Forgiveness or Restoration?

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(Psalms 51:7 KJV) Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51 is a prayer written by King David. The occasion for the writing of this prayer was following David’s confrontation with the prophet Nathan after David had sinned with Bathsheba. This Psalm beautifully displays David’s penitent heart and broken spirit that resulted from being confronted with his sin.

In Psalm 51:1 David seeks God’s forgiveness. This is nothing unusual for God’s people. We often and almost routinely ask for God’s forgiveness. We are not unlike a willful child saying, “I’m sorry,” to a parent in order to avoid the consequences of wrong actions. Where David begins to show repentance is in the next verse. In Psalm 51:2 David ask that God “wash” and “cleanse” him.

The wording in Psalm 51:2 indicates that David desires not only to be forgiven, but he hopes to be made “blameless”, “guiltless”, and “innocent”. In other words David is not seeking to simply avoid punishment or chastisement. David is seeking to have that intimate fellowship, which his sin interrupted, restored to him. When we seek God’s forgiveness is our goal to elude the punishment of God or to include fellowship with God? I pray that God would enable us to seek fellowship with Him, even if it takes chastisement to make that fellowship possible.

In Psalm 51:7 we learn just how serious David is about having that fellowship with God restored. In Psalm 51:2 he asked to be washed and cleansed. Those words bring to mind a loving mother gently bathing a newborn baby. To be washed or cleansed sounds much like a pleasant, relaxing experience to me. In Psalm 51:7 David uses drastically different language. David asked God to purge him with hyssop. Let’s take a moment to fully understand this request.

The Bible mentions hyssop in several different situations. Hyssop was often used in cleaning and housekeeping chores. In Leviticus 14:49 we learn that hyssop was used in the cleansing of a lepers house. It would sound as if David is asking God to scrub him with a scouring pad or even steel wool! In John 19:29 we learn that hyssop is a sturdy plant capable of holding a sponge soaked in vinegar held up to one hung on a Roman cross. This would almost indicate to me that David is inviting God to “take a switch” to him if necessary.

The strong language, vivid imagery, and bold prayer contained in Psalm 51 should help us understand that David is seriously seeking not only a restored fellowship with God, but a sustained fellowship as well. When we seek God’s forgiveness we need also to seek to be “purged” of our sin as well. A fellowship worth restoring ought to be a fellowship worth preserving.

Very often there is a cost to leaving our sin behind. We may need to suffer pain, loss, or even embarrassment to gain freedom from some sins. Are you, like David, prepared to bear the cost of defeating the sins in your life? Are you willing to ask God to “take you out behind the woodshed” if necessary. I assure you the reward will outweigh the cost!

Scott Sheriff


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