Psalm 51 - Part 1
Much spiritual wisdom can be gained by studying the flora and fauna around us. Take, for instance, a tree I trimmed as a gardener years ago.
Outwardly, the tree exhibited life and health. Internally, however, the evidence could not have been more contrary. Cutting my way through a large vibrant branch with a sharp, many-toothed bow saw, shock seized me when the blade sliced quickly through the main trunk, exiting with great force and puncturing my leg in twenty-seven places. The excruciating pain literally took my breath away. Why did this happen? An internal disease, unseen to the naked eye based upon external analysis, had slowly and methodically eaten the inner core of the once mighty, powerful branch. (For those wondering what happened to me, well, I recovered, eventually.)
Ah, now your mind is automatically seeing the spiritual import of this gardening story. Sometimes our lives can reflect the branch in question. Outwardly, we deceive people, and sometimes ourselves, into thinking our life is, for all intents and purposes, flourishing. Inwardly, however, another story is played out. A hideous, heinous sin we committed in the past, or are still “enjoying” in the present, eats away at the inner core of our spiritual lives. We smile at others, pray in small groups, and attend Bible studies, but the background noise of guilt, brought on by the Holy Spirit (John 14; 16), haunts and hamstrings us, leaving us unsettled, fearful, and despondent. And the longer we wait to address the disease, the more it eats away at our once well-ordered, vibrant spiritual life.
I do not know what sin or sins you have committed, but you do, especially right now for the Spirit of God has His finger on it. Your wife might not know what you did on a given business trip, you might have duped your parents where you and your girlfriend really went and who you were with, your commanding officer probably does not know what you did in the heat of a battle, but you do, and your manager is most likely clueless what you did when no one was looking, but you know what you did, or are currently doing, which has spiritual disease and sin written all over it.
What do you do if this describes your spiritual life? First, do not lose hope. With a loving, yet holy, heavenly Father, there is always a road from ruination to restoration. Second, understand that, despite what the raspy voice of the Devil might whisper in your ear, there is no sin greater than the grace of God. None. Period. Julia Johnston’s hymn from the late 1800s, Grace Greater Than Our Sin, puts this point in perspective:
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide;
What can we do to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
Third, learn from the life of David. Even though he was “a man after God’s own heart,” he followed the lusts of his own sinful heart when he just had to have another man’s wife, Bathseba. From the recounting of the sad, sordid story in 2 Samuel chapters 11 through 12, we readily learn how David’s sexual escapade slowly and surely caused him to break the last five of the Ten Commandmants.
- Number six. You shall not murder. He arranged for the death of Bathseba’s military husband, Uriah, by putting him in a forward and dangerous battle position.
- Number seven. You shall not commit adultery. He went there after his look lust of her bathing turned into an action of lust.
- Number eight. You shall not steal. He took a woman who did not belong to him.
- Number nine. You shall not bear false witnesss against your neighbor. Yes, he lied, as most sinners do, to cover up his sexual perversion.
- Number ten. You shall not covet. He desired what was not rightfully and legally his, and he moved from coveting to getting what, and who, he wanted . . . regardless of God’s law.
His wilfull breakage of the Law came down hard on him, didn’t it? How do I know this? Because David says this much in Psalm 51. He enjoyed the stolen waters of Bathsheba for a brief moment, but then guilt, brought on the the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, not only showed him his sins, but showed him the path to pardon and peace.
If a sin or sins has utterly destroyed your inner spiritual life, then let Psalm 51 be your road from ruination to restoration. Here David humbly recounts how he, coupled, no doubt, with the help of the prophet Nathan who eventually confronted him (2 Sam. 12:1-15), dealt with the disease of his dark deeds. I am sure the following question, which arises naturally from the inspired text, is not only David’s question . . . it is yours right now.
How Can I Secure Inner Peace Through A Divine Pardon? (Psalm 51)
The answer to this all-important life question is brought out by the structure of this personal Psalm of lament. We will take that ancient structure and make it contemporary and highly personal. David’s agonizing path back to God from his utterly godless actitives first teaches us that this truth:
You Must Plead (Psalm 51:1-2)
The heading here, which is the first verse in the Hebrew text, gives us the historical setting of the Psalm, much like that of Psalm 3. Immediately, we know the background of what David describes here is built, as I said, upon the historical record of 2 Samuel 11 through 12. In these passages, we learn how David’s lust led to adultery, adultery led to lying, and lying terminated in the murder of an innocent man. Psalm 51 tells us the painful process David worked through as God convicted him of his sins, and prepared his wicked heart for confession and cleasning.
For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
The Scripture is clear: “. . . be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). David temporarily got away with his sin; however, God, who knows what we do in secret (Luke 8:17), has many ways of convicting us. Internally, Psalm 51 tells us David wrestled with his personal demons of decadence, and thereby shows us how God convicts us within our spirits. Externally, God can use a friend, a Nathan, as it were, to confront us with our wrongdoing so we can come clean. Is your conscience speaking to you? Has a “Nathan” come to you with incontrovertible evidence of wilfull sin against God? How will you respond is the question. Hopefully, you will follow David’s lead:
1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Standing in the dark hole of sin, David saw the stars of God’s wonderful attributes, and he knew he had to appeal to those attributes to secure release and relief from his sins. Why did he think this? Because he knew that sin against a holy God can only be dealt with by that God. So, he begged for God to “be gracious” to him. The Hebrew, hanan ( חָנַן ) lexically denotes unmerited favor, or doing something wonderful for someone who definitely does not deserve it. David’s plea for God’s grace is intimately wedded to God’s loving-kindness, which is from the Hebrew, hesed ( חֶסֶד ), denoting God’s loyal love for His children. Interesting, while we can have times where we, like David, are highly unfaithful to God, He is never unfaithful to us. He is always there with you, even when you do things which make Him weep.
