[Editor’s note: While this is part of a series, it landed on New Year’s Day. I pray a Blessed New Year upon all of my readers. And, as part of this series on Psalm 51, perhaps the new year is a chance to find restoration in our relationships.]
Here’s a question for you: The last time that you apologized for doing something (whether accidental or intentional), did you ask to be forgiven? Or (especially if you’re a guy and don’t say things like that), did you ask something like, “Are we good?” Maybe this step didn’t seem necessary (and there are those who accept our apologies and make it clear that the relationship has been restored, without being asked), but I think that this is an important step. When we have hurt someone that we love, it’s not enough for us to merely express regret for our behavior. We want to live in peace with that person again, after having broken that “shalom“.
After David admits that he has sinned against God in Psalm 51:3-6, he asks for restoration.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Psalms 51:7-9 NIV
Hyssop was some sort of plant that is mentioned multiple times in the Bible, sometimes associated with making something ceremonially clean. It appears at the first Passover, where the Israelites were instructed to use it as part of putting blood on their doorframes (Exodus 12:21-23). A hyssop stalk was used to raise a sponge with wine vinegar on it to Jesus on the cross (John 19:29).
So, I think of this as some sort of bushy plant that can be used to pick up a liquid (often animal’s blood), and shake or spread it over something. The Lookout (cited below) goes ahead and identifies it as “a plant used as a paintbrush”. Ultimately, I don’t think that knowing if the hyssop plant described in the Bible is the same as what we call hyssop today (or knowing its Latin name) is nearly as important here as its understood role in making something ceremonially clean again.
As David continues in verses 10-12, those three verses sound like another way to express a similar sentiment to the previous section (parallelism is a key element of Hebrew poetry, rather all). As I might summarize his points in verses 7-9:
- David wants to be made clean.
- He wants to find joy and gladness again, after experiencing the due punishment for his sin.
- He wants God to forgive and forget his sins.
- He wants God to be with him.
- He seeks a “pure heart” and “a steadfast spirit” (see v10), and it sounds to me like he wants the strength to keep doing the right thing in the future.
While I was reading through this Psalm on my own, verse 11 caught my attention. David asks that God will not take His Holy Spirit away from him (i.e., David). In a men’s Bible Study, the study material (around when I first prepared this lesson) had brought out an interesting point: After David had been anointed by Samuel as a future king of Israel, 1 Samuel 16:14 says that “…the Spirit of the Lord left Saul,…”. I wonder if David was picturing what had happened as Saul walked away from God, and if David was afraid that the same thing would happen to him.
Like some people ask today, “Have I sinned so far as to be permanently separated from God?”, David did not want to lose the blessing of the Spirit of God. The good news for us is that Jesus’ sacrifice tells us, as the hymn says, “the vilest offender who truly believes / that moment from Jesus a pardon receives” (To God Be the Glory | Hymnary.org). See also Psalm 103:11-12.
Like David, may we not just stop with confession in our apologies, but continue to seek a restoration of the relationship with those who we have hurt. That may require action on our part (more on that in a couple of articles), or asking what we need to do in order to make things right.
In this world, there may be some people who are unwilling (or unavailable) to return to a healthy relationship (or even a “truce”) after we have harmed them, and we must accept that we can only do our part (i.e., not the other person’s part). However, let us find peace in knowing that not only is God willing to accept us back, but He also made a way for us to get back to Him. God isn’t about holding grudges or making it hard for us to earn back His love. He loves us so much that our role isn’t paying for our sins; it’s repenting and returning (see Acts 3:19).
May you not only enjoy a restored relationship today with the God of the universe, but I also pray that He would help restore your relationships with others that you have hurt, too.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 16, 2022
- The Lookout, October 16, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 1, S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, © 1999, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.
- Theology and the Mission of God / A Call to Faith in Action, Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer, © 2022 The Rooted Network, page 51.