Summary: A Psalm of true repentance.
A SPRINKLING WITH HYSSOP
In this solemn Psalm of repentance, we dive in (headfirst, as it were) with a plea for mercy. The verbs “have mercy… blot out… wash me… cleanse me” (Psalm 51:1-2) all appear to be in the imperative: but they are in fact plaintive pleas based in the fact that there is no redemption outside of God Himself. This is the task of the awakened conscience: “I acknowledge my transgressions; my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).
Although our offences are often manifested in the pain which we bring to others, sin is first and foremost a slight to the character of God. I have wronged Bathsheba, David could say; I have wronged her husband Uriah; I have wronged my general Joab; I have wronged my people as their king: but above all, I have wronged God. Before I can even begin to go about my job of seeking reconciliation with these other people, I stand at the bar of God: “Against thee have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51:4).
We are not making excuses when we have recourse to observations about our tendency towards sin. David is not slandering his mother when he suggests that he was ‘conceived in sin’ (Psalm 51:5) - he is rather recognising that the tendency to sin is inherent in the human character. We are left without excuse once we realise that, not only did we inherit Adam’s fall, but we were equipped with a sense of right and wrong, even from the womb (Psalm 51:6)!
Once again, the Psalmist makes his plea, but this time he mingles it with faith: “Purge me, and I shall be clean… wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… make me to hear joy and gladness, that I may rejoice” (Psalm 51:7-8). The purging is with hyssop, an aromatic herb used in the sprinkling of blood at the first Passover (cf. Exodus 12 :22). Significantly it was also used for the cleansing of lepers (cf. Leviticus 14:6-8).
David was faced with the leprosy of sin in his own life. The penalty for both adultery and murder was death, with no provision for their forgiveness in the Jewish faith. Yet somehow, he believed that God could provide a sacrifice (cf. Genesis 22:8), and blood could be sprinkled even for his sins!
Well, just like Abraham was provided with a ram for a sacrifice in lieu of Isaac (cf. Genesis 22:13), the LORD had already provided a lamb for David. Oh, this was a Lamb which had not yet been sacrificed: yet it would be true to say that Jesus’ blood was sacrificed for the sins of His forebear (cf. Matthew 1:1), just as surely as it was for ours too. Thus, God is seen to be both just, and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus (cf. Romans 3:25-26); and to hide His face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities (Psalm 51:9).
Having been purged of sin, we will then be able to enter into the positive benefits of reconciliation with God. We shall be satisfied with nothing short of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (Psalm 51:10-12). Then we shall be equipped to teach others, and see others converted to the Lord (Psalm 51:13).