David and His Prayers
We know David as “the sweet Psalmist of Israel.” He is remembered for the songs he wrote. Many of his songs also contain elements of prayer such as confession, worship, thanksgiving, praise, intercession, and supplication. He is renowned as well as “the man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22).
David is best known for two events in his life: his conquest of the giant, Goliath, and his sin with Bathsheba. The first established his reputation as a warrior. Many Psalms reflect his appreciation for divine protection in battle and for victory over his adversaries. As for the second event, we will look at three of the seven Penitential Psalms relating to his sin with Bathsheba. These are Psalms 38, 51, and 32, where we see David the Penitent.
Psalm 38 – The Penitent’s Conviction
We are not told the occasion when David penned the lines of this Psalm but his words do reflect the remorse of one who has confronted the reality of his sin. Nathan the prophet was sent by the LORD with the parable about the rich man with many flocks who took his poor neighbor’s single little ewe lamb to make a meal for a traveler (2 Sam 12:1-4). The story Nathan related caused David to become angry and pronounce judgment on the rich man. Though the KJV reads, “the man…shall surely die,” the sense of what David said was, “that man is a son of (“worthy of”) death.” Had David spoken what we read in the KJV, he would likely have pronounced sentence upon himself! Nathan’s next words, “Thou art the man!” shattered David’s cover-up and exposed his sin in all of its stark ugliness.
In this Psalm David is smitten by the arrow of conviction and he is now burdened with guilt because of his deeds. “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (v 4). He is filled with grief because of troubles that have come upon him. Then he is filled with his groaning (v 9) because of the sense of isolation from others he feels plus the recognition that his enemies now rejoice over him and mock because of his failure in testimony.
Though we know David will ultimately experience the gladness of forgiveness for what he has done, no relief is mentioned in this Psalm. David entreats the LORD, “Rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” “Forsake me not…be not far from me,” and “Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.” These are sentiments we readily understand as we ponder his circumstances.
Psalm 51 – The Penitent’s Confession
The title of this Psalm clearly states it was written of David’s sin with Bathsheba. David’s language here, though he still acknowledges his guilt, is not marked by the darkness and distress of Psalm 38. The work of restoration is underway and he looks ahead to that restoration.
He pleads for God’s mercy and the blotting out of his sin and then requests cleansing. He confesses the dark character of his guilt before God and acknowledges that he was born a sinner. In this he justifies God and His judgment upon him.
Then he renews his plea for cleansing, “purge me…wash me…” (vs 7-10). In this section, he expresses remarkable faith in his God to effect this in spite of His righteous judgment against his sin. In verses 16-17, he declares, “For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” Under the law there was no sacrifice for willful sin. With a broken spirit and a contrite heart, David is trusting God’s grace to effect this cleansing.
In verses 12-15, David anticipates the restoration of the joy of God’s salvation and his opportunity to encourage others as a result of his own experience. Once again he will have opportunity to sing, to give praise unto his God.
Psalm 32 – The Penitent’s Forgiveness
The title here does not tell us this Psalm was written as a result of David’s sin with Bathsheba but most commentators agree that it was. David begins this Psalm rejoicing in the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins. He then recounts again the distress he had known with the burden of guilt and the pressure of God’s judging hand upon him. He relates how he confessed his sin to the Lord and the Lord forgave him. Then he launches into praise to his Benefactor (vs 6-10) and closes with counsel to his readers to enter into the same blessedness he has come to know. “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”
There are no petitions in this Psalm but David does address the Lord directly, as one does when he prays. Rather than petition, this Psalm abounds with praise, another exercise appropriate to prayer.
There are two vital lessons we may learn from consideration of David’s experience in his sin: his burden of guilt and his forgiveness. First, which of us is free of sin or clear from the necessity for repentance and seeking forgiveness? Too often and too long we may be like David when he covered his sin rather than confronting it. Let us soberly acknowledge that reality, address it and put it behind us. Second, not one of us is beyond the same sins of the flesh David committed. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We too, as David, have known grace abounding. May the Lord enhance our appreciation for this rich grace in restoration!