Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 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. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Psalm 51.6-9.
For a third morning in a row, I come to Psalm 51. On Monday I looked at the opening verses where King David, his adultery and murder exposed, throws himself on God’s mercy. Yesterday I looked at the way in which he saw his sins as a breaking of the covenant and as being chiefly offences against God himself. Now, today, I want to look at these next verses which hold out the promise of restoration.
The connection between the two halves of verse six is not easy to pin down. First, David acknowledges that God “delights in truth in the inward being.” The verb there can mean either “delights” or “desires” but there is no need to settle for just one or the other — God looks for and is thrilled when he finds “truth” in a person’s inner being. But what exactly is this quality that God is after in me? “Truth” is in fact a rather inadequate translation for ’emeth. The word means firmness, faithfulness, sureness, and reliability. God wants David … and me … to be solid and trustworthy at the core. “But,” David seems to be saying, “how can I have that inner integrity and reliability when, as I’ve just confessed, I have this very human bias towards sin and rebellion that I was born with?” And I think he is supplying the answer to that question in the second part of the verse: “You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” In Hebrew, “wisdom” is chokmah and, again, it is one of those Hebrew words to which no single English word can give meaning. It is really the ability to cope with everything that life throws at you in a godly and God-pleasing way. So David is in effect saying that the faithfulness and consistency that God is looking for in his inner life is something that God himself will establish there by teaching him how to handle all the temptations, successes, difficulties, failures. joys and sorrows that might befall him.
But that is possible, of course, only if God now restores him to where he was before his major fall from grace. And David knows that God will do just that. “Purge me with hyssop,” he says, “and I shall be clean.” It is an allusion to the cleansing of lepers. “[The priest] shall take the live bird with the cedar wood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease.” Then “he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean”
(Leviticus 14.6-7, 9). David’s sin has made him as filthy and untouchable as a leper but God can and will make him completely clean. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” is David’s own touch, underlining the extent and totality of God’s cleansing.
And what is the result of a leper’s cleansing? He is allowed back into the village, back into the society and fellowship from which he had been cast out. He will “hear joy and gladness.” David’s guilt has crushed him — “broken his bones” — but when God has cleansed him even his broken bones will end up dancing (that is the sense of the Hebrew) at the welcome-home party. And David wants that oh so much that he repeats his prayer for cleansing again. “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” Scripture often talks of God hiding his face in displeasure and in withdrawal of his favour but here David asks God to hide his face as an act of grace — so as not to see his sins; and the thought of that brings David back to his earlier image of God blotting his sins out … bleaching them from the record book so that they are no more. It was something that God did for both David and for me on Calvary. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2.13-14).
It’s Your blood that cleanses me,
it’s Your blood that gives me life,
it’s Your blood that took my place
in redeeming sacrifice,
and washes me whiter than the snow, than the snow.
My Jesus, God’s precious sacrifice.