Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).
King David had it going on. He was riding high as king of the unified, prosperous, and militarily mighty nation of Israel. He was a courageous and bold military leader, as well as being a prolific writer of inspired, Hebrew poetry. He was wealthy and well respected. He was fervent and zealous for the glory of God’s name. But you know what happened. When he should have been at war with the rest of his men, when he lay idle, he saw naked Bathsheba bathing next door. He lusted after her, desired her, took her, and violated her. And then she told him that she was pregnant by him. So David then exacerbated his problem by bringing Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite (ironically called one of David’s mighty men, 2 Sam. 23:39), back from the front lines of battle to have sexual relations with his wife. Of course David’s motivation here was not altruistic. He was banking on Uriah’s conjugal visit to mitigate his guilt as the father of Bathsheba’s child. The problem, however, was that Uriah was so committed to David’s and Israel’s cause, that he refused to be with his wife, unwilling to indulge marital bliss while the rest of David’s soldiers were still in battle. Unrepentant sin always spins out of control, and this certainly was the case with David. He now knew he must have faithful and fervent Uriah killed. So he instructed his men to back away from Uriah the next time they were in battle, leaving him exposed to the enemy without support from Israel’s soldiers, and of course Uriah then died in battle.
However, a year or so later Nathan came to David with his parable of the rich man taking advantage of the poor man by taking his favourite little ewe lamb. Nathan asked David what he thought should be done in such a situation and David responded with intense indignation, ‘As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die’ (2 Sam. 12:5). Nathan then pulled the noose tightly around David’s neck by saying, ‘You are the man!’ (2 Sam. 12:7).
It is within this historical context that David writes his beautiful and penitential Psalm 51. His anguish, throughout the Psalm, is palpable. He earnestly desires Yahweh’s loving-kindness and compassion. He begs for cleansing from his sin. He is aware of his sin. He cannot escape it. He knows that he has sinned directly against the God of vast beneficence. He knows what Yahweh wants – truth born out of sincerity, and biblical wisdom. He cries out, ‘Purify me with hyssop’ (Psa.51:7). What does this mean? What is hyssop? Hyssop is a plant with a white flower, prominent in the Middle East, which was thought at the time to have medicinal value. But we must dig deeper if we are to understand the significance of what David is praying. In Yahweh’s instruction to Israel, at the time of the Passover, he instructed his covenant people to apply the blood of a lamb on the lintel and doorposts of the house. In so doing, the angel of death would pass over the inhabitants, delivering them from death and judgment. The first-born of Egypt were to be killed. They were not under the blood of the lamb. And we are told in Exodus 12:22 that the blood was applied with hyssop. God’s covenant people in Exodus, as well as King David in Psalm 51, were looking in faith to the means by which true cleansing from sin was to occur.
David was guilty of heinous sin and he knew it. He was grief-stricken, levelled, brought low by his sin in the sight of Yahweh. He must be restored. He must be reconciled. He must be forgiven. Later in the Psalm he asks, ‘Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Thy righteousness’ (Psa. 51:14). In light of his profound and devastating conviction of sin, David still had hope; and that hope was born out of the symbolism of the hyssop applying the blood of the lamb for forgiveness.
I suggest several key points for your consideration. First, remember, David was in the covenant of grace. He was a true follower of Yahweh, yet he sinned terribly. Okay, you are in Christ Jesus, but never trust yourself. If David, with such blessings, favour, and skill could fall so terribly into sin, what does this say about you? You are capable of profound and heinous evil even as a believer, even after accomplishing many wonderful things for the Lord. You are capable of adultery, lying, stealing, cheating, and murder, just like David. We know the unbeliever is enslaved to his sin, and is without hope and without God in this world; but the believer can fall under sin’s control for a period of time, and that time can be devastating for the person, his family, his church, and his community.
Second, be vigilant. David was not. Never, never trust yourself to stand against sin and temptation. Don’t play around with sin. Don’t ‘go there’ to pornographic websites. Don’t indulge in a little, ‘harmless’ flirtation with someone at work or church. Fear God. Fear the consequences of sin. Fear that you can lose everything by a few moments of sinful gratification. Fear hell. ‘For this you know with certainty, no immoral, or impure person, or covetous man who is an idolater has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 5:5-6). ‘Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:9-11. Paul is not saying that if we ever were involved in any of these things, then we are lost and incapable of being saved. On the contrary. He says, ‘And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:11). The context, however, of his admonition is the waywardness of professing believers in Corinth who are engaged in immorality and covetousness. Paul is warning them. Later he commands them to examine themselves to see if they truly are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). So, a professing believer who continues, unrepentantly and unconcerned, who convinces himself that God’s grace gives him a license to continue in sinful, aberrant behaviour, is deceiving himself with empty words. A true believer, when seeing his sin next to the application of God’s law, will repent, running to Jesus for a fresh application of his blood.
My friends – are you presently engaged in unrepentant sin? Do you worship your children, your grandchildren, your pet, your football team, your job? Do you put primary affection on anything other than the true and living God? How can you know? What gives you the greatest joy? What do you talk about most? Are you in rebellion against any authority in your life – your spouse, your boss, or company? Do you pay your taxes or do you fudge on them? Are you genuinely caring for your ageing parents? Do you hate anyone? Are you bigoted or racist? Do you have a superiority attitude? Are you hooked on porn? Are you emotionally involved with someone other than your spouse? Do you give your employer an honest day’s work? Do you exaggerate the truth to make yourself, your company, your product look better than reality? Do you gossip, complain about your pastor, your boss, your spouse, your children? Are you jealous of what others have, hoping secretly that they will fail?
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a tender conscience concerning your sin. And when he does, go immediately to the river of grace filled with the blood of Jesus and the water of the Spirit to cleanse, renew, sanctify, and sustain you. Daily apply the law of God and the grace of God to your conscience and heart. This is the way of holiness. This is the way of joy. This is the way of powerful Christian living.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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