Psalm 51 - Part 2
The young bride-to-be had a credit card problem. During our last counseling session prior the wedding, I discovered she, at twenty-seven years old, had a minimum payment on her Visa card for $720. You read that right. After I explained to her and her groom how to strategically eliminate this massive debt, she looked at me and said, “You mean when I go to the mall and I access it by means of Macy’s, I can’t stop and buy things I find along the way?”
Predictably I said, “That is EXACTLY what I am saying.” She had a sin problem with materialism, and together they needed to address it. Sadly, I do not think she ever addressed it, first, before God, though . . . but let that go.
A year later, the newlywed called me. “Pastor, my marriage is in trouble.”
“Why,” I asked.
“My grandmother died and left me money in an private account. My husband, who has an insatiable gambling problem, discovered my secret password and spent all that money gambling online.” Since 75% of all marriages which end in divorce do so because of money mismanagement, her story did not shock me. What did catch me off guard was her husband’s out-of-control, sinful addiction. Last I heard, he, a believer, was not too repentant about his unscrupulous, unthoughtful activities.
One thing, I’m sure, was sure in their lives: The Holy Spirit worked overtime, as He did in David’s life, to convict them of their collective sin so they could get back on the peaceful road to spiritual maturity, while also breathing health and wholeness in their messed-up marriage.
After David threw his spirituality to the wind with Bathsheba, he kept his wickedness hidden from the people, as well as the gambler deceived me as I explained how to get rid of their debt, for almost a year. What happened to him during that year? Psalm 51 tells us. God, the lover of his soul, God the God of all grace and mercy (Jonah 4:1-2), God who is also holy, worked on the king’s soiled heart and mind to move him from disobedience to obedience. That trying, spiritually and emotionally tiring year culminated in David being confronted by Nathan the prophet. Once the wise man uncovered the king’s sins, the king, as we see in this enlightening Psalm, was ready and willing to come clean and rededicate himself to the Lord.
Is this your story? You, too, have committed a sin which has devolved into others sins. The result? You can’t sleep at night. You have lost your inner peace and joy. You keep lying to keep your tracks covered. Your relationships are not optimal. And you know, deep in your soul, you need to get to a better spiritual place so your life can be enjoyable and effective like it used to be. What do you need to do, is the question. Learn from David’s journey back to God. His journey, as yours, is built on the answers to the question before us, a question which naturally arises from this inspired song from Israel’s ancient worship.
How Can I Secure Inner Peace Through A Divine Pardon? (Psalm 51)
- You Must Plead (Psalm 51:1-2)
- You Must Be Precise (Psalm 51:3-5)
Both of these practical point are validated in David’s words in the first five verses:
1 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight-- that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (Ps. 51).
If the Spirit of God is speaking to you about your sin(s), I pray you will not waste any time weaving these two concepts into your prayer life. They are the path back to peace with the Lord, your Shepherd, who loves you (John 10).
In addition to these two concepts, we encounter two more in verses 6 through 19:
You Must Petition (Psalm 51:6-12)
After throwing himself on God’s fathomless mercy, and doing so in an authentic, honest, and transparent fashion, David now turns and pours his heart out regarding what he needs from his Lord. Before he gets to his formal request, he details what God desires most from us:
6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
In the Hebrew text, “Behold,” hen (ֵהן ), is emphatically placed at the head of the sentence. With a flash of insight, David powerfully admits what God seeks most from each of us: truth, moral truth, in our innermost being. Why is this of a concern to God? Answer: If there is moral truth in your heart and mind, then there will be better chances of moral living with your outer life. This latter clause is illustrated in the second clause of verse six. Wisdom merely denotes the application of God’s truth(s) to your life. See how this works? Desiring truth inwardly, leads to God teaching you how to live a wise moral life inwardly and outwardly. We are hardwired, from birth, with the capacity to know the difference between morality and immorality, truth and error (Rom. 1:18ff; cf. also J. Budziszewski’s excellent book on the presence of absolute moral law, What We Can’t Not Know), and when our minds are renewed by a faith relationship with Christ (Eph. 2:1-3), we really know, with great specificity, how God wants His chosen people to live.
