The Penitential Psalm, 3



Psalm 51:4

 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  (AV)

What’s this?  What in the world did David mean when he wrote, “…that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest…”?  We hear a lot about man being justified and justification by faith, but does God really need to be justified?  The NIV’s translation might clear things up a little:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.  (NIV)

Remember the context of Psalm 51.  King David had just been confronted by his faithful friend and prophet, Nathan:

The Lord God of Israel says, ‘I made you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul.  I gave you his palace and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah; and if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more.  Why, then, have you despised the laws of God and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah and stolen his wife.  (2 Samuel 12:7—9  TLB)

David thought he and Bathsheba had gotten away with their sin of adultery.  David was very careful to make sure nobody would ever find out.  The whole thing happened one spring:

In the spring of the following year, at the time when wars begin, David sent Joab and the Israeli army to destroy the Ammonites. They began by laying siege to the city of Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem.  (2 Samuel 11:1  TLB)

This spring, Jerusalem was void of healthy young men because they were all out fighting.  King David, the warrior king, should have been with his troops, but this time he stayed behind.  He had other things on his mind:

One night he couldn’t get to sleep and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking her evening bath. He sent to find out who she was and was told that she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah.  Then David sent for her and when she came he slept with her.  (2 Samuel 11:2—4a  TLB)

It was no coincidence, by the way.  It was no accident.  These two were not “overcome with passion in the heat of the moment.”  It was a carefully planned meeting; taking place at a time when her husband Uriah, was out of town fighting the enemy.  It was the perfect plan.  Who would ever know?  This pair thought of almost everything:

When she found that he had gotten her pregnant she sent a message to inform him. (2 Samuel 11:5  TLB)

As they say, David’s jig was up.  It wouldn’t be long before everybody found what he and Bathsheba had done.  In a comical turn of events, we read of how the king did everything humanly possible to get Uriah to go home and make love to Bathsheba so that everybody would just assume the baby was his.  But it didn’t work.  In sheer panic, David, the man after God’s own heart, had Uriah, a faithful husband, servant of the king, and soldier, put on the front lines in a battle impossible to win.

The plan worked perfectly.  Uriah was killed and after a suitable period of mourning, David married Bathsheba, the grieving widow and she bore David a son.  The final sentence of 2 Samuel 11 might be the most chilling verse in all of Scripture:

But the Lord was very displeased with what David had done.  (2 Samuel 11:27  TLB)

Just how displeased was God?

Then Nathan returned to his home. And the Lord made Bathsheba’s baby deathly sick. David begged him to spare the child and went without food, and lay all night before the Lord on the bare earth.  The leaders of the nation pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused.  Then, on the seventh day, the baby died.  (2 Samuel 12:15b—18a  TLB)

The awful consequences of sin can never be avoided.  Not a king nor a pauper can get away with going against the laws of God, not even a man after God’s own heart.

And that brings us to the question of God’s justification.  David’s punishment for his sin of adultery and his murder of Uriah was the death of the baby; an innocent child paid the price for his parents’ indiscretion.  Was God really justified in that extreme punishment?  In David’s mind, his sin struck at the very character of God.  David was positively desperate for the justification of God before His people.  He didn’t want God to look bad on account of his sin.  This was the thing that set David apart from all others who experienced the heavy hand of God’s judgment.  Consider:

  • Adam and Eve were stone cold silent in the face of God’s judgment;
  • Cain cried out in his judgment:  it was more than he could bear;
  • Eli, faced with God’s judgment, merely shrugged his shoulders in resignation;
  • Hezekiah took God’s judgment in stride, making the best of it.

None of these people cared at all about God’s reputation.  Bud David did.  Can God be justified before man? Let’s think about it.

