Theme: A New Creation
In this week’s lessons we learn that confession of our sin also involves the desire for our inward renewal, as well as the fact that what we do affects other people, for good or ill.
Scripture: Psalm 51:10-19
Create a pure heart. This is a startling request, and we must not miss its force. The word that begins this section is the Hebrew verb bara, which is used in Genesis 1 for the creation of the heavens and the earth by God. Strictly used, this word describes what only God can do, that is, to create ex nihilo, out of nothing. It is true that you and I, being made in God’s image, can create things too, but not in the same way. We create out of existing material, using preexisting mental forms or ideas. God creates out of nothing, as only God can. In Genesis 1 bara is used at three pivotal points of the narrative to describe: 1) the creation of matter, the heavens and the earth (v. 1); 2) the creation of self-conscious life, the animals (v. 21); and 3) the creation of God-conscious life, human beings (v. 27). At all other points less powerful verbs are employed.
Bara is the word David uses in verse 10 of the psalm, where he asks God to “create” a pure heart in him. In other words, as Derek Kidner writes, “With the word create he asks for nothing less than a miracle.”1 He desires what only God can provide.
Moreover, he is acknowledging that this must be a creation out of nothing. This is very important, because it means that David knew, as the Apostle Paul would later write in Romans, “that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 7:18). If the work was to be any good, it could not use anything that was already in David. It would have to be a creation from nothing since, if any of it came from David himself, that little bit would contaminate everything, like deadly germs in drinking water. It is a way of saying that if we are ever going to have victory over sin, God is going to have to start over with us from the beginning.
And he does! He has promised to. Ezekiel quoted God as saying, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek. 36:25-27). It is a wonderful truth and promise. It is a promise to which we cling.
Do not cast me away. Even if God should re-create him, David is still worried that he might again fall into sin. Hence there is much in these verses about God sustaining him in his renewed state. He prays for “a steadfast spirit” (v. 10). He uses the word “sustain” itself in verse 12. The positive is also expressed by the negative in verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
This verse has been a problem to commentators. The idea of God removing the Holy Spirit from someone comes from the account of God’s withdrawal of his blessing from King Saul, David’s immediate predecessor as king of Israel. The story is told in 1 Samuel 16. But what did David mean by such a prayer? Did he mean that it is possible to be born again, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, and then to be unborn? Did he mean that it is possible to be saved and then lose your salvation because of sin? Or is he referring only to God’s continued favor and blessing? We can understand how we might lose the full blessing of God on our lives because of sin, but if that is all David means, why does he refer to God casting him away or taking away his Holy Spirit?
Describe a pure heart. Why does a pure heart need to be created in us?
Why does David pray for a “steadfast spirit”?
In verse 11 David prays that God would not take his Holy Spirit from him. What initial questions has this request raised for commentators?
Reflection: Are you sincerely desiring a pure heart?
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 192.