Of the many events in David’s life, few were as far-reaching as his adultery with Bathsheba. That act, along with his attempted cover-up, brought incalculable misery to David’s household, just as Nathan predicted (2Sa_12:10-11), starting with the death of the child conceived in that sin and then encompassing rape, rebellion, revenge, and revolt within his house (2Sa_12:15 to 2Sa_20:26).
Psalms 51, however, is a light in the darkness. While the consequences of sin were not diminished, this psalm records David’s confession and forgiveness. It stands even today as a model for Christians.
First, we see David’s repentance (Psa_51:1-6). “Acknowledge” (Psa_51:3) is yāḏa‘, which speaks of knowledge acquired by the senses. David uses personal pronouns thirteen times to underscore that only he was to blame for his sin, not Bathsheba, his parents, society, or even an aberrant gene in his DNA. His sin was willful (“transgressions” in Psa_51:1 is pesha‘, April 2), and was against God alone. Yes, he had betrayed and hurt his family, Bathsheba, Uriah, and the entire nation, but sin is always against God, the breaking of Hislaw. This passage emphasizes the broken heart brought on by sin, and the desire to turn from it and be forgiven.
Second, we see David’s refinement (Psa_51:7-12). He prayed that God would “purge [him] with hyssop” (Psa_51:7). Because of its stiff branches and hairy leaves, this common plant from the mint family was used for sprinkling purifying water (Lev_14:2-7; Lev_14:49-52; Num_19:1-19). David also prayed that God would “wash” him (Num_19:2; Num_19:7). The Hebrew kāḇas (H3526) commonly referred to washing clothes, both the ordinary task (Gen_49:11; 2Sa_19:24) and ritual cleansing (Exo_19:10; Exodus 14; Lev_11:25). Further, David wanted a “clean heart” (Lev_11:10). Clean is tāhôr (H2889), which speaks of the absence of impurity, filthiness, defilement, or imperfection, such as “pure gold” (Exo_37:11) or “pure words” (Psa_12:6). David did, indeed, want refinement, for only with such cleansing comes joy, “gladness,” and “[rejoicing]” (Psa_12:8).
Third, we see David’s restoration (Psa_51:13-19). Upon being delivered from sin, David now declares God’s salvation. He desires to proclaim to others what God will do in the repentant heart. As God recommissioned Peter for service (John 21), the restored believer is one who proclaims the gospel of Christ with new fervor.
Scriptures for Study: Read Psalms 32, where David tells of his joy after God forgave him. What does 1Jn_1:9 say about God’s forgiveness of His children?