“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)
The story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba is one of the most infamous in the Bible. Though God eventually brought good out of the horrible situation (David and Bathsheba’s son Solomon was a direct ancestor of Jesus), David still had to suffer the consequences of his actions. One of these was a broken relationship with God. David knew he had sinned, but he did all he could to cover it up, going to such lengths as killing Bathsheba’s husband just to keep the truth from getting out. But despite this horrible series of actions, David still loved God, and when the frenzy of his desire to escape human condemnation died down, he was anguished to find himself separated from his Lord. Guilt plagued him, consuming his thoughts. All he could think about was how he had sinned against God Himself. He likely tried to appease his conscience by offering sacrifices, but not even this worked. Finally, after Nathan the prophet confronted him openly about his sin, he repented and was at last able to experience God’s forgiveness. All his attempts at making things right had failed; sacrifices alone could not placate a holy God. What God truly wanted from him was a broken, humbled spirit, one that would admit to his sin and realize his need for forgiveness. It was only after this that David could be right before God.
While we no longer offer animals as a way to restore good fellowship with God, we still share David’s reluctance to be completely honest with our Maker about our wrongdoings. When we sin, our first instinct is often to cover it up, to make it seem less of an issue than it really is. Depending on how drastic of a sin we’ve committed, we may go to great lengths to avoid talking to God about it. But all the while, our conscience stares at us, never letting us forget what we’ve done. We do all we can to ignore it, engaging in all sorts of righteous acts and turning away from other bad things. But it’s all done in an attempt to mollify God. We hope that, if we do enough good things, He’ll overlook the one thing we did wrong. In this way, our piety becomes the sacrifices David wrote about in Psalm 51. Everything we’re doing is just to divert God’s attention from the real issue.
But the thing is, God doesn’t want our sacrifices. He never has! What He truly wants from us is our hearts. He can tell the difference between a sacrifice offered to appease Him and one that’s given out of simple love and devotion. As David learned, sacrifices and burnt offerings were not enough to alleviate his guilt. Restoration of his relationship with God came only from confessing his sin in all its hideousness and begging God’s forgiveness. We so often tell ourselves that God won’t want us if we’re not perfect, but that is a lie from the devil himself. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) It’s when we’re broken that we realize how much we need Him! If we think for one moment that we can heal ourselves of our sin, then we’re telling God we don’t need Him. But the truth is, there’s nothing we can do. If it was up to us, sacrifices would work. We could earn our own salvation by the good works we do. In truth, though, it’s all God. He brings us to the point where we realize our absolute depravity, the ugly brokenness of our hearts, and then in His grace lifts us out of it. If we want to please God, we must first start by admitting that we can’t save ourselves. We must confess that we are completely broken. This is the kind of sacrifice He delights in: one that is straight from the heart, resulting in a life dedicated wholly to Him.