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Delight in Sacrifices of Righteousness: Psalm 51 (part 20)

“Then you will delight in sacrifices of righteousness—

a burnt offering, even a whole one;

then bulls will go up upon your altar.”

(Psalm 51:21 {Psalm 51:19 in English Bibles})

 

“Then,” David begins, pointing back to the verse that stands just before it—then, in light of the goodness of God as it is expressed to Israel, then, David suggests, the people will respond in righteousness—not only with proper sacrifices on the altar, but in faithful living.  As David stated above—apart from faith and righteousness and a heart that is broken and supple in God’s hand, sacrifices are of no value to the individual.  And note how I translated the first clause of this verse.  Most of our major translations translate it as “right sacrifices” (ESV, NRSV), or “righteous sacrifices” (NASB, NIV), which implies nothing more than a proper sacrifice of animals on God’s altar.  Yet, the Hebrew literally reads, “sacrifices of rightousness”—righteousness being a noun and not an adjective—and should be translated as such (KJV).  David is not reflecting on the proper sacrifice of animals on the altar—that would contradict what he wrote in verses 15-17 (in the English numbering), David is using parallelism to connect the personal righteousness and holiness of God’s people to burnt sacrifices that are raised to heaven.  In other words, righteousness itself was the sacrifice before God.

There is also a note that must be said about the sacrifice of bulls.  In the ancient tabernacle and temple worship, many different animals were brought as sacrifice, and the kind of sacrifice that was to be given determined the animals that were to be brought.  One important aspect of the sacrifice of bulls is that they were used as part of the peace offering (Numbers 7:88; 15:8).  Thus, in the context of this psalm, a psalm of repentance where David is seeking to be restored to peace with God, a more appropriate allusion could not have been made.  At the same time, there is a stern warning set before us in that peace with God requires more than just the slaughter of bulls, but it demands righteousness on the part of the believer.

Oh, how we tend to neglect this important teaching as we seek God’s forgiveness for our sins.  How often do we simply apologize to God and then go right back to the sin that has been a part of our lives?  How often do we take for granted the promise of forgiveness that God gives us in His word?  How often do we live carelessly, neglecting the terrible price that Christ paid on our behalf as a result of sin?  How often do we go through the motions without backing up our prayers with righteous living?  How often do we seek God’s help in seeking righteousness?  We could go on, yet, beloved, remember these words of David and be reminded that without righteousness in living, sacrifices will avail you nothing.

Gracious God, my heart renew,

Make my spirit right and true;

Cast me not away from thee,

Let thy Spirit dwell in me;

Thy salvation’s joy impart,

Steadfast make my willing heart.

-from the Psalter of 1912

 

 

The Walls of Jerusalem: Psalm 51 (part 19)

“Do well, by your grace, in Zion,

you shall build the walls of Jerusalem.”

(Psalm 51:20 {Psalm 51:18 in English Bibles})

 

As David begins to close this prayer, the focus shifts from his personal guilt and needs to the needs of God’s people.  While David, as king of Israel, does have a responsibility toward the people of Israel, it is important that we not see this part of his prayer as flowing only out of his kingly obligation.  Believers in Jesus Christ are bound together in Christ as one body, and thus, ought to have a mindset that is focused on the whole of that body—something that many people call a “Kingdom mentality.”  When one member of your physical body is hurting, not only is that pain felt in other parts of the body, but also you find that other parts of the body will work to compensate for the weakness of the injured member.  So, too it should be with the body of Christ.  We are to rejoice when other members receive great blessing and our hearts should ache when a member of the body experiences great loss.  Sadly, this is an area in which the church often stumbles and falls.

Secondly, look at what David asks God to be the factor that determines such blessing.  David is not saying, do well to Zion because of your great wisdom or justice, nor is he asking blessings on the basis of Israel’s status as God’s people, their heritage, or good works—he pleads God’s good blessings on the basis of God’s good grace.  In many of our English Bible’s this is translated as “favor,” but the word that David employs, !Acr” (ratson), carries with it the connotation of blessing that can only come from the hand of God, often given in connection with faith.  Thus, the English term “grace” is probably a better translation in this context.  Israel certainly has not earned this blessing from God, yet David asks it for God’s people on the basis of God’s gracious character.

The last clause of this verse has caused some people to stumble, for they ask the question, how could this have been written during David’s time, for the walls of Israel were already built?  Thus, some are quick to attribute this to a much later era in history, after the wall had been destroyed.  Yet, there are two things that should be understood.  The first is the practical observation that during ancient times, city walls were always being added to, either in the area that they encompassed or in height.  The strengthening of the city’s walls was a sign of a city’s productivity and power.  In turn, the Hebrew word hn:b” (banah) is flexible enough to carry the connotations of “building up” in addition to “building from scratch.”  Yet, the best way to translate this is in the recognition that Israel’s safety did not come from stones and mortar but came from the very hand of God.  And with this in mind, particularly in the context of David’s request for blessing in the first part of this verse, we should see this language as a metaphor for peace in Israel and security from her enemies.

I wonder sometimes whether we sincerely long to see Christ’s church blessed and at peace.  We might have a yearning to see our local congregation grow or even our denomination, but what about Christ’s church?  Do you pray for the growth of Christ’s church as a whole?  Do you pray for God’s blessing on the other local churches in your neighborhood?  Do you plead with God that these churches would prosper for the gospel even if your own congregation is facing great trials?  So often jealousy shapes our prayers, and that is a sin we must repent of.  Though we have many divisions in the church as an institution, all true believers are bound together in Christ as a united and unified body—how good it would be if we could learn to let our prayers and actions reflect just that.

I love thy church, O God:  her walls before thee stand,

Dear as the apple of thine eye, and graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;

To her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.

-Timothy Dwight

A Broken Spirit and Crushed Heart: Psalm 51 (part 18)

“The sacrifices of God are a spirit that is broken and

a heart that is broken and crushed—

O God, these you will not despise.

(Psalm 51:19 {Psalm 51:17 in English Bibles})

 

There are two ways in which we can look at David’s statement about the “sacrifices of God.”  The first way is the way that this verse is typically seen and that is to say that the sacrifices that are “of God” or are “acceptable to God” are a broken spirit and a broken and a contrite heart.  This interpretation clearly fits the context of the passage as a whole and joins hand in hand with the language about sacrifices that is found in the previous verse, and indeed, those who come before the Lord with hearts that are proud and haughty, filled with a sense of their own achievements, will be sent away in shame.  We are a people who have nothing in our hands to show or offer—our lives and works can only earn us condemnation if it is what we are trusting in to bring us to God. 

Yet, there is a second way that we can understand this verse, and that is as a prophetic statement of the coming of Christ.  For it is God himself who would offer himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of his people—beaten and broken, and suffering not only in his death, but suffering in life as he grieved the state of his covenant people.  Thus, in Christ, God himself offered up the sacrifice of a broken heart as demonstrated in Christ’s suffering and death.  In addition, do not the scriptures speak of our sin grieving the heart of God?  Indeed, out of God’s grieving heart he offered up the sacrifice of his Son so that any who would cling to Him as their Lord and Savior would be redeemed from their sin. 

