The story behind the song
2 Samuel 11:26â€“12:13a; Psalm 51:1â€“12
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The psalms are poignant. They bear emotion in a way that grabs our souls. They are comprehended by the heart in a way the head canâ€™t.
But I falter when I try to preach them. Since I started preaching, Iâ€™ve kept the psalms at a distance. Iâ€™ve seen them used effectively in worship, but Iâ€™ve never been quite what to do with them homiletically.
The few times I have effectively preached from the psalms, itâ€™s been because I heard the story behind the song. I remember the first time I prepared for an Ash Wednesday service. I flipped open the Book of Common Prayer and read the preface to Psalm 51:
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
How had I missed this?
Psalm 51:10 is a bumper sticker verse. I memorized it as a child, and Iâ€™m glad I did. Caught stealing cookies as a child, caught sneaking out in high school, confronted by my failures as a husbandâ€¦often the Holy Spirit has convicted and Iâ€™ve prayed, â€śCreate in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.â€ť
Yet despite my evangelical upbringing and Bible-quizzing culture, despite my seminary training, I didnâ€™t know that Psalm 51 accompanied Davidâ€™s story from 2 Samuel 11-12, this weekâ€™s first reading in the semicontinuous cycle.
The story behind this song is Davidâ€™s, and it is tragic. He is guilty of lust, coveting, murder and perhaps rape. And thatâ€™s just what we see in a few verses. David is a sinner. So are we, and it is with this realization that we pray Psalm 51:10.
Yet even after these events, David remains a man after Godâ€™s own heart. How do we know this? Because he has an insatiable appetite for grace. And so we who strive for Godâ€™s heart also have the audacity to pray Psalm 51:11-12: â€śRestore to me the joy of your salvation.â€ť