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Bible Search
Your Cheatin' Heart - Psalm 51
Singing the Songs of Zion
“You’re Cheatin’ Heart”
Psalm 51
 
There is no music in the world more heartfelt than country music.  It may be sung with the nasal twang of George Jones or in the warbling tones of Reba McEntire or Garth Brooks, but it always comes with a story and a message, generally oflove done wrong or causing pain in Mama’s heart. 
 
That’s why just the titles of country songs by themselves have so much to say to us.  For instance, consider these actual country and western son titles:
 
  • Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure
  • I Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Bed Crying On My Pillow Over You
  • I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim's Gettin Better
  • I Would Kiss You Through The Screen Door But It'd Strain Our Love
  • I Wouldn't Take Her To A Dawg Fight, Cause I'm Afraid She'd Win
  • I'd Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotomy
  • I'm So Miserable Without You, It's Just Like Having You Here
  • If I Had Shot You When I Wanted To I'd Be Out By Now.
  • They May Put Me In Prison, But They Can't Stop My Face From Breakin' Out
  • You're The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly
 
But there is one song that can bring a tear to the eye like no other and that is “You’re Cheatin’ Heart”.  It was written by Hank Williams shortly after divorcing his first wife, Audrey Mae Sheppard. They married in 1944, while the ink was still drying on Audrey's divorce papers from her first marriage. The pair would go on to record several duets together and produce a son, Hank Williams Jr., but Williams' drinking ultimately led to their divorce. 
 
He was describing his first wife as "a cheatin' heart" to country singer Billie Jean Jones, who would soon become his second wife, when he was inspired to write the song.
 
He recorded it in September of 1952 during what would be his last session at Nashville's Castle Records. He would die just months later from heart problems on the way to a New Year's concert in Canton, Ohio. The song was posthumously released in January 1953 and topped the Country & Western Billboard Charts for six weeks.
 
Get your Kleenex handy as I share these lyrics with you: 
 
 
Your cheatin' heart
Will make you weep
You'll cry and cry
And try to sleep
But sleep won't come
The whole night through
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you...
 
Your cheatin' heart
Will pine some day
And crave the love
You threw away
The time will come
When you'll be blue
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you...
 
When tears come down
Like falling rain
You'll toss around
And call my name
You'll walk the floor
The way I do
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you...
 
Have you ever had your cheating heart to tell on you?  King David did, and well he should have.  If you are familiar with his story, then you’ll remember how he had an affair with a woman named Bathsheba.    
 
After all, who could fault a king for indulging his fantasies? That’s what kings do. One night you go out for a stroll, you see a beautiful woman, you want her, you send for her, she comes to you. It’s as simple as that. Kings have been doing that sort of thing since the beginning of time.  After all, whatever the king wants, the king gets.
That’s why they call him the king.  And in that day, in that time, it shouldn’t have seemed like a big deal. It still happens today. Nobody’s surprised anymore when they find out a president or a prime minister has a girlfriend on the side. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen, and when people hear about it and shrug their shoulders or they snicker a bit and make jokes or they don’t like it or if they happen to be a fan, they explain it away by saying what a man does in his private life is none of our business.   
 
And unfortunately, the one-night stand wasn’t all there was to it for King David.  There was this little problem called a pregnancy that developed.  And the woman had a husband. 
 
Now if you’re the king, you have the privilege of manipulating circumstances and that’s what David did.  First he allowed the man a little furlough time at home.  That would explain the pregnancy.  A soldier boy is home to spend a little time with his wife.  Everything would fit together very nicely. 
 
But her husband, a man named Uriah, is a much better man than the king because in the days when kings go to war and David stayed home and cheated with one of his subjects, this man wouldn’t even go into tbe with his wife while his comrades in war had their life ont eh line.  Instead, he sleeps outside on the porch.  And it is that loyalty to his friends that ultimately cost him his life. 

