Psalm 51 Continued

9. Hide Your face from my sins,

He calls upon God once again, as he has been doing repeatedly in these verses. This time, his appeal to god is to hide His face from his sins. Of course, if His face was hidden from them, He would not be looking on them and remembering them, which is what David is asking Him to do.

And blot out all my iniquities.

Again this is a repetition of the same thought as in the previous line. He does not just want God to hide His face from his sins, but also to blot out his iniquities. If God blots them out, he is sure they will be blotted out and gone from then on.

10. Create in me a clean heart, O God,

David calls on God to create in him a clean heart. Of course, we recognize that the idea of “clean” goes along with the idea of purging with hyssop that we saw back in verse 7. However, when it comes to the word “heart,” we are likely to get the wrong idea in English. We use the word “heart” for the seat of emotions. In Hebrew, however, they would have used the word “soul” for that idea. The “heart” was in fact the inner man, the center of one’s being. When we speak of the “real ‘you’ deep down inside,” we are speaking of the “heart.”

David realized that his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering Uriah to cover it up was not just a sin of his external being. Something had gone very wrong in his heart, in his very inner self, in order for him to commit such a horrendous deed. When we consider the many wonderful psalms that David had already penned by God’s inspiration, and then compare them to his words written to Joab, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die,” II Samuel 11:15, we might well wonder, “How could the sweet psalmist of Israel have written such a horrible thing?” And then he heartlessly sent this message calling for an innocent man’s death by the very hand of the condemned victim! What terrible rot had come out of David’s inner being in order for him to do such a thing! He needed to be cleansed, not just outwardly, but his very inner self was defiled and needed cleansing.

David realizes that his inner being is not clean. How could it be, for him to do such an awful thing? Yet he realizes his own inability to cleanse the defilement himself. The defilement was a problem with what he was in himself, which was not something that he could fix. Yet he looks to God, the only One Who truly could do anything about it, and asks Him to create in him a new, clean inner being. Only He could cleanse the defilement that had caused such a crime to come out of David’s heart.

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

David also calls upon God to renew a steadfast spirit within him. Again we may not be aware of it, but a “spirit” in Hebrew thought had to do with your mind, your opinions, your beliefs, and so forth. David’s thoughts had been corrupted to think of murder and adultery. His mind, which formerly had been so steadfastly set on serving his God, had turned away from Him completely in order to work such terrible wickedness and rebellion against Him. This man, once steadfast for God, had broken away from Him in a most dreadful way. Now, he pleads with God to renew a steadfast mind and faithful thoughts within him that will stay faithful to Him and His laws, as David used to do, and no longer will rebel and sin.

11. Do not cast me away from Your presence,

David asks God not to cast him away from His presence. David, as God’s king and representative on earth, lived continually in the presence of God. God was working through him, not just in inspiring the writing of his psalms, but also in giving him wisdom and judgment in all his official acts as king. Yet David had sinned and rebelled against God terribly, and it could well have been that God would have cast David as defiled out of His presence. David had seen this very thing happen to his predecessor, Saul, when he had rebelled against God and stubbornly refused to submit. David dreads such a fate, and pleads with God not to cast him away.

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

David also asks God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him. This very thing had happened to his predecessor Saul, as we see in I Samuel 16:14.

14. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.

Therefore David had seen that the Holy Spirit could depart from a man, even from the LORD’s anointed, God’s chosen king. He knew this had happened to Saul, and he pleaded with God that it should not happen to him.

This was a proper prayer for David to pray, for in his day the removal of the Spirit was quite possible, as we see in the case of Saul. However, this is not a proper prayer for anyone in our day. We live in a time when, if we believe and therefore are placed “in Christ,” we are sealed with the Spirit. We read of this in Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30.

Ephesians 1:13 The Resultant Version. In Whom you also have hoped in advance, upon hearing this word of the truth, the good message of your salvation, in Whom even upon believing, you were sealed with the Spirit of the promise, the Holy One,

Ephesians 4:30 The Resultant Version.  And do not be grieving the Holy Spirit of God in which you are sealed for the day of redemption.

