Psalm 51

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      7       Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

      wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

            8       Let me hear joy and gladness;

      let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

            9       Hide your face from my sins,

      and blot out all my iniquities.

            10       Create in me a clean heart, O God,

      and renew a right spirit within me.

            11       Cast me not away from your presence,

      and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

            12       Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

      and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:7-12 ESV

This is David’s well-known psalm of repentance after Nathan confronted him with his sin of adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).

In verse 10 the word create (bara) is the same word used in Genesis 1 where God created (bara) the heavens and the earth. “Strictly used, this word describes what only God can do; to create ex nihilo, out of nothing” (Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary, 2005, p. 432). David is commanding God to create a new heart in him. “Derek Kidner writes, ‘With the word create he asks for nothing less than a miracle.’ He desires what only God can provide” (Boice, p. 432).

Robert Altar translates the first half of verse 11 as “Do not fling me from Your presence” stating “this Hebrew verb has a connotation of violent action for which the conventional translation of it as “cast” is too tame” (Altar The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary vol 3, 2019, p. 134). Fling/cast is a hiphil in Hebrew which is a verb of causation. David is asking God not to cause him to be violently or forcefully flung/cast away from His presence.

I cannot help but to think that David had King Saul in mind when he says in the next half of verse 11, “and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” I want to be clear, David is not worried about losing his salvation; however, he is worried about losing God’s Presence, anointing and fellowship like King Saul did in 1 Samuel 16. James Boice states, “Today most commentators recognize that David is not talking about eternal security or the fear of losing his salvation at all. He is only acknowledging that he is unable to live a holy life without God. Therefore, he needs the help and power of the Holy Spirit every single moment if he is to be able to overcome temptation and follow after godliness” (p. 434).

In verse 12 David commands God to restore (hiphil, imperative) to him the joy of His salvation. David knew that his fellowship with God had been broken and needed God to cleanse and restore him. David, again, did not lose his eternal salvation, but he did lose the joy of it. What’s true of David is the same with us, there is NO joy when we are living in sin. There is no peace when our relationship with God is broken.

“Many think that the way to joy or a good time is by sinning. They think that godliness is dull. Actually the opposite is the case. Sin brings sorrow. Righteousness brings rejoicing. Allowed to continue, sin will remove every good thing from our lives—joy, health, wealth, and at last even life itself. Only righteousness will restore them” (Boice, p. 434).

“The fact that the psalmist prays for so many things [in vv. 7–12] indicates how many things he knew he had lost when he plunged into sin” (Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 1969, pp. 405-406).

Father God, thank You that Your saved and redeemed people never need to fear losing their salvation. Thank You for the gift of salvation by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Trinity, for those who have lost the joy of their salvation due to sin or looking at current events, I ask that You will lift their minds, hearts and hands to You. Lord God, thank You that when we confess our sins to You that You will forgive us. Lord God, forgive us for the times when we put the things of this world before You. Lord God, restore to Your Body the joy of Your salvation, whether we are gathering together in person or online. Lord God, in these ever changing, challenging and tumultuous times, I ask that we will desire to dwell in Your Presence, growing in Your character and serving You with passion, authenticity and boldness until You call us home. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Thoughts on Psalm 88

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88 A SONG. A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH. TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO MAHALATH LEANNOTH. A MASKIL OF HEMAN THE EZRAHITE.

1  O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
2  Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

3  For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4  I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5  like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6  You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7  Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

8  You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9  my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to you.
10  Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11  Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12  Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13  But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14  O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15  Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. 
16  Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17  They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18  You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness (ESV).

This psalm is an individual lament. This psalm is also an anomaly in that it does not end in praise nor confession of confidence in the Lord. Verse 18 can also be translated darkness has become my only companion or darkness is my closest friend (NIV).

Robert Alter makes the observation that “the psalm deploys an unusual abundance of synonyms for the underworld” (The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, 2019, pp. 210-211) such as: Sheol (v. 3), the pit (vv. 4, 6), the grave (v. 5), the land of forgetfulness (v. 12).  

In Old Testament thought “the Lord does not involve himself with the dead…so the psalmist feels cut off from divine care” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 154). The Psalmist has been suffering pain and affliction, being close to death since his youth (v. 15). Even though the Psalmist is suffering and feels cut off from God, he still trusts the God of “[his] salvation” (v. 1).

It may be significant that the Psalmist states that he takes his prayers to the Lord in the morning, as this is when the Lord most often intervened on His people’s behalf (see Pss 30:5; 46:5; Isa 37:6). “The psalmist suggests that for him prayer is the first item on his daily schedule. Prayer is not his last resort but his first impulse” (Estes, p. 156).

The Psalmist is unapologetically raw, sincere and vulnerable in expressing how he feels about his circumstances and the Lord’s silence. However, the Psalmist “does not accept his pain with stoic apathy because, as VanGemeren notes, ‘True faith is not an apathetic acceptance of whatever comes to pass. True faith lies in wrestling with the Lord in prayer'” (Estes, p. 155). The Psalmist “just casts the problem into the hands of the Lord, in effect challenging him to rectify the situation by his faithfulness and righteousness” (Estes, pp. 157-158).

“Psalm 88 teaches that the life of faith at times includes experiences of raw pain and desperate loneliness, but even in the blackest of nights those who trust in the Lord can and should take their frustrations to the Father (cf. Ps 139:12)” (Estes, p. 159).

That quote is what strikes me the most about this psalm. The Psalmist does not complain to his family, friends or anyone else who is willing or in earshot to listen. The Psalmist takes his laments, rhetorical questions and grief directly to God; crying out to Him. The Psalmist still has faith in the Lord even though He is silent.

When I first started typing this my title was “The Darkest Psalm.” While this psalm is indeed dark and bleak, Psalm 88 reveals that it is all right to ask God why even when he does not choose to answer the questions that we bring before Him. Psalm 13 and Job “As both Psalm 13 and the book of Job manifest, the Lord’s silence does not mean his absence, and his silent presence is enough for those who trust in him” (Estes, p. 159).  

In this time of COVID-19 may we take our laments and personal grief before our Heavenly Father. May we trust Him when it comes to dealing with this new normal. Dear reader, please know that is okay to cry out to God, to ask Him questions. While your questions may be met with silence like this Psalmist, I pray that you will still trust Him. 

Father God, I ask for You to strengthen Your people. Help us process and reconcile things that we have never seen before. Thank You Father for those who have training in how to deal with infectious diseases and outbreaks. Thank You Father for those who are calm. Lord God, help us to discern truth from error in regards to the news that is being presented to us. Lord God, may we be reminded that You are NOT the Author of confusion and chaos. Lord God, make prayer our impulse and default mode rather than our last resort. May we take our grief to You and have You help us with our grief before broadcasting our fears, troubles and anxieties to an already dark and anxious world. Lord God, I ask for Your Hand of mercy to be upon all Your people with small children, new babies and babies in the womb as life has changed from what it once was. Thank You Jesus for allowing us to pray in Your Name. Amen.