David has him sent to the front lines, knowing the odds are great that he will be killed and that’s exactly what happened. 
So now, finally, at last, David can settle down with the little woman and raise a family. 
 
But there was another little detail David hadn’t thought about.  We pick up the story in
 
2 Samuel 11:29
 
And about that time, the preacher, Brother Nathan, came by to pay a visit and tell the king a little story about a rich man with many sheep who stole from a poor man the one ewe sheep his family owned.
 
And what, in your opinion, should be done to the rich man who acted so ruthlessly?
 
David is incensed and outraged that anyone would take advantage of a poor man likehas bee done, so in anger, he responds, “He should be put to death.”
 
And in one of the most haunting single sentences recorded int eh Bible, Nathan looks King David in the eye and declares, “You are the man!"
 
And in the  moment, in one heart-stopping instant, the king knew the truth, knew what Nathan was saying, knew that he was the rich man who had cheated the poor man. The king knew!  And very quickly, Nathan delivers to him the Word of the Lord:
 
“I gave you everything you had.  I made you king and if this was not enough, I would have given you more. Why did you despise my word?  You took this man’s wife.  You had him murdered. Therefore, there will be nothing but trouble for you from this day forward. Your family will suffer because of your sin.”
 
And then came the worst news.  “Your son will die.”
And sure enough, even though the king wept and prayed and fasted, that little baby died.  What did Hank write? 
 
Your cheatin' heart
Will make you weep
You'll cry and cry
And try to sleep
But sleep won't come
The whole night through
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you...
 
And sure enough, David’s cheatin’ heart told on him. 
 
Then came the time for the king to do the hardest thing anyone can ever do, to look in the mirror and say, “I have sinned." Those may be the three hardest words in the English language. No one wants to say, “I have sinned.” We would rather do anything than say that. But there is no getting right until we admit how badly we have done wrong.  The words are so universal that they belong to anyone who has a cheatin’ heart. 
 
So though his tears and in deep guilt, reproaching himself for his sinful folly, realizing at last how wrong he had been, King David sat down and wrote the song  we call Psalm 51.
 
Three thousand years later we come back to it again and again every time we need to know what it’s like to come back to God when we have sinned.
 
The words are so universal that they belong to anyone whose heart is broken because of sin. If you have blown it, here is a word from God for you.
If you look at the wreckage of your own life, knowing full well that you are guilty of many foolish choices, if you despair of ever finding forgiveness, let us journey together through Psalm 51 and see what it says to us today.
 
There are three parts to this great prayer. First comes
 
  1. Confession
  2. Verses 1-2
 
David begins with God. He cries out for God’s mercy, love, and compassion to blot out his transgressions and wash away his iniquity. The time for excuses is over. There can be no rationalization for adultery and murder, no more of saying, “Kings do it all the time” or “I fell in a moment of weakness.”
 
As long as a man makes excuses, he cannot be forgiven because he will not come clean about his sin. If you feel like you need to justify your sin, you are not ready to be forgiven.  He doesn’t say, “Boys will be boys” or “I understand how weak you are so I’ll let it go this time." If sin is to be forgiven, it must be confessed for what it is.
 
That means you can’t call sin “weakness” and expect to be forgiven by God. God doesn’t forgive weakness; He understands it, no doubt.  David would pray elsewhere, thanking God for His compassion, by saying, “You remember that we are dust”.  He knows how weak we are.  He understands our bent toward sin.  But He only forgives sin.  
 
That’s why the king keeps piling up all these different words to express the depth of his sin.  Notice in
verse 1 it is “my transgressions” 
Verse 2:  my iniquity; my sin
Verse 3: my transgressions; my sin
 
It’s as if David looks into the cesspool of his own heart and sees nothing good.  There is no way to justify his behavior.  He is speaking of the very nature of his heart and soul. 
 
Then in verse 4 David says an extraordinary thing:
 
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight.
 
