Create in Me a Clean Heart (2 Samuel)

There’s an old joke that I first heard on the TV show “Hee Haw”.  Doc Campbell has a patient come to him who says he broke his arm in two places.  Doc’s reply is, “Well then, stay out of them places!”  But, you know, there’s something to that advice on a spiritual level.  We sometimes think we can surround ourselves with temptation and remain unaffected.  And then we don’t understand how we could end up doing something so stupid.  We need to take the good doctor’s advice and “stay out of them places.”  But we don’t always do that, do we? 

We often find ourselves in situations we shouldn’t be in, and then we find ourselves doing things we shouldn’t be doing.  Our first reaction is usually to try to keep anybody from finding out what we’ve done.  But the more we try to hide it, the more miserable we become.  And there’s only one thing that will truly fix the situation. 

This morning, we’re going to see how all of that relates to something that King David did as we continue in our study through the Old Testament.  We come now to the book of 2 Samuel.  Let’s take an overview of this book as we watch this video together and then I’ll come back to talk about David.

VIDEO (https://bibleproject.com/explore/2-samuel/)

            This morning, we’re going to take a look at a story in the life of King David.  Last week, we saw how David progressed from being a shepherd to a giant slayer.  Then we watched his popularity soar, and we saw King Saul respond with anger and jealousy.  We watched as David ran and hid in caves, trying to stay alive for more than four years as Saul hunted him.

            But this morning, we come to the episode in David’s life that is, by far, his darkest moment. It’s one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, the story of David and Bathsheba.

            And the message for us is an important one.  Because if David, the man after God’s own heart, can fall, then so can we.  If David could fail God, then so can we.  And so, I want us to read this story asking ourselves what lessons we need to learn about those times that we mess up.

            So, here’s the setup.  By the time King Saul died, David was 30 years old.  And many of the people were anxious to anoint David as king.  But not everyone was excited about following David, and so there was a seven-and-a-half year civil war in Israel between David and Saul’s son Ish-bosheth.

            When David was 37 years old, the civil war was over – and David was the one ruler over a reunited Israel.   And from there, things began to go great for David and for Israel.  David leads Israel to victory after victory against their enemies, expands their borders, and Israel enters into a season of great prosperity.

            By the time we come to the story of David and Bathsheba, David is now 47 years old.  He’s been king for 17 years.  But things start to go bad very quickly.

            I’m sure you’re familiar with the story – David sends his armies off to war, he goes up to the rooftop where he sees a beautiful woman next door, Bathsheba, taking a bath.

            Now, up to this point in David’s life, we haven’t seen anything but integrity and upright living – and so what happens next is truly shocking.  David has Bathsheba brought into his palace to have sex with her.

            It probably was his intention to have a one-night stand and David was able to get away with it without anybody finding out — until David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant.  Because she was expecting a child and her husband was away at war, red flags would go up and questions would be asked.  David panicked and tried to cover up his actions. 

            He brought Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, home from battle so that he would sleep with his wife, and he would think that the child was his, but Uriah wouldn’t do it.  Either he was too honorable as a soldier, or perhaps he was suspicious.  But, for whatever reason, he refused to have sex with his wife.

            It was then that David realized that there was nothing he could do to keep his sin from being discovered – or was there?  It’s hard to imagine David even contemplating what he did next.  The man after God’s own heart considering murder?  But David wasn’t thinking about what’s right or what’s wrong.  He was only thinking about one thing – “How can I keep people from finding out what I did?” 

            And that’s what sin always does — it leads us on deeper and deeper, farther than we ever intended to go.  And before David knew it, he found himself forced into a desperate attempt to cover up his sin. 

            And so, he had Joab his commander put Uriah at the front of the battle and then pulled his troops back.  And, “Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers.” (2 Samuel 11:17)

            How is it that David, who wrote half the psalms, praising God, could get himself into such trouble?  And, when David wrote the Psalms, he meant it.  He wasn’t a hypocrite.  He truly loved God, and yet he still ended up in this predicament. How could this happen?

            There was a time in David’s life when he would have walked onto that roof and observed a beautiful woman and his heart would have told his mind – “Don’t go there.”  There was a time when his soul was so tuned into loving God with all of his heart that he would have responded by getting out of this situation.

            His temptation was similar to that of Joseph who was tempted to have sex with Potiphar’s wife, in fact she was encouraging him to do it, but Joseph said, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) and he ran away.

            There was a time when David would have been just like Joseph – but this was not that day. David is on the rooftop and he sees Bathsheba and there’s something inside of David that says – “I need this.  I want this.  I’m the king, I can have this.”