Oh, loved ones, how the cost of sin should cause us to grieve sin all the more.  Someone else paid the price, took the punishment on our behalf—it cost God what we could not pay.  How, then, knowing this, do we so often take sin so lightly—do we take forgiveness so casually?  Beloved, examine your hearts; see where they are broken and supple, but most importantly, look to find those areas that have gotten proud and hard and pray to God that He will crush those parts to dust.  It will hurt when God does so, but beloved, it is only in brokenness that you can have a heart that is right before God. 

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

-George Matheson

No Pleasure in Sacrifice: Psalm 51 (Part 17)

“For you do not take pleasure in sacrifice—I would give it—

with whole burnt offerings you will not accept with pleasure.”

(Psalm 51:18 {Psalm 51:16 in English Bibles})

 

Passages like this one have often caused people to stumble because of the many sacrifices that God required of the people in the ancient times—sacrifices that are given to be a “pleasing” aroma before God.  Yet, here and in passages like Isaiah 1:11-17, God demonstrates his distaste for such offerings—how are we to make sense of these seemingly contradictory teachings?

To understand this, we must first ask the question as to why there was sacrifice made in the Old Testament times, and the answer brings us around to sin.  As we have mentioned above, where there is no shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22).  Thus, as you looked at the ancient sacrificial system, it becomes more and more clear that this system was not meant to stand alone and deal with sins, but was meant to accompany a heart moved by faith to repentance.  What good was the slaughter of a thousand rams if repentance does not accompany the sacrifice!?!  As David will write in the following verse, it is a broken and a contrite heart that is the acceptable sacrifice before the Lord.

In David’s time—and in our own time as well—there are many people that think that a certain act can save them without a God-given change of heart.  In Roman Catholic theology, oftentimes people fall into the trap of saying, “If I just sponsor enough masses” or “if I just say enough ‘Hail Mary’s,” then I will be alright with God.  In protestant circles, we tend to do the same thing, although we package it differently.  Many say, “If I just say the sinner’s prayer just so” or “if I just go down to an altar call at the proper time,” then I will be alright with God. 

Beloved, true repentance requires a change of your heart, and that change can only come as a result of God changing your heart.  It is not about what you do or when you do what you do, but it is all about what God does in you.  Why does David say that the only sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart?  He says such because without a broken and a contrite heart to begin with, sacrifices will serve you no value.

So back to the issue of sacrifices; there is one more aspect that we need to address, and that is the issue of sacrifices as symbols or pointers to the coming sacrifice of Christ.  The temple sacrifices were imperfect in that they were performed by sinful humans and they were but a shadow of the perfect sacrifice that would come in Jesus Christ.  Yet, at the same time, all the blood that flowed on the ancient altars was meant to make us come to terms with the weight and costliness of sins.  Those ancient sacrifices had to be performed over and over; when the perfect sacrifice came in the person of Jesus Christ, it was performed once and for all time with no need of a repetition.

And herein lies our answer—God took pleasure in the sacrifice when it was offered by one who was offering it up in faith and genuine repentance.  At the same time, many people confuse the symbol with the reality.  The bloody sacrifices were symbolic both of the rent heart of the individual and of the greater sacrifice of Christ—in and of themselves, they had no value.  Many people felt that just as long as they offered the right sacrifice, they would be redeemed—it is these sacrifices that God detests—sacrifices offered as ritual and not in faith and repentance.

Loved ones, this applies directly to us today.  Though we are not making altar sacrifices any more, we are claiming to trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  Yet, if this trust is not accompanied by faith and a heart broken by sin, it will avail nothing.  True repentance accompanies true faith, and without true faith, there is no salvation.  Beloved, take this to heart, and come to our Lord in faith, offering to Christ a heart that has been made supple by the work of the Holy Spirit.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be.

-George Matheson

My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise: Psalm 51 (part 16)

“Oh Lord, my lips you will open,

and my mouth will declare your praise.”

(Psalm 51:17 {Psalm 51:15 in English Bibles})

 

Loved ones, hear these words of David, and hear them well.  When it comes to your worship, and what the writer of Hebrews calls your “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15), the value and quality of it has nothing to do with the skill that is demonstrated.  The value of it lies within the origin of the praise.  Is the praise that you give a product of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, or is it a product of men?  You may have the voice of a world-class operatic singer, but if your song is not powered by the movement of the Holy Spirit, you are but a noisy and lifeless instrument.  Yet, you may have no more skill than a school-child, but if your praise is lifted up by a sincere heart before the Lord, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit, such a song is considered sweet in the ears of God.

Friends, do not forget who it is that is writing these words—it is David the songwriter.  Yet, David understood clearly that the power behind his songs was the working hand of God in his life.  It is God who must open our lips so that praise may flow forth.  At the same time, sometimes our lips become closed in the wake of great sin, yet David sets these words forth in confidence, knowing that in his repentance, God will restore him in faith and will once again give him a voice to sing God’s praises.

Beloved, do you sing to God?  I mean, do you really sing with your whole heart?  Are you intimidated because you have difficulty holding a tune?  Are you afraid that you will be off-key with the person in the pew next to you?  Do you worry what that person will say of your singing behind your back?  Beloved, there may be a hundred reasons why you do not sing your praises to God, but there are an infinite number of reasons to praise him with your whole voice!  Loved ones, we are a people who have been redeemed from sin and death—how can we spend a moment of our lives not praising God?  Yet, if you are one of those who are gifted in voice (something that I am not J), make sure that you are not singing because of the praise of your audience—if you sing thus, it will serve no other purpose.  Rather, sing praise that points to God and use your gift to point others heavenward.  Lastly, loved ones, praise God both inside and outside of His sanctuary.  Praise him when you go to and fro; praise him in your homes and in your cars; praise him in your waking and sleeping—praise him, praise him, praise him in all that you do.  Give God the glory, for great things he has done!

To God be the glory, great things he has done!

So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,

Who yielded his life an atonement for sin,

And opened the life-gate that we may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

Let the earth hear his voice!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

Let the people rejoice!

O Come to the Father through Jesus the Son,

And give him the glory, great things he has done!

-Fanny Crosby

Save Me From Bloodguilt: Psalm 51 (part 15)

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God,

God of my salvation;

My tongue will exult in your righteousness!”

(Psalm 51:16 {Psalm 51:14 in English Bibles})

 

What an amazing picture David paints for us in this verse!  Yet, to understand what he is showing us, we must understand the concept of “bloodguilt” in the Old Testament.  To begin with, blood represented life—it was seen as the life of a man and as the life of a beast (Genesis 9:4); hence the restriction against eating any flesh that still has the blood in it (Deuteronomy 12:23, Acts 15:20).  And, so that we do not end up being smug in our scientific advances, let it be said that there is great truth in this idea that life is in the blood, for when blood is lost, life ebbs away.  If you lose a little, say from a cut, it may be of little consequence, but when a pint is lost, one tends to get a little weak in the knees and light-headed.  And if too much is lost, one will die.  You can commit many crimes against another person, but the shedding of his blood is the most destructive, for it is one he may never recover from.

