Psalm 51 – Week Two of Psalms
In case you missed it, Atlanta’s own groundhog, Beauregard Lee, did not see his shadow this week and therefore an early Spring is predicted. That makes a lot of people happy. When people hear the word “Spring” images of flowers, warmer weather, and bunny rabbits come to mind. When I hear “Spring,” I think of spring cleaning. It was an annual event around my home when I was growing up and I continue the tradition of deep cleaning my house. It’s a time when I pay attention to those things that aren’t cleaned or dusted on a regular basis.
Spring cleaning is a phrase we are all familiar with, but where did the idea come from? I’m glad you asked. The ritual of Spring cleaning is traced back to the Jewish community. “Spring cleaning is linked to Passover in March or April, which marks the liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt. Before the start of the holiday, a general cleaning takes place in order to remove any yeast bread, or chametz, from the home.”[i] Who knew, right?
The thing about Spring cleaning is when it’s all done and you’ve cleared away the clutter, you’ve scrubbed away the dirt, you’ve removed the dust and grime that just naturally occurs, your home is cozier, more welcoming. As trees and flowers outside are bursting with breaths of new life, the same is true for your home. Because from Spring to Spring, there are items in our home to which we don’t pay much attention. Who takes down their curtains and drapes every week and washes them? Spring cleaning is a time when we are more aware of the built-up dust, dirt, grime, and clutter in our home and work to get rid of it all.
King David was forced to do a little Spring cleaning in his life when God sent Nathan the prophet to him. In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan tells King David of two men; one who was rich and one who was poor. The rich man owned many sheep and cattle while the poor man had but one sheep of whom he was very fond. The rich man was entertaining a traveler and didn’t want to give up one of his sheep for a meal, so he took the one sheep that belonged to the poor man. As David heard the story, he was outraged and declared that the rich man should die and should have to pay four times the value of the sheep.
Nathan then issues a heaping dose of reality when he tells David that he is the rich man. He relays to David all that God had revealed to him. He reminds David of all that God has given him, including multiple wives. He then brings up Bathsheba, the one wife of Uriah, and the fact that David had wrongly taken her, he had her husband killed and then swept it all under the rug to hide his wrongdoings.
What could David possibly say? He could have reminded Nathan that he was the king and could do whatever he wanted. He could have told Nathan that it was none of his business. He could have tried to justify his actions. The heart wants what the heart wants type of excuse. But instead, David utters six powerful words. “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:13
There were different players in this circumstance. Bathsheba was taken advantage of. Joab was used to purposefully put Uriah in harm’s way. Uriah was murdered. And the child that was conceived fell ill and died seven days after being born. A lot of people were hurt, destroyed. Several lives were deeply affected. David sees all of this for what it was, an act of sinful disobedience to God that showered tragedy on innocent people. But as this skeleton of David’s tumbles out of the closet, Nathan delivers words of comfort when he tells David that the Lord has put away his sin.
Be honest with yourself. Is it hard to accept the fact that no sin is so great that God won’t or can’t forgive it? We’ve all sinned, every last one of us. But we’re comfortable and accepting of the “common, everyday” sins that we all commit, but there are some sins we just have a difficult time with the fact that they can be forgiven. There are people whose lives revolve around sin which hurt others and we find it next to impossible to forgive them ourselves much less accept the fact that God would forgive them. Serial killers and child molesters come to mind.
Scripture tells us there is only one sin that can never be forgiven –“ the sin of rejecting Him and refusing His offer of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ. This alone is the unforgivable sin, because it means we are saying that the Holy Spirit’s witness about Jesus is a lie (see Luke 12:10).”[ii] Other than that, all sins, whether we consider them great or small, are forgivable.
I can’t help but wonder what Nathan was thinking as he stood before David. Who had taken advantage of his role as king and committed adultery, had tried to manipulate Uriah into sleeping with Bathsheba to cover the pregnancy. And then when Uriah’s ethic caused a kink in David’s trickery, David basically had Uriah murdered so that, in the end, David could look like a hero. And yet, Nathan was told to tell this sinful man that God had put away his sins. Did Nathan look on David thinking he certainly didn’t deserve the forgiveness? Was Nathan disgusted by the behavior of David or was he more in awe of the Lord who forgave him? We don’t really know what was going on in Nathan’s mind. Scripture just reveals that Nathan told David that although he wouldn’t die because of the sins, the baby Bathsheba was carrying would die. And then Nathan went home.