Such thinking, of course, cannot come from science and its love affair with evolution. Zoologist Richard Dawkins confesses as much, “Science has not methods for deciding what is ethical.”1 Derk Pereboom does an excellent job summarizing the limits of science, “... out best scientific theories indeed have the consequence that we are not morally responsible for our actions . . . [We are] more like machines than we ordinarily suppose.”2 This is, admittedly, the foregone conclusion when science meets morals because, as Paul Copan argues, “If intrinsic value does not exist from the outset, its emergence from nonvaluable processes is difficult to explain. It doesn’t matter how many non-personal and nonvaluable components we happen to stack up: from valuelessness, valuelessness comes . . . Moral values—the instantiation of moral properties—and personhood are intertwined: moral properties are instantiated through personhood, which is ontologically rooted in God’s character.”3 Indeed. God gives people the capacity to know moral truth from moral error (Rom. 1:18ff), and where His children are concerned, who are made alive by the Spirit, this concept is even more potent.
Translated: David knew better; however, he willfully went against God’s moral law and let his lust run, as they say down South, hog wild. But now, after the Spirit has worked on his compromised conscience, the King admits that he understands moral truth, and desires to obey if so he can, in turn, live a wise life for a change. If you have been running from God’s moral truth in your heart and mind, seeking to justify and rationalize your actions, please, get real for your unrepentant life will only lead to unwise living. Far wiser to admit that God’s ways are the ways to live.
With this truth out on the proverbial table, David moves to petition God directly for what he desperately needs from him so he can get his moral/spiritual life back in proper order. The verses in these six verses tell the story by presenting us with hoped for causes which will lead to amazing, intimacy producing effects.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
“Purify,” in the Piel form of this Hebrew verb, is most unusual. Since it is built off the word main Hebrew word for sin, what David’s asks for here is for God, by His great power, to drive this sinful propensity with lust from his life. In a literal sense he really asks God to de-sin him in this critical area which so plagues him. Tying the word to hyssop, David asks for inner cleansing of his stained soul. A hyssop branch was used to apply sacrificial blood to the doorposts of Israelite homes so the death angel would pass over them (Ex. 12:22), and it was also used in the Tabernacle and Temple, along with a sacrificial animal (viz., a bird) to purify lepers who were healed and desired renewed fellowship with God. Spiritually and figuratively, David begs for God to cleanse his inner man, by means of the appropriate sacrifice, from his wicked way(s). Is this not what you crave, you who are God’s child but have willingly and knowingly walked away from Him? Deep in your heart and mind you know that not any old approach to God will do. No, you know that interior cleansing, which can only be performed by God, is what you need to get back on the spiritual track.
What else do you need? What did David desire? He desires for God to reach down from heaven and wash his wicked soul from the dark, destructive stain of sin. Should God do this the result is always predictable. He, out of love for you, makes your soul whiter than snow. Ever hiked in snow? I have. The path through the snow is always brown, dirty, and ugly. The snow underneath the trees is always pristine, perfect, and desired. Is the former a picture of your spiritual walk because you have sinned against God? If so, at the moment of confession God will take the darkness of what you have done and He will powerfully restore and rejuvenate you, leaving you feeling clean on the inside. What errant child of God would not want this?
David wanted this divine cleansing after Nathan confronted him. In verse 8, his request to God focuses on what he wants to hear from He who is holy:
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Essentially, David says, “God tell me that you are willing to purge my life of these sins, yes, let me hear you say you happy to be merciful to me.” In the second clause, the king admits that his sin has met with the discipline of God (Heb. 12:1-5). His bones, of course, were not literally crushed, but the weight of his sins had, in fact, felt like his bones were being crushed. Ever been there? Ever felt like your sins were so great you had a hard time breathing? Talk about something which will kill your inner joy. However, joy would return, as David points out, if the Lord would kindly grant him, the errant child, a heavy dose of divine forgiveness. If He would do this, David knew he would break into words of joy. Wouldn’t you? Of course. Freedom from sin always brings a smile to one’s face. “Blessed [or happy] is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).
David’s fifth and sixth petitions are most logical:
9 Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
David employs anthropomorphic language here for God, who is Spirit, to hide his “face” from his sin. True, God is omniscient, hence it is logically impossible for Him not to know or be aware of anything and everything. And this knowledge, coupled with his intrinsic holy nature (Isa. 6), moves Him to judge if repentance is not offered by the sinner. With all of this in mind, David gingerly requests for God to not act upon that which He knows about his sinful escapades. The only time God would honor this prayer is when His child repents and seeks forgiveness. Otherwise, God is forced to move in judgment by definition of His character. David wisely, therefore, asked God to look away in forgiveness regarding his dark, devious, debauched life choices.