Hence the idea of “bloodguilt.”  If you are guilty of shedding the blood of another, you are guilty of his blood.  To take this idea one step further, in ancient Jewish practice, there was a member of the family who was seen as the “avenger of blood” (Numbers 35:19).  Were one of his relatives murdered, it was his role to put the murderer to death.  Note that this is not meant as a means of revenge, but as a means of exacting justice.  The blood avenger had rules and restrictions that he had to abide by, and this was simply one means by which capital punishment was carried forth in ancient Israel.  At the same time, God established places in Israel called “Cities of Refuge” where the guilty could flee if the murder committed was not premeditated (Numbers 35:11).  If you made it to the city of refuge before the avenger of blood could kill you, you were given sanctuary.  In turn, you were required to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; when the high priest died, you would be free to return without fear of retribution.

And in this ancient practice, we have a wonderful picture of Christ.  Beloved, our sin makes us guilty of blood—not just the blood of bulls and goats through the generation, but of the blood of one another, and most importantly, of the blood of Christ.  It was Christ, whose sacrifice was planned and set since before the beginning of creation (1 Peter 1:20), who shed his own blood as atonement for our sins.  The penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17)—thus sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).  Our own blood, being tainted by sin, both inherited and actual, is tainted and ineffectual in atoning even for our own sins, let alone for the sins of another, and thus, the necessity for another to provide a sacrifice for us.

Yet, the picture does not end there in terms of the idea of bloodguilt, for it is in Christ that we have our city of refuge—it is in Christ and in Christ alone that we who bear the bloodguilt of sin can flee for refuge.  And what is even more glorious is that is that Christ, the great High Priest, went to his death so that we might be forgiven, no longer convicted criminals hiding for their lives, but forgiven men and women forgiven and adopted as sons and daughters.  Oh, beloved, what a picture of Christ we have in the Old Testament laws of bloodguilt, and here, King David is crying out to God in faith that he would be delivered from the bloodguilt that his sin has brought him—forgiveness that only comes from God through Christ.  This is something that David understood well and looked forward in hopes for the day of seeing the Messiah come.

And as a result of the salvation that is given by God, David rejoices and exults in the righteousness of God.  The verb that David uses to describe his praise is !n:r” (ranan), which means, “to sing,” yet the verb is in the Piel construct, which, in Hebrew, intensifies the verb and gives it a sense of ongoing repetition.  Hence, the idea that David is conveying is of an exuberant, ongoing praise of God, rejoicing in song over and over again in praise.  Oh, were this to describe the praise that we give to God in the salvation that he offers us!

Beloved, in the wake of the forgiveness that God offers us, let us rejoice loudly and with every fiber of our soul.  Let praise flow from our tongues and let joy fill our countenance!  We are redeemed of God!  Christ has provided both a city of refuge and a sacrifice for our sins.  He has done for us what we could never dream of doing for ourselves.  And in Christ we are free and able to proclaim the good news to all that would hear.  And when those around us ask us why it is that we are filled with such joy, let us simply respond, “because Christ is my salvation!”

O worship the King all glorious above,

O gratefully sing his power and his love;

Our shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,

Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

-Robert Grant

Teaching Rebels God’s Ways: Psalm 51 (part 14)

“I will teach rebels your ways,

and sinners will return to you.”

(Psalm 51:15 {Psalm 51:13 in English Bibles})

 

What then should be the outward response of the believer to the forgiveness of God?   While praise is usually the first thing that comes to mind—and it is an essential response, and part of David’s psalm—there is another response that is oftentimes missed.  That response is to begin to work to teach others of the ways of God.  And notice, this is not just telling others how God has blessed you, but it is teaching them God’s ways.  That means deliberate application of God’s holy law as a teaching tool to guide others in the ways of holiness.

Yet, there is a catch—how is it that you can teach others to live a holy life if you are not modeling it yourself?  How is it that you can model it if you do not study the scriptures and diligently apply them to yourself?  Beloved, be well aware that God is a forgiving God, but never forget that in repentance, our God expects us to turn from our sinful ways and walk a path that glorifies him in every way.  And then, in walking on that pathway, teach others the ways of God—by word and deed.

Friends, spend some time thinking about what it means to be genuine in your testimony before the world.  What do unbelievers believe about God as a result of getting to know you?  What would your co-workers or your neighbors say about the way you live out your faith in all aspects of your life?  What would your spouse or children say?  Do your actions match the words that you speak?  Dear loved ones, so often in our lives there is not parity between our words and our actions, yet Christ needs to be the reason and the motivation behind everything we do.  It is our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that defines who we are, down to the very fibers of our innermost being, and it is this relationship that must define all our actions, and our actions need to be visible enough to point others to Christ.

One last note on sin and transgression:  it is rebellion against God.  Do not downplay sin in your life or in the life of those around you.  Don’t simply say, “well, it was just a little lie” or “everyone else does it.”  When you justify sin like this, what you are really communicating is that God is as capricious as you and I are, and were he capricious, he could not be holy.  God cannot condemn one sin as rebellion and pass over other sins as if they were not, that is the behavior of sinful men and not of a holy and righteous God.  Sin is sin and it must be condemned and punished, and loved ones, if you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, he bore that punishment for you.  When you say that your sins are not so bad, you are also saying that Christ’s sacrifice and death is not so important, and oh, loved ones, what a wretched statement that is.  Such a statement can only come from the pits of hell and the children of the evil one.  Do not let your actions make you smell of the sulfur of the Lake of Fire.  Live for Christ and His holiness and proclaim his righteousness and grace in all that you do.  Let your witness guide others in the paths of righteousness for Jesus’ name’s sake—Amen!

Restore the Joy of Your Salvation: Psalm 51 (part 13)

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation;

and with an honorable Spirit you shall uphold me.”

(Psalm 51:14 {Psalm 51:12 in English Bibles})

 

So often when we read this verse, or hear this verse cited by people in the wider church community, it is cited in a way that is almost totally centered on man.  They place all of the emphasis on the joy that they seek, and while looking for joy in the salvation that God has granted is not a bad thing—indeed, it is a wonderful thing—it is not the focus of this verse.  The entire focus of this verse is on God and upon God’s work.  David is reflecting on the misery that he has endured as a result of his sin and pleads with God that God would restore to him the joy he takes not just in his personal salvation, but in God’s redemptive work.  David does not say restore to me the joy of “my salvation” as Habakkuk does (Habakkuk 3:18), but he says, “your salvation,” reflecting on the redemptive work of God. 