Well, wait a minute.  Had he not sinned against Uriah, not once but twice? Yes.
Had he not sinned against Bathsheba by stealing her from her husband? Yes.
Had he not sinned against the people of Israel? Yes.
 
But ultimately, it was all sin against God.  Any sin against our fellow man is a sin against God and ultimately, all sin is treason against the Creator of the Universe.  Until we grasp that, until we see it and feel it, until we confess it, we cannot be forgiven.  And nothing can ever be fixed with anybody else until first things are right with God. 
 
And David understands that.  That’s what leads him to say, “You were right to judge me. I do not question your ways” (v. 4b). Then he says, “I’ve been a sinner all my life” (v. 6) and “I know you desire truth from the inside out.”
 
It reminds me of the famous Jack Nicholson scene in the movie A Few Good Men where he says to Tom Cruise, “You want the truth?” When Cruise says, “Yes, I do,” Nicholson shouts in a rage, “You can’t handle the truth.”
 
The truth can be hard to handle, especially the truth about ourselves.  And I know the Bible says, “The truth will make you free”.  But I’m going to tell you something.  The truth will make you free, but it will hurt you first!
 
If you want to know the reason most people of God have trouble growing spiritually, it is not because they either don’t know the truth.  We’ve got so much truth it’s running out our eyeballs. We hear the truth at church, on the radio, from our friends, from books and CDs and seminars and concerts. And we get it straight from the Bible. That’s not our problem. If just knowing the truth were all we needed, we’d all be candidates for Pope. 
 
Our problem is much more deep and serious than that.  See, you can fix ignorance.  If someone doesn’t know something, they can be taught and trained and disciple. 
 
Our problem is, we know the truth, but we don’t want to acknowledge the truth so we deflect it, ignore it, deny it, attack it, argue with it and in general avoid it in any way we can.  We put up a shield so we can deflect the incoming bullets of truth. After a while we get so good at deflection that the truth never gets through to us at all.  It never gets close enough to hurt us.
 
Therefore, we are not set free. We’re still angry . . . stubborn . . . bitter . . . greedy . . .  arrogant . . . filled with lust . . . self-willed . . . critical . . . and unkind.
 
The truth never really changes us because we won’t let it get close enough to hurt us, and therefore, help us.  Honesty is the first step to admitting your true condition.
 
When David cried out for God’s mercy, he acknowledged the true source of the problem and where the healing must begin. Until there is “truth” in the inner recesses of the soul, as long as we lie to ourselves, we can never get better, and God cannot teach us wisdom.
 
If you want to be set free, it can happen but you’ll have to let the truth hurt you first.  And here is David saying, “I know what you want, Lord. You want me to stop playing games and stop making excuses and stop justifying my behavior and I’m ready to do that. No more excuses, no more games. I’m guilty in your eyes and I admit it.”
 
If nothing else, this Psalm teaches us that how we respond when we have sinned reveals a great deal about the authenticity of our profession of faith. When a great and grievous sin has been committed, the question always arises, How do we know if the repentance is genuine? I believe it was Spurgeon who remarked that we may have confidence in this matter when the repentance is as notorious as the sin itself.
 
 
Not only does David not hide his sin, and not only does he not minimize his sin, he begs God for a deep work of grace to cleanse him from the stain of sin.  He wants God to wash him from the inside out.
 
And think about what we have here:  This is an open, written, documented confession of sin and request for cleansing from the King of Israel.  David sat down and took pen and hand to tell of his wrongdoing.  He doesn’t care who knows what he has done.  He just knows he’s not right with God and he misses what he once enjoyed and now he desperately seeks the grace and forgiveness of God.
 
Now true confession is a humbling experience. I have been there in those moments, both when I was the one confessing and when I was witness to the confession, and there is nothing easy about it. 
 
