If an alien were to come to planet earth (or, to be less melodramatic, a brand new Christian) and read the New Testament for the first time, if he (or it) was observant, one name would keep cropping up. No, I am not referring to Jesus, but to a famous Old Testament figure.
The observant reader would notice how often David is mentioned (nearly 60 times), and would get the impression that he must have been one super-spiritual man. After all, the centrepiece of the NT, Jesus Christ, is so often referred to as the son of David, or as one who sits on the throne of David, and so on.
This guy must have been pretty special. But if our alien or new Christian actually goes back to the OT and reads about David (see 1 & 2 Samuel), he will find a much different picture. Sure, there is much greatness, strength, and godliness to be found there; but so too are all sorts of rather undesirable qualities and characteristics.
We find David to be far from perfect. In fact, he is often depicted as being a downright scoundrel. Simply look at the Bathsheba episode (2 Sam 11-12). If we have had some spectacular scandals in our modern age (think Watergate or Climategate, eg), what we have here is really the OT equivalent. Call it Bathshebagate if you will.
What a lot of lowdown and reprehensible things David engaged in, including a miserable cover-up attempt of the whole mess. Where is Wikileaks when you really need it? Fortunately we had something much better: the prophet Nathan who soundly and courageously rebuked David for this horrendous sin.
So David is clearly presented to us in the OT as a very screwed up, carnal, and ungodly person. Warts and all is how he is written about. Yet the NT seems to paint him as a superstar and a supersaint. Just how are we to make sense of all this?
The short answer is that God has chosen to work with second-rate material. He has stooped to our level and graciously said he will use fallen, sinful and imperfect humans to work with him in his task of redemption on planet earth. He has no one who is perfect to work with, yet he nonetheless chooses to use us anyway.
But if you read all of the account of his life, along with his many psalms, you will see that on the whole, despite his many obvious weaknesses and shortcomings, he was in fact a man after God’s own heart. That, incredibly, is God’s own assessment of David (see Acts 13:22).
We find a major clue to all this in Psalm 51. This is David’s great psalm of repentance, and it directly refers to Bathshebagate. Here we see how clearly David understood the evil of his actions. Here we see the depth of his repentance. Here we find a broken man who had only God to turn to.
We find no excuse-making here. No false repentance. No scape-goating. No mindless rationalisations. Instead, we find a man who has come face to face with the living God, and knows that he is dead meat, apart from God’s grace. Verse four makes this clear:
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.
Yes, he sinned against Bathsheba, and against her husband Uriah, and against the people of Israel, etc. But ultimately and most importantly, he sinned against a holy and pure God. And in his prayer of repentance he rightly asks God for that which he cannot do for himself (vv. 10-12):
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
God always honours a prayer such as that. He longs to be merciful and gracious. He loves to pardon and bless. But he cannot do it if we do not first agree with God about our sin, and offer real repentance. David knew full well this truth: “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17).
Or as we read in Proverbs 3:34 (and James 4:6): “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble”. David humbled himself before God, cast away his pride and excuse-making, and God graciously forgave him and lifted him up. Thus David really was a man after God’s own heart.
But like all of us he was not perfect, and he could blow it at times. And when he blew it, he sure did a good job of it. If he were a modern-day political leader, he would still be in prison for his heinous crimes. But God in his grace was still willing to work with the man.
That is good news for every one of us. God in his grace is willing to work with all of us as well, even though we are such imperfect and unholy men and women. And the Bible makes it clear why he is willing to do this. We find a key answer as to why God would even consider using such dirty, rotten scoundrels as ourselves in 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB):
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” We are all just mere earthen vessels, full of cracks and other obvious defects. But so that God might be given all the glory, this is how he chooses to operate. His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Being such lousy earthen vessels prevents us – or should prevent us – from taking any credit for any good thing that comes out of our ministry. God alone gets the credit and the glory. He alone is worthy to receive praise for anything good and of value that we may do for him.
We are just miserable broken and dirty clay pots. Yet God stoops to our level and says, “Yes, I know you are a broken and corrupted vessel, but I will use you nonetheless”. As long as we stay humble and on our knees, God will keep using us.
And as long as we give God all the glory for anything good we may do in our walk and ministry, He will continue to bless and use us. So the life of David really should give us all some solid encouragement and inspiration. He was a lousy sinner who did some horrible things, yet God was willing to use him as long as he stayed in a condition of brokenness, humility, and reverence before God.
The good news is God will use every one of us as well, as long as our hearts reflect the sentiments found in Psalm 51. We need to pray with David every day: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17).
Thus my prayer for all of you is that you will never leave this place of brokenness and openness before God. Always stay on your knees in humility, and you will walk very tall with God indeed.