I wonder, do we praise God enough for all of the giants of the faith that He has raised up before us that have guided and marked a way for us in this life.  Do we praise God for King David, who has given us such wonderful psalms?  Do we praise him for the Apostle Paul, who has given us so much of our New Testament?  How about some of the faithful early church fathers like Irenaeus and Augustine?  Names like Calvin, Knox, Luther, Zwingli, Owen, Ryle, and Hodge fill our libraries and have shaped the way we understand our scriptures.  How much light has been given to us by the likes of Matthew Henry?  What about the call to evangelism and holy living that came from the likes of George Whitefield and John Wesley?   The names of Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, and Fanny Crosby have become synonymous with hymns of praise.  What of missionaries like David Brainerd and William Carey?  Oh, beloved, we could go on and on with the role call of men and women of faith who have gone before us and given us so many riches from their insights into God’s word, but what about those countless, nameless Christians who have set an example for us in their simple daily faith?  What about those Sunday School teachers who have planted seeds of truth in our heart?  What about faithful preachers who opened up God’s word to us week in and week out?  What about the dear saints who have upheld us in prayer through the years?  What about the believer with the servant’s heart who quietly gives and gives so that the church may be about its work.  Oh, beloved, how we do not thank God nearly enough for the work of his salvation!  How our lives would be darker and duller without so many wonderful testimonies of faith!  How sad it is that we tend to look only to ourselves and neglect the shoulders of those upon whom we stand.

Now the question that is posed, depending on the translation that is used, is whether this spirit that is mentioned is the Spirit of God or the spirit of David.  Most of our modern English translations imply that David is asking to be upheld in his own spirit (ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV), and the King James Version seems to stand on its own in clearly attributing this to the Holy Spirit.  As we look at the context of the passage, what we find is that this passage comes on the heels of a plea to God that His Holy Spirit would not be removed from David’s presence.  Now, in this verse, the prayer seems to intensify, and the plea becomes one that not only includes fellowship but being upheld as well.  In addition, the verse that follows is basically a response to God’s restorative work.  David says that in the wake of God’s provision for him, he will teach sinners the ways of God so that they might turn back to the path that leads to salvation—how might that be done unless you are upheld by the Holy Spirit?

Loved ones, the language of joy is fairly strong within this verse and it is found throughout the psalms—the words “joy” or “rejoice” occur more than 80 times in the psalms alone.  So often we get so caught up in sin that we neglect the joy that comes with being redeemed in Christ.  Beloved, rejoice!  Rejoice for though you were dead in your sins and trespasses, Christ loved you enough to call you to himself and to bear the penalty for your sins!  Beloved, you were the sons and daughters of paupers and now, in Christ, you have inherited paradise!  You are promised perfect fellowship with God, and in the mean time, Christ dwelling in you through his Holy Spirit and making continual intercession on your behalf before the Father.  Loved ones, there is much to rejoice over, so why do we so often wear such sour faces when we come to church?  Rejoice, beloved, rejoice—for our Savior reigns!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven!  Alleluia!

Praise to thee by both be given; Alleluia!

Thee we greet triumphant now; Alleluia!

Hail the Resurrection, thou!  Alleluia!

-Charles Wesley

Do Not Send Me Away from Your Presence: Psalm 51 (part 12)

“Do not send me away from your presence,

and your Holy Spirit—do not take him from me.”

(Psalm 51:13 {Psalm 51:11 in English Bibles})

 

In this verse, David returns to a chiastic structure.  The verses that have gone before have been largely arranged in a simple parallel structure and this change is designed to add emphasis.  And the emphasis that David is making strikes at the very heart of the human condition:  sin has driven us out of relationship with God.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked in communion with God; sin changed that.  Because of sin, man and woman were driven out of paradise and out of the relationship that would make even the most hellish place a paradise to be in—they were driven out of their intimate and personal relationship with God in his presence, and all of the struggles and difficulties we face in our fallen nature when we seek to commune with God all have roots back to this origin.

How could a Holy God remain in communion with those who rebelled in sin?  Indeed, sin must be punished, and the wrath of an infinite, Holy God was the only punishment suitable to the crime.  Beloved, facing someone’s anger is one thing—it is rarely a pleasant thing to do, but it is something we have all done and will likely do again—this kind of anger can be weathered.  But righteous anger is something altogether different—especially when we are in the wrong.  Facing the righteous wrath of a man who has been wronged is a heavy thing to deal with and is grievous to endure.  But what about the righteous anger of an infinite God who is perfect in his holiness and perfect in his righteousness?  No man could stand.  We would be utterly lost—even the best and most noble human being—we would be forever consigned to the fires of hell; and, in doing so, God would be vindicated.

Yet, in God’s unfathomable richness and mercy, he chose to redeem a people for himself.  Sin had to be dealt with, but rather than putting a burden that could not be borne upon men, he allowed his Son to become flesh and to bear that penalty on behalf of those who would cling to him in faith as their substitute, mediator, and paraclete.  Indeed, this is the demonstration of the infinite love of God, that he would give his only begotten son to die and bear the penalty of sin for those whom he would call in faith, that whosoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life and those who would reject the offering made by Christ would be forever consigned to their reasonable fate, paying the penalty for their sin in eternal condemnation (John 3:16-21).  There is no other way and no other path to the paradise of God but through Christ.  Adam and Eve lost access to it and Christ has shed his blood to offer it back to humanity once again—what good news that is to a dark and dying world!

Thus, in Christ, communion is restored through the work of the Holy Spirit, and David, recognizing the great blessing connected with God’s presence before him, clung to that above all else.  Though his sin may have caused him to deserve to be forever cast out of God’s presence, the work of Christ allows the prayer offered in faith to be heard and answered.  And though God may remove our sense of assurance for a time as a means of disciplining his children, he will not leave or forsake us because he has called us his own and adopted us as sons and daughters in Christ.  God paid too dear a price to abandon those for whom his Son died.  Thus, David pleads that God not remove from him the closeness and presence of communion that they had enjoyed, and indeed, how this should guide our own prayers of repentance, recognizing that God will not let his people be forever lost, but recognizing how essential that it is that we remain in daily—moment by moment—communion with God.  Loved ones, cling to this promise, and cling to Christ.

O love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

-George Matheson

Create a Clean Heart in Me: Psalm 51 (part 11)

“A heart that is clean, you must create in me, O God;

and a spirit that is steadfast, you must continually renew in my being.”

(Psalm 51:12 {Psalm 51:10 in English Bibles})

 

Oh, how little man can do on his own!  It is God who providentially equips him to do anything of lasting value.  Artists, composers, architects, writers, musicians, etc… all get their talent from the hand of God—whether they will admit to it or not!  Yet, there is one thing within which man can make no strides of his own—we are not providentially equipped or gifted in this area in any way.  This area God reserves for himself.  And that is the process of saving a man or woman and preparing that person for glory.  Paul poses the question of whether man seeks after God in Romans 3:10-18, and his answer is drawn from scripture, beginning with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 14:1-4.  Does any seek after God?  And scripture gives us a resounding, “NO!”

Oh, beloved, how highly we tend to think of our own actions!  Yet, salvation does not come from our works or from our will, but it comes from the will of God (Romans 9:16) and the exercise of his divine compassion on those he has chosen for his own.  In addition, as we reflect on both parts of salvation—the justifying work of God and the sanctifying work of God—we are reminded that both are again in God’s hands.  One is justified—made right with God in Christ—but only once in life—what God has done and promised to do, he will not relent upon.  Yet, there is an ongoing process of sanctification that is designed to grow us in our holiness, making us more like Christ, to prepare us for glory.  This work is ongoing, and it is a process that will not be complete until you cross over into eternity.  Yes, by seeking to be obedient to scripture and to apply the Ten Commandments to our lives, we participate in the process of our sanctification.  But a tilled field without seeds and rain will still produce nothing but weeds.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of the sins we need to put to death, empowers us to put them to death, and who works in our heart to illumine us toward right living. 

