The Penitential Psalm, 4


 God loved David and allowed His Holy Spirit to dwell within him. After David was confronted by his friend and prophet, Nathan, the full weight of what he had done came crashing down on him. David, like all sinners, sinned and lived in a bubble, believing if he hadn’t been caught, then he got away with it. In time, the sin fades away. But in a shocking manner, David found out he had been found by the God he loved so much. David’s love for God was real, but his betrayal of that love was also real.

In 1 Samuel 16, we read this:

So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the olive oil he had brought and poured it upon David’s head; and the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him and gave him great power from that day onward. Then Samuel returned to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 TLB)

That was the day he received the abiding presence of God; David was one of a very select few believers in the Old Testament who had been filled with God’s Holy Spirit. But now, caught in sin, David feared that he would lose that precious presence of God; that God would, either out of anger or as punishment, take back His Spirit from David. Where did King David get the idea that God would do such a thing? Perhaps he remembered his predecessor, King Saul. Of him, we read this:

But the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and instead, the Lord had sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. (1 Samuel 16:14 TLB)

So it seems as though crazy Saul was also one of the few who had been blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life, but because of his rebellious ways, God removed His Spirit from Saul. David was terrified that this fate awaited him. He didn’t want to live a moment without God’s presence in his life.

And that’s what we’ll deal with in this study of the psalm 51; we’ll look at the Holy Spirit and two other spirits as we discover the depths of David’s spiritual understanding. In brief, the three spirits of Psalm 51 have to do with: (1) the character of the man; (2) God’s Holy Spirit; and (3) the character of the Holy Spirit.

The character of the man, Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (TLB)

David had prayed earnestly for restoration, which includes: God’s forgiveness (verses 7, 9) renewal of joy (verses 8); and a renewal of his spirit (verse 10).

No wonder David wanted joy! He had come face to face with not only the awfulness of his sin, the impending death of his son, but also with the fact that he had hurt the God he loved so much. There was no joy in the king’s life and he knew only God could put it back. He first needed forgiveness; David needed to know that he and God were “OK.”

The results of God’s forgiveness and subsequent restoration of joy would be the creation of a “clean heart” and the renewal of a   “right spirit.” With regard to the creation of a “clean heart,” the word used for “create” is the Hebrew bara, and it’s the same word used in the creation of the material universe in Genesis 1:1. It means to bring into being something that never existed before. The fact is, David’s heart was never clean, and it’s to his credit that he realized it. David didn’t want things between him and God to go back to the way they were before; he wanted things to be better than they were before; he wanted to be a different man on the inside so that he would be a different man on the outside. And he knew only God could make that happen. God would have to be the one to put a heart in him that wasn’t there before.

That’s a very profound thought for a man in Old Testament times to stumble upon. To you and me, living in a day and age when we have access to the New Testament, the notion of the “new creation” is as old as, well, the New Testament. But David figured it out all on his own! He knew that no matter how sorry he felt for his sin; no matter how much he regretted what he had done; no matter how much forgiveness he received, there was NO guarantee that he wouldn’t do those things all over again, if given the opportunity. He needed to be changed by the power of God.

So, a “clean heart” was needed, but also a “right spirit” needed to be renewed. The word “renew” could also mean restore. David had a “right spirit” at one time, but no longer. He needed God to make his spirit right, as it had once been.

But what, precisely, is a “right spirit?” It can mean “constant” or “steadfast” or even “dependable” character. The Hebrew word was used of a “compass,” an instrument that leads one in the right direction. David wanted the kind of character that was “fixed and resolute in its allegiance to God, unmoved by the assaults of temptation.” David, apparently, had that kind of character at one time, but he was weak; he wasn’t as “fixed and resolute” in his devotion to God as he thought he was! With a clean heart, David knew his character would be made strong, once again.

This is the prayer of a very humbled man. We have a record of David praying this one time, yet it’s a prayer all believers could pray over and over. Our entire disposition leans toward sin! We need to pray and pray often for a “right spirit.”