Those moments are sad and solemn, but also liberating.  There is nothing like that moment when confession takes place and restoration occurs and the joy returns.  And I want you to know when the thing that matters the most to you is getting free from the burden of sin, you’ll do whatever it takes to get there. 
 
When we no longer sugarcoat our sin, when we desperately seek restored fellowship with God and with his people, when we no longer worry about our reputation, when what God thinks matters more than what others think, then we will find the forgiveness we seek because our repentance has led us back to the Lord.
 
The second part of David’s prayer involves
 
2. Cleansing
 
If you look at the requests David makes in verses 7-12, you can see clearly a seven-fold path of restoration.  Let me outline it for you:
 
1. We need cleansing by the blood
 
verse 7
 
Now just to be clear, Biblically speaking, cleansing for sin can only occur in one way and that is through blood.  So why doesn’t David say, “Purge me with blood and I will be clean”?  Well, in so many words, he does. 
 
His reference to hyssop takes us back to the time of Israelite captivity in Egypt.  The Jews were instructed to take a piece of hyssop, dipped in the hyssop in the blood of a slain lamb, and smear the blood on the doorpost. When the angel of death saw the blood, he “passed over” that house and no one died that night. That was the original Passover, and every time Jews observe Passover, which by the way, began last Friday, that is remembered. 
 
What they fail to realize and what we celebrate is that Jesus Christ is our Passover lamb whose blood now washes away our sin.  In fact, hyssop shows up at the crucifixion as they put a sponge dipped in vinegar on a branch of hyssop and lifted it up to Jesus.  Now I’m just speculating, but my idea is that soponge was pushed on the stalk end, meaning the brushy leafs were pointing away from Christ and toward lost humanity as His precious blood fell in a poignant reminder that His blood must be applied to us.
There are a lot of people who are offended by that notion of the necessity of the blood.  They want a bloodless religion.  Pastor Ray Stedman offers this in response:
 
“Why did (Jesus) have to die to forgive our sins? The only answer is: Sin is so deeply imbedded in us that it cannot be cured by anything but death. The old life has to die. God cannot improve it.  Even God cannot make it better, He cannot cleanse it or wash it; He can only put it to death.  David understands that now. He says to God, “If you are going to deal with this terrible fountain of evil in me, I can see that it must be put to death. It must be purged with hyssop, then I will be clean.” 
 
We need to be cleansed by the blood. Second,
 
2. We need fresh hope
 
 verse 8
 
Sin has a way of turning the light out.  It robs life of happiness and joy.  It’s one of the deceitful paradoxes of the devil how he can promise happiness and fun and laughter and when it’s all said and done there is emptiness and sorrow.  David is praying, “Lord, I’ve been down so long, I see nothing but darkness. Shine your light in my heart so that I can sing with joy once more."
3. We need to know our sins are forgiven
 
verse 9
 
It’s not enough to be forgiven. We need to know that we’ve been forgiven. 
There is something about knowing God has put our sins far away from us that liberates us. Otherwise our sins will rise to accuse us and a guilty conscience will keep us awake at night.
 
4. We need a clean heart
 
verse 10
 
The word “create” means that David knows he can’t change himself. Here is the answer to all those who teach and preach trying harder and turning over a new leaf.  Listen:  You cannot fix yourself.  You can’t change the way you are. 
 
The king knows that unless God makes him pure, he will never get there on his own. Not only that but he prays for a “steadfast” spirit that will enable him to stand strong against temptation in the future.
 
5. We need the restoration of the Holy Spirit’s power
 
Verse 11
 
Spurgeon says only a true Christian could pray like this. An unbeliever won’t care about being cast away from God’s presence because he was never close to God in the first place. An unsaved person won’t care about losing the Holy Spirit that he never had anyway. The ungodly flee from God’s presence and hide from the Holy Spirit.  Only the child of God feels the pain of the Lord’s discipline. Those who have dwelt in the sunlight of his love shiver in the cold darkness of his displeasure.
 
