Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Vision (4.2.15): Create in me a clean heart: Reflections on Psalm 51:10-11

Image:  Scene from Crabtree Falls, Nelson County, Virginia

Here are some notes adapted from last Sunday morning’s exposition of Psalm 51:

One commentator has called Psalm 51 “the liturgy of a broken heart.”  Martin Luther said that in Psalm 51 “the doctrine of true repentance is set before us.”  Let us consider the petitions found at the heart of this psalm in vv. 10-11:

In v. 10 David offer the petition, “Create in me clean heart, O God….”  This is not a request for the LORD to change David’s situation, but to fundamentally change him.  The Hebrew verb here for “to create” is barah.  It is the same verb used in Genesis 1:1 to describe the creation of heaven and earth.  The only subject of this verb in the Old Testament is God himself.  It describes the kind of creating that only God himself can do.  The synonymous parallel is found in v. 10b:  “and renew a right spirit within me.”  James Luther Mays observes:  “What is unclean is inimical to God.  A clean heart would be a mind and will open to God, oriented to God” (Psalms, pp. 202-203).

The next verse begins with a negative petition:  “Cast me not away from thy presence….” (v. 11a).  As a king David knew what it was like both to grant and to deny petitioners access to his presence.  Here David acknowledges that he has a sovereign who can exclude or dismiss him from his royal presence.  Consider also the parallel phrase: “and take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (v. 11b).  If God’s Spirit is holy how can it abide with those who are unclean? And yet it indwells every believer who remains a sinner even while he is being progressively sanctified.  This is only one of the two places where the term “Holy Spirit” is used in the OT.  The other is found in Isaiah 63:10-11 where the prophet describes God’s dealings with sinful Israel.

When we consider the Incarnation, we often wonder at how an infinite and holy God could condescend to become a man.  What a marvel that the Word became flesh!  This verse poses a different, yet similar, question:  How does God allow his Holy Spirit to indwell converted and yet sinful men?  What a marvel that he does not take his Holy Spirit from us!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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