Man justifies God by repentance and turning to Christ for salvation

And all who heard John preach—even the most wicked of them—agreed that God’s requirements were right, and they were baptized by him.  (Luke 7:29  TLB)

This really is a stunning verse.  In its context, Jesus had been talking about the person of John the Baptist, and in summing up the effect John’s preaching and teaching had on the people, Jesus points out that the common folk, down to the worst of them, were convinced of their sinfulness, accepted John’s message, repented and were baptized, demonstrating their conversion.  In essence, these common people justified God by accepting His conditions for salvation.

To justify God is to declare, both by word and action, the justness, rightness, and even the excellence of God’s acts and words.  This the people did.  They showed that God was right and just by doing (repenting and then being baptized) what He wanted.  There’s a tremendous lesson here for believers, if we’d be brave enough to see it.  When we live in obedience to God, we justify Him before the world.  But when we chose to go our own way, we sully God’s reputation before the world.

A quick look at the word behind the phrase “God’s requirements were right” shows that it is a forensic term.  The thought is this:  all these common folks who believed in John’s message acted like judges when they believed and publicly demonstrated their faith by being baptized.  In their obedience, the declared God to be just and right.

Contrary wise, when the stuffy, stodgy religious leaders refused to believe in John’s message and refused to submit to God’s requirements, they were doing the exact opposite!  They were, by the actions, making God out to be a liar or a fraud.

All this should make us think twice about how we behave in front of an unbelieving world!

Man justifies God when God justifies man

God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:26  HCSB)

Most of us, if asked what the central message of the book of Romans is, would answer what we’ve been taught:  the justification of repentant man.  But, we’d be wrong.  The central theme of Romans is not so much the justification of man as the justification of God in justifying man, and this verse proves it.  God did what He did firstly to make His righteousness plain for all to see, and secondly to make the repentant sinner righteous.  As important as you are, it’s more important that God be justified in His act of mercy than that sinners be justified.  This is important because there are a lot of non-believers who view God as cruel and angry and not at all justified in condemning the sinner to Hell.  They look at people like King David and wonder how a man like that could be so loved by God.  Others look at the plan of salvation and they wonder how God can save a sinner yet not punish his sin.  Honestly, you could say God just can’t win in the face of non-believers!

Perhaps we as believers don’t always do God any favors.  Think about the impression we give the sinner in how live our lives or in how we talk about God.  Even in the sermons we preach, we may give a caricature of God instead of an accurate picture.  Think about the thousands upon thousands of sermons preached and books written to tell the sinner that the death of Jesus Christ took away all their sins, but how many sermons have you heard and how many books have you read that showed how the death of Jesus Christ justified Him to the sinner?

All three of our texts teach us all men are sinners—David, the people that repented and were baptized by John the Baptist, and here in Romans unbelievers—and all men are lost.  However, because of out of love, mercy, grace, and compassion, our God came to die for the lost on the Cross.  If Christ had not died for the sinner, God would have no justification in allowing any sinner into Heaven for any reason.

The plan of salvation covers all sinners and all sin.  Skeptics and atheists may wonder about the justification of allowing Abraham, Joseph, David, and all sinners who lived before Christ into Heaven, but Paul in Romans makes it clear that the death of Christ removes that charge from God; that by the death of Christ, God has announced His own righteousness, in the forgiveness of all sins that are in the past.

For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us. He used Christ’s blood and our faith as the means of saving us from his wrath.  In this way he was being entirely fair, even though he did not punish those who sinned in former times. For he was looking forward to the time when Christ would come and take away those sins.   (Romans 3:25  TLB)

We can never overstate the power that was unleashed on the Cross of Christ.  When our Lord died, the sins that were lost in time were found; the sins that were covered were uncovered, placed upon the Lamb of God, and dealt with by the righteous Judge of the universe.  God loved the sinner so much that He went to the extreme to show it.

God was justified in dealing with David the way He did.  All sin is a dreadful attack on God’s Person and must be dealt with in kind.  Some people still wonder about the fairness in taking that innocent baby, but the real question is this:  why did God accept David as His own after all that David did?  It was because God was looking forward to the day when His Son would come to earth and deal with all sin, from all time, justifying Himself to all people.

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