            This was not David’s finest moment of maturity.  A mature person is able to recognize that what I want, and what is good – are often not the same thing.  What I want and what is right may not be the same.

            And David is not operating here out of love, but out of desire.  And David gives in to his impulsive desires – I what I want and I want it now.  Which is how a child operates.  Children are not yet mature, and in their immaturity, they will often say, “I want what I want, and I want it right now.”

            As we grow older, we’re supposed to mature, but some adults never do.  A mature person – doesn’t merely ask not, “What do I want?”  but, “What is the right thing to do”  The person who never grows up is the person who doesn’t realize that there is a difference between the two.

            And so, David finds himself in this big mess because he focuses on his desire at that moment.  And maybe he felt like he was able to get away with it because after Uriah died, he quickly took Bathsheba and hoped that nobody was going to count the months between his marriage and the birth of their child.  But there’s one thing he forgot about.  At the end of 2 Samuel 11, we find these words, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Samuel 11:27)

            And so, God sends his prophet to confront David.  We pick up in 2 Samuel 12, verse 1:

            “And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.’” (2 Samuel 12:1-3)

        “Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” (2 Samuel 12:4)

            It’s interesting to me how Nathan approached David to confront him about his sin.  You almost would expect Nathan to kick down the door and point a finger at David’s chest and say, “You murderer!”  But if he had done that, David would have gotten defensive and angry

            And so, I think there’s a message here for all of us, when it comes to talking to someone about their sin.  As Paul said in Galatians 6:1, “restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

            Nathan comes to David in gentleness. Because that’s how God treats us.  God has a purpose when he confronts people about their sin.  He wants to lead us to restoration.  God doesn’t go for the throat. He’s not out to be proven right. He already knows he is right.  Instead God desires to bring us to a place of restoration – he wants us to be made right again.

            And so, Nathan brings this same attitude with him.  He’s not there to angrily condemn David but to gently bring him to repentance and restoration.  And so, he brings him a court case.   He talks about a rich man who has stolen the only sheep of a poor man.

            Verse 5, “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

            Now, the Law of Moses required a thief to pay back four times what was owed, so David got that part of the sentence right.  But then David went far beyond the law. I mean, he’s way over the top, isn’t he?  “The man who has done this deserves to die!”  It’s not uncommon for someone who has a guilty conscience to be keenly aware of other people’s faults and sins. So, a person with a guilty conscience will often lash out against the slightest injustice they perceive in others.

            And so, there’s this heightened sensitivity to wrong – and David exhibits it here, doesn’t he? A man stole a sheep? That man deserves to die!  And that gives Nathan the opportunity he was looking for.

            Verse 7, “Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!  Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah.  And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 

            “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?  You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife.”’” (2 Samuel 12:7-9)

            I want you to notice here the insatiable appetite of our flesh.  Nathan tells David, “You had everything you could ever want, but it wasn’t enough.”  Covetousness is such a dangerous sin.    Because it’s always trying to convince you that you would be happy if only you had this one thing more.”

            David could have responded to Nathan in a number of different ways.  He could have gotten angry.  He could have kicked Nathan out.  For that matter, he could have had Nathan killed.  But to his credit, David repented.

            Verse 13, “Then David confessed to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”  Nathan, you’re absolutely right.  I’ve messed up, big time.  When David was confronted with his sin, he repented.  David acknowledged the terrible sin he had committed. 

            Shortly thereafter, he wrote Psalm 51.  There are several things that I want us to notice in this psalm, but I want to begin by reading verse 10, where David writes: 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10).

I.          There is a Need in Our Lives For Cleansing

            I heard about two guys who were talking.  One of them said, “I got a cookbook once, but I could never do anything with it.”

The other guy I said, “Too much fancy work in it, huh?”

He said, “Yeah, it sure was.  Every one of the recipes began the same way – ‘Take a clean dish.’”

            The problem with our relationship with God is much the same.  God says, “Take a clean life”, and we go, “Wait a minute, that’s a problem.  Because, as Paul said in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”   And because we’ve all sinned, like David, we’re all in need of forgiveness. 

            This concept of forgiveness, of being made right with God, is pictured in the Bible in many different ways — sometimes as a new birth, sometimes as the canceling of a debt, sometimes as the breaking off of a heavy chain.

            But the picture of forgiveness that David uses here is perhaps the most common picture throughout the word of God — he describes it as a cleansing.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  A few verses earlier, he wrote, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:2).  And then in verse 7, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7).