God’s Holy Spirit, Psalm 51:11

Don’t toss me aside, banished forever from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. (TLB)

David was literally possessed by the Holy Spirit; he had been since he was a youth. It was a singular privilege in Old Testament times. Almost nobody enjoyed the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as David did. During this previous dispensation, the Spirit of God came and went, but rarely remained in a person. But David was different; he was full of God’s Spirit. But God’s presence didn’t keep him from sinning, any more than His presence in Christians keeps us from sinning in this present dispensation!

This prayer, “Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me,” is one prayer no believer can pray today, however. We have this promise from Jesus in John 14:15, 16—

If you love me, obey me; and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you. (TLB)

And we have this from Paul—

Don’t cause the Holy Spirit sorrow by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who marks you to be present on that day when salvation from sin will be complete. (Ephesians 4:30 TLB)

So, God is not going to take His Spirit away from you if you should stumble in your walk of faith. But, when we sin , we run the very real risk of losing other things:

The consciousness of God’s presence. Indeed, when we willingly sin and choose a path other than the one God wants us to walk on, we walk that path alone. We may not lose the Holy Spirit, but our spiritual senses will become so dulled, we may feel as though He has left us. That’s a terrible feeling, by the way. You feel as though you are orphaned! You haven’t been, of course, but you feel that way. It’s one way God uses to induce you to come to your redeemed senses.
The power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may not leave us, but He will withhold His power from us. It’s hard to imagine how much the Holy Spirit does in us and through us until He stops. When we go our own way, we lose His power and we become “as weak as other men,” as was said of Samson when God took His Spirit from Him. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Galatians 5:22, 23). Imagine all of a sudden having to gin up those things on your own! You can’t do it! Little wonder backslidden Christians are so miserable!

God loves you so much, He will do everything He can to get you see the error of your ways; to get you pray as David did.

The Spirit of freedom, Psalm 51:12

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (AV)

When you have a clean heart and a right spirit, fellowship with God will be restored. This was what David really wanted; this was the core of His prayer. Everything he asked of God was aimed at restoring fellowship between himself and His God.

Serving God ought to be a joyful experience, but for one on the outs with God as David was, there was NO joy in salvation. Who wants to be unhappy and miserable? Who wants to be unsure of their relationship with God? David wanted the way cleared; he wanted nothing to come between himself and his God, and this would result in the joy of salvation being put back in place.

But two aspects of this petition catch our eyes: the desire to be “upheld” and the curious adjective describing the character of the Holy Spirit: “free.” As to David’s heartfelt desire to be “upheld,” the first thing that needs to be noted is that this is the request of man very conscious of his weakness. David, the great warrior-king knew he needed the strength of God; he knew he couldn’t stand on his own; that he needed God to literally hold him up. And second, he knew he needed God’s strength to not fall again. Believers get themselves into a lot of trouble when they think they are strong enough to stand firm on their own.

What a wonderful way to describe the Holy Spirit—“free Spirit”! There are different ways of translating that word. “Free” is one way, “willing” is another way. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of freedom, and freedom is something all men long for. Freedom is what we all want but can’t find much of anymore. Spiritual freedom is found in God; the spirit of the world is the spirit of bondage!

the truth will set you free. (John 8:32 TLB)

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free. (John 8:36 TLB)

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Corinthians 3:17 NKJV)

But God’s Spirit is also a “willing Spirit,” the other way to translate that Hebrew phrase. This is so beautiful! The Holy Spirit is willing to work in us, on us, and through us. He is willing to speak to us and through us. He is willing to empower us to do what God wants us to do and to live the way He wants us to live. The Holy Spirit is absolutely indispensable when it comes to living for God.

King David, a passionate man, was almost undone by those passions. It took being confronted with the true state of his life to see how far from God he had wandered. But God hadn’t wandered far from David! He was right there when David prayed, and God answered David’s prayer. What David did and said is what God wants from all His children. Be honest, be humble, and be receptive to God’s Spirit.


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