 
6. We need to regain the joy of God’s salvation
 
verse 12a
 
 Every sin, whether big or small, separates us from contentment and fellowship with God. It is perfectly possible to be saved and miserable because we do not deal rightly with our sin. David says, “Lord, I’m tired of being miserable about my miserable life. Open the fountain of joy in my heart once again.”
 
7. We need a new desire within
 
Verse 12b
 
One translation says, "And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 12b). David’s request is, “Make me glad to obey you in the future.” He begs God to do some “divine heart surgery” so he will never stray from the right path again.
 
Now I’ve just shown you seven steps to peace with God.  Any sinner who wants to find peace with God must follow the same path. If you will start with the blood of Jesus, you will end with new hope, new joy, and a new desire to serve the Lord.
 
Finally, David prays for
 
3. Consecration
 
verse 13
 
As David considered the lessons he had learned following his tragic affair with Bathsheba, he vowed to God that he would use his experience to cause sinners to return to the Lord.
Until we have personally experienced God’s pardoning grace, the gospel is to us only a theoretical message.  But let a person declare how God rescued him in his moment of helpless desperation, let him speak openly of how he despaired of ever finding peace with God, let him tell how Jesus found him, lifted him up, forgave his sins, gave him a new life, and set his feet in a new direction.
 
 Let him share that from his heart and people will listen because there is no testimony like the simple truth of a changed life. Converted sinners make the best preachers because they know the truth of what they are saying.  First David requests
 
  • A New Worship
 
verse 15
 
David never forgot his sin or the grace that found him in the midst of his despair. His lips were shut until grace like a river came pouring down from heaven. Then he would not be silent. Truly forgiven people love to tell others what God has done for them.  Next he asked for
 
  • A New Understanding
 
verses 16-17
 
These verses banish forever the false idea that God wants more religion. In the old days it was the blood of bulls and goats. In modern times it is church attendance and money in the offering plate.
You could go to church for a thousand Sundays in a row and it would not remove the stain of even one sin. David knew that no bull offered on the altar could ever atone for the sins of murder and adultery. What God wants is a broken and contrite heart. That he will not turn away.
 
David’s experience of restoration began when he came to terms with his sin and what it had done.  So I suppose the question of the hour comes down to this. If you find yourself in a similar situation to that of David, do you even want to be forgiven?
 
 I say “even” because you can harden your heart to the point that you no longer care if you are forgiven. For such people, there is nothing left but the fearful judgment of God. But if you have the slightest desire to be forgiven, if in your heart you want a new beginning, your sins can be forgiven.
 
In verse 7 David prayed, “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” Would you like that? Would you like the stain of repeated sin to be removed from your life? Would you like to be washed “whiter than snow"? It can happen if you come to the Lord with the same attitude David had in Psalm 51.
 
In the early 1870s a man named James Nicholson worked as a clerk in the Philadelphia post office. He was also active in the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal Church. He wrote a gospel song based on Psalm 51:7 called Whiter Than Snow that became very popular during the campaigns of D. L. Moody.
 
Here are the first, third, and last verses of Mr. Nicholson’s song:
 
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
 
Lord Jesus, for this I most humbly entreat;
I wait, blessed Lord, at Thy crucified feet.
By faith, for my cleansing I see Your blood flow    Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
 
Lord Jesus, before You I patiently wait;
Come now and within me a new heart create.
To those who have sought You, You never said “No”
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
 
Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
 
One line in particular jumps off the page: “To those who have sought You, You never said, ‘No.’” King David would rise today to say, “Amen!”  No matter what you’ve done, or where you’ve been, or how ugly your sin may be, if you will come to Jesus, he will never say “No”.
 
Perhaps the application is as simple as this. Take the words of this gospel song, based as they are on this ancient psalm, and make them your own. Say them, sing them, pray them to the Lord. Those who come to him with a broken heart will be washed whiter than snow. May that be your experience today.
 
Let’s pray.
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