Posts Tagged 'Psalm 51'

Panic Podcast: A Handful of Psalms, Part 3

Good morning, fellas, gals, and others.  Today’s podcast is all about getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. That ever happen to any of you? It happened to David, and after Nathan the prophet called him out, he wrote the famous Psalm 51, and that’s what we’re looking at today.

 

The Penitential Psalm, 8

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Psalm 51:13 

After seven studies in Psalm 51, we have finally reached the end with this one, number eight.  Over the past seven studies, our focus has been, for the most part, on King David and on what he prayed.  Of course, we made applications all along the way of his experiences to ours, but generally speaking, it’s been all about King David.  In our final look this wonderful penitential psalm, we turn our attention from David to ourselves.  What is the second biggest lesson we can take away from Psalm 51?  It centers on verse 13, which says:

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.  (Psalm 51:13  AV)

“Then.”  When? 

An important word in verse 13 is “then.”  What is it there for?  When we read that word, “then,” another word pops into our minds:  “when?”  When would David “teach transgressors” God’s ways?  Let’s see when he thought he would:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  (Psalm 51:10—13  AV)

It’s important that after this work of God in David, the King wasn’t interested in doing anything of a political nature for Israel; he was interested in teaching God’s ways to transgressors, but ultimately he wanted sinners to be converted.  That seems to have been his overriding concern.  David wasn’t a minister, priest, or missionary.  He was a king—the political leader of a great nation!  His “job” was to be the king, but his aspiration was to lead sinners to God.

Someone once made this profound statement:

The Christian ministry is the only profession in the world in which the message and the messenger are inseparable.

Every single born again believer has been touched by God precisely the way King David prayed to be touched.  Paul put it this way:

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20  TLB) 

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!  (2 Corinthians 5:17  TLB)

Yes, we have all been changed from the inside out, as Paul declared and as David prayed for.  We have been gloriously set free from sin—forgiven and given a second chance by grace of God.  We have been filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to live right.

Now what?  What do we do with all that?  Did God do all that for us just so we could go to heaven?   Of course not!  We are all indebted to God for His life changing grace.  And we owe sinners—those who do not know Jesus—something.  We owe them an explanation of why we are different and how we have been changed.

…preach the Word of God urgently at all times, whenever you get the chance, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not.  (2 Timothy 4:2  TLB)

Of course, Paul’s advice to young Timothy concerns pastoral ministry, and few of you reading this are pastors.  But every single believer is called to take the Gospel to the lost.

We are full of the message of God, and we have become His messengers.  Remember, you can’t separate the two!

The motive 

Christians ought to be indebted to God for His grace; we should be willing to work for Him as often as we can, wherever we are.

Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way.  (1 Peter 3:15  TLB)

Yet faith comes from listening to this Good News—the Good News about Christ.  (Romans 10:17  TLB) 

We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you—be reconciled to God.  (2 Corinthians 5:20  TLB) 

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry… (Ephesians 4:11, 12  NKJV) 

That phrase in Ephesians 4 is important because it applies, not to preachers, but to ordinary men and women, boys and girls.  If you know Jesus, then you should be trained to do “the work of the ministry.”  In other words, we attend church to learn more about our salvation; more of the Word of God, so that we can go out into the community to do exactly what David wrote about:  to teach transgressors the ways of God and to convert sinners.  It’s our responsibility.  It’s our calling.  It doesn’t matter what your “job” is.  Your calling is to be one who takes the Word to the lost.  You can do just about anything to make money, but your calling is heavenly.

But as for me, I get as close to him as I can! I have chosen him, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful ways he rescues me.  (Psalm 73:28  TLB)

Why does God want to use people like David, and people like you to do His work?  Have you ever wondered about that?  The Bible tells us:

Notice among yourselves, dear brothers, that few of you who follow Christ have big names or power or wealth.  Instead, God has deliberately chosen to use ideas the world considers foolish and of little worth in order to shame those people considered by the world as wise and great.  (1 Corinthians 1:26, 27  TLB)

God uses ordinary people to do His extraordinary work.  It’s not the great preachers or evangelists that get the job done most effectively; it’s people like you, reading this, during your coffee break or when you should entering data.  It’s regular people without theological degrees or training that God calls and uses to “tell everybody about the wonderful ways he has rescued you.”

Think about David as a good example.  He really was a perfect choice to talk about God because:

(1)  The horrible nature of his sin.  This man, David, knew real guilt and sorrow.  He had committed murder!  That’s a sin most of us will never commit.  We may think about it, but we never will.  David did.  The greater the sin, the greater the sense of guilt, the greater the relief of forgiveness.