There is a clear recognition of this principle in this verse.  David has two requests of God (they are in the imperative, so do not miss the force of David’s plea to God):  a clean heart and a steadfast spirit.  Yet, the theology of these two requests lies within the verbs.  The first verb is the word, ar:b” (bara), which means, “to create.”  In scripture, this word is only ever used of God and it is only ever used of God’s creative work from nothing.  There are different words that describe when mankind makes something, but creation is limited to the hand of God.  David recognizes that the heart of man is not one that is basically good and just needs some cleaning up.  No!  The heart of man is dark and wretched, putrid and warped.  There is no cleaning up the heart of man, for sin has forever bent it toward evil.  Thus, when God calls a sinner to himself through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God does not simply go into the heart of man and scrub him out with steel wool, but he tears out that old wicked heart and creates a new heart and implants it into the new believer.  This is a once only act and it is an act that no one but God can do.

The contrast, though, is found in the second petition.  David asks that God would renew within him a steadfast spirit.  Rather than being the standard form of the verb (as we found in the first request), the verb is in the “Piel” construct, which implies not only intensification, but ongoing and repeated action.  In other words, in this verse, David is saying, “give me a new heart and never stop sanctifying my soul.”  Oh, were these things that we sought in our own lives!

The question that may be asked is whether or not David was “saved” prior to the writing of these words, for he is asking for a clean heart (something he would already have were he a believer).  Given the remarkable relationship that David had with God from the earliest days of his recorded life, it is hard to argue that he was not a believer.  Yet, even believers can loose their sense of assurance in the wake of grievous sins, which is what I would suggest we are looking at here.  This psalm is David’s desperate cry to God after one of the most wretched sins that a man can commit (adultery and murder of a friend).  How much we can learn from the saints that have gone before us, even in their darkest times.

Loved ones, may these words of David be your continual cry before the Lord.  In Christ you have been given a new and clean heart, but the old man still wages war against you on this side of glory.  That is why you need a daily, even moment by moment, work of the Holy Spirit in your life, to renew your spirit to the glory of God.  Oh, how dependent we are on the work of God in our lives!  And praise the Lord that it is no other way!

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

Leaning, leaning, save and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

-Anthony Showalter & Elisha Hoffman

Conceal Your Face from My Sins: Psalm 51 (part 10)

“Conceal your face from my sins,

and all my iniquities may you wipe clean.”

(Psalm 51:11 {Psalm 51:9 in English Bibles})

 

Have you ever had to deal with something that is just so disgusting and distasteful that you just had to turn your head for fear that you might get sick, and simply work with your hands?  Somehow, if you turn your head and don’t look at what your hands are doing, you can complete the task before your stomach turns.  This is the picture that David is painting for us in this verse.  It is one of God, who is holy and who hates sin, turning his head so he does not need to look at the sin as he wipes David spiritually clean.  “Look away!”  David cries.  But at the same time, David says, “Clean me!”  For David understands better than most that it is only God who can clean us from our wretched sin.

So often we take such a light view of our own sin.  We think of it as a little stain on an otherwise “ok” person.  How different this is from how God looks on sin.  Sin is active rebellion against God—it is a rejection of his character and of his goodness.  Sin is ugly, wretched, unholy, filthy, and putrid in the sight of God.  It is rotten and disgusting and smells of the same, and sin permeates our whole being.  Even our good works carry with them the stench of our sinful being.  We cannot escape it on our own—it oozes from the pours of our soul with an unhealthy odor.   It is dark and dank and covered with scum—and God is the only one who can take sin away.  David understands that, so he calls God to look away—to turn his face—yet to do his cleansing work.  Oh, how we would profit were we to view sin more like the way David viewed his own sin.

Beloved, when you cling to or hold on to pet sins—sins that you are not just yet ready to get rid of or ones that you don’t think are causing anyone any harm—think of these words of David.  Holding on to sins is like bathing in a cesspool—you will never get clean.  The problem that the unbelieving world has is that they are comfortable in the cesspool and don’t want to get out.  The problem that the Christian has is that they are drawn back to that old cesspool again and again.  Yet, loved ones, you have been cleaned by the blood of Jesus Christ!  How then is it that you would knowingly return to the filth of the sins of this world!  Yet, we do, over and over, don’t we.  Beloved, pray that God would instill in you a disgust for sin and a taste for holiness.  May God turn his head while he washes us clean.

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace;

Foul, I to the Fountains fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.

-Augustus Toplady

Let Me Hear Jubilation and Joy: Psalm 51 (part 9)

“Let me hear jubilation and joy,

Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice!”

(Psalm 51:10 {Psalm 51:8 in English Bibles})

 

Just as forgiveness can only come from the Lord, so too does restoration.  True joy cannot be had apart from God, because true joy is something that can only be experienced in relationship with God.  We may chase after many things that bring us pleasure, but it is only God who can bring us lasting joy, and oh, how our sin deprives us of such joy.  Sin is that which drives a wedge in the relationship we have with God, yet oh, how glorious our God is, in restoring that joy as he forgives our sins.

Also, beloved, do not miss what David is showing us in this verse—it is the bones that “you (speaking of God) have crushed.”  So often when we think of the horrid things that happen to us, we immediately blame the devil and his mischief, and there is no question that the devil is at work in this world.  Yet, never forget that our God is sovereign even over the devil and his actions and our God often uses the machinations of the devil to bring about his good pleasure.  It is God who brings about all things, both great and small, good and ill (Isaiah 45:7) either though his direct action or through his permissive will, and it is God who breaks us when we persist in sin, to bring us back to himself.  Yet, even the bones that have been broken and crushed may be restored to rejoicing in repentance.

Beloved, sometimes we get so lost in the rule and instruction of scripture that sometimes we can miss the incredible joy that can be found in Jesus Christ.  Yet, note that joy in Christ can only be had if it is done in submission to Jesus’ lordship.  Loved ones, seek to repent for the sins of your life, but in that repentance, pray that God would restore to you the joy that comes from a close relationship with him.  The closer you walk to your beloved, the easier it is to stroll hand in hand.

Purify Me with Hyssop: Psalm 51 (part 8)

“Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;

deep clean me, and I will be made whiter than snow.”

(Psalm 51:9 {Psalm 51:7 in English Bibles})

 

David understands well one of the most important lessons that any human can learn:  it is only God and God alone who can cleanse from sin.  No amount of good deeds or sacrifice on our part can atone for our sin—certainly, by human effort we can satisfy our human judges and often placate the other humans we have offended—that is all well and good—but dealing with God is an entirely different matter.  God is not impressed by even our greatest feats—has not the skill to perform such feats come from God to begin with?  God is not impressed by all the wealth in the world—does not all the wealth of the universe come from His creative hand?  Oh, beloved, as we have spoken earlier, though our offense may be against another human being, our sin is against God, and our efforts fall woefully short of being able to satisfy his justice.

