Jehovah’s Mercy Saves Us From Despair
“Show me favor, O God, according to your loving-kindness. According to the abundance of your mercies wipe out my transgressions.”—PSALM 51:1.
1, 2. How can one of Jehovah’s servants be affected by serious sin?
JEHOVAH’S law cannot be violated with impunity. How evident that becomes if we commit some grievous sin against God! Though we may have served Jehovah faithfully for years, violating his law may cause great anxiety or deep depression. We may feel that Jehovah has left us and that we are no longer worthy of serving him. Our sin may seem like a massive cloud shutting out the light of God’s favor.
2 King David of ancient Israel once found himself in such a state. How did this situation develop?
Missteps Can Lead to Gross Sin
3, 4. What happened to King David during a season of prosperity?
3 David loved God but took false steps that led to grave sins. (Compare Galatians 6:1.) This can happen to any imperfect human, especially if he has authority over others. As a prosperous king, David enjoyed fame and power. Who dared to challenge his word? Capable men were at his beck and call, and people eagerly did his bidding. Yet, David erred by multiplying wives for himself and numbering the people.—Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 1 Chronicles 21:1.
4 During this season of material prosperity, David committed serious sins against God and man. Why, one sin led to another like interwoven threads of a fabric designed by Satan! While fellow Israelites battled the Ammonites, from his rooftop David watched Uriah’s beautiful wife, Bath-sheba, bathe herself. With Uriah at war, the king had the woman brought to his palace and committed adultery with her. Imagine his shock upon learning later that she was pregnant! David sent for Uriah, hoping that he would spend the night with Bath-sheba and would consider the child his own. Though David got him drunk, Uriah refused to sleep with her. Now desperate, David sent the commander Joab secret orders to put Uriah in the front lines where he would be sure to die. Uriah was killed in battle, his widow observed the usual mourning period, and David married her before people became aware of her pregnancy.—2 Samuel 11:1-27.
5. What occurred after David sinned with Bath-sheba, and what effect did his sins have on him?
5 Through the prophet Nathan, God exposed David’s sins and said: “I am raising up against you calamity out of your own house.” Accordingly, the child born to Bath-sheba died. (2 Samuel 12:1-23) David’s firstborn son, Amnon, raped his own half sister Tamar and was murdered by her brother. (2 Samuel 13:1-33) The king’s son Absalom tried to usurp the throne and disgraced his father by cohabiting with David’s concubines. (2 Samuel 15:1–16:22) Civil war ended in Absalom’s death and in more grief for David. (2 Samuel 18:1-33) However, David’s sins humbled him and made him aware of the need to stay close to his compassionate God. If we should err, let us humbly repent and draw close to Jehovah.—Compare James 4:8.
6. Why was King David especially guilty?
6 David was especially guilty because he was an Israelite ruler fully aware of Jehovah’s Law. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) He was not an Egyptian pharaoh or a Babylonian king who lacked such knowledge and might routinely do things disapproved by God. (Compare Ephesians 2:12; 4:18.) As a member of a nation dedicated to Jehovah, David realized that adultery and murder are gross sins. (Exodus 20:13, 14) Christians also know God’s law. Like David, however, some of them break it because of inherent sinfulness, human weakness, and unresisted temptation. If that should happen to any of us, we need not remain in a bedarkened state that obscures our spiritual vision and shrouds us in deep despair.
Confession Brings Relief
7, 8. (a) What happened to David when he tried to conceal his sins? (b) Why confess and leave one’s sin?
7 If guilty of grave transgressions of God’s law, we may find it difficult to confess our sins, even to Jehovah. What can happen under those circumstances? In Psalm 32, David admitted: “When I kept silent [instead of confessing] my bones wore out through my groaning all day long. For day and night your [Jehovah’s] hand was heavy upon me. My life’s moisture has been changed as in the dry heat of summer.” (Ps 32 Verses 3, 4) Trying to conceal his sin and repress a guilty conscience wore out wayward David. Anguish reduced his vigor so much that he was like a drought-stricken tree without life-giving moisture. In fact, he may well have experienced ill effects mentally and physically. At any rate, he lost his joy. If any of us find ourselves in a similar state, what should we do?
8 Confession to God can bring forgiveness and relief. “My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover,” sang David. “I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’ And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.” (Psalm 32:5) Are you distressed over some concealed sin? Would it not be best to confess and leave it so as to receive God’s mercy? Why not call the congregation elders and seek spiritual healing? (Proverbs 28:13; James 5:13-20) Your repentant spirit will be acknowledged, and in time your Christian joy can be restored. “Happy is the one whose revolt is pardoned, whose sin is covered,” said David. “Happy is the man to whose account Jehovah does not put error, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”—Psalm 32:1, 2.
