Psalm 51:10 – Create a New Heart!

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In order to restore his joy, David asks that the Lord create a new heart for him.  The heart is not emotion, but rather the will or mind.  David’s sins were not “crimes of passion,” but coldly calculated choices which David made.  Recall my retelling of the story – “David arranged….” This was not a momentary lapse because David was overwhelmed with passion.  He chose to do these things because he knew he could get away with them because he was the king!

The heart and “inward parts” are in parallel, the second refers to the innermost organs, entrails, etc.  Within the metaphor, David is saying that the core of his being, what it is inside him and is really him, needs to be carved out and replaced with something else. David has acknowledged that he was born in sin and acted in a sinfully manner.  He must be put to death because he has broken the Law, his only hope is to be re-born, re-created by God, but this time in purity.

The verb for “create” always has God as its subject, usually without reference to existing material.  If this is the case here, then David is asking for a transplant – create a totally new heart within me, do not take the old, broken corrupt heart and try to “fix” it.   Human nature would try to fix our heart, to make up for our shortcomings or repair any damage we have done to ourselves.  But this is never going to work, we need a heart transplant, from the outside, something new to replace what we were born with because our heart is deceitful and corrupt, beyond cure (Jer 17:11).

Most people think that religious acts will someone make them more spiritual, perhaps a good deed which  a spiritual act which confers grace to the heart of the believer. This is the promise of religion, but that is not the religion of the Bible. David knows that there is nothing he can do to merit this new creation, nor is there any human action which can make his hear right before God, he can only beg for the mercy of God (Ps 51:1).

The second half of this line asks for the Lord to renew an “upright spirit” within him. “Upright” or “steadfast” are common translations of this word.  The idea behind the word is that something is reliable and trustworthy, like the presence of the sun or moon in the sky (Ps 89:37, Ho 6:3, “as sure as the dawn.”)  This is a fixed point, unmovable and never changing.

This gives a bit of an insight into David’s sin, since his heart was changeable and unfixed when he chose to abuse his power to commit adultery and murder.  Certainly David’s choices were godly on occasion, but now he asks for God to make his heart steady and unwavering, so that he will make the right choices as king of Israel.

The last thing David asks is for God not to cast away from his presence (verse 11).  This is a verse people normally focus on when they read this psalm, although the Spirit of God functioned differently in the Hebrew Bible than in the present age (Eph 1:3-14).  David really fears that God might cast him away and take the Holy Spirit from him and for good reason to:  he has displeased the Lord.  Samuel said that when the king displeased the Lord, the Lord might very well sweep away the people along with the King (1 Sam 12:24-25).  While the vocabulary is not quite the same, the idea that God might very well end David’s dynasty as he did King Saul’s is a very real possibility. Like Saul, David himself might live, but the son of David may not come to the throne.  David fears that he has invalidated the promises of 2 Sam 7 because of his sin and rebellion, therefore he prays that he not be cast out of the Lord’s presence.

That David is the Lord’s anointed King helps us to understand the removal of the Holy Spirit.  This is not a statement that the sinful Christian will lose their salvation if they do not properly repent, but rather a statement that God’s anointing given to David as king may be removed because of his sin.

Psalm 51:7-9 – Clean Me and I will Be Clean!

In this penitential Psalm, David begs the Lord to clean him, so that he will be truly clean.  The verb translated by the ESV as “purge” (חטא in the piel) is a word associated with making a sin offering or preparing an altar for an offering )Lev 8:15, Ezek 43:22(. The verb is therefore chose to emphasize the fact that David wants to be made fit for worship once again.  In his current state, he is unclean and cannot participate in joyful worship at the Tabernacle. The result of being purged with hyssop is that David will be clean, ritually purified (טהר). In the Qal, this verb usually indicates that something or someone is ceremonially clean.

To be “purged with hyssop” may be an allusion to Exod 12:21-22, bunches of hyssop were tied together and used to brush the blood of a lamb on the doorposts prior to the Passover.  But hyssop was used to purify lepers as well ( ABD 2:812).  Perhaps that is the point here as well.  Like a leper, David sees himself as in need of ultimate purification.

A bat for beating flax or for laundry UC 63458.

When the Lord cleanses him, David’s purity will be “whiter than snow.” The second verb for washing in verse 7 is used for washing and bleaching a garment. The verb appears frequently in Lev and Num for ceremonial cleanliness.  It is easy to hear this metaphor through a modern lens, we just add a bit of detergent to the wash and clothes are bright white.  But that is not the case in the ancient world. Caustic chemicals were used and clothing must be beaten in order to clean it thoroughly.  The verb here (כבס) refers to “treading, kneading and beating” clothing (HALOT).  I have included an image here of an Egyptian washing bat.  This is a rare find since common implements like this would fall to pieces after long use and be discarded. “Depictions of laundrymen at work show that the items being washed were treated to violent beating and mangling by twisting” (Digital Egypt for Universities, see also Real Life at Deir el-Medina).  It is impossible to know if clothing was washed white in the same was in Ancient Israel, but is likely that the process was similar.

David uses this metaphor in recognition that to be clean he will indeed need to suffer, beaten like a garment which is being washed with the laundryman’s bat. Mal 3:2 uses a similar metaphor for spiritual renewal, it is like a refiner’s fire or a fuller’s brush.  David has already said that he was born in sin and therefore is unable to be pure before God – Only God and do something which changes him and makes him really pure and right before God.

That David would ask for his joy (verse 8, 12) to be restored indicates the depth of his anguish for his sin and the punishment he is enduring.  In verse 8 his bones are broken, the verb is “crushed” (דכה, a rare word which only appears here and Ps 44:20 in the piel, in the Qal in 51:17, a broken heart).   The cognate noun refers to the dashing of waves against the shore, a relentless pounding which likely is part of the same metaphor as cleansing with laundryman’’s brushes.

The vocabulary used for joy in these verse are often associated with joyous occasions such as weddings (Ps 45:7) or the Exodus (Ps 104:43), worship (Zech 8:19) or the presence of the Lord (Isa 35:10).   Anticipating the end of the psalm, perhaps David has in mind a restoration to worship, after he has been cleansed by the Lord he can once again enter into the joyous celebration of the Tabernacle / Temple in the presence of the Lord.  Remember David leading the worship of Israel as the Ark was installed in Jerusalem – his unbridled joy and enthusiasm was shocking and undignified.  He looks forward to being free from the guilt of his sin so that he can experience the freedom to worship God in such a joyous way.