’s own heart.
But if one reads the words after it says a Psalm of David, it says that David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and was confronted by Nathan the Prophet for this. What is not said is that David had tried to cover up his sin by enticing Uriah the Hittite to sleep with his wife to cover up the pregnancy which resulted. Uriah who ws in the middle of holy war against Jerusalem which was still held by the Jebusites did not wish to become ritually unclean by sleeping with her. He also considered that the same privilege had not been offered to any of the other brave troops in battle. When Uriah refused to take the advice, David sent Joab the commander of the army a sealed order which was to arrange for the death of Uriah. The final insult is that he had Uriah deliver it. This man who was a Gentile was far more honorable than David and faithfully delivered his own death warrant. Kings and leaders do this type of thing all the time. Ahab and Jezebel had Naboth brought up on false charges and killed him to get his vineyard. But David was supposed to be different. He was God’s man. But this hardly seems like the behavior of someone after God’s own heart.
God sent prophets to confront both Ahab and David. Ahab, Jezebel, and his entire household was sentenced to death by God. There was no mercy offered. And truly Ahab and Jezebel were worthy of judgment. They were only getting what they deserved. It is a little harder for us to understand the judgment on Ahab’s children, but God say clearly that every one is judged for their own sin and not of their parents. We can onlt assume that their children were evil like themselves.
But David, even though he practically sentences himself to death when he tells Nathan that the rich shepherd who stole the only lamb of the poor man deserved death, not realizing that Nathan was actually talking about him. “Ypu are the man!” says Nathan. But yet, David is not sentenced to death. His children would suffer terribly as a result of his sin. The son that Bathsheba was about to bear him would die. It is the son of David who would die for his sin, but not David. This seems unfair, but David said he would go to him later. The son would die in this world for the sin of David but would live in the next.
This is the stated occasion for the psalm, which is essentially a prayer of repentance and plea for God’s mercy. It is an elaborate prayer as one would expect from David. It goes back and forth between David looking to God and looking at himself. It begins with a petition to God for mercy. He reminds God of God’s lovingkindness, that He is a merciful God, and hopes God will respond to David’s plea favorably.
But why single out God’s mercifulness when God can also be described as holy, righteous, sovereign, judge or majestic? This is because this is what David needs. The man after God’s own heart realizes that his heart is not after God’s heart. He knows he has transgressed God’s law. He has committed iniquity. He askes God to wash him and cleanse him. This petition is done in fine Hebrew style.
David then confesses his sin to God. He does not provide the details of his sin. These things are already known to God. And as this psalm was meant by God to be preserved as Scripture, it allows anyone who reads it to look into one’s own self and see that that person is a sinner and needs to come to God. Indeed, the Psalms can become quite personal to us because of this general nature that even if we were not given the occasion for this psalm, it would still speak to our hearts. Reading these words make us aware that we too have transgressed God’s laws and need to be cleansed, even as David.
David had certainly sinned against Bathsheba, against Uriah, and against the people of Israel in that he as the appointed shepherd over God’s flock had set an awful example by his conduct. David was not supposed to be a king after the likeness of the other kings around him. But David is singular in that he confesses that he has sinned against God alone. Ultimately, the evil we commit against others is ultimately a sin against God who created mankind.