A Clean Heart

King David, who wrote many of the psalms, is called a man after God's heart (1 Sam 13:14). Nevertheless, he fell into some deep sins. At times, his heart was far away from God, and he needed restoration. He wrote Psalm 51 during one of those times.

Psalm 51

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, God, according to your loving kindness.
According to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.
Cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions.
My sin is constantly before me.
4 Against you, and you only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in your sight;
that you may be proved right when you speak,
and justified when you judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity.
In sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts.
You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean.
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones which you have broken may rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all of my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.
11 Don't throw me from your presence,
and don't take your holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation.
Uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways.
Sinners shall be converted to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation.
My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 Lord, open my lips.
My mouth shall declare your praise.
16 For you don't delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it.
You have no pleasure in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do well in your good pleasure to Zion.
Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of righteousness,
in burnt offerings and in whole burnt offerings.
Then they will offer bulls on your altar.

The first thing we should notice in this psalm is its heading. Most of the headings in our English bibles were added by the translators, but not in the Psalms. Most of the Psalms in the original Hebrew had headings, and that's what we see here in Psalm 51. It says David wote it when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

If you are familiar with the bible, you may remember what that is referring to. You can find the story in chapters 11 and 12 of 2nd Samuel. One evening, King David got up from his bed and walked on the roof of his palace. From the roof he saw a beautiful woman bathing. When he asked about her, he found out that her name was Bathsheba and that her husband Uriah the Hittite was away at war. So he sent for her and brought her to the palace and slept with her. She became pregnant. David tried to cover up his sin by calling Uriah back home to spend the night with his wife, but he would not sleep with his wife when his fellow soldiers were on the battlefront. So David sent him back to war with a letter to the commander of the army, requesting that Uriah be placed in the most dangerous spot on the front line, by himself. So Uriah was killed in the battle. When David got the word, he took Bathsheba as his wife. He had committed adultery and then had an innocent man killed to cover it up, and he thought he had gotten away with it.

But God knew about it. The Lord revealed what he had done to Nathan the prophet, and sent him to David to confront him with his sin. Nathan told him a story about a rich man, who had a large number of sheep and cattle, and a poor man who had nothing but a little pet ewe lamb. When a traveller came to visit the rich man, he took the poor man's pet lamb and had it prepared for dinner with his guest. When David heard the story, his heart burned with anger against the rich man and he declared that the man deserved to die. At that point, Nathan told him "You are the man!" God had made David King over all of the land of Israel. He should have been content with the abundance he had, but instead he struck down Uriah the Hittite and took his wife to be his own.

When David heard that, he was convicted. He acknowledged "I have sinned against Yahweh" (2 Sam 12:13). He was repentant, and being a psalmist, he recorded his thoughts and feelings, which we have here in Psalm 51.

In the first verse, David implores God to be merciful to him. Have mercy on me, God. To receive mercy, is not to receive the full consequence for your transgressions. It is to receive less punishment than what is deserved. David knows his guiltiness. In verse 3, he says I know my transgressions. My sin is constantly before me. In the Old Testament law, both adultery and murder carried the death penalty (Lev 20:10, Num 35:31). If he were to receive the full punishment for his crimes, he would be put to death. But David also knows God, that He has great compassion and unfailing love, and He appeals to God on this basis.

David's sin was great. But there's something else about his sin that David realizes. He says in verse 4 Against you, and you only, have I sinned. Now David had sinned against others. He certainly sinned against Uriah when he committed adultery and when he had him killed, and he also sinned against Bathsheba and all the others that he involved in his plot. But what David is saying here is that all sin is first and foremost against God. He is the one who has created us, and has the right tell us what proper behavior is. If we wrong others, we wrong God. And all of us do. Verse 5 says I was brought forth in iniquity. In sin my mother conceived me. That's as true for each of us today as it was for King David.

So David understands his guilt before God, and goes to Him for mercy. But David's heart is broken, and he desires more than just deliverance from severe punishment. He wants cleansing. Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (verse 7).

Hyssop is a bush that grows in the Middle East. The next time it is mentioned in the bible is at the crucifixion of Jesus. As He hung on the cross, they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth (Jn 19:29). So the hyssop points forward to that moment in history when Jesus died for our sins. Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order that He might bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18). If we trust in Him, we are not just spared from the penalty of sin (death and eternal separation from God), but we are cleansed from the stain of sin. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Ps 103:12). The blood of Jesus Christ, His [God's] Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).

We see David's deep longing in verse 10. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. If you share that desire for a clean heart and a right spirit, come to Jesus today. If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9). It doesn't matter what sins you may have done in the past. He is full of great compassion and unfailing love. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).