Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. – Psalm 51:7-9 ESV
David came to God humbly confessing his sin. He took full responsibility for what he had done and acknowledged that his sin had been against God. But David was not done. He came to God because he desperately needed something from God. Yes, he desired God’s forgiveness, but he greatly needed and wanted God to cleanse him from his sin, guilt, shame and brokenness. David’s sin had taken its toll on him. He was burdened by what he had done. He knew he had displeased God and as long as his sin remained unconfessed and hidden, he was miserable. In another one of his psalms, David gives a description of just what his mindset would have been. “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat” (Psalm 32:3-4 NLT). The purpose for David’s confession was far more than a guilt-free conscience. He knew that confession alone would not remove his sin. He needed God’s cleansing. The apostle John gave us an important reminder on the power of confession in the life of a believer. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10 ESV). Refusal to believe that we are even capable of sin may make us feel better, but it doesn’t fool God. To deny the sin for which God convicts us is to call Him a liar. But if we will own up to our sin and humbly confess it to God, He will not only forgive us but cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God doesn’t just remove the guilt, He takes away the cause of the guilt.
David asked God to purge him with hyssop. This was a reference to the practice of the priest sprinkling animal blood on the altar with a hyssop branch. The animal was killed as a substitute for the sinner and its blood was sprinkled on the altar as a sacrifice or payment for the sins of the individual. The writer of Hebrews, speaking of the Old Testament sacrificial system, said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). While David would have surely taken advantage of the opportunity to offer sacrifice for his sins, he was asking God Himself to make him clean. He wanted God to do for him what no human being could do: remove the stain of his sin completely. He asked God to restore his joy and gladness. He begged God to blot out all his iniquities. David’s broken relationship with God, caused by his own sin, was as painful and debilitating as an actual broken bone. He needed the healing of the Great Physician. Sin brings sorrow, guilt and shame. It leaves us alienated from God. And while we are responsible to come to Him in confession, we are completely dependent on Him for forgiveness and cleansing.
David was appealing to the mercy and love of God. He knew God well. He understood God’s holiness, but he also depended on God’s unfailing love and mercy. In another one of his psalms, David revealed his personal view of God’s relationship with him. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:10-14 ESV). That was what David was counting on. He knew that God understood his faults, failings and weaknesses. He understood and was counting on the fact that God was compassionate and kind. David was relying on God’s unfailing love. He knew that if God removed the guilt of his sin, it would be complete and permanent, as far as the east if from the west. The apostle John would have us remember that “Jesus came to take away our sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV) and “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Jesus died in order to pay the debt owed for our sins. He came to remove the penalty of death that hung over our heads due to our sin natures inherited from Adam, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). But John reminds us that “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). God has provided a means by which we can receive forgiveness and cleansing from ALL our sin – past, present and future. We will still sin, because we still have our sin natures. But the debt has been paid. The blood has been shed. All we must do is confess our sins and God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The result is the removal of guilt and shame, restoration of fellowship with God, healing from our pain and sorrow, and renewed joy and gladness. There is an old Scottish proverb that says, “confession in good for the soul.” David would agree. But it is not the act of confession that brings the benefit. It is the cleansing power of the blood of Christ that provides the gracious and complete forgiveness of God.