/ Forgiveness in the Old Testament / Andrew Kerr

Was David fully forgiven?


Yesterday I preached on Psalm 51:1-2: it recounts David's great plea for mercy & pardon in light of his filthy adultery and murder.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! - Psalm 51:1-2

The question I asked myself was the one I put in the caption: as a result of his plea for purging "Was David fully forgiven?" If the answer is yes I have a supplementary question: "On what basis did David know full forgiveness?"

The Answer

If the psalm itself leaves the explicit answer in abeyance, given the text and tone of prayer, the implicit answer would seem to be: "YES, OF COURSE, David, through His prayer, obtained the pardon he sought!" He comes to the LORD and expects to be forgiven, washed, and have his lips let loose in order to tell the world of the wonderful mercy of God.

The following verses would appear to confirm that the Son of Jesse believed His sin would be cleared in full and his conscience set free to serve God publicly again:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise - Psalm 51:7-15

If David enjoyed pardon through contrite confession, on what basis did he expect God to forgive him? Also, on what grounds was the king granted full assurance?

The Basis

For starters let's remember that David's prayer is offered pre-Calvary, pre-Temple, in the Old Testament period - Tabernacle Worship, which Yahweh instituted through Moses, was still operational (Solomon, not his father, was the builder of Zion's Temple): this forces me to conclude that David was fully forgiven through faith in the future Messiah - this Old Testament Gospel was predicted, promised and portrayed in the Old Testament Scriptures and Sacrificial System. This implies the following:

David believed the Promise of a Redeemer - He believed God would send THE SEED of the woman to crush the Serpent's Head and reverse the effects and results of sin.

David believed the Prophecies of a Messiah - A prime example would be Psalm 22 where the horrific sufferings of the future Messiah are typified in David's own personal sufferings - there Yahweh's Anointed is pierced by men and forsaken by God.

David believed the Promise of Nathan -  When David dissolved into tears as God put His finger on wicked crimes, the prophet informs the king that royal pardon is assured:

David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die" - 2 Samuel 12:13

David believed the Promise of Atonement bound up with, foreshadowed by, and typified in, the Sacrificial System - Of the FIVE main species of sacrifice delineated in Leviticus, four (the grain offering excepted) involved bloodshed and, generally speaking, declared atonement: in more specific terms, the OLAH (Burnt Offering) effected propitiation; the HATTAAH (Sin Offering) effected purification; the SHELAMIM (Peace Offering) effected reconciliation; the ASHAM (Guilt Offering) effected restitution; Moses offers complete atonement for sin and full forgiveness of crimes to individual Israelite worshipers who come in the prescribed way (Leviticus 1:4; 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7, 30; 7:7; 8:15, 34; 9:7; 10:17; 12:7, 8; 14:18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 31, 53; 15:15, 30; 17:11; 19:22). A key example of the offer of clean bill of spiritual health, in which David is confident, is as follows:

And the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty - Leviticus 6:7

David believed in the Promise of Atonement proclaimed and trumpeted on the Day of Atonement - both in the preceding rites by which the Aaronic priest cleansed himself, and in the two-goat, two-scene, act of Yom Kippurim proper (ONE to slaughter, ONE to scapegoat), the entire nation expected full cancellation of annual sins (Leviticus 16:6, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 24, 27, 30, 32, 33, 34; 23:28):

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins - Leviticus 16:30

David believed in the Promise of Atonement which was enacted in the ritual presentation and slaughter substitutes - Moses records how worshipers brought prescribed animals to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting: hands were laid on the head of the sacrifice while sin was confessed, thereby signalling transfer or imputation of the guilt of the sinner to the beast - violent slaughter of the victim then took place; blood was next collected and manipulated by the priest who finally prepared the slain beast for offering on the altar - incinerated in flames, indicative of wrath, God was propitiated by this acceptable sacrifice; where faith was present, worshipers were shocked at the blood-bath sin required - but they were also assured and relieved that guilt was pardoned.

David believed the Word of Absolution and Benediction pronounced by Priests after cleansing rituals (for lepers or murderers) - David's request for sprinkling with hyssop (v7) could be a direct request to God for purging in symbolic language: given the Old Testament context, and David's hope of public absolution from pollution (possibly as a leper or probably as a murderer), at which point cleansing would be pronounced, we should consider another possibility - it could well be a request to be sprinkled in God's House by the appointed priest.

Cleansing of the leper is mentioned below:

And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only an eruption. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean - Leviticus 13:6

Cleansing of corpse contact is found in Numbers 19 - by this David may concede, though he only ordered it, his own sword had put Uriah to death (if his reference is neither to a leper nor a murderer then the reference is to the Covenant at Sinai or another levitical sprinkling):

"Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days ...Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean." - Numbers 19:11-19

David believed in the faithful, unchanging, character of the Covenant LORD - His attributes of mercy, compassion, long-suffering, loving-kindness and forgiveness (where mercy triumphs over judgment) were proclaimed to Moses on Mount Sinai - if God's punishment is limited, His pardon is liberal:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" Exodus 34:5-7

David, believing all these verbalized or typified promises, prophecies and portraits of God's offered pardon, by grace, through faith, received the atonement that was promised - these prophecies, promises and pictures of forgiveness were the appointed means of grace in the days in which David lived. By faith, these rites were powerfully applied to His conscience by the Holy Spirit. This Old Testament "chief of sinners" believed he was fully forgiven by God. He requested full atonement and received total acquittal. He repented and believed the Gospel freely offered by God in the promises, shadows and types of Christ contained the Law of Moses. This has huge implications for grasping what an Old Testament believer actually received when he truly sought forgiveness from God.

