Longing For a Good Cleansing
by Bob Burridge ©2012
To pay for my expenses while in college I worked at a large commercial laundry. We dealt with laundry from area hotels, motels, repair shops, and many other types of businesses. There were often challenging stains to remove. We had a supply of various solvents and treatments to handle each type of problem. Often the chemicals were very strong and had to be handled with great care. Our job was to remove the stains to the best of our ability while minimizing any damage to the fabrics.
Stain removal is a common issue we all face in our daily lives. With the proper chemicals and equipment, most of them can be dealt with quite easily. But what about the moral stains that mar our souls when we sin against God? What can we do to get rid of those?
When God makes us aware of our guilt, we want to have the offense removed so we can be morally clean again. King David was confronted with the stains that issued from that one night of sin with Bathsheba. He made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel’s national security by having Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle.
When God’s prophet confronted him, David admitted that what he did was horribly wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm. Our study so far covered the first six verses.
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1. Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
5. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
6. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
Being made aware of the stains from his sin,
David craved to have them removed.
Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
The words David used here are very interesting. Hyssop was not used like a scrub brush. It was the branching plant used by the priests in the temple for the ritual purifications. It was dipped in water or in the blood of a sacrificed animal and used to sprinkle the liquid upon someone or upon the altar. It did not actually remove physical stains. It was a symbolic act representing the cleansing God works upon our hearts. God had promised to forgive and redeem his people through the life and work of a Savior. So, David was thinking of something from the Temple laws. He was not illustrating by reference to some kind of daily housecleaning method or bathing practice.
Another thing that stands out is the comparison is that the result of removing guilt would make his soul whiter than snow.
Here in Florida we do not see much snow. I was raised in Buffalo New York where we had plenty of it. As of this writing I have lived in Florida for almost 50 years and remember only three light dustings of snow during all that time. The climate in Israel is very much like our own as far as temperatures are concerned. Snow is rare except in high mountains in the winters. The imagery of towns covered in deep white snow is not what David had in mind.
The language here has to do with “whiteness of snow” as it relates to a particular purification rite described in Scripture. The terms used fit the ritual purification prescribed for those cured of Leprosy. The Jews originally reading this Psalm would naturally have had this imagery in mind. To appreciate what David’s heart was hoping in, we need to understand these laws as the original readers of this Psalm would have understood them.
Leprosy was used by God to represent sin and its corruption during the Levitical period of redemptive history. Leviticus 13 through 14 is filled with details about the diagnosis and handling of the disease. It deals with a particular kind of leprosy where snow white blotches appear on parts of the body, the hair on the flesh in that area changed color, and there were exposed patches of raw flesh. Leviticus 13:14 says, “But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean.” The leper was to be separated from the camp of God’s people. It represented the offensiveness of sin’s corruption which had to be removed.
A person who recovered from leprosy had to come to the priest for purification. Leviticus 14 explains the two step process to be followed by the priest.
Step One: The priest examined the person outside the camp of Israel.
Leviticus 13:13 “then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore. It has all turned white. He is clean.”
When leprosy runs its course the body becomes white with flakes of dry skin where the raw patches of flesh were. This means the disease is over. The person is considered cured. The crimson or scarlet spots of raw flesh representing corruption go away. The white flakes of dried skin then fall off exposing new healthy skin.
Two birds were to be brought for a purification ceremony. One bird was killed as a sacrifice. The living bird was to be dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird, then was allowed to fly off representing the new life when sin is removed.
Then hyssop was dipped in the blood, and the priest sprinkled the former leper seven times. This is what David alluded to in verse seven when he wrote, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
This is probably what Isaiah meant when he wrote in Isaiah 1:18, ” ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’ ”
How are our sins red like crimson? That was the color of the bloody ulcers of leprosy. The white like snow, or wool, is the color of the healed skin after recovery from leprosy. All the crimson outbreaks would have gone away, and the skin would have become completely covered with white flakes like snow.
Step Two: After seven days the leper had blood applied to him from a sacrificed lamb. It was to be put on the tip of his ear, his right thumb, and his right toe. This is generally understood as foreshadowing the blood of Jesus, the lamb of God. His blood purifies us from the effect of sin restoring our ears to hear the word of God, our hands to do what God says, and our feet to follow in his ways. Then the same parts were anointed with oil representing the work of the Holy Spirit. The purified leper was then received back into the camp of Israel as one redeemed by the Lord.
Just imagine the feeling of a leper who recovered, was purified by God’s priest, and was restored to full fellowship with God’s people again!
That’s pretty dramatic symbolism! God provided this process to show how sinners are cleansed from the pollution of sin. Today we have the advantage of knowing the completed work of Jesus Christ. The rituals are fulfilled. Today, leprosy is just a disease like all others.
The spiritual cleansing these purifications represented is ours by faith in the finished work of our Savior. 1 John 1:7 says, “… the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
This is the confidence we can have in Christ. We can know that we are truly washed clean when we come to our Lord with humble and sincere confession of sin, and trust in God’s promise of forgiveness.
