Before going verse by verse through Psalm 50, it’s important to look at the Psalm as it is presented to us even in the Psalter itself and the scriptures. David is recognized as the author[i] of the Psalms, and as such these psalms are often a quite intimate reflection of his inner thinking, his very heart, as he reaches out to the God Whom he loves. The psalms reflect the circumstances of his life and his turning of the circumstances of his life over to God. For example, in the introductory words preceding the psalm texts we get a hint of what is to come, such as in Psalm 17,
“By the child of the Lord, David, what things he spoke to the Lord even the words of this ode, in the day the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. “ (OSB)
So far so good. So the psalms reflect the glorious triumphs of David, his wondrous praise of the living God, Who so loved Him and delivered him from his enemies. Then we hear this.
David – and his Sins
In the introduction to Psalm 50, we read:
“When Nathan the prophet came to him, at the time he went into Bathsheba.”
Riveting isn’t it? X-rated. A dagger to the fraud of David’s ‘spirituality’. David was a sinner, and a hideous one.
The event alluded to the terrible double sin of David that we read in 2Kingdoms[ii] 11. It is the story of the fall of David from the sins of lust, to adultery, to murder. Having cast his gaze upon Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite he lusted for her, he sent for her and slept with her. Then, probably fearing the possibility of pregnancy, he brought her husband back from the battle to lay with his wife so that if she had a child it was presumed by him. But Uriah, in humble righteousness, would not allow himself this pleasure, given the circumstances of his life as a soldier and the state of the people of Israel. David tried again to get Uriah to go to his wife, by getting him drunk, but he would not. Then David, in a fury, sent Uriah to the front with specific instruction that he should be sent to the fiercest battle, where he would die. And so it was – Uriah was killed and David effectively removed his male ‘competitor’ for Bathsheba, her rightful husband, Uriah and took her as his wife.
Chapter 11 verse 27 is as riveting as it is explicit, “But what David did was evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
We can see that David was losing ground rapidly to his sins – and being overwhelmed by them. They were multiplying one on another. From lust to adultery, to fear of the truth, to lying, to manipulation, to drunkenness, to anger, to conspiracy, to murder, to cover-up and justification, and blindness to more lust, etc.[iii]
But because God loved David he was not about to let David remain in his sin. He sent the prophet Nathan to speak His words directly to him in the form of a parable describing a cruel injustice. And when David heard the words, “You are the man.” as the unjust ruler represented in the parable, the scales fell from David’s eyes, and he was crushed with the truth of what he had been running from – how sin had first penetrated his thoughts, his heart and his behavior leading to adultery and murder, and so much more. This was an epic moral failure, and fall in his life.
Can you bear the Truth?
Nathan the prophet speaks the Truth to David and it saves him. Truth cut through his fog of denial. The truth was about not only what David had done – but all that he had thought, said, felt and plotted in his heart. His anger toward Uriah in Uriah’s extraordinary goodness and witness to his calling as a warrior for the Israelites. But the truth was also that despite David’s sin, God still loved Him and desired to forgive him. It would be required of David to acknowledge the Truth and his sin so as to receive The Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.
God loves us too; He wills that we not remain in sin. Instead, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Word (Gr. Logos)to speak the truth to us about our sins and its effects on our lives. The words of Jesus become the eternal witness of Truth to the falsehoods and half-truths of sins. Christ commands with these words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mk. 1) He sends other people to us to speak His Word – like Nathan – those who bear His Word in their own lives – parents, brothers/sisters, believers in the Church, etc. who are led to say things to help us recognize our sin – sometimes directly, other times mysteriously or in a parable of life. This is the path to peace and inner freedom in the Truth.
Jesus warned the Pharisees again and again about their blindness to their own sin, especially pride. “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (Jn. 9:41) The whole purpose and mission of Christ on earth and His Church is simply to lead people to acknowledge their sins, that they might repent, be forgiven, and be saved from them. When sin is committed repeatedly, it becomes a lifestyle as in addiction, the one who cannot, or refuses to acknowledge the woeful state of her life will remain in that state. A prophetic Word is needed to bring the truth, clarity, repentance and a change of life.
The Forgiveness of Christ through the Church
This is why receiving Sacrament of Penance (Confession) is so important in the Church – so much that every Orthodox Christian is directed to confess their sins during the Lenten season as a preparation for Pascha. The ministry of priests is explicitly that of Jesus, in the same manner which He empowered His apostles to do, ‘Forgive sins’. (John 20:21f) In fact, the prayer of forgiveness the priest pronounces is not from him, but from God, for the prayer of absolution makes reference to the forgiveness of David through a reference to the words of the prophet Nathan.[iv] The Word is the One who forgives sins.
So, we Christians, who like David love and desire God, must swiftly seek forgiveness of sins when we fall into them, lest we, like David, begin to lose all consciousness of the truth, our lives spin out of control and we’re overwhelmed by the darkness of sin. If it could happen to David, who was a ‘man after the Lord’s heart’ it can, and will happen to us.
With that as a little background, perhaps it’s worthwhile to ponder a few questions:
- Honestly, what are the real sins have I committed that are offensive to God and destructive of my relationship with Him?
- Have I gone from sin-to-sin in my own thinking, feeling, actions and willfulness?
- How is the Word of God speaking to me, calling me to repentance? Who has the Lord sent as the ‘Nathan’ of my life?
May we heed His Word Who speaks the truth in our hearts, to acknowledge and confess our personal sins in humility as David did. During this Great Lent let us seek forgiveness and freedom from their bondage. May the most intimate and sorrowful words of David become our words as we reach out to God for forgiveness!
[i] Biblical scholarship today tends to emphasize that authorship of biblical writings is a complex subject beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say that the Church’s perspective on this has the person of the David clearly at the center of these thoughts and feelings expressed, which is reflected throughout Orthodoxy in her liturgical texts and patristic writings.
[ii] This is called the Second Book of Samuel in the western Church use.
[iii] Perhaps at another time we will be able to explore how sin moves more and more freely the more we sin
[iv] I don’t know if this is true for other priests or not, but part of my prayer in hearing Confessions was that the words that I would speak to the penitent at Confession would only be the words of Christ’s forgiveness, but also the prophetic words of the Spirit that could somehow directly open the person’s life to His work through spiritual insight and spiritual therapy through actions. Only penitents could tell you whether or how that prayer was answered.