And while God is looking away, David asks, again, for his sins to be removed from God’s ledger entry of his life. Sins, here, is from the Hebrew, aon (ָעוֹן),which literally denotes something which is crooked as opposed to straight. Applied to morals, it means you follow the straight line of God’s prescriptions. To deviate, as David did, was/is to act in a crooked fashion. As a side note, this is what led the atheist C. S. Lewis to faith in God. In Mere Christianity, the wise man observes:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”4
Unless you have an absolute to measure morals against, any moral is just as good as the next one. But once you say that one moral is true and another is false, or a perversion of the true, you are making a measurement. Again, in a valueless, vacuous cosmos, the only way you arrive at absolute morals, viz., the straight line, is to ground them in God, who is the fountainhead of all morals.
Where David was concerned, he knew his activity with Bathsheba was crooked as opposed to straight, and so, too, were all the other sins which flowed from this. Essentially, then, David asks God to remove this propensity for crooked, twisted immoral behavior from his soul of souls. What a wise request for it is only the Creator who is equipped to reach down from heaven and fix you at this unseen, complex level. May David’s petition, at this juncture be yours, you who know your life choices are the epitome of moral crookedness. May your prayer be for God to once and for all take this adultery, affair, addiction (chemical/behavioral), verbal violence, physical violence, kleptomania, habitual lying and so forth and make you morally straight again.
The king’s humble request here naturally evolves into his seventh and eight petitions to God.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Focus, if you will, on the name of God here. It is Elohim ( ֱא� ִ ֑הים ), the great, all all-powerful name of the Creator of all things seen and unseen, simple and highly complex ( Gen. 1:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31). This creativity and power is described well by John Lennox, who summarizes the words of geneticist Michael Denton:
Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological systems, such as a crystal or a snowflake, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive. Even the tiniest of bacterial cells, weighing less than a trillionth of a gram, is a veritable microminiaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of 100 thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world.
Why spend time on this quote from science? Here’s why. The God who fashioned all of this “unseen” complexity, which works with perfect precision, beyond the capability of man, is MORE THAN CAPABLE of taking your diseased heart with its diseased propensities (be what they may), and to fashion one which is not prone to these types of sin ANYMORE. You might need to re- read that, especially if you think there is no way back to God from what you have done (repeatedly). Will you come to the One who can do this for you? Regarding this question, Spurgeon observes,
“In the seventh verse he asked to be clean; now he seeks a heart suitable to that cleanliness; but he does not say, ‘Make my old heart clean;’ he is too experienced in the hopelessness of the old nature. He would have the old man buried as a dead thing, and a new creation brought in to fill its place. None but God can create either a new heart or a new earth. Salvation is a marvelous display of supreme power; the work in us as much as that for us is wholly Omnipotence . . . The heart is the rudder of the soul, and till the Lord take it in hand we steer in a false and foul way. O Lord, thou who didst make me, be pleased to new make me, and in my most secret parts renew me”
Ah, might this be your prayer to He who, out of love for you, waits to re-fashion you so you can, and will, live for Him. This is what David asks here from God. Further, a new heart will, by definition, require God to reach into his soul and give him a strength in his mind and soul he did not possess formerly. In Hebrew the word for steadfast spirit literally denotes the massive pillars which hold up a house (Jud. 16:26, 29). Applied to David, it speaks of divine power brought to bear on his weak, wicked will. Applied to you, it might speak of God giving you a new heart and new will, a new strength so that pornography, as magnetic as it is for men, will lose is powerful draw upon your eyes. For another, it might speak of the power God gives you to stop cutting yourself and to start caring for yourself. Either way it is an infusion of divine power which you need to move onward and upward to victory.
David’s ninth and tenth petition is not applicable to New Testament saints.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
In the dispensation of the Law, the Spirit was given (temporarily) to four types of people: prophets, priests, kings, and craftsmen of the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 31:3; Num. 27:18; Dan. 4:8). David lived to see what the removal the Spirit did to Saul when he sinned (repeatedly) against God’s word and way (2 Sam. 16:1; 2 Sam. 7:15). He, who had received the same empowerment as a politician (1 Sam. 16:13), did not want to lose this privilege. Without the Spirit, David knew the victory over his sinful ways would be futile. Hence, the essence of his requests here. Spiritual weakness could only be overcome by the power of the Spirit working through his spirit.
