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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Against Thee and Thee Only

I grew up with the King James Bible, so there are things in Scripture that are etched in my memory in King James English. "Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name." (Matt 6:9) You get the idea. The title phrase comes from the King James version of Psalm 51 in which David writes (using normal English),
Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. (Psa 51:4)
If you know the circumstances, you know what David is talking about (2 Sam 11:1-17). David had had a sexual encounter with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. It would have ended there, but Bathsheba was pregnant as a result. So David tried to get Uriah to spend the night with his wife. He wouldn't. So finally David had Joab arrange to get Uriah killed in battle. We're looking at covetousness, adultery, deception, and murder. Then Nathan the prophet confronted him and David repented (2 Sam 12:1-14). Psalm 51 is David's prayer of repentance to God.

It's a very good prayer. It has all the necessary elements. There is a plea to God for mercy without any sort of self-defense. There is the recognition of guilt without excuse. There is a singular focus on restoring a right relationship with God rather than avoiding consequences. There is a primary concern for God's glory rather than self-preservation. It's all about how God is good and right and David is not ... from birth (Psa 51:5). All the right stuff.

But this phrase -- "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" -- seems ... problematic. "Um, David, I think you need to reconsider that," some might say. (In a recent discussion of the text some actually did say that.) There was adultery -- a violation of Bathsheba. There was the deception and murder of Uriah. And, of course, as a consequence of his sin, the baby did not survive. There was the violation of the trust of the nation in their king and the violation of his own family as husband and father. "Lots of sins, David. Lots of them. In what sense is this 'Against You, You only'?"

Some say that this text is proof that the Bible is wrong. Either the heading in verse 1, "A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba", is wrong, or David himself is wrong. Some say that David believed himself justified as king to do as he pleased with Uriah and Bathsheba, so the only sin was against God. I would disagree with these. What does the text say?

David gives the reason that he says, "Against you, you only have I sinned" -- "so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." In the story, no one else brings judgment against David. Joab, his general, never says, "You know, David, having me get Uriah killed was wrong." Bathsheba doesn't say, "David, you shouldn't have been looking at me from your roof and you shouldn't have called me to your bed." No one else brings judgment to David. But God did. And David argues that God was right to do so. God was right in His judgments that David still faced -- lifelong strife (2 Sam 12:10), the loss of his family and their place in the kingdom (2 Sam 12:11), and public humiliation (2 Sam 12:12). Also, take note that God calls it sin against Him rather than against anyone else. "Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?" (2 Sam 12:9) In this context, the sin against God was to despise His commands; the result of that sin was adultery and murder.

Bottom line, I think I see our problem. In the story of David and his sins, we see first the evils he did against other people. The assault on the throne of God is secondary in our minds and, perhaps, even less worrisome. I mean, God's a big guy; He can take care of Himself. I think that we see person-to-person sins as worse than the violation of God's glory that we perpetrate every time we sin. The magnitude of that violation is far beyond what evils we do to one another, but being sinful people, I think we miss that. If we got it, we would love much more (Luke 7:47).

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