Psalm 51: True Theology – Part 3
“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
Last week in Part 2 of this four part series on Psalm 51, we examined David’s confession (vv. 3-6). This week in Part 3, we will look at David’s plea for renewal (vv. 7-12).
Part 3 – The Plea for Renewal (vv. 7-12)
“7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 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.”
David has confessed his sin and has turned to God for mercy, but he realizes that dealing with sin requires more than correcting his outward behavior: God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being” (v. 6). David sees the depth of his sin, which he is incapable of rooting out. He wants a change of heart, but he is powerless to produce such a change.
Therefore, David asks for God to act upon him, first by purging and washing away his sin. In the Old Testament, “hyssop” was a plant the priest used as a type of sponge or sprinkler to apply the cleansing blood or water to the worshipper. Hyssop in this case symbolizes the mouth of a man who proclaims absolution. Absolution is the assurance of God’s forgiveness, which to David is a hearing of “joy and gladness.” This is what the Prophet Nathan proclaimed to David after hearing his confession: “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’ ” (2 Sam 12:13)
When a pastor proclaims the Gospel (i.e., the forgiveness of sins) by teaching or preaching or administering the Sacraments, he functions symbolically as hyssop which sprinkles the people spiritually with the blood of Christ. Everyone is sprinkled with the blood of Christ, whether a believer or an unbeliever, when he or she hears the Gospel or receives the Sacraments. If the person receives the Gospel or Sacrament with faith that Christ has made satisfaction for his or her sins, then that person is cleansed of sin and made “whiter than snow” in the sight of God by the blood of Christ, as it is written: “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). If, however, the person does not receive the Gospel or Sacrament with faith, then unbelief prevents that person from being cleansed of sin.
Hearing with faith bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:2), who cleanses our conscience; it is a hearing of “joy and gladness.” Moreover, when the weight of our sin, which Christ takes from us through His Word of Gospel, is removed (i.e., absolved), then even our bones, which were broken by sin, will rejoice. This is what David experienced when he sang: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Ps 32:1-2) David was blessed, not because he was holy in himself, but because God, speaking through the Prophet Nathan, sprinkled him with the blood of Christ, absolving him from his sin.
Even Christians, who have been justified by faith, so that sin does not condemn us, have the remnants of sin in our flesh. The flesh struggles against the Spirit to bring forth its old fruits which are hostile to God. But the Spirit and the flesh are not weighted equally, simply because God’s grace reigns over us, not sin. The remnants of sins continue to haunt us and work in us the opposite of justification, at which point we must turn to Christ in His Word who has claimed us as His own and whose voice we recognize as the sheep of His fold. Though residual sins cling to us, they do not reign over us. Sin cannot condemn us or change God into a wrathful deity, and this is on account of the reign of God’s grace and mercy over us for the sake of Christ.
With the words “Create in me”, David pleas for God to work miraculously in him. He desires a heart and will which conform to God’s will. He prays against his old Adam and the remnants of sin which struggle against the Spirit. His prayer is answered by the Holy Spirit, who bestows in him repentance, faith, and the willingness to service God. The Holy Spirit not only creates in us faith through which we receive forgiveness but also a willingness to serve God, so that we begin to keep God’s law. Because this renewal is never perfect in this life, David prays that the Spirit will uphold him and sustain him so that he will not fall again.
“13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
Thank you for reading. Next week in Part 4, we will conclude this series on Psalm 51 with an examination David’s vow to teach and praise (vv. 13-17). Amen.
In preparing for writing these articles, I made extensive use of the following works:
Brug, John F. Peoples Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Print.
Ngien, Dennis. Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Print.
Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. Print