The Penitential Psalm, 6


As you have probably already discovered, Psalm 51 is a most remarkable psalm.  In it, we have the three-fold view of sin, a three-fold blessing, and a three-fold look at the Spirit.  And now, we’ll find out that in the midst of this penitential psalm, David discerns a three-fold joy.

The Bing dictionary defines “joy” thusly:

great happiness: feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.

As you might guess, that kind of “joy” is hard to find these days; these days filled with stress, uncertainty, change, and hopelessness.  For too many people, it’s been a long time since they experienced real joy; maybe even since their childhood.  For King David, it had been a year, and a year without joy resulted in some unpleasant consequences.  He wrote of them in another psalm:

When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.  (Psalm 32:3  NKJV)

It’s an awful thing to be in that position; of knowing you’ve done something that offended God and now you’re reaping what you’ve sown.  David’s mind was drawn back to the “good old days” before he built a wall between himself and the God he loved so much. And he longed for the joy of those days.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.  (Psalm 51:12  NKJV) 

Notice carefully what David was asking of God.  He wanted and longed for God’s joy, that is, the joy associated with God’s salvation.  He wasn’t interested in feeling better or having a more positive outlook on life.  What David wanted more than anything was God’s joy of His (the Lord’s) salvation.  That kind of joy has nothing to do with the circumstances of life.  It has nothing to do with money in the bank or whom you are married to.  It doesn’t have anything to do with job satisfaction or how healthy your kids are.  It doesn’t even have to do with how you felt when you first found God.  It has to do with how God feels about you.  It has to do with, putting it in human terms, how God felt when He saved you.  That’s what David wanted to experience.

How would you feel today, right now, if you could experience how God “felt” the moment He saved you and placed His Holy Spirit in you?  Quite a thought, isn’t it?  That’s what David wanted to experience, and it’s a testimony to the king’s close relationship to God that he wanted to experience it again!   Yes, he wanted to experience something a lot of us cannot even relate to.

Joy and the ear 

Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.  (Psalm 51:8  NKJV)

In all, David’s quest for renewed joy involves three organs of his body, and he begins, appropriately enough, with the ear.

David had begun his psalm begging God to forgive Him for what he’d done.  By verse 8, he prayed for restoration; specifically, the restoration of joy.  For the believer, joy is the direct result of God working in that person’s life.  When David sinned, that work was halted and the joy ceased.  David wrote of his “broken” bones, bones that had been broken by God.  That, of course, is a metaphor.  What David is poetically describing is how he felt at God’s displeasure; he felt as though God had crushed his bones.

Do you feel like that when you sin?  You should, if you value your relationship with God; if He is that important to you.  This joy is not an emotional feeling but rather a contented resting in God.  David wanted that kind of security back; he felt as though he had lost it.

David had lost the ability to hear the voice of the Lord.  Because he lost the security of God’s salvation and he knew he was responsible for that, the king couldn’t hear God’s voice and discord had entered his soul.  His sin deafened his spiritual hearing.  His adulterous affair and subsequent murder left nothing but a hole in his soul and ringing in his ears.

It was to David’s credit that he realized what was going on.  A lot of wayward Christians are clueless as to the real effects sin has on their ability to speak to and hear from God.  Sin puts the breaks on all communication between you and God and God and you.  If you hide sin in your heart, you’re praying to yourself!  If you’re living in any kind of sin, you may be hearing a voice in your head, but it isn’t God’s.  It’s a serious thing to be out of harmony with the Lord.  Spiritual deafness is an awful affliction that has afflicted way too many Christians.

Joy and the tongue 

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.  (Psalm 51:14  NKJV)

This is actually the beginning of the conclusion of this penitential psalm, and as all penitential psalms end, so does this one; with a promise of praise and thanksgiving.  It’s hard to praise God and give Him thanks when, first, you have a murder charge hanging over your heard and, second, when God can’t hear you!

Here, David knew he was guilty of Uriah’s murder as surely as if he had thrust the spear in the man’s chest himself.  Uriah’s blood weighed heavy on the king’s soul.  He was literally songless; the king was just going through the motions of life.  Have you ever felt like that?  You probably have, and some of you are probably feeling like this is your life.  So many believers live songless, joyless, and basically empty lives because they are guilty of spiritual “bloodshed.”  They may be saved, but the life they are living is hollow.

These believers are this way because they are in David’s boat.  They may not have pulled the trigger, but, for example, they’ve done things like this verse speaks of:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…  (Proverbs 18:21  NKJV) 

How many people have we slaughtered with our words?

You may wonder if David deserved anything after his disposing of Uriah the way he did.  After all, no amount of praise and worship could bring Uriah back to life.  There was no making restitution for this sin.  And yet, there was something David could do.  He could stop others from committing the same sin through the testimony of his tongue.  We can’t by any number of tears and penitence atone for a single sin we’ve committed.  We can’t bring life back into the people we murdered with our words.  We can’t breathe life back into the person we made doubt their faith by our sinful actions.  But we can, by the grace of God, stop others from doing the things we have been forgiven of.

This is a remarkable verse because it teaches us a profound truth:  the sincerity of our confession needs to be demonstrated by obedient service.  Forgiveness removes an evil stain from our hearts, but there must follow acts of corresponding goodness.  David’s wonderful and sincere promises to God serve to underscore the mission of the Church.  We must bring sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ and we must praise His righteousness.  Really, we can’t do one without the other!   In David’s case, the proof of David’s sincerity would ultimately be his building the walls of Jerusalem.

Believers are called to similar works of “spiritual construction,” namely, building the Kingdom of God, one soul at a time.  Because we have received forgiveness, we are called to work for the kingdom—it’s not an option.

Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.  (Jude, verse 23  TLB)

Joy, and where it comes from 

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.  (Psalm 51:15  NKJV)

David just got finished making some promises to God.  He was wise enough to know that he would need all the help God could give him if was to honor those promises.  So he did what he had to do:  he asked God for help!  He prayed what every anxious, hesitant, and fearful Christian ought to pray:  “Lord, help me speak.”

Think carefully of what David asked of God:  he needed God to give him the words that he could give back to God in the form of praise!  Jim Murray, tenor for the Imperials back in the 1980’s, sang a song that speaks about what David was asking of God:

Even the praise comes from you,
Every prayer that I raise comes from you;
Fill my mouth with words of worship,
And I’ll give them back to you. 
‘Cause Lord, they’re not my own,
They come from You alone;
Even the praise, every feeling and phrase,
Even the praise comes from You. 

As Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Man is a lock, the Spirit of God has the key. 

Praising God is not an easy thing to do, which is why it is referred to as “a sacrifice” in the Bible.  Only God can make true praise possible.   You can listen to praise and worship music all day long, letting yourself be moved by the chords and the words, but praising God has little to do with how you feel at the moment.  It has everything to with how you view the God of your life.  We all need to be like David; we all need the Holy Spirit to come and unlock our lips.  How does He do this?  The Holy Spirit unlocks our lips by way of our hearts.  You see, when your heart is full of the joy of the Lord; when your heart is thankful; regardless of the state of your life, the Spirit of God will come in like flood and the praise will flow out of you!

In the end, it was sin that sealed David’s lips and God would open them only after that sin was dealt with.  Now would be a good time to pause and take stock of you your life.  Is it songless?  Does praise seem like a distant memory to you?  Are you always longing for the good old days when praise, apparently, came so easy?  It’s always dangerous looking back; those rose colored glasses taint how we think it was back then.  But, really, God wants to set you free to praise Him.  Won’t you let Him?


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