In light of God’s rich character of compassionate mercy, David makes a plea for God to do three things for him in light of God’s penchant for showing His saints “tender mercy.” The verbs express David’s desire:
. . . blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
“Blot” denotes the wiping away of an amount due from a ledger. Hence, David begs God to do the same with his sin(s), knowing that God is keeping an account of them for the day of judgment. I love the way Spurgeon describes this, “Obilterate the record, though now it seems engraven in the rock for ever: many storkes of they mercy may be needed, to cut out the deep inscription, but then thou hast a multitude of mercies, and therefore, I beseech thee, erase my sins.” Is this not what you want? You want God, who is holy, who cannot tolerate your unholy activity, to wipe away the dark stain your sin has made upon your soul.
“Wash me thoroughly,” is a second imperative from a lesser, David, to a greater, God, expressing his desire. The Hebrew term here readily denotes kneading and washing clothes so the stains and dirt are driven out, leaving only a clean garment. Again, is this not what you seek from God know that you know your sin is open scandal before His throne?
David’s third imperative is from the Hebrew root taher (טָהֵֽר), which speaks of using the process of smelting to remove dross so that precious metals can be exposed. Hence, David says, “God, there is a lot of dross in my life related to my initial sin with Bathsheba. Would you do what is necessary to burn that dross out so my life can be pristine and holy before you again?” Can you not see how David seeks forgiveness from several angles? It is as if he says, “Lord, blot out my sin as if from a divine ledger, and if that is not enough, then, wash the stain of sin out of me. If that is not sufficient, please, use your divine fire to simply burn the wickedness out of my life so that I can walk in peace with you again.”
Is this the story of your life right now? Are you ready for this to be your plea to God? God is gracious to us when we sin, but we must call out to Him based on His character, especially that facet of His character known as grace and mercy. David’s life had become completely polluted from his sin. That one adulterous action spread through the other facets of his life like a destructive virus. That one sinful deed stained his soul with many other unthinkable sins. Put differently, David knew his sin was not isolated to one compartment of his life, but was highly comprehensive. The three different words for sin he employs shows us this sad truth. “Transgressions,” or pesha ( פֶּשַׁע) in verse 3 . . . and verse 5 . . . denotes open rebellion, or willfully going against established laws. When I, along with my friend, Donnie, climbed over a perimiter fence at church camp marked “No Trespassing,” this was pesha. We went where we were not supposed to go, and we encountered a large bull during out wicked walk. Who says sin pays? “Iniquity,” or awon ( עָוֹן) in verse 4 . . . and 11 . . . denotes a distortion of that which is natural. Literally, it means to bend or twist something. It is used in Psalm 38:7 to describe how intense pain bends and twists the body like a woman in childbirth. In relation to the Torah, or God’s law, it means to purposefully take what God has said and to intentionally distort it to say what it does not. Is this not what adultery, lying, and murder are? Sin always bends the twists God’s law for how to live life to the fullest, and it leave the person in question with a bent and tweaked life. David understood this all too well. “Sin” is from the Hebrew, hattat ( חַטָּאת), which is one of the main nouns for wickedness in the Old Testament. As I have taught before, originally the word was used in a military setting of sling shot soldiers missing their targets. Quite naturally, this word easily was applied to sin because it is usually a purposeful missing of the target of God’s law and His dictates and teaching regarding holiness. From these three words, we can safely surmise that David knew his life was, at this juncture, riddled through and through with every kind of sin imaginable. And because he had this knowledge he wanted the whole weight of it completely removed from his life by the only One who could do it, viz., the great God who is full of grace and desirous of forgiving repentant sinners. Ezekiel reminds us of this rich truth in chapter 18 of his prophet work:
31 Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?
32 For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies, says the Lord GOD. Therefore turn and live! (Ezek. 18).
That new heart which loves God can only come from Him. The way you get it back, if you are saint, is to offer your plea of repentance to the Lord who stands ready to forgive and restore you. If you are not His child right now, the path is the same: Confess that Jesus is the Lord (Rom. 10:9), who died for our sins and rose from the grave, and God will forgive you and make you a new person, filled with the power of the Spirit to live for Him. As Paul reminds us,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.. (2 Cor. 5).
Regardless of who you are right now, God lovingly waits to hear your plea directed toward Him. The road from ruination to restoration starts with that heartfelt cry to God. Are you ready right now to come clean and to get clean, spiritually speaking? God is waiting for your next move. When you deal seriously with your sin, God will always respond in grace.
Second, we learn from David’s spiritual journey from badness to gladness that . . .
You Must Be Precise (Psalm 51:3-5)
Do not be vague when you come before God seeking forgiveness. On the contrary, be exact with your confession, for He, who is omniscient, knows the details of your debauchery, be what it may (Luke 12:2; Heb. 4:13). Instead of blaming Bathsheba for the adulterous relationship, David comes clean:
3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
Translated, David says he knows exactly what he did which constituted sin. He did not try and color code it, to rationalize it, or to deflect it onto someone else. No, he owned it. How could he not because the sins in question were, as he states, “ever before me.” He could not escape the shocking nature of what he, a godly man, had perpetrated. Not a day went by when he did not think to himself, “What were you thinking, man, when you, of all people, went after Bathsheba? And how could you have set up that scenario to have your faithful soldier and her husband killed, or really murdered?” When we sin, this is the divine drill. God’s Spirit keeps our sin before us so we can be moved to stand before Him and ultimately find
You Must Petition (Psalm 51:6-12)
6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. 7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.
You Must Promise (Psalm 51:13-19)
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise. 16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. 18 By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, In burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.