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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Create in me a Pure Heart, O God.

Psalm 51

Ash Wednesday-The First Day of Lent

1. Recognize the Context:

In verse 1, David immediately seeks God’s forgiveness by calling out for his mercy. This verse contains vocabulary reflective of God’s self-identification to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 with the words mercy (grace), unfailing love, and compassion.

Verses 1-2 make use of a device in Hebrew poetry called parallelism. This term indicates the relationship between two (or sometimes three as here) lines of Hebrew poetry. The connection may occur with the nouns, verbs, or adjectives. Here is an example of synonymous parallelism, in which the second and third lines restate the first line using similar words or phrases. It includes words for forgiveness and for sin.

Blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

The point of the repetition is for emphasis and highlights the seriousness of the wrongdoing and the need for forgiveness.

In verses 3, David acknowledges an awareness of the magnitude of his sin, again using synonymous parallelism. Since David has sinned against God, he is just in his judgment.

David acknowledges he was born into sin. This sinful nature he inherited, like every human, came from Adam and Eve and their rebellion in the garden of Eden. However, David knows that God ultimately desires faithfulness and wisdom.

There is more to this Psalm, to which we will return, but this seems like a good place to stop. There is much to prayerfully consider for this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.

While hardly any reader can relate to this specific life situation, every Christian can relate to the pain and sorrow of sin and the need for God’s forgiveness.

Remember, there is such a thing as godly remorse. Conviction draws you closer to God, while condemnation draws you away. The Devil wants you to feel condemnation and be drawn away from God. He would even try to use this Psalm and Lent, whatever it takes. Don’t let him!! Go to God this Lenten season!

2. Read the Scripture: Psalm 51

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Savior,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,

to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,

in burnt offerings offered whole;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

3. Reflect on the Scripture:

In verses 7-9, David returns to a prayer of forgiveness with vocabulary from verses 1-2 “cleanse” (verse 7) and “blot out” (verse 9). In the Old Testament, hyssop branches were used to spread the Lamb's blood on the doorposts at the Passover. The Priests also used them in the process of making someone ceremonially clean. Here David is seeking forgiveness and desires for God to consider him clean, hence the image of being whiter than snow. The result of forgiveness is a restored relationship with God, which brings a return to joy, the joy of his salvation (verse 12).

In verse 10, David asks God to bring about a new creation within him. Only the Creator of all things can create a change in David’s heart to produce the commitment to serving God as needed. This spiritual renewal can only come about by God’s Spirit. Again, the result is joy.

As the Psalmist experiences restoration, he will be able to help others turn back to God. David asks to be saved from the judgment which should accompany the sins he has committed and promises to praise God. In verses 16-17, he humbly offers himself to God.

The final two verses, 18-19, offer a plea for national restoration. The sinful life of the leader had consequences on the nation of Israel. Therefore, David lifts the nation before God, using Zion/Jerusalem as a metonymy to represent the entire country.

Marvin Tate summarizes the themes found in Psalm 51 by saying, “The psalm expresses the real meaning of sacrifice: confession, forgiveness, ministry (teaching transgressors, verse 13), total dependence on a merciful God, and a joyful new life that emerges from that process.”1

These themes are at the heart of the Lenten season.

1. Tate, Marvin E. . Psalms 51-100, Volume 20 (Word Biblical Commentary) (p. 31). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider verse 10.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Today, prayerfully reflect on the themes from the quote above, including sacrifice, confession, forgiveness, ministry (telling others), total dependence on God’s mercy, joy from new life.

To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. There are so many great verses in Psalm 51. Have you ever taken the time to memorize Scripture? This Psalm has several verses worthy of committing to memory. During Lent, try memorizing a verse or two for reflection.

Scripture memory is a way of getting God's Word inside us, so we have it when we need it. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (another great passage to memorize) How can we hide God's word in our hearts if we do not commit it to memory? I encourage you to give it a try this Lenten season.

During Lent, who do you need to tell about the forgiveness and restoration of God?

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

Read and Study the verses above. If you haven't, read and study the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25.

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