You might say, ‘were there not sacrifices made by the priests to atone for sin throughout the history of ancient Israel?’  Indeed, there were many sacrifices.  On the Day of Atonement and on the Day of Passover, blood poured out of the temple and onto the streets of Jerusalem from the hundreds of thousands of animals slaughtered.  Yet, friends, these sacrifices were not only temporary sacrifices, they also pointed to a far greater sacrifice that would come, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, allowed himself to be sacrificed on the day of Passover for our sins—your sins, if you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, and my sins.  Loved ones, the only reason that ancient sacrifices were of any value was because of what would come; their only power and effectiveness came from the reality and the potency of what they pointed to—namely the death of God’s divine Son on the cross.

Thus, forgiveness is God’s to give, not man’s to earn.  How often we seek to do things to atone for our own sins, as if these things will impress God.  How often we punish ourselves by depriving ourselves of God’s good blessings, thinking that God will be pleased by our actions.  Dear friends, remember, God is the one who gives out and who takes away all good blessings—if he desires to strip you of blessings as a means of chastising you and rebuking you, he will do so.  If God desires to chastise you in other ways, he will do so, for he chastises those he loves (Hebrews 12:6) just like a father chastises his children.  At the same time, if we repent with a broken and a contrite heart and God desires to show mercy upon us, why do we shun such affection?  Indeed, we are unworthy of such blessing in the wake of our sin, but are we not always unworthy of the blessings of God?  Are we not deserving only of wrath and judgment even on our best days?  Beloved, it is God’s to forgive, and it is God’s to wash you clean.

The Hebrew word that David uses in the second line is the word sb;k’ (kabas), which normally is the verb that means “to wash” or “to clean.”  Yet, David uses it in the Piel stem, which is a grammatical form that adds not only intensity, but a sense that it is repeated over and over.  In Hebrew, when this verb is used in the Piel, it refers to a deep cleansing that is done, much like you may scrub a stain over and over again to make sure every last remnant of the stain has been removed.  Forgiveness is a deep cleansing from God, one that not only removes the surface stain, but one that cleanses even to the core of our being. 

One other note of importance:  hyssop was an important element in ancient purification rituals.  It was a small, bushy plant in ancient times that the priests would pluck small branches from, dip the bushy end into either water or blood (depending on the ritual), and then sprinkle the water or blood onto the person as a sign of their cleansing (some have argued that it was likely a hyssop branch that John the Baptist was using, dipped into the Jordan river and sprinkling on those who came for baptism rather than immersing them into the river—for a great discussion on this, read Edmund Fairfield’s “Letters on Baptism”).  This sprinkling was meant as a visible sign of the forgiveness that the repentant person sought.  In seeking forgiveness from God, David is placing before him the request that the forgiveness be both visible and on the surface (the hyssop), but also deep down and to the very depth of his being (sb;k’).  Oh, how we need such total forgiveness in the wake of our manifold sins!

Beloved, hear these words of David and apply them to your own lives.  Is this how you repent, falling on the mercy of God and recognizing it is only in God’s hands that forgiveness can be given?  Or do you seek to “earn” forgiveness by doing certain things that you perceive as being noteworthy before God?  Loved ones, let grace be grace.  Come to Christ with nothing in your hands and do not despise it when he fills your hands with mercy and grace.  Come to him with a broken and contrite heart and let him heal you—let him deep clean you to the deepest recesses of your soul.  The hyssop is good and important, but it is the deep cleaning we need and it can only be given by God in his abundant grace and mercy.  Come to Jesus, beloved, come to Jesus and live!

Weak and wounded sinner, lost and left to die,

O raise your head for Love is passing by.

Come to Jesus, Come to Jesus,

Come to Jesus and live.

Now your burden is lifted, carried far away,

And precious blood has washed away the stain,

So, sing to Jesus, sing to Jesus,

Sing to Jesus and live.

-Chris Rice 

Born in Iniquity: Psalm 51 (part 6)

“Behold, in iniquity I was birthed,

and in sin, my mother conceived me.”

(Psalm 51:7 {Psalm 51:5 in English Bibles})

 

A diamond is formed when coal is compacted under a great deal of force, essentially squeezing a great deal of matter into a small object.  Beloved, the same is true with verses like this one!  How much doctrine is found in these few words (6 words in the original Hebrew).  In this short little verse we find one of the great proofs and reminders of the doctrine of Original Sin as it is passed down from generation to generation.  David is not talking about his mother’s sin in this verse, but continuing to grieve over his own—even as an unborn baby.  Mankind is not free from sin at birth as the ancient heretic Pelagius asserted, no, we are born knowing sin, we will live all of our lives knowing sin’s awful taste, and we will die in sin—how great is our need for a savior!  Oh, how great is our need for Jesus!

So why is it important that we hold so clearly to this doctrine.  First of all, it is Biblical, and to deny scriptural truth is both folly and heresy.  Secondly, were it possible for a child to be born without sin, it would be possible for that child to live without sin—and were one to live without sin, one would no longer need a savior.  And were it possible than men could stand as righteous before God in the merit of their own righteousness, it would make Jesus’ life, ministry, and death meaningless and unnecessary, and to suggest that would again be folly and heresy.

Pelagius was an English monk in the early Roman Empire, who came to live in Rome around the year 390 AD.  Pelagius saw the excesses of the people and attributed their sinful behavior to the doctrine of Free Grace.  Rather than exhorting people to strengthen what they had been given by God (2 Peter 1:5-8), he denied Original Sin and Total Inability, ultimately saying that if God expects us to live up to his perfect law, we have the ability to do so.  Augustine would be the one who refuted Pelagius and Pelagius’ theology would be branded as heretical.  Augustine carefully defended these two doctrines, showing first that throughout scripture, since the fall of Adam and Eve, men and women have been born with sin in their lives (this being one of the proof-texts) and secondly, because we have sin, we stand condemned before a righteous and holy God.  God expects us to be perfect as he is perfect (Matthew 5:48), and with sin in our lives, it is impossible for us to be perfect—we cannot measure up, no matter how noble or honorable we are, our record is still marred.

Yet, beloved, that is the good news!  Though we are far from perfect, though we were born in sin, having inherited it from our fathers and being born under the federal headship of Adam, though we have added to that inherited sin our own sin and willful disobedience of God, though we stand wretched and poor before the throne of God’s judgment, if we are trusting in Christ as our Lord and Savior we will not be judged by the measure of our own righteousness, but we will be judged by the measure of the righteousness of Christ!  Hallelujah!  Adam failed in his headship, but God did not leave us to ruin and gave us a second Adam, a new federal head, the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, so that if we believe in him with our heart and confess him with our lips, trusting him as our Lord and Savior, we would not perish in judgment, but be delivered, not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is.  And, oh, how that is such good news!