We don’t have to guess how David reacted. In response to his conversation with Nathan, David writes the 51st Psalm. David has been shown how stained his life had become. He’s repressed the guilt and ownership of his sins, but it was all still there. He’ll reference that he was haunted by it. Other translations read “my sin is always before me”. David is troubled by the sin more than the consequences.
Psalm 51: 1 TLB “O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions. 2 Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. 3 For I admit my shameful deed—it haunts me day and night. 4 It is against you and you alone I sinned and did this terrible thing. You saw it all, and your sentence against me is just.”
You’ll notice that David starts off praising God. He calls Him loving and kind. David can’t help but see God as loving and kind because even though God saw and knew all that David had done, He still forgave him.
In Acts, we are given insight as to how God felt about David. “After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ “ Acts 13:22 NIV
God, even knowing what David had done and would do, still referred to David as a man after His own heart. If we ever wonder how that could be, a good look at Psalm 51 tells us. David comes before God, not making excuses or trying to justify his actions. Instead, he asks for mercy, for pity and he asks that God make him clean and pure. David knows his actions have had consequences on others, but he recognizes that it is against God that he has sinned. He takes full responsibility. His remorse is genuine; his repentance is sincere. That makes him a man after God’s own heart.
Psalm 51:7 TLB “7 Sprinkle me with the cleansing blood and I shall be clean again. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Other translations refer to using hyssop to cleanse or purify.
We often refer to being cleansed by the blood and in doing so, we are referring to the blood of Jesus on the cross. But David is writing this many years before Jesus came to Earth. David is making reference to Exodus 12:22 NIV “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.”
“David looked for God to do a work of spiritual and moral cleansing, and to do it in connection with the atoning sacrifice of a substitute.”[iii]
David knew that he could not make himself clean. He was aware that he didn’t have what it took to have a thorough and effective cleansing; only God could that. When we are confronted with our sins, we have three choices. We can try to diminish our sin by making excuses, trying to justify it. We minimize our sin by referencing the sins of others. Secondly, we can feel that our sin outweighs the sacrifice Jesus made and assume there is no possible way God would ever forgive what we’ve done. Or we can follow David’s example and praise God for His never-ending supply of forgiveness and ask to be cleansed as only God can do. Only one of those choices pulls us from the darkness.
1 John 1: 5 NIV “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
Like David, we have to acknowledge our sin, be willing to admit that our sin was against God, and accept the forgiveness that God offers. There’s a saying that we see on bumper stickers and t-shirts that says: Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven. And while that statement is fundamentally true, I can’t help but wonder if we excuse our sinful habits and behaviors based on the simple fact that we aren’t perfect. We somehow transform our imperfection into a license to sin. After all, the penalty has already been paid by Jesus. It’s like being given a credit card with no limit and no expectation of you ever paying the bill. We know so much more about God’s plan of redemption than David ever did. We have the benefit of knowing what Jesus Christ did for us individually many years ago. And so it makes sense that we go to God and ask for His forgiveness because that was part of His plan all along. The fact that Jesus has already paid the price for our sins doesn’t eliminate our need to ask for that forgiveness. Knowing what Jesus did on the cross simply gives us the confidence that a genuine and sincere request to be forgiven by Him will be granted.
I think God wants us to come to Him like David did. Praising Him, but also mourning our sinful actions. Asking for God to cleanse us, restore us, and having the faith that He will do just that.
Psalm 51:8 ESV “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”
David is asking God to not only forgive his sins but to let David be comforted by that forgiveness. How many of us have gone to the Lord in prayer and in the midst of us making requests of Him we suddenly remember some sinful action we’ve taken? We casually throw in “oh, and God, please forgive me for telling Thelma Lou that I had plans and couldn’t meet her for lunch when You and I both know I didn’t have a thing to do. She just always talks so much and chews with her mouth open. I just couldn’t bear to share a meal with her.” And guess what? Next time Thelma Lou calls, we’ll tell another lie to avoid spending time with her. We ask forgiveness when we know we’ve done wrong, but we’re not sorrowful. God knows our hearts and knows when we’re sincere or not.