In the New Testament age, we all now have the Spirit at the moment of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14). He comes to indwell us forever when He seals us with His holy presence. The fact He does not leave when we sin is easily demonstrated from Paul’s discussion in Ephesians 4:25-30.
5 Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another. 26 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil. 28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph. 4).
The Spirit grieves when we sin because He cannot leave us based on the fact He is our seal of belonging to God until the day of final, complete redemption. Our sin can, and will, also “quench the Spirit,” as Paul informs us in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 19. Ostensibly, this means our sin can, and will, short-circuit His power to assist us in living a holy life before God. Applying David’s words, therefore, to our day and age, we are simply saying, “God, forgive me of my sin so you are not grieved by my actions and so that your power is unleashed in my life in a profound fashion.” Is God grieved by what you have done, or are doing? Has your sin limited His power to transform you? If so, I think you know what course of action is warranted.
The eleventh and twelfth facets of David’s pointed petition are most desired from sin- weary sinners.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Yes, “God give me the joy I had when I first came to know you, and, please, give me a spirit which works with you, not against you.” Amen to that.
I don’t know what is going in your life right now. I surely don’t know what sin, or sins, you have committed, or are committing. But you do, and you also know how it is eating away at your life like a relentless cancer. What’s your way back to an intimate, peaceful, and powerful walk with Christ? You must plead with the God of all mercy. You must be highly precise in laying out your sin(s) before Him who sees and knows all. You must petition Him to do a work in and on your soul so you become the man or woman you have wanted to be for years.
What is supposed to occur when, not if, God grants you His rich, royal forgiveness? David answers this query in the ensuing verses:
You Must Promise (Psalm 51:13-19)
First, let’s read the text and then offer some salient, practical observations:
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You.
Show me someone who is forgiven of their sin, and I’ll show you someone ready and willing to go out and do great things for the God who cleansed them. David is certainly no exception.
Mark well what David promises to do when God washes his soul clean from his heinous sins.
One, he will teach sinners God’s word regarding what is moral and what is not, so that they will, in turn, come to know Him . . . and live for Him (v. 13). Admit it. There is something powerful about a spiritually changed life speaking to those who don’t know God, or who do know Him are choose to walk away from Him. Why was Paul so effective in reaching Jewish legalists when he taught in synagogues? He had been the tip of the spear of thinking that religious legalism is the path to Paradise. Once, however, he encountered the risen Messiah on his road to persecute Christian Jews in Damascus (Acts 9), he knew the difference between law and grace. After that life-changing event, he knew exactly how to talk with people who were deceived like he had been.
Applied to you, the concept is equally applicable. God can use your particular sin, coupled with His rich forgiveness, to make you a powerful force for what it means to walk with the living God. I know. You are prone to think that even if God forgives you, you are so compromised God will never be able to use you to reach anyone in a positive fashion. Think again. My best friend, Alan Reasoner, who is now with the Lord, spent much of his adult life in San Quentin Petitionary in California. While incarcerated he came to know Christ, and once released he knew, certainly more than I, how to touch the lives of other criminal for his Lord.
Will you commit, right now, to teach others about what God has done for you?
Two, will you promise to sing privately and publically of God’s great grace (v. 14)? This is exactly what David says he will do:
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.
Will you tell other men at Base Camp? Will you be authentic with your Life Group? Will you tell your girlfriend’s at The Mix? Yes, will you joyously give praise to the God who has forgiven you? Three, will you stop thinking God accepts outer religious actions for forgiveness without
the person being internally broken up about his sin?
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.
David is not saying the entire sacrificial system which God gave to Israel was ineffective. Far from it. What he is saying is what is going on in and with your heart is way more important the number of sacrifices you place on the altar. David could have offered 1,000 peace offerings at the Tabernacle; however, none of this would have meant anything if his heart had not been convicted and crushed by the despicable nature of his sins. You and I are no different. God wants your heart, not your hands full of religious activities, be what they may. Will you give it to Him? Will you be brave enough to ask Him to break your strong-willed spirit as it relates to your sin?
As a by-product, we must, as David did, and ask ourselves: What happens when we decide to get right with God for a change? Our renewed standing renews our culture:
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.
These words are so appropriate, especially for our devious, decadent day. What we need are saints from all ages and all walks of life to come clean from their sin(s), to confess it/them, to seek God’s empowerment for victorious living, and to promise to be used publically and privately for God. What happens when this happens? The moral walls of the lives of those around you will be strengthened by the hope your example will give them.