For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV
David had committed a serious sin. He had willingly and deliberately disobeyed the law of God. He was well aware of what God’s Word said regarding his actions. “But those who brazenly violate the Lord’s will, whether native-born Israelites or foreigners, have blasphemed the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community. Since they have treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command, they must be completely cut off and suffer the punishment for their guilt.” (Numbers 15:30-21 NLT). When David had been confronted by the prophet, Nathan, regarding what he had done, Nathan had used a fabricated incident to trick David into confessing. He told David a story about a rich man who, although he was wealthy and had many flocks of his own. decided to steal the one lamb the poor man owned in order to feed his guests. David was shocked and infuriated by the story and exclaimed, “As surely as the Lord lives, any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!” (2 Samuel 12:5 ESV). Unknowingly, David had pronounced his own sentence. He was worthy of death and there was no sacrifice he could make that would satisfy God for what he had done. He had “treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command.” He had blasphemed the Lord. And no amount of sacrifices were going to fix his problem.
What God wanted was a broken and repentant heart. God desired for David to understand the depths of his own depravity and to come before Him in humility, his heart crushed by the weight of what he had done. The nature of the sacrifice that God desired was internal, not external. David could offer the blood of bulls and goats, but if his heart was not broken over what he had done, and if he was not fully convinced of his own sin and God’s righteous obligation to punish him, his sacrifices would be worthless. David acknowledged that if there had been an appropriate sacrifice he could have made, he would have done so. He would have done anything to rectify the situation. He would have spared no expense. But what God wanted was a legitimate brokenness over his sin and a humble admission of his guilt. It was essential for David to understand that there was nothing he could do to fix his problem. He was completely dependent upon God for His mercy, love and forgiveness. Sacrifices made with unrepentant hearts were unacceptable to God. Years earlier, when Saul had been king, God had commanded Saul to go into battle against the Amalekites. He had told Saul to “completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3 NLT). But Saul had disobeyed. “Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:9 NLT). When Saul had been confronted by Samuel about what he had done, Saul had justified his actions. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20-21 NLT). His actions were completely justified in his own mind. He was unrepentant and his heart was far from broken over what he had done. That’s when God had Samuel break the bad news to Saul. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV). It was at that point that God rejected Saul as the king of Israel. Any sacrifices he would have made would have been unacceptable because his heart was unrepentant.
In contrast, David knew the full ramifications of his actions and he was crushed by what he had done. Which is why he had started his prayer with the confession, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). Rather than justify his actions or blame Bathsheba for causing him to sin, David owned up to his actions. He admitted his guilt and was legitimately sorrowful for what he had done. He knew that all he could bring to God was his brokenness, and it was up to God to supply mercy, grace and forgiveness. David couldn’t buy his way out of his circumstances. He couldn’t pay God off. On more than one occasion God had warned the Israelites, “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices? I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” (Isaiah 1:11 NLT). “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living (Amos 5:21-24 NLT).
God knows our hearts. He recognizes when we are truly repentant and when we are simply going through the motions. The sacrifice he desires is a life that is totally dependent upon Him. Paul writes, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). We need God for salvation. We need the blood of Christ for our constant cleansing from sin. We need the Spirit for our ongoing sanctification. We need to live in constant reliance upon God for his mercy, grace, forgiveness, cleansing and transforming power in our lives. That is an acceptable sacrifice to Him.