You see, sin is dirty, it’s filthy, it stains our lives.  Isaiah put it this way, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…”(Isaiah 64:6, NKJV).  The New Century Version translates the first part of that verse: “All of us are dirty with sin.”  Like a mechanic who’s been working under the car all day, or a gardener who’s been out digging in the dirt, we’re covered with filth.

And so, there is this need for us to be cleansed.  So, David says to God, “Please purify me, wash me.  I’ve gotten myself dirty.  I’ve been out messing with some things I shouldn’t have been messing with, and I’m covered with filth.  I need for you to clean me up.”

            There’s a need in our lives for cleansing.

II.         Cleansing Needs to Begin in the Heart

David doesn’t say, “Change the way I behave.”  He says, “Change my heart.”  And it’s not that how we behave is unimportant.  It’s just that we’ve got to start with the heart.  We can go through all the right motions without our heart being right, but if the heart is right, everything else will fall into place.

That’s why in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “I don’t want you to sit back all proud just because you’ve never murdered anyone.  I want to know what’s in your heart.  And I don’t want you to think you’re somebody special just because you’ve never committed adultery with another man’s wife.  Let’s take a look at what’s in your heart.” 

So David says, “Even if I never commit murder or adultery again in my entire life, there’s still something here that’s a problem.  So, God, I want you cleanse my heart.  I want to cleanse the things I think about, my priorities, my desire to serve you — all of it.”

III.       Only God Can Cleanse the Heart

David doesn’t offer to do it himself.  In fact, he knows that he can’t do it.  And when David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”, he goes back to the language of the creation itself in the first chapter of Genesis.  The word “create” here is the very same Hebrew word used in Genesis 1.  It means to create something out of nothing. 

So, when David wants a clean heart, he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  And that’s what we need to pray.  Because, I don’t have the power to create a clean heart.  And you don’t have the power to do it. 

    Solomon said, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9).   And the answer is, “none of us”.  Only God has the ability to take a heart of sin and purify and cleanse it. 

Create in me a clean heart, O God.

IV.        We Must Have an Attitude That Allows God to Cleanse Our Heart

            God is the only one who can create a clean heart, so there might be some who have the idea, “Well, let’s just sit back and wait for God to do it!”  The truth is, though, we have the right kind of attitude before God can do anything with our hearts.

            When confronted with his sin, David repented.  And there are two things that David did that show us that he truly repented.

1.         David had a contrite heart

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17). 

To be contrite means to be aware of our spiritual condition.  It means that we are crushed with a sense of our guilt.  It’s not just feeling bad about what we’ve done.  It means that we have a genuine sorrow for our rebellion against God and the fact that we were so determined to do what we wanted to do.

Our tendency when we sin is to rationalize or explain or excuse or defend or justify our sin.  But a contrite heart doesn’t try to blame circumstances or other people or God for our own failure.  You don’t see David blaming Bathsheba: “Lord, did you see what she wasn’t wearing?  Any other guy would have done the same thing!”

And yet we hear that sort of thing all the time.  “If you were married to this jerk, you’d be cheating, too.”  Or, “It’s not my fault, the boss is so cheap I have to steal from the company just to survive.”  Or, “If people didn’t make those comments on Facebook, I wouldn’t lose my temper as much.”

If we ever hope to have a clean heart, we must have a contrite heart

2.         David confessed that what he did was wrong.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.”(Psalm 51:3-4a).

David makes no plea for lenience, no claim that God is too hard on him, no appeal for a light sentence.  He simply says, “God, you’re right, and I’m wrong.” 

Genuine confession demands that we take sin as seriously as God takes it.  It’s not just a slip-up, it’s not just a mistake.  We need to have the right attitude toward sin – we need to hate our sin, to be disgusted with what we’ve done.  And we need to determine to turn away from that sin.

Solomon said, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13).

And that’s one reason why so many people can’t find forgiveness for their sins. They suffer for years with a guilty conscience because they are not willing to come to the place where they acknowledge their sin.  They refuse to call it what God calls it.  They refuse to be honest with themselves and with God.  But we can never be forgiven until we do this, because the first step in the process of forgiveness is an acknowledgment of sin.

David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  And the most beautiful part of this story is that God did exactly what David asked him to do.  And he’s willing to do the same thing for any of us.  God delights in having the opportunity to forgive.  This morning, we all stand before God in need of cleansing.  We must come to him in a spirit of contrition, confessing our sins.  And, as we do so, may these words be the words of our heart, “Create in me a clean heart.” 

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