Clean heart, Psalm 51

clean heartKing David wrote the well-known penitential Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sins involving Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah (whose death in battle he’d arranged). You can read the sad sequence of self-centered actions in 2 Samuel 11. Nathan’s confrontation and the beginning of consequences are recorded in 2 Samuel 12.

God’s judgment included the death of the son born to David and Bathsheeba. I wrote about the child’s death in my book, Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, noting that while this particular loss was a consequence for sin most infant losses are not. We know from Job that suffering is not always a result of personal sin. I also wrote about David’s confidence in regaining fellowship with this little child someday in heaven (2 Samuel 12:22, 23).

Dr. R.C. Sproul makes the same points in an excellent lecture I found this morning. You can listen to the lecture on David’s great repentance and many others about David’s life here.

Psalm 51 demonstrates the genuine repentance in David’s heart, broken over his sin, in words that echo down through the centuries. Each winter’s first snowfall brings to mind the words of verse 7:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Those words are especially striking to me this morning, as I sit in a warm office on a bitterly cold morning after yesterday’s significant snowfall.

David begins the psalm by reminding himself of God’s mercy and steadfast love. He begs God to blot out his sins, confessing:

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
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 (Psalm 51:3, 4, ESV).

This is not a story of David’s overpowering love, but of his overpowering lust. He realizes the extent of his sin and it weighs so heavily on his heart that he can think of nothing else. He confesses his primary offense was against God, but he definitely sinned against other people. He broke up a marriage by stealing a man’s wife and making sure that man was killed.

Bathsheba had little–if any–choice in the alliance. Yet she loses a husband and a son. Although the Bible focuses far more on David’s responsibility than her feelings, we know she grieved. Second Samuel 12:24 tells us that David comforted her.

All sin is primarily an offense against a holy God, but we must not ignore those who’ve been hurt by our actions. David comforted his grieving wife, and whenever possible we need to foster healing and restoration.

David has heard Nathan proclaim calamities that will come upon him as a result of his sin, and he acknowledges God’s justice. The truly repentant person is willing to face up to the consequences of personal sin.

Genuine repentance is more than a verbal declaration. David realizes that God sees the deepest recesses of his heart:

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart (verse 6, ESV).

Only God can cleanse him and transform his heart:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me (verse 10, ESV).

David pleads with God to uphold him with His Spirit and restore to him the joy of salvation. But restoration carries responsibility.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise (13-15, ESV).

The restored sinner cannot be silent. David promises to teach his people about God’s ways so other sinners may return to the Lord. He vows to sing and speak about God’s righteousness, to verbally share the good news of salvation and praise the Giver of it.

Repentance is more than remorse. Saying you’re sorry is not enough.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (16, 17, ESV).

God doesn’t want external religious practices that fail to reflect internal repentance. He desires a spirit broken over personal sin. He will not despise a contrite heart willing to face consequences and work toward restoration. These are the sacrifices that please God.


Measuring Days, Psalm 39

A bit over two years ago, I blogged on Psalm 39 under the title, “Carpe Diem!” That Latin phrase means, “Seize the day,” which still seems an apt title. But in revisiting the psalm today, I’m struck by the ESV heading, “What Is the Measure of My Days?”

In this personal lament that conveys the brevity of life, David displays impatience as well as repentance and submission while he waits on God’s will.

He initially determines not to complain:

I said, “I will guard my ways,
    that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
    so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent;
    I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse (Psalm 39:1-2, ESV).

David doesn’t want to give unrighteous people an opportunity to criticize him or the Lord. But while he holds his peace, his distress increases. He speaks, but he speaks to the Lord (verses 3-6, ESV):

My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:

“O Lord, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
    man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

David’s prayer begins with a petition that God will make him more aware of the brevity of life. He seems to have a good grasp of life’s transience and futility, but he asks God to increase his concept of measuring his days.

He knows that the days of his life measure a few hands, like one might measure a pony or horse, and that his lifetime is nothing compared to God’s infinity. Every day, billions of people breath in and out countless times. Yet the sum total of all the breaths of all people who have ever lived and who will ever live is like a mere breath to God! We think our lives are so substantial and important, but all our actions are like fleeting shadows. Why are we so concerned about obtaining and keeping stuff? What will happen to it when we’re gone? Our children will have to sort through it, perhaps keeping a few meaningful mementos, but selling much of it at an auction or giving away whatever has a little value or tossing more than we care to know.

David recognizes life’s brevity and wants to become even more aware of it in order to make each day count. But he also wants to guard against running ahead of God’s will. He waits on the Lord and hopes in him.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.
Deliver me from all my transgressions.
    Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
    for it is you who have done it.
Remove your stroke from me;
    I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
When you discipline a man
    with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
    surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah (7-11, ESV)

While David waits, he asks God to keep him from sin. He doesn’t want to dishonor God by giving unrighteous people an opportunity to mock him and God. As David reverts again to silence, he recognizes the sovereignty of God over his afflictions, he repents from his sins, and he reiterates the brevity of life.

