Centuries ago, David lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David’s most trusted military men. David took Bathsheba and committed adultery with her. When she became pregnant and efforts to hide his sin failed, David had Uriah killed. Later Nathan the prophet came by appointment from the LORD to expose the sin of the king. It is assumed by some that the LORD simply forgave David for the sins of killing Uriah, the Hittite, and committing adultery with Bathsheba. However, the context shows otherwise.
2 Samuel 12:13 JPS And David said unto Nathan: ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said unto David: ‘The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.
David made no excuses for his sin. He simply admitted it. He was truly repentant, but this by no means was enough to pay the debt he owed God for his sins. Neither did God forgive David forthrightly. First of all, God struck David’s house with the curse of a sword (2Samuel 12:10). David endured the deaths of his two sons, Amnon and Absalom (2Samuel 13:28-29; 18:14). Secondly, when Absalom rebelled and took David’s kingdom, he took David’s concubines for himself, and it was known to all Israel (2Samuel 16:21-22). After David’s death Solomon would kill his brother Adonijah, because Solomon suspected subversion in Adonijah’s request to take one of David’s concubines as his wife (1Kings 2:23-25). Finally, because David through his adulterous affair caused unbelievers in Israel to blaspheme God, the child David conceived with Bathsheba died.
Does the above seem like God had forgiven David forthrightly? A great deal of blood was shed because of the sin of David. God did not take the king’s life, because he had already promised David that he would build David’s house and cause one of his own children to reign after David. The LORD promised David that he would establish the kingdom of this child forever and even if he should commit iniquity, God would chasten him with mercy rather than destroy him (2Samuel 7:11-16). At this point in David’s life, Solomon had not yet been born. If God were to keep his promise to David, the LORD had to be merciful with David by bringing him to repentance. Therefore, even in this great punishment that David endured, there was mercy from God. The LORD spared David’s life for the sake of his own word to the king. Yet, in being merciful God did not set aside the Law (Torah). He punished David and four of his own sons died because of David’s sin.
In line with the above, David composed Psalm 51. The Psalm offers more meaning to David’s repentance that was simply narrated in 2Samuel 12 above. I have discussed this matter with some over the internet who would have us believe that the words David used in Psalm 51:17 show God really does not want a blood sacrifice, but a repentant heart is enough. Let’s look at the Scripture:
Psalms 51:16-17 JPS (51:18) For Thou delightest not in sacrifice, else would I give it; Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. (17) (51:19) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
The word translated sacrifice in verse 16 and sacrifices is verse-17 is zebach (H2077) in Hebrew. It means according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon “a sacrifice…general name for all sacrifices eaten at feasts.” According to this same authority, it is used of sacrifices of righteousness (from a righteous person), gifts to God, sacrifices of strife (Proverbs 17:1), sacrifices to other gods, the covenant sacrifice, the Passover, annual sacrifice and the thank offering. Zebach (H2077) is never used for chattaah (H2403) or the sin offering. In fact, Brown-Driver-Briggs makes a point in saying that zebach (H2077) is distinguished from chattaah (H2403) in later literature.
Therefore, Psalm 51:16-17 cannot be taken to mean that David did not offer the sin offering for his iniquity according to the Law. According to Psalm 51:1-3, David was depressed over his sins. He said that they were constantly on his mind, and he asked God to give him peace (Psalm 51:8). David was concerned that God would take away his fellowship with him because of the sins he committed (Psalm 51:10-12). Without the fellowship of God, David could not teach others or be their example (Psalm 51:13). David wished to continue to praise God before the people, but his sins had marred his testimony. He prayed that God would restore his testimony before the people (Psalm 51:14-15). It was for this, specifically, that David prayed, saying he would offer a sacrifice if it would please God, but the LORD was delighted more in a broken spirit (Psalm 51:16-17). To be forgiven is one thing, but to be restored to one’s former place (reputation) is another matter entirely. David prayed for restoration.
This is, in fact what Jesus does for mankind—he restored us to our former fellowship with God. How does he do this when the spirit within man is polluted and cannot enjoy communion with our righteous God? Through Jesus sacrifice on the cross, he became our new Adam. Through faith in his death and resurrection, we have life in him and therefore fellowship with God. Just as it can be understood that all mankind dwelt in Adam before the fall and inherited his place after the fall, so too the whole new creation is in Jesus and dwell within him by faith both before his crucifixion and after this resurrection. If we die with him, we shall also live with him, thus being restored to the glory God had originally intended for mankind. Praise be to God!