Provisional Conclusion

The forgiveness that the Son of Jesse experienced was, qualitatively at least, all other things being equal, identical in substance to the forgiveness we receive from God on the far side of the Cross. This is true even though, quantitatively and historically, David's grasp on Christ's work was deficient and dimmer in comparison to ours. It does stress, however, that all sinners throughout history who truly seek God's mercy, and use the appointed means, will have the Gospel applied powerfully to the conscience by the Spirit. Having shown clearly on what basis God forgave David, we need to recall the grounds on which the Holy God of Israel could pardon this sinner and uphold His own demands of justice.


Revelation is progressive. Incarnation is vital. Calvary is Ultimate: David's ground of pardon is identical to ours - finality and fullness of atonement accomplished by Christ. David's was FULLY but NOT FINALLY forgiven - sin, death, Hell and Satan were only vanquished finally by Jesus' finished work at Calvary's Yom Kippur!

The basis of David's pardon is the Old Testament Gospel Offer. Yet the ground of all atonement through faith in prophecies, shadows and types of the Law rests entirely and exclusively upon this: the infinite merit of Christ's offering of Himself.

Christ's ONE death is applied in TWO ways: prospectively and virtually forwards from Creation; and historically and retrospectively back from Calvary (He is God's Lamb slain from the foundation of the world and God's Lamb slain at the Father's right hand).


If our line of argument is correct, there are THREE areas to which this teaching could be applied.

First to Christians - if BC David could experience and testify joyfully to the free full forgiveness of sin, then AD Believers should have clearer sights, deeper assurance, fuller joy and bolder witness to what God's pardoning of their sin. If David experienced power in prophecies, shadows and type of the Old Testament Law, we should fully anticipate an assurance of full forgiveness, pardon, and acceptance which is qualitatively identical but quantitatively fuller. How sad some who claim to follow Christ deny that it is possible, and not presumptuous, to claim full assurance. This points to an erroneous system defective in doctrine or practice.

Second to Ceremonies - predominantly-ritualistic or sacerdotal “Christianity” is dark, superstitious and leaves the conscience of worshipers stained and fearful. It is this that explains what appears to be an absence of assurance among the adherents of these religions - we think there may be at least FOUR reasons for this:

Disowning the Means - Judaizing rites dressed up in Christian garb are not an appointed means of grace. The Holy Spirit only owns the means that God has appointed in His Word to communicate grace to a worshiper who seeks pardon freely offered in the Gospel: foot-washing, mass, unction or mass are not efficacious - it is the Word of God read, preached, sung & signified (Baptism and the Lord's Supper or Communion) by which Christ put sinners and saints at rest. God's Spirit does not work through other powerless means.

Undermining the Gospel - Jewish ritual appended to Christ's atonement effectively detracts from (and casts doubt upon) the sufficiency and finality of His Work: if, after Calvary, temple rites were out-of-date, later Christ-Plus gospels that add sacerdotal rites imply that, in some way, Christ's Blood is deficient.

Grieving the Spirit - Regressive ritualistic forms of "Christianity," by undermining the finality of Christ's work, drive away the Spirit: where He is absent, grace is not communicated - sacerdotal systems cannot assure pardon or cleanse a conscience.

Destroying the Faith - Sacerdotal rites run contrary to the Gospel, destroy true faith in Christ, and casts aspersions on God’s ability and willingness to atone.

Third to Christo-Centrists - Some might regard this as a more controversial point - some careful qualifications will be required (perhaps those could be dealt with in a later blog) - but Old Testament preaching and teaching will not be owned by God, or edifying to His Church, unless the following things are true (at least): first it is properly positioned on the timeline of redemption; second it is carefully unpacked in its historical context; third it focused on faith that finds fulfillment in Jesus-Messiah; fourth, it is thus owned by the Spirit as a lively means of grace.

Preaching that is Blessed - By this Christ-centered, progressive-revelatory, grammatical-historical, Spirit-illumining method, Messiah-Jesus reveals Himself works through His appointed means. Law, Prophets and Writings are owned as His own by our Head. Through preaching from these texts, Emmaus-like saving power, warmth, light, health, joy and peace is brought to the heart, as He shows us His own face in promises, shadows and types. Even "sacerdotal texts" like Leviticus, preached in this way, still thrill flock-hearts with robes and rites related right to the Crucified Christ: believers now and always should marvel at how God's one redemptive purpose has been worked-out in such an intricate, wise, sovereign, brilliant, and timely manner in Jesus .

Preaching that is Blighted - If, however, the Old Testament is mishandled (easier to do than not), pastors and hearers twist the Living Word into a Christ-concealed 'dead letter': the tragic result is a sermon without Christ, a people lacking joy, either salvation or sanctification by works alone, and a church of moralists, who in pharisaic self-righteous builders who reject the Head Cornerstone. Examples are only 'cut straight' when taught 'in union with Christ by faith through grace'. May the Lord forgive us for moralistic sermons and Sabbath-school lessons by which we have ignorantly veiled God-owned truth. How we need to ask the Savior to read and teach the way He did - Pray that every Old Testament text that a pastor decides to preach would be both a personal and congregational "fresh Emmaus!"


There only ever was and is one Gospel of free pardon through faith, by grace, in Christ alone - Abram enjoyed it, Moses enjoyed it, David enjoyed it, so you enjoy it too! Full forgiveness assured! Repent and believe, all sinners and saints, in the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and raised. Salvation is found in no-one or anything else!

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr

Pastor of Ridgefield Park NJ (NYC Metro Area) - Husband of Hazel, Dad to Rebekah, Paul & Andrew, Father-in-Law to Matt, Loves Skiing, Dog Walking. Passionate for Old Testament - in Deep Need of Grace

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