So, beloved, here we stand with David:  guilty as charged.  In fact, there has never been a time when we have not stood before God as guilty and deserving of condemnation.  This should always be before us, but at the same time, how it is especially clear when we must repent from acts of willful disobedience.  This was the anointed King of Israel, and he stands guilty of murdering a friend to cover up his adultery with that friend’s wife—how wretched David must have felt as he gazed upon the filth of his heart.  Loved ones, work to nurture within yourselves a healthy recognition of your own inability.  Let it not be an excuse for immorality, but let it drive you more and more to a sense of reliance on prayer and God’s provision.  Learn to hate your sins—especially the “pet” sins that you have sought to hold onto—and work to live in a way that glorifies God in every moment of your day.  Strive to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:45).

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,

Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee

Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

-Reginald Heber

 

Against You I have Sinned: Psalm 51 (part 5)

“Against you, and you alone,

I have sinned

And that which is evil in your eyes, I have done—

Thus, you are justified in your words

And pure in your judgments.

(Psalm 51:6 {Psalm 51:4 in English Bibles})

 

Here is a verse that people sometimes stumble over until they begin to understand that sin, in any manifestation, is outward rebellion against God—it is a repetition of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.  God had given them a righteous command—don’t eat of this tree—and it was a command that was meant for their own good.  The tree, we are told, was the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Indeed, goodness they understood, for they had a perfect relationship with God on high and there was no separation between God and man—what more magnificent goodness could one know?  Yet, what they did not know was evil and evil’s relationship to good—and there is the rub—they chose to make their own rule—thinking themselves wiser than God—and ate of the fruit.  From that point on, a world that only knew good now knew evil as well, and not in an abstract way, but deeply, intimately, and personally.  And when you or I willfully enter into sin and do not resist sinful temptations, we are repeating the acts of Adam and Eve.  Oh, what a sick and depraved race we are.

Unless you understand the wickedness of sin, when you come to this verse, you may be tempted to ask the question that many do, “How can David’s sin be only against God?”  “Did he not sin against Uriah?”  “Did he not sin against Bathsheba?”  “Is not the baby paying the price for David’s sin?”  The answer to these questions is that yes, David did sin against Uriah and Bathsheba.  And though the child would die, it is the parents, David and Bathsheba, who will bear the worst part of the grief for the loss of the child, for indeed, this child of believers will go straight to his heavenly father’s side.  David also sinned against the people for betraying his responsibility as their king.  With this being said, what David understands is this—no matter how ugly the sin may be in the eyes of the world, it is outward rebellion against a holy and righteous God and that makes it an infinitely greater offense.  Sins against men will pass with time; sins against God are eternal.  And because of that, his sin stands before God and before God alone.

And what of the last clause in this verse?  How is God justified in his words?  God had spoken through the prophet Nathan that this child would die because of his sin.  David is saying that as he understands his sin to be an affront to God, God is righteous and pure in punishing sin—both in this world and in the next.  In seeking forgiveness, David acknowledges that he already stands guilty and convicted by his sin and that he is deserving of wrath.

Beloved, do you think of sin in these terms?  If you don’t, you should—indeed, you must.  Until you begin to come to terms with your total and complete unworthiness, how can you rest in the work of Christ?  We will never rest wholeheartedly on another if we think there is even a small handhold for us to reach for, and upon Christ, and Christ alone we must rest.  There is no other that can save us for there is no other that has borne the punishment for our sins—it is Christ and Christ alone to whom you must cling.

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;

For thee all the follies of sin I resign.

My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;

If ever I loved thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.

-William Featherstone

My Sin is Before Me: Psalm 51 (part 4)

“For my transgressions I know,

and my sin is continually before me.”

(Psalm 51:5  [Psalm 51:3 in English Bibles])

 

David switches gear from using the emphatic chiastic structure to a simple parallel structure—even so, we will not lose the clear emphasis of what he is communicating.  Here he is, staring at his own transgressions and recognizing that there is nothing he can do on his own about his sin, for it stands continually before him as an accuser.  Beloved, never lose sight of your own inability to atone for your own sins—it simply cannot be done.  How often we like to do this or to do that, thinking that we might earn God’s favor in light of our sin; loved ones, it cannot be done.  We stand helpless before God’s throne of judgment if we are trusting in anything short of Jesus Christ for our salvation.  No amount of works can get you there, no amount of deeds can earn your place; no matter how bright you are, how well versed you are in scripture, how many people you have helped—all of this will avail you nothing before God’s throne.  It is only by clinging desperately to Christ that you will be saved.  And though David did not know the name of Christ, he trusted in the promise of Christ given in Genesis 3:15 and he clung to that promise of a coming redeemer, and he recognized that even he, the anointed king of God’s people, Israel, stood guilty and condemned as a result of sin, and he threw himself at God’s feet seeking mercy.  Oh, how we need to learn from King David.

There is something more that is very important for us to note.  David says that he “knows” his transgressions.  Do not neglect to note that “knowing” in the Hebrew mindset reflects far more than an intellectual recognition, but it reflects a relational understanding.  David is not simply assenting to the fact that he has sins, but he is saying that he recognizes that he has sins and he does so because he knows his sin intimately and deeply.  Beloved, do not miss the importance of this imagery.  Before you can truly repent of your sins, you need to have an understanding of what those sins are and why those sins are so grievous to God.  You need to dig deeply into your soul and grieve over those sins yourself.  You need to see the sins for what they are:  rebellion against a living and holy God. 

Beloved, all too often we do not recognize sin for what it is—an outward rebellion and offense against God.  In turn, we often are very casual when it comes to repentance.  David is saying here that he has searched his heart and has found it wanting and deeply sinful before God, and it is in that stance that he comes before God pleading for his mercy.  Friends, as you search your own hearts and seek to know yourself deeply, recognize your sin for what it is, and in knowing that, lay it before God’s throne in the name of Jesus Christ seeking God’s forgiveness.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,

Weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, joined with power:

He is able, he is able, he is able,

He is willing; doubt no more;

He is willing; doubt no more.

-Joseph Hart

Wash Me From My Iniquity: Psalm 51 (part 3)

“Completely wash me from my iniquity;

from my sin, purify me.”

(Psalm 51:4 [Psalm 51:2 in English Bibles])

 

Once again we find David employing a chiastic structure (something he will do through the bulk of this psalm) to add emphasis, bringing together two parallel ideas, yet mirroring them in their order.  These are not casual words of David, but the language that he employs demonstrates the intensity of this prayer.  And that intensity is heightened even more by David’s choice of the Piel stem for the two primary verbs (wash and purify).  In Hebrew, the various stems of the verb are used to convey different ideas (passive tense, causative action, etc…), not unlike what we do with adverbs in English.  The Piel stem conveys not only an intensification of action, but it also conveys the idea of an action that must be repeated over and over.  And, indeed, David understands his own need—our own need as humans—to be constantly on our knees before our God repenting of our sin and pleading for his forgiveness. 