In Roman culture when a letter was sealed, that meant it was closed, and it could only be opened by the one to whom the letter was addressed. This was done by dripping melted wax on the opening of the letter and then pressing one’s special, signet ring into the soft wax. The wax could be melted and the letter resealed, but only the original writer had his signet, so only he could produce his special seal. This kept letters from any tampering, or at least made tampering easily detectable. In this same way, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as belonging to God. Only He can break the seal. I do not believe that even we are able to break it ourselves. We belong to God, and no one but He can break the seal He has placed on us.

We also have the Spirit as the earnest or down-payment of our full portion from God. This is set forth in Ephesians 1:14.

Ephesians 1:14 The Resultant Version. Who is the earnest of our full portion, in relation to the redemption of that which has been purchased for the extolling of His glory.

The idea of “earnest” is of a down-payment. When you pay money down on a house, you prove you are “in earnest” about buying the house and paying the full amount. You are in earnest, since you have already given a portion, and therefore have something to lose if you fail to follow through. The Spirit is given us as God’s earnest, proving that He really does intend to give us our full possession. If we are in Christ, we have the Spirit, and we can be assured that our full portion, all that we expect to receive from God, WILL be given to us in God’s kingdom to come.

In light of these things, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit cannot be taken from those of us who believe. God did not lie when He gave us His earnest. No one, not even we ourselves, can break the seal He has put upon us. We might well grieve the Spirit, as Ephesians 4:30 urges us not to do, but even our grievous actions will not entice Him in the least to give up on us. We belong to Him. He will not take His Holy Spirit from us.

12. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,

Now David asks that God will restore to him the joy of His salvation. No doubt David has been under much distress and guilt because of his sinful actions. In constant fear of what God will do or say should David’s sin be made known, he has not been able to contemplate his God or feel His joy in quite some time. Now, he asks God to restore him to that happy condition. He wants to experience the joy of knowing His salvation once again.

I wonder if my readers know the joy of having the salvation of God? It is indeed a joyful thing to know our sins are forgiven and our transgressions are covered; to know that, though we are sinners, we have a Savior; to know that life is ours and our future is assured. To be right with God is a joyful thing. May we all know this great blessing!

And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

David also asks that he might then continue to be upheld by God’s generous Spirit. God is most generous indeed when it comes to His salvation! David had already experienced this, when in spite of what David deserved God had taken away his sin. God was very generous toward the fallen David, and now he asks to be upheld as well.

The word “Spirit” here is the Hebrew word ruach. This is the typical word for “spirit.” Yet here I think the Spirit of God is clearly meant, so our translators have rightly capitalized it as a reference to the Holy Spirit of God.

13. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

Once David is purged, is washed, is made to hear joy and gladness, has his sins blotted out and his transgressions covered, has a clean heart and a steadfast spirit created in him, stays in God’s presence and retains His Holy Spirit, has the joy of His salvation restored to him, and is upheld, then he will not only know but will have experienced the marvelously gracious ways of God. Then he will be in a position to teach other transgressors the gracious ways of God. Indeed, this very psalm must accomplish that end, for many of God’s people who have fallen into transgression must have down through the years turned to this psalm for comfort and hope in the experience of David. God’s grace to him has indeed taught many fallen servants of God to hope in God’s grace in their own lives when they found themselves in similar circumstances.

And sinners shall be converted to You.

Whether or not David had it in mind here, it is certain that there are two kinds of people who may be encouraged and turn to God by the story of David’s forgiven sin and the testimony of this psalm. It is not only those who have been at one time loyal servants of God but have fallen into sin who might be encouraged to trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness through the story of David, but also those who are sinners and who never were living for God in the first place. When they hear the story of David and God’s grace upon Him, they too will learn of the great love of God, and some of them will be moved to turn unto Him. David hopes for this result too from the reality of God’s mercy shown to him.

14. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

It is all well and good for David to speak of God restoring him, and yet at this point the reality of his crime seems to come home to David. It was not just the crime of adultery with Bathsheba, which was in itself a terrible crime and one worthy of death under the law. It was also the horrible reality of the guilt of bloodshed that was upon him. He had murdered a man to cover up his sin, one of his own loyal and mighty soldiers. Of course that man remained dead, and the guilt of such an act hangs over David’s head like the sword of the avenger of blood, demanding his own life in payment for the thing he has done. Of course, no avenger of blood could truly come against the king and destroy him, but that is what David deserved, and it would have been quite proper for the LORD to act as that Avenger and see to it that David paid for his crime.

The God of my salvation,

David calls again on God, this time calling Him the God of his salvation, to deliver him from this guilt of bloodshed that hangs over him.

And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.

Again David makes the rather startling statement that, upon God delivering him from this guilt of bloodshed, his tongue shall sing aloud of His righteousness. Once again “righteousness” might not be just the word we would expect, for surely God’s righteous standards would have demanded David’s death as the just penalty for his crimes. We might have expected David to praise God for His grace, His lovingkindness, or His mercy. Yet it is His righteousness that David promises to praise once he is thus delivered. Why should this be?

Once again we will have to turn to the same reason we gave above: it will be righteous of God to take away David’s blood guilt in light of His promises to David. He had promised in II Samuel 7 that, in the case of David’s descendants turning from Him to work wickedness, He would punish them with blows inflicted by men, but He would never take His favor from them as He had taken it from David’s predecessor Saul. If this were to be true of David’s descendants, how much more must it be true in the unhappy circumstance, now a reality, wherein David himself turns from God and works such wickedness? Moreover, in II Samuel 12, in the words of Samuel, the LORD promised to take away David’s sin. Therefore, if the LORD is to be proven righteous and His word true, He must deliver David from the guilt of bloodshed. In no other way could His promises be justified. Yet this does not explain how exactly the LORD could make such promises and still be righteous. Surely a judge who promised a man that he would let him off if he appeared before him for some crime would not be considered a good judge when the man appeared before him and he kept his promise. It would await Romans 3 before He would “demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)

15. O Lord, open my lips,

Up to now, David has only called God “Elohim,” and not dared to use the personal Name of Jehovah in his plea for forgiveness. Yet here he dares to do it, and calls upon Him to be the one to open his lips in praise for the free forgiveness he desires. Yet though David dared to bring the Name into the psalm at this point, the “wiser” members of the Sopherim disagreed, and they edited the Name out, substituting “Adonai” for it instead here. Yet David did not call upon God as his Master to open his lips, but on God as Jehovah, the One with Whom he was in relationship, to do this. As always, the Sopherim should have kept their arrogant hands off, and have left the Word to say what God wrote it to say.

And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.

Once his lips are opened by knowing that his guilt is taken away, David will be free to open his mouth and lips in order to show forth the praise of Jehovah that he wishes to express, if only He will procure his forgiveness and allow him to do so. In the same way, the free forgiveness we all enjoy in Jesus Christ should inspire us to open our mouths and show forth His praise.

16. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;

David testifies that if Yahweh desired sacrifice, he would give it, yet He did not desire this. If we know little of the law, we might not know what David means, for of course Yahweh did express a desire for sacrifices in His law. How, then, could David say He did not desire them? Yet what we must remember is what exactly David’s crime is. He is guilty first of adultery and second of murder. These were both capital crimes. There was no sacrifice to be offered on the part of an adulterer. There was no sacrifice to be offered on the part of a murderer. The blood to be shed in such a case was the sinner’s own, and no animal substitute was allowed. This is what David means. He would have been more than willing to bring God sacrifices to cover his sin, if that was desired. Yet he knew God allowed for no such thing.

You do not delight in burnt offering.

Again Yahweh did not delight in burnt offering in such a case. In some circumstances He would allow for a burnt offering to restore to relationship with Him, but not in this case. There was no burnt offering David could make that would make the slightest difference in the case of adultery and murder. There was no effort David could take that would make any difference. He was completely helpless to do anything to atone for what he had done. If His sins were to be taken away, only Yahweh Himself could do it. And praise God He did do it, and, as we know, where He did it was the cross.

17. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,

David knows enough of God to know just what it is that God will accept in this case. The sacrifices He looks for are a broken spirit. He wants to see a mind and will contrite, humble, submissive, and broken before Him. This is the only sacrifice He will accept in this case. That was the kind of spirit David offered to God when he said in II Samuel 12:13, “I have sinned against the LORD,” and the kind of spirit he was offering to him in writing this very psalm.

A broken and a contrite heart—

To put it in plainer language, this means a broken and crushed inner being. Remember the “heart” to the Hebrews was the inner man, the “real you deep down inside.” Therefore David was not just saying that he “felt bad” about his sin, but that his very inner being, formerly so stubborn and set in sin, was broken and crushed before God. Only a broken inner being can be repaired by God. One that remains firmly set in sin is not in a condition for repair.

These, O God, You will not despise.

A mind and will broken before God and an inner being broken and contrite before Him are things that God looks for from one of His people who has strayed into sin. David knows God well enough to know that, though He did not accept animal sacrifices in the case of sins like David’s, He would not despise nor consider worthless the sacrifice of these things. This, then, is what David brings before God in hopes of receiving His mercy.

18. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;

David now prays, no longer on his own behalf, but for that of Zion, the city of Jehovah. Why does he so strangely switch to this topic? I think it is not strange when we think about the fact that David was the king of Israel. As such, he was a mediator between God and the rest of the people. If he behaved wickedly, he was really putting all the people of Israel in danger, for they might all suffer for it. Indeed, we have an example of this very sort of thing in II Samuel 24 (see verse 17, though we must admit that Jehovah does say there in verse 1 that He was angry with all Israel). Therefore it was David’s desire that his sin and the punishment for it would not result in evil and calamity for Zion as well as for David. This was a good desire, but of course since David was the king, his capital city would of necessity be caught up in the suffering of David.

Build the walls of Jerusalem.

He states his desire that God will build the walls of Jerusalem. We must understand that the walls of a city at that time were the protection of a city. Since they had no aircraft and no explosives, the best way for a city to protect itself from foreign invaders, particularly if they were more powerful than their own army, was to build a large and impassable wall around their city. Then, when the land was invaded, they could all run inside the walls and be safe until the invaders left. Therefore “walls” meant “protection.” What David is asking here is not that God will see to it that the walls of Jerusalem get built higher or wider than they were. What he meant is that God build up the protection of the city, and see Himself to keeping it from harm and calamity. That is what he is requesting of God, and probably nothing literally about the walls.

19. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,

Then, David is sure, when Jerusalem is protected and safe, God shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness that its people will offer to him. He may only have in mind that the sacrifices, both literal of animals and internal of the kind of submissive spirit and heart David was offering to God, will continue uninterrupted when He protects the city. Yet it could also well be that David’s thoughts have jumped ahead from the immediate future to the far future. The day when Jerusalem truly will be thoroughly protected and safe will be the kingdom of God. Only then will they truly be permanently delivered from their enemies. Therefore, he may be speaking of what the people will offer Him in that great time to come in the kingdom. They will offer literal sacrifices in Jerusalem, but the people of that city, including the resurrected David, will truly be a righteous people, and they will daily make the sacrifice of a righteous lifestyle and righteous deeds to God.

With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;

These are two kinds of offerings which God would be pleased with at that time. These are probably meant literally.

Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

A bull was the largest and probably the most expensive offering you could offer on God’s altar, so this speaks of both prosperity and generosity. Of course, both will be present in abundance in the kingdom of God to come.

To the Chief Musician.

We might be surprised to find that this psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician. As we have noted before, psalms which were thus ascribed to him were psalms that were to be used for public worship. This psalm might seem very much like a private affair to us as we read it, and no doubt it was a private expression of David’s feelings and prayers at the time when he first wrote it. However years later as he looked back at it, David may have realized that he was, praise God, delivered from his sin before God, and so he offers this once-private psalm up for public consumption. No doubt he hoped it would help some other, wayward sheep of God to have the courage to come back to God for healing and forgiveness, as David had done. We can say with assurance that it has done this, for this psalm has been a comfort to many who were having to deal with God regarding their own sin and His forgiveness. May it continue to do so.