David was sincere and he was genuine in his prayer. But David also knew that the weight of his sinfulness, although cast away by God, still had the potential to haunt him. So David asked God to restore his joy and to repair the brokenness.
If we truly saw sin as God sees it, how different would our prayers be? If we viewed sin as fatal but forgivable, damaging but deliverable, repulsive but redeemable.
Psalm 51: 9 TLB “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
David is sure that God is not only able to cast away his sins, but also that God loves David enough to do just that and it’s as if David had never sinned. The consequences of David’s sins still exist. Bathsheba is still widowed; Uriah and the baby born to Bathsheba are still dead. But the relationship between David and God is restored and when all is said and done, that’s what matters.
The next verse is a familiar one. Psalm 51:10 TLB “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
What is significant is that David has previously asked God to wash him, cleanse him and make him pure again. In other words, David is requesting that God take what already exists and sanitize it. But do you notice that David asks God to not cleanse his heart, but rather to CREATE in him a clean heart? It’s as if David knows that in order for him to not sin in this manner ever again, he needs for God to create a new heart in him. Consider the words in Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV “I will take away your stubborn heart and give you a new heart and a desire to be faithful. You will have only pure thoughts, 27 because I will put my Spirit in you and make you eager to obey my laws and teachings.”
You may be thinking that David needed a new heart; one that was clean and pure because after all, he took advantage of Bathsheba, committed adultery, lied, connived, and caused Uriah to die. Your sins in no way can be compared to his. But James 2:10 GWT soberly reminds us, “If someone obeys all of God’s laws except one, that person is guilty of breaking all of them.”
Are we mourned by our sins in the way that we should be? David continues by pleading to God.
Psalm 51: 11 TLB “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
It’s very possible that David is considering Cain and King Saul and the ramifications of their sins. Cain, after being confronted by God after he murdered his brother Abel, “left the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Genesis 4:16 NASB 1 Samuel 16:14 ESV tells us of Saul’s experience. “4 The Lord’s Spirit left Saul. Then the Lord sent an evil spirit to Saul that caused him much trouble.” David may be considering his wrongdoings and realizing that God has every right to cast him away and/or to cause His Holy Spirit to leave based on the experiences of Cain and Saul. But he begs for mercy and then he asks God to restore the joy of his salvation. David wants to feel that exuberance of a relationship with God. “This implies that he had formerly known what was the happiness of being a friend of God, and of having a hope of salvation. That joy had been taken from him by his sin. He had lost his peace of mind. His soul was sad and cheerless. Sin always produces this effect.”[iv] He desires to be overflowing with joy and to be upheld, supported with a free and willing spirit that will keep him from falling into these same traps.
And here’s what David intends to do with his newly created clean heart, filled with the Holy Spirit, restored joy, and upheld, willing spirit.
Psalm 51:13 ERV “I will teach the guilty how you want them to live,
and the sinners will come back to you.
14 God, spare me from the punishment of death.
My God, you are the one who saves me!
Let me sing about all the good things you do for me!
15 My Lord, I will open my mouth and sing your praises!
16 You don’t really want sacrifices,
or I would give them to you.
17 The sacrifice that God wants is a humble spirit.
God, you will not turn away someone who comes with a humble heart and is willing to obey you.”
King David was confronted with his sinfulness. Wrongdoings that he tried to hide, overlook, and dismiss. But God knew. God knew that David had some deep cleaning to do. Just like with us, God knows that simply dusting off the shelves of little white lies, mopping up puddles of pride, vacuuming carpets of self-righteousness, and sweeping away tidbits of gossip isn’t enough. Those sins that we overlook, excuse, or justify are the ones that God wants us to bring to him with a humble spirit and ask for Him to cleanse us. Do you need a new heart created? Only God knows. Why don’t you ask Him?