But we’re all sinners; we’ve all done horrible things in God’s sight that we hope and pray nobody else ever learns about.  We have experienced forgiveness of sin and we’ve been set free from sin.  We’ve experienced what everybody wants to experience.  Nobody wants to be chained to their sin.  We know the answer!  The sinner needs to hear it.

(2)  The nature of his repentance.  He knew that repentance was far more than just saying “sorry.”  Real repentance involves feelings of sorrow, yes, but it also involves admitting guilt and it involves making a change.  Repentance means going the other way.  Once your traveling in the direction of sin, but now you’re going in the other direction.  That’s repentance, and that’s what David was doing.

The sinner needs to know this.  People who don’t know Jesus are missing out on the best life has to offer!  How would a person feel if all of a sudden all guilt and shame were taken away?  How would a person in bondage to one sin or another feel if in a moment that bondage vanished as they were set free?  How do you think a sinner feels when he finds out he doesn’t have to be that way?  David had been where every sinner lives.  No wonder he wanted his life taken care of by God so that could turn around and go tell others!

(3)  He was the best encourager.  There isn’t a person alive who can’t relate to David’s experiences to one degree or another.  Most of us can’t relate to a king or a priest or a military genius.  But we can all relate to a person who was caught; found out; facing shame and disgrace.

David’s ultimate goal 

David wanted to be forgiven and cleansed and have his life remade by God.  He didn’t ever want to do what he had done again.  Why?  So that he could tell others about what God had done for him.  But ultimately his goal was this:

sinners shall be converted…

Ultimately David wanted unbelievers to become believers.  Ultimately he wanted a conversion to take place in the sinner’s life.  Converted to what, though?  The last two words of that phrase are the key:

…unto thee. 

David wasn’t interested in making the sinner feel better about himself.  He didn’t want him to join his church or denomination.  David wasn’t concerned with any other aspect of the sinner’s life save for the condition of his heart.

Psalm 51 is an amazing piece of inspired and inspiring literature.  It is so on many different levels, just a few of which we have looked at over these eight studies.  Hopefully we’ve all learned a little more about what repentance and forgiveness is all about.  Sin is serious and nobody is above the justice of God.  David, sinner though he was, was still close to God and still loved Him more than anything or anybody and he wanted others to experience God’s goodness as he had.

The Penitential Psalm, 7

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The Controversy 

It’s hard to believe, but theologians and Bible scholars, people who will argue and squabble over just about anything they read between its covers, have found something controversial in Psalm 51.  While it’s controversial to them; it may not be to you.

The controversial “something” in this penitential psalm involves verses 16—19.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.  Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem.  Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.  (Psalm 51:16—19  NKJV)

Some scholars, and some Bible readers, wonder what these verses have to do with the rest of the psalm.  Without taking sides, they may have a point.  These verses seem a little jarring; almost out of place in the flow of David’s psalm.  He had been confessing his sin and unworthiness and had pleaded with God to forgive him and recreate him from the inside out so that from this moment onward, he might have the strength to live a life of obedience.  All of a sudden, the reader runs smack dab into the brick and mortar of the walls of Jerusalem.  We have to ask ourselves what does the forgiving and forgetting of sin and the sanctification of the soul have to do with the walls of Jerusalem?  Verse 18, especially, just doesn’t seem to belong.

This is what drives the Biblical eggheads crazy!  And they’ve tried to come up ways to explain these troublesome verses.   Here are four of the more popular views of Psalm 51:16—19:

  • They are actually an entire psalm on their own; they are not part of Psalm 51.
  • They were not written by David but were written by a scribe much later and merely tacked on to the end of Psalm 51.
  • They were written by Hezekiah, who added them to tail end of David’s psalm.
  • A stand-alone psalm, written after the Babylonian captivity when the Jews returned home and faced the daunting task of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem.

Does any of that make sense to you?  Or do you think it’s likely these verses are exactly what they purport to be:  David’s words, written as part of his penitential psalm?  This is the position we take, and what follows is why.

David’s sin 

Part of understanding why David wrote what he wrote in verses 16 and 17 lies in understanding the Mosaic Law which made absolutely no provision for a sin so heinous as David’s.  The fact is, David was in real big trouble.  Murder and adultery, the sins he was guilty of, were both punishable by death.  There were no sacrifices appointed for such sins; the guilty party could do nothing to atone for those sins.  Read again those verses with that in mind:

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.  (Psalm 51:16, 17  NKJV) 

David did not offer a sacrifice because he could not.  His only possibility for forgiveness was to appeal to God’s mercy—that’s the “broken and contrite heart.”  David, to his credit, understood that.  He knew that was his only hope and he knew his God well enough to know that’s what God wanted of him:  “You will not despise.”  Yes, David knew God well and he knew what he had to do.  The mighty King David, the man who had accomplished so much in the name of God, had no other choice to offer his “broken and contrite heart.”  Notice he did not beg to be let off the hook.  He just wanted to be forgiven.