9. When was Psalm 51 composed, and why?
9 David and Bath-sheba were accountable to Jehovah God for their wrongdoing. Though they could have been put to death for their sins, God had mercy on them. Especially was he merciful to David because of the Kingdom covenant. (2 Samuel 7:11-16) David’s repentant attitude toward his sins involving Bath-sheba is seen in Psalm 51. This touching psalm was composed by the penitent king after the prophet Nathan awakened his conscience to the enormity of his transgressions of divine law. It took courage for Nathan to call David’s sins to his attention, even as appointed Christian elders must be courageous in order to do such things today. Instead of denying the charge and ordering Nathan’s execution, the king humbly confessed. (2 Samuel 12:1-14) Psalm 51 shows what he said to God in prayer regarding the sordid affair and is well suited for prayerful meditation, particularly if we have erred and yearn for Jehovah’s mercy.
We Are Accountable to God
10. How could David experience spiritual recovery?
10 David did not seek to excuse his sin but begged: “Show me favor, O God, according to your loving-kindness. According to the abundance of your mercies wipe out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) By transgressing, David had overstepped the boundaries of God’s Law. There was hope for his spiritual recovery, however, if God showed him favor according to His loving-kindness, or loyal love. The abundance of God’s past mercies gave the repentant king a basis for faith that his Maker would wipe out his transgressions.
11. What was suggested by Atonement Day sacrifices, and what is required for salvation today?
11 Through the prophetic shadows of Atonement Day sacrifices, Jehovah intimated that he had a way to cleanse repentant ones from their sin. We now know that his mercy and forgiveness are extended to us on the basis of our faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If David, with only types and shadows of this sacrifice in mind, could trust in Jehovah’s loving-kindness and mercies, how much more should God’s present-day servants exercise faith in the ransom provided for their salvation!—Romans 5:8; Hebrews 10:1.
12. What does it mean to sin, and how did David feel about his wrongdoing?
12 In pleading with God, David added: “Thoroughly wash me from my error, and cleanse me even from my sin. For my transgressions I myself know, and my sin is in front of me constantly.” (Psalm 51:2, 3) To sin is to miss the mark as regards Jehovah’s standards. David had certainly done that. Yet, he was not like a murderer or an adulterer who is unconcerned about his offense, merely being distressed over his punishment or the possibility of contracting a disease. As a lover of Jehovah, David hated what was bad. (Psalm 97:10) He was sick of his sin itself and wanted God to cleanse him of it completely. David was fully aware of his transgressions and was deeply sorry that he had let his sinful desire overpower him. His sin was before him constantly, for a God-fearing person’s guilty conscience is never eased until there is repentance, confession, and Jehovah’s forgiveness.
13. Why could David say that he had sinned against God alone?
13 Acknowledging his accountability to Jehovah, David said: “Against you, you alone, I have sinned, and what is bad in your eyes I have done, in order that you may prove to be righteous when you speak, that you may be in the clear when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4) David had broken God’s laws, dishonored the kingly office, and “unquestionably treated Jehovah with disrespect,” exposing Him to reproach. (2 Samuel 12:14; Exodus 20:13, 14, 17) David’s sinful acts were offenses also against Israelite society and members of his family, just as a baptized wrongdoer today causes sadness or distress in the Christian congregation and among loved ones. Though the repentant king knew that he had sinned against such fellow humans as Uriah, he recognized a higher responsibility to Jehovah. (Compare Genesis 39:7-9.) David acknowledged that the judgment of Jehovah would be righteous. (Romans 3:4) Christians who have sinned need to have the same viewpoint.
14. What extenuating circumstances were cited by David?
14 Though David did not try to justify himself, he did say: “Look! With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) David was brought forth with error, and his mother experienced birth pains because of inherited sinfulness. (Genesis 3:16; Romans 5:12) His words do not mean that proper marital relations, conception, and birth are sinful, inasmuch as God provided for marriage and childbirth; neither was David referring to any specific sin of his mother. He was conceived in sin because his parents were sinful like all imperfect humans.—Job 14:4.
