So...here we go. The first Psalm of the Day:
Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 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.
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.
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.
This is the quintessential penitenial psalm.
Say that three times fast. ;)
It is good that we have the note about the inspiration for this psalm of David - his sin with Bathsheba. Knowing this, I think, helps us to take this cry to God, this prayer, seriously. David isn't just some hyper-spiritual person that we have nothing in common with. We can't put him on a pedestal here and think that the way he speaks to or thinks of God is something we can never come close to. We can't idealize his words. David was a human being, like you and me. He was not perfect. He was not a monk. In fact, he sinned in ways most of us will never know beyond a flash of a thought in our heads. Yet, he was called a man after God's own heart. Perhaps this psalm, the heart that is revealed in this psalm, well help us understand why.
after he had gone in to Bathsheba: As I mentioned in the paragraph above, this psalm was composed after David had sinned with Bathsheba. We know from Scripture that, during a time of War, David spied Bathsheba bathing on her roof. It is implied that he watched her for a while, allowing his lust to grow. Nurturing his lust, then not only led to actually committing adultery with Bathsheba, but in plotting the death of her husband. Though most of us will never know these sins personally, they do fall on our list of "big bad sins". As such, there is no way we can read David's cry to the Lord and not apply it to our lives. If God can forgive one such as this, he can no doubt forgive us and our "lesser sins".have mercy...my transgressions,and my sin is ever before me: Can't everyone relate to this? Something happens, you know you are at fault, and no matter how big or small the situation is, its all you can think about. You worry about being exposed. About being embarrassed. About coming face to face with someone youve hurt or wronged in some way. You want it to go away, but don't necessarily want to have our faults come to light. It can be a difficult and consuming and distracting place to be. Like David, I'm sure we cry "have mercy", but often God's way of administering mercy is not just a "poof" and our anxiety is gone.
Against you, you only: Here, David sees something that will help him move past the anxiety of what seems the most immediate consequence of his sin. He has sinned against Bathsheba and her husband and, also, against his subjects...but more than that, he has sinned against God. Every step we take away from what God calls good and right and true is sin.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice: Every time I read this, I think of someone beating me with branches. But, that is not what David means here. Hyssop was an herb. Its branches were used to administer sacrifical blood during religious rites. Moses is instructed to dip hyssop in lambs blood and apply it to the door posts on the first passover. Here, David is asking for the same mercy, the cleansing that follows when we experience repentance. This is also, of course, a foreshadowing to the cross and the Blood of Christ which is far greater than a lamb without spot or blemish.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a right spirit within me: Here, David is acknowledging that only God can grant repentance and regeneration and turn our hearts to Himself.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise: Interesting wording following the verse above. "Broken spirit" and "Right spirit". A right spirit is a broken spirit, but not a spirit broken by sin. The right spirit is one broken by the grace and mercy of God, filled with awe and gratitude, and yearning not for its own way or to satisfy its own desires but to do the will of God and be pleasing to Him.
From start to finish, the Psalm covers the gamut of emotions and tracks the progression of sin to repentance...and beyond. I think my favorite thing about this psalm is that, while it acknowledges our emotions and weaknesses and the temptation to want to hide or cover or make up for our our sin rather than truly face it, it never throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water. David says, rightly, that God does not desire sacrifices or works of righteousness to bring us into right fellowship with him. Yet at the end he says: "Then I will teach transgressors your ways,and sinners will return to you...then will you delight in right sacrifices,in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;then bulls will be offered on your altar."
No way! God does not desire sacrifices or works of righteousness to bring us into right fellowship with Him. This is a work of the heart. A work He does in our hearts. Sacrifices, works of righteousness, walking in His law, and teaching others of His ways...like all of worship...should be the result of right fellowship, or a right spirit, not what produces it. God never despises us for desiring to walk in a manner worthy of the calling He has placed on our lives or wanting to abide by His law...when our hearts are aimed at loving and honoring him. The minute we see obedience or any spiritual act we perform as a means to the end of being accepted and loved by God, we've missed it; we've lost; we are worse off than before. Why? Because we are seeking our own. God seeks hearts that are completely His, not those who just want to feel like they are because they did this or didn't do that. David saw this. He didn't need to slay a ram to be cleansed of his sin, He needed the one who provides the lamb to have mercy and make him clean. And, we...well, we don't typically go out looking for lambs to slaughter when we have sinned, but we do go looking for a sacrifice or some work we can do to make ourselves feel better...like we've balanced the scales, somehow, don't we?
It doesn't work. God does not delight in punish work. He delights in us when we delight in Him...when we turn our whole heart to Him....even in the midst of sin and failure and weakness, as this Psalm clearly shows us.
Psalm 51 is quite counter-intuitive to the way the human mind and heart works, but it really demonstrates the heart of God and work of God in us sinners. Do you have any thoughts on this Psalm or the ideas I felt led of the Lord to share here? Any sections of the Psalm stand out in a particular way to you? Feel free to share in the comments. :)