But this is much more than just being sorry for what you did, although that’s certainly part of it.  David, as a sinner with his hand caught in the cookie jar so to speak, had no place to hide and no lie to tell.  His guilt was apparent to God.  What could he do?  Legally he was a dead man.  This was by design of God, by the way.  Originally, before the Flood, the taking of life was God’s prerogative alone—

The Lord replied, “They won’t kill you, for I will give seven times your punishment to anyone who does.” Then the Lord put an identifying mark on Cain as a warning not to kill him.  (Genesis 4:15  TLB) 

But after the Flood, God gave that responsibility over to man—

And murder is forbidden. Man-killing animals must die, and any man who murders shall be killed; for to kill a man is to kill one made like God.  (Genesis 9:5, 6  TLB)

There were no exceptions in the case of murder. Not even for David.

The interesting aspect of verse 17 is that David knows—he knows—God will forgive him because he knows God will accept his broken and contrite heart as the appropriate offering.  This should be cause for joy.  Yet “joy” is not seen this verse.  A “contrite heart” is not a “joyful” heart.  Forgiveness does not wipe away sorrow and contrition of sin.  David knew this; he knew he would always live with the awful memory of what he had done.  As Stewart noted:

the deeper the sense of sin, the truer the sorrow for it, the more heartfelt also will be the thankfulness for pardon and reconciliation. 

Just so.  Stewart’s sentence explains brilliantly what’s wrong with the church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.  We don’t have a deep sense of sin, which is why we easily legalize it, justify it, and explain it away.  Even when we acknowledge our sins we don’t feel the depth of sorrow we ought because we don’t treat our sins nearly seriously enough.  And because of that, our thankfulness to God is thin and anemic. 

The importance of repentance

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.  

Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.  (Psalm 51:17, 19  NKJV)

Repentance is more than doing penance.  The words of Anglican minister Augustus Toplady ring in our ears on this subject—

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling. 

David well knew what real repentance consisted of; he was nothing if not perceptive.  All the repentance and penitence in the world cannot save a single soul until that repentant and penitent soul appropriates the benefits of Christ’s Cross.   Not a single sinner, not even the king, brings anything of value to the Cross, except for his broken and contrite heart.

The king was spot on when he wrote that God isn’t interested in sacrifices and burnt offerings for their own sake.  Those symbolic expressions had meaning only if there was substance behind them.  It’s no different today.  You can feel sorry for sin and shed gallons of tears, but there has to be more than that.  This is the great danger in “emotional” pleas from the pulpit, by the way.  And it’s the great danger in many of our “sacerdotal” churches.  Symbols are fine as long participants know what they are all about, but often the substance behind the symbol gets lost over time.  Lip service can never replace a broken and contrite heart.  Singing songs about repenting of sin and clinging to the old rugged cross are really lies if you haven’t experienced those things personally.

In those two verses, the most important word is the little adverb, “then.”  God accepts your acts of worship, indeed He accepts YOU only after you have given evidence of a broken and contrite heart.

The state of the nation

What do you think the bulwark of any nation is?  It’s military might or superiority?  It’s economic engine?  It’s political structure?  The creativity of its people?  According to the Bible, it’s GODLY men and women.

Godliness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.  (Proverbs 14:34 TLB)

David’s sin had exposed his nation to real, substantive danger.  This was one reason why he was so desperate to be forgiven.  He no doubt remembered the story of Achan and of “sin in the camp.”  This is why in this great psalm of penitence, David also prayed for the protection of Jerusalem.  He understood that his actions placed the whole nation in jeopardy.  As one scholar put it:

His sin had, as it were, broken down the walls of Jerusalem.  Grace alone could rebuild.

John Donne knew this to be true:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main. 

When we sin, we affect the lives of many others whether we know it or they know it.  Our sin is like a plague that reaches out and touches other people.  The strength of any nation rests, for weal or for woe, in the strength of the Church of Jesus Christ.  If the Church is strong, the nation will be.  David knew this to be true, and he prayed as though the future of Israel depended on the answer to his prayer.  It did.

The Penitential Psalm, 6

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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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