15. Though God may take extenuating circumstances into consideration, what should we not do?
15 If we have sinned, we can cite in prayer to God any extenuating circumstances that may have contributed to our wrongdoing. But let us not turn God’s undeserved kindness into an excuse for loose conduct or use inherited sinfulness as a smoke screen behind which to hide from responsibility for our sin. (Jude 3, 4) David accepted responsibility for entertaining unclean thoughts and yielding to temptation. Let us pray that we not be abandoned to temptation and then take action in harmony with such prayer.—Matthew 6:13.
Plea for Cleansing
16. In what quality does God take delight, and how should that affect our conduct?
16 People may appear to be fine individuals devoted to God, but he looks beneath the surface and sees what they are inside. Said David: “Look! You [Jehovah] have taken delight in truthfulness itself in the inward parts; and in the secret self may you cause me to know sheer wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6) David was guilty of falsehood and deviousness in maneuvering Uriah’s death and trying to conceal the facts about Bath-sheba’s pregnancy. Nevertheless, he knew that God delights in truthfulness and holiness. This should affect our conduct in a good way, for Jehovah would condemn us if we were devious. (Proverbs 3:32) David also realized that if God would ‘cause him to know sheer wisdom,’ as a repentant king, he would be able to comply with divine standards the rest of his life.
17. What was the significance of praying to be purified with hyssop?
17 Because the psalmist saw his need for God’s help in overcoming sinful tendencies, he further pleaded: “May you purify me from sin with hyssop, that I may be clean; may you wash me, that I may become whiter even than snow.” (Psalm 51:7) Among other things, the hyssop plant (perhaps marjoram, or Origanum maru) figured in the cleansing ceremony for people formerly infected with leprosy. (Leviticus 14:2-7) So it was appropriate that David should pray to be purified from sin with hyssop. The idea of purity is also associated with his plea that Jehovah wash him that he might become entirely clean, whiter even than snow that has not gathered soot or other debris. (Isaiah 1:18) If any of us are now suffering pangs of conscience over some wrongdoing, let us have faith that if we repentantly seek God’s forgiveness, he can purify and cleanse us on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.
Plea for Restoration
18. What was David’s condition before he repented and confessed, and how can knowledge of this be helpful today?
18 Any Christian who has ever suffered with a guilty conscience can understand David’s words: “May you [Jehovah] cause me to hear exultation and rejoicing, that the bones that you have crushed may be joyful.” (Psalm 51:8) Before David repented and confessed his sins, his troubled conscience made him miserable. He did not even find pleasure in songs of exultation and rejoicing presented by fine singers and skillful musicians. So great was sinful David’s agony over God’s disapproval that he was like a man whose bones had been painfully crushed. He longed for forgiveness, spiritual recovery, and restoration of the joy he had previously experienced. A repentant wrongdoer today also needs Jehovah’s forgiveness so as to regain the joy he had before he did something imperiling his relationship with God. Restoration of “joy of holy spirit” to a repentant person shows that Jehovah has forgiven him and loves him. (1 Thessalonians 1:6) What comfort that brings!
19. How would David feel if God wiped out all his errors?
19 David further prayed: “Conceal your face from my sins, and wipe out even all my errors.” (Psalm 51:9) Jehovah could not be expected to look upon sin with approval. Hence, he was asked to conceal his face from David’s sins. The king also pleaded that God wipe out all his errors, blot out all his unrighteousness. If only Jehovah would do that! It would lift David’s spirits, remove the burden of a troubled conscience, and let the now repentant king know that he had been forgiven by his loving God.
What If You Have Sinned?
20. What is recommended for any Christian who has sinned grievously?
20 Psalm 51 indicates that any of Jehovah’s dedicated servants who have sinned seriously but who are repentant can confidently ask him to show them favor and cleanse them from their sin. If you are a Christian who has erred in such a way, why not seek our heavenly Father’s forgiveness in humble prayer? Acknowledge your need for God’s help so as to stand approved before him, and ask that he restore your former joy. Repentant Christians can confidently go to Jehovah in prayer with such requests, for “he will forgive in a large way.” (Isaiah 55:7; Psalm 103:10-14) Of course, congregation elders should be called upon so that they can render needed spiritual assistance.—James 5:13-15.
21. What will we next examine?
21 Jehovah’s mercy does save his people from despair. But let us examine repentant David’s other heartfelt pleas in Psalm 51. Our study will show that Jehovah does not despise a broken heart.
How Would You Answer?
□ What effect can serious sin have on one of Jehovah’s servants?
□ How was David affected when he tried to conceal his sin?
□ Why did David say that he had sinned against God alone?
□ Though God may take extenuating circumstances into consideration if we sin, what should we not do?
□ What should a Christian do if he has sinned grievously?