"BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL: FOR THEY SHALL RECEIVE MERCY"―THE FINAL LESSON OF PSALM 51
There is both a grave responsibility and a great blessing associated with the correct appreciation in our personal and ecclesial life, of the principles of grace and truth. But when does a man learn the importance of these principles in his life? Is it not when that man is in the greatest need of it himself? There are two “thens” in Psalm 51 that gloriously illustrate this point which can be further elaborated upon in a brief consideration of David’s life.
“Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners will return to you”. David is pleading, Lord show grace unto me, show me mercy beyond the Law and then I will manifest these saving principles in my life towards others that they may learn of thee and thy ways.
The final “then” of Psalm 51 appears in verse 19. It is associated with Yahweh’s building of the fallen walls of Jerusalem, a glorious allusion to the kingdom age. “Then will you delight in right sacrifices…”—sacrifices that no longer point forward, but point back as memorials to God’s saving work through our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet the principles remain the same; mercy and truth perpetuated for ever and ever.
The lesson for each and every one of us in our personal and ecclesial dealings with all cases of sin, including those who have divorced and remarried (for reasons other than porneia) and seek forgiveness is that we cannot possibly be associated with this second “then” of the kingdom age, if we are not participants of the first “then”; that is, having ourselves obtained mercy through God’s grace, learnt to extend it to others, guided by Christ’s example and teachings.
Why was David the recipient of God’s mercy and forgiveness and yet so many of his contemporaries were not? Shimei and Joab met their just fate, the latter while he took hold of the horns of the altar, the symbol of God’s power of mercy and forgiveness! Why? Joab never manifested mercy to anyone during his lifetime. Joab’s life and death memorialises the principle, “he shall have judgement without mercy that has showed no mercy”. The sweet Psalmist of Israel died with the sure mercies of God’s grace ringing in his ears. His life memorialised the truth of “mercy rejoicing against judgement” (James 2:13). David’s words and actions reflected God’s judgement upon him. His life teems with examples of how God’s mercy and truth found considered reciprocity in his own dealings with man.
Saul obtained mercy at David’s hands on several occasions, leaving him to God’s judgement. This and many other examples laid up for David in heaven a treasure of mercies such that when David himself so desperately needed to be the recipient of God’s forgiveness, Yahweh, who cannot be unjust, immediately blotted out David’s sin upon confession. Yahweh’s mercy had to be accompanied with that necessary chastisement, which greatly refines the fruits of the broken and contrite heart. The incident with Bathsheba, David’s repentance and the revelation in his life of God’s mercy, became the defining elements of David’s life.
Before the incident with Bathsheba David could say, “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanliness of my hands hath he recompensed me” (Psalm 18:20). But after his great sin he said, “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even thine only” (Psalm 71:16).
This David, his own hand now greatly weakened because of his failings, a man smitten and acquainted with grief and the knowledge of his own weakness, tolerated the hardness and unmercifulness of Joab, the bitterness and cursing of Shimei, the treachery of Absalom, and the despicable behaviour of Amnon. David bore the consequence of his sin, which was heralded by the death of the child Bathsheba bore to him as a result of their adulterous union; a death which became a harbinger of what would be repeated again and again—the violation of Tamar, the death of Amnon, the public disgracing by Absalom of David’s concubines, the death of Absalom and Adonijah—which bore testimony to the truth that “the sword shall never depart…”. Thus David’s sin haunted him. His terrible regret and remorse particularly for those caught up in the consequences of his sin, feelings which the Joabs of this life cannot perceive, testified to David’s contrition.
There are always consequences that go hand in hand with our iniquity. We may also find that “the sword does not depart” for the remainder of our lives. Let us not add to the grief and burden of those who have transgressed and yet have repented with godly sorrow of their iniquity. Very often it is not a question of Yahweh having to punish us for our sins, but rather we are punished by the choices that we have made. Regrettably there are many Shimeis and Joabs who continually remember the failures of others, and unmercifully curse and belittle. They cause sorrow through their utter inept appreciation of their own accursed state. They cause to stumble, those who have already been ravished by sin, sadly often self-inflicted because of weakness, an experience we all share to varying degrees.
The wonder of the life of David, though he failed a great test, was that he faithfully submitted to God’s chastening and became a man more fully transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, more so, ironically, than he was before his sin. This is something which we all should deeply consider, for a restored, forgiven, chastened man, has the potential of greater love and service than an illegitimate son untouched by God’s hand.
David and Bathsheba had another son and it is recorded that God loved him. Yahweh sent a message by that very same prophet, Nathan, to inform them of this, and the child was called Jedidiah (beloved of Yahweh) and Solomon (peace). Why should God not only choose, but love this son above David’s other offspring?
We wonder if it had been left to man’s judgement, whether we would have picked the son of a union founded upon sin, a union, legitimised only by murder, to be the one through whom the promised seed would descend? Indeed would man’s jurisprudence have allowed David to remain married to Bathsheba at all?
Both David and Bathsheba learnt the need for true repentance and the need for divine mercy and forgiveness. We do not truly realise to what extent we need to learn these lessons, until we enter the trials of David and Bathsheba. This is the key and mystery to the whole matter; the means by which Yahweh brings good and blessedness out of the midst of perversion, iniquity, sin, torment, sorrow and pain; even as David goes and comforts his grieving wife (2 Samuel 12:24) and as a direct consequence a son of promise is conceived; a son who is a symbol to David and Bathsheba (and all those who have suffered the consequences of their sins) of God’s utter forgiveness and restoration to fellowship. They together represent the bride of Christ who comes to know their true need of salvation and as a consequence of receiving God’s grace, reciprocate His mercy and truth to their fellow man.
Let us therefore heed the words of David’s greater Son to “go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Your brother in Christ Jesus the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth, on behalf of the Brisbane Berean Christadelphian ecclesia.