This is the confidence we see in David’s words. He does not say that he hoped he would be made clean, or that he wished to be forgiven. He declares for sure that if God purifies him from the stains of his guilt, he shall be pure again. He will be truly clean in the eyes of his Holy Lord. What a wonderful assurance, to be declared innocent by God, and to be confident about it.
David longed to enjoy the benefits
of being restored to fellowship with God.
Psalm 51:8-10, “Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
David expected great blessing even though he had sinned horribly. He had once closed his ears to the voice of God’s word and his conscience. But now he expected to hear again the joyful and glad sounds of God’s assurances. His broken bones, smashed by God’s judgment, will again rejoice.
David cried in shame that God would “hide his face” from his sins. Of course David did not imagine that somehow God would turn his head and pretend he did not see what was really there. David understood a most profound and wonderful teaching of Scripture. It is possible to have the offense of our sins really removed from our souls!
He had learned through a hard lesson, how our sins are an offense to the eyes of God. The prophet Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 1:13, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness…..”
So if anyone is to have his fellowship with God restored, his sins must be dealt with. Only when the penalty we deserve is paid, can justice satisfied. God in his deepest of love, took upon himself a real human body and soul to die for his people. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our offenses by paying for them.
This is what we mean by atonement. The word literally means to cover something. Before Jesus came the blood of animals was sprinkled upon the covering over the Ark of God’s Covenant. That covering was called the mercy seat, but literally the Hebrew word means, the covering. In the ark was the copy of God’s law which exposed Israel’s sins and showed her corruption.
When the blood of the Savior is spiritually applied to our souls, our sins are covered, our condemnation is hidden, and the ugly stain is removed. God can again look upon us without offense.
Just as the leper was sprinkled to represent the removal of sin, so the altar was sprinkled in the Old Testament sacrifices, and our souls are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. The penalty is paid so that the condemnation can be removed.
David knew that either God would forever hide his face from him, or his sins would be hidden under the future Savior’s atonement, covering his guilt before the Heavenly Father.
David begged for God to blot out his iniquities. This brings back something he said at the beginning of the Psalm. In verse one he said, “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.”
The blotting out of iniquity was legal language. Indictments were drawn up against those accused of crimes. David knew he was guilty, so he pleaded that whatever solvent was needed to dissolve away the ink from the indictment, let it be applied to his record before God. Here he begs that these horrible yet just accusations might be washed away, that they would no longer appear on his record before the face of God.
In place of sin he wants a clean heart, a steadfast spirit. But this was not a dream or a fantasy. It was not the false hope or wishful thinking of a guilty heart. It was the true hope of a redeemed child of God.
Often, those redeemed by the Savior needlessly believe they still bear the weight of their sins even though they are paid for. The false accusations of the Father of Lies suggest that their evil hearts continue to condemn them before a holy God. Believers washed in the blood of Christ groundlessly anguish under a lifted burden. It is a deception of our darkened minds. We are so imperfect that, though forgiven, we may still grieve as if we are condemned. We listen to the lies whispered by the enemy of our souls, which lead us to question the promises of the Lord of all the universe.
How tragic that Christians sometimes fail to comprehend the wonderful promise of the Gospel, and ignore the declaration of innocence earned by the infinitely great price paid for them by the Savior.
We have the wonderful promise of a restored soul. What a good feeling it is to be clean. That’s the way it is after a long day working around the yard and garden. It feels so good to stand under the refreshing shower, wash away the sweat and dirt, then to get all dried off and put on fresh clothes.
In this same way we come to our Lord with a broken and humbled heart for cleansing. We confidently place our trust in God’s ancient promises, and their fulfillment in the cross. There is no moral detergent to remove our stains other than his atonement. No other is needed.
We show that God has cleansed our own hearts of guilt when we truly forgive others who have offended us.
We are moved by his work of grace in us to dismiss our own anger against those who trespass against us. We rejoice when our slate is washed clean by the blood of Christ, so also we should not keep track of marks against others who have wronged us and repented.
In Colossians 3:13 we are told in God’s word to be, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
Jesus told us right after the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
This does not mean that our forgiveness from God depends upon our forgiving others. It means that if we are not forgiving others, then there is no evidence that we have been forgiven. Forgiven hearts are changed hearts. They ought to learn to forgive as they are forgiven.
Many years ago the puritan pastor, Thomas Watson wrote, “We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us.”
David prayed that God would hide his face from his sins. We should also not hold wrongs against another person who shows true remorse. We forgive them and consider the debt to be removed.
In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul said that love “thinks no evil.” or as it is better translated, love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The Apostle was using an accounting term that describes the recording of figures in a book. Love does the opposite. It does not keep a record of wrongs. Instead, love forgives and refuses to keep it on the books.
A popular devotional book says, “If you want to remember something, you go over it again and again. The child reviews his spelling words; the actress rehearses her lines; you review people’s names that you want to remember. But love deliberately and consciously lets go of past hurts and gives them to God.”
The basis upon which we can so unselfishly set aside our own hurts and forgive others, is that we ourselves have had the corruption of our sins paid for by our Lord, and our bondage to self-interest removed. Having been forgiven in this way, we can rest assured we are cleansed and set free.
Hebrews 10:22, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)