Beloved, there is an intensity that comes through in this prayer that must not be missed—oh, how often we take repentance casually, as if it is something that we deserve because of who we are.  Not only is that not the case, but that concept could not be any further from David’s mind.  David clearly understands that he does not deserve the mercy of God, yet here he is, before God’s face, pleading for just that—not based on his own character, but upon the character of God.  Pleading that God would wash and cleanse him from his sins.  How we can learn from David as he expresses his grief; how we should learn to model our own prayers for forgiveness upon his.  Beloved, one of the reasons that God has given us the psalms is to teach us how to express every emotion that we have in a way that is glorifying to him and edifying to us—do not neglect this tool that he has given us—use these psalms within your own life and use this one especially as you seek our Lord’s face in humble repentance.

Show Favor to Me: Psalm 51 (part 2)

“Show favor to me, O God, according to your chesed;

according to your abundant mercy, wipe out my transgressions.”

(Psalm 51:3 [Psalm 51:1 in English Bibles])

 

For those of you who have been reading my devotional reflections for a while, you know that I think the word that David uses in the first line of this verse is extremely important.  In Hebrew, it is the word ds,x, (chesed), and is translated many ways in our English Bible to suit the context.  The idea that this word conveys is that of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people in spite of their covenant unfaithfulness.  It is because of the ds,x, (chesed) of God that we are not destroyed and that mankind was not destroyed at the time of the fall.  It is because of the ds,x, (chesed) of God that he demonstrated his agape love in sending his Son, Jesus, into this world to fulfill the law and offer a propitiatory sacrifice to atone for our sins.  It is because of the ds,x, (chesed) of God that we may know him and are not left to our own devices.  And it is because of the ds,x, (chesed) of God that he offers us forgiveness in Christ when we deserve nothing but wrath.  Indeed, this is a very significant word for us as God’s people!

There is a second thing that we ought to note about the language of this verse.  David’s prayer is that God would wipe out his transgressions.  The word that is used here is the Hebrew word [v;P, (pesha), which can refer to either individual transgressions or to the rebellion of a group of people.  It is valuable to note that we rarely take seriously enough the gravity of our own sins.  We usually see them as the stumbling of a fallen individual when it comes to trying to live a righteous life.  Yet, sin is more than simple stumbling—it is outward rebellion against a holy and a righteous God.  Indeed, as far back as Adam and Eve, sin has been rebellion against the righteous law and nature of God, and when we enter into it in our lives even today, we should recognize it as outward rebellion—rebellion that, by act, aligns us with the enemies of God.  Oh, beloved, until you recognize sin for what it is, you will always take forgiveness for granted; until you truly begin to hate your sin, you will not treasure the redemption that is found in Jesus Christ. 

David employs what is called a “chiastic” structure in this verse to add emphasis.  What that simply means is that the two halves of the verse are flip-flopped in what they convey:

Show favor  (A) Chesed  (B)

  Abundant mercy (B’) wipe out transgressions (A’)

This (ABBA) structure is called a chiasm after the Greek letter c (chi), and is commonly used in Hebrew poetry when the writer wishes to add emphasis what is being said.  Essentially, he is saying the same thing twice, just with different language to make his point.  In this verse, David begins by requesting God’s favor and ends the verse with the specific way in which he desires to see God’s favor enacted.  David is not asking to defeat an army or to perform a mighty task, but is asking that his sins be forgiven—indeed, there can be no greater sign of God’s favor than this.  At the center of the verse are two additional parallel ideas.  We have spoken of God’s chesed already, but here David adds further definition to the word by defining it in terms of God’s abundant mercy.  And indeed, once again, it is because of this abundance of mercy that God offers his chesed to his people.

Oh, loved ones, while sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of poetry, but they are important because they have been deliberately employed by the writer to convey a sense of meaning.  At the same time, do not lose sight of the reality of David’s situation—he has entered into horrendous sin, his child lays dying as a result, and he has come in penitence before God, pleading for mercy.  And note how he does so—it is not on the basis of who he is or what he has done, but it is on the basis of on who God is and what God has promised.  Beloved, as you walk through this life, you will enter into sins, the question that must be asked is how do you come before God in the wake of those sins?  Is it as one who is proud of the way they live, or do you beat your breasts like the penitent publican (Luke 18:13), pleading the mercy of our God?

God be merciful to me,

On thy grace I rest my plea;

Plenteous in compassion thou,

Blot out my transgressions now;

Wash me, make me pure within,

Cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

-from the 1912 Psalter

To the Director: Psalm 51 (part 1)

“To the director:  a psalm of David—when Nathan the prophet came to him just as he had gone to Bathsheba.”

(Psalm 51:1-2 [superscript in English Bibles])

 

It is always good, when you come to a psalm, to have a superscript as detailed as this one.  So often, it is hard to determine with any degree of certainty just when a particular psalm was written, yet, with this one, that is not the case.  After the prophet Nathan confronted David about his adultery with Bathsheba, as he grieves over his sin and over his dying child, it would seem that David penned these words (see 2 Samuel 11-12).  Oh, what a dark time in Israel’s history this was—King David, the model king of Israel, entered into one of the worst sins that could be entered into.  At the same time, here is the mark of the believer—repentance.  Oh, how we stumble and fall, particularly when we seek to resist sin on our own strength, but we have a God that is so much greater than our sin—the mark of the believer, though, is repentance.

Beloved, as you read the words of this psalm, never separate them from their context.  Though we may apply them to our own lives, never forget that they come from a heart that is deeply grieved by sin—to write this, as his lay dying as a direct result of his sin—his tears must have flowed with each verse he wrote.  Never lose touch of that, sometimes it is all too easy to read passages of scripture as abstract words and systematic teachings—cold and distant from our emotions—and beloved, that could not be further from the truth.  These words, as were all the words of scripture, were penned through human beings much like you or I, with all of the same kinds of fears and concerns, hopes and dreams, that you or I have.  Could David have felt any less agony as he watched his baby son die before him that you or I would feel were our child to die in our arms.  Friends, this is the context of this psalm of repentance—it is out of a heart that has been wrenched and torn asunder as a result of grief over his sin.  Indeed, I wonder if this agony and pain is not so distant from the pain that God the Father must have felt, as he watched his Son die on the cross—this time not for his sins, for God knows no sin, but for the sins of a rebellious and wicked people who he yet loved with a love deeper than can be described with words.  Indeed, I wonder if it was all that different.

Yet, beloved, as we read this psalm, let us see this as a model and a guide for our own repentance.  King David has laid bare his soul before us not simply as a means of his own repentance, but to teach us how to repent as well.  John Calvin called the book of Psalms an “anatomy of the human soul,” and indeed, every emotion common to mankind is expressed within this book.  Within the psalms we cannot only be taught how to worship God, but we can also be taught how to express pain, misery, grief, and even holy anger.  Beloved, do not neglect the psalms, and especially do not neglect the difficult ones, for they are meant for you to be a guide and a standard to teach you how to live every aspect of your life to the glory of God.  Take them to heart, and apply them to your soul.  Listen to these words of David as he repents of his sin, and let them be a guide for you as well as you struggle to repent of that, which has caused you to stumble in your life.  And never forget, forgiveness is not earned, it is a free gift given out of God’s abundant grace to those who come to him in faith and repentance.

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 spilt.

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.

-Julia Johnston