Psalm 39 concludes with a cry to God (12-13, ESV):

“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
    and give ear to my cry;
    hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
    a guest, like all my fathers.
Look away from me, that I may smile again,
    before I depart and am no more!”

In this cry, David begs God to see his tears and act. He confesses that we are all sojourners as our ancestors have been (and as our children will be). He seeks relief from distress so that he may smile again before God calls him home.

We have only a limited number of days on earth. When we’re young, they seem to stretch out like an endless road before us. As we age, we begin to sense how close we’re drawing to the end of our journey. The older I get, the more I feel an urgency about working for the Lord. I want to accomplish what he wants me to do while I’m here, and I realize I don’t have all that much time left.

What is the measure of my days? None of us knows the answer to that question. But an awareness of their limit leads to a better perspective of how we use each one as we work for the Lord and wait on his will.


God will answer, Psalm 38

Okay, I admit it. I’ve avoided writing a meditation on this psalm. Psalm 38 isn’t very cheerful or particularly inspiring. In fact, it’s downright depressing.

This psalm is a lament, the largest category of psalms. This particular lament is penitential, expressing sorrow for sin, but also contains striking descriptions of physical pain, personal persecution, and deep despair.  The heading tells us it was written by David for the memorial offering. It sounds more as if it might have been written from a bed in Memorial Hospital!

David cries to God in words that confess the Lord’s sovereignty over David’s afflictions:

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
    and your hand has come down on me (Psalm 38:1-2, ESV).

Those first verses speak of rebuke and discipline, which indicate a recognition that these troubles may be a result of personal sin.  We see that more clearly as the psalmist describes his terrible physical state:

There is no soundness in my flesh
    because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me (3-4, ESV).

David clearly sees the depth of his sin within himself and feels a crushing weight of iniquities piled higher than his head. He realizes how his own foolishness contributed to his wounded body.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart (5-8, ESV).

He is wounded in body, but also in his mind and heart. He is feeble and crushed. He mourns and groans.

In verse 11, we see a glimmer of hope, even though it’s immediately followed by personal and relational complaints.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
    and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
    and my nearest kin stand far off (9-11, ESV).

David confesses that God sees all his longing and all his sighing, even though he feels terribly depressed and isolated. Not only do friends ignore him, but persecutors seek his life and relentlessly plot against him.

Those who seek my life lay their snares;
    those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
    and meditate treachery all day long (12, ESV).

He has become so ineffective that he feels deaf and mute.

But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
    like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
I have become like a man who does not hear,
    and in whose mouth are no rebukes (13-14, ESV).

Finally we see more than a glimmer of hope in verse 15 (ESV):

But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
    it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

David confesses that he waits on the Lord. He expresses his sure confidence that God will answer. This would be a good verse to memorize so that you could repeat it to yourself when physical struggles cause you to despair.

In what seems like a postscript to that confession, David begs that his enemies will not be permitted to rejoice over him (16, ESV):

For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
    who boast against me when my foot slips!”

Constant physical pain seems to bring him near death:

For I am ready to fall,
    and my pain is ever before me (17, ESV).

But David’s response is to confess his sin:

I confess my iniquity;
    I am sorry for my sin (18, ESV).

Even though he’s confessed his sin, he also reminds God of the strength and malevolence of his foes:

But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
    and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good
    accuse me because I follow after good (19-20, ESV).

We may be persecuted by real people or we may be persecuted by spiritual powers. It may feel as if physical pain pierces us like arrows, but we can confess with David that even these come from God’s hand. And because everyone of us is a sinner, we can join David in recognizing our huge burden of sin and confessing that to God.

But we know from Job’s struggle that not all physical suffering is a direct result of sin. It can be. And it’s definitely part of living in a sin-warped world. Suffering isn’t always a result of our personal sin, however, it’s crucial to practice regular self-examination and repentance!

Whether or not we suffer as a result of our own sin or foolishness, there is only one thing for us to do: cry to God! David ends Psalm 38 with this heartfelt invocation and petition (21-22, ESV):

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
    O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
    O Lord, my salvation!

Are you suffering great physical or mental distress? Maybe you, like David, struggle with both! Do you feel feeble and crushed, ready to fall? Cry to the Lord! Recognize that even these afflictions come from the hand of your loving and sovereign God. Confess your sins, but be assured that he sees your longing and hears your sighs. Tell him that you wait for him and trust him to answer:
But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
    it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer (Psalm 38:15).
If you tell God this often enough, you may even begin to believe it yourself!