Dinner time is one of the most important times of the day for my family and I. It’s a chance for me to cook (which I love to do), and a chance for my wife, my daughter, and I to connect after a long day. We’ve begun a new “tradition” in our house where we take turns picking the dinner playlist for the night. My wife gravitates toward instrumental music – jazz or acoustic guitar. When it’s my daughter’s turn, it’s either the Frozen or Encanto soundtrack. She never deviates. Zac Brown Band and NEEDTOBREATHE are some other dinnertime favorites of ours. (Try to feel sad, stressed, or overwhelmed after listening to Zac Brown Band. You can’t. Scientific fact.)
The other night, for my turn, I chose Jon Foreman’s 2008 album, Fall and Winter. A particular song stood out to me as we listened, and it continued to resonate with me for the rest of the night: “White as Snow.” The song’s refrain is,
Would You create in me a clean heart, oh, God?
Restore in me the joy of Your salvation
Would You create in me a clean heart, oh, God?
Restore in me the joy of my salvation
I was compelled to read the passage that inspired this song from Psalm 51.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,Psalm 51:10-12 ESV
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
The context of Psalm 51, as you may know, is the wake of David’s scandal with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11). David, after a whirlwind ascent from shepherd to king, was bestowed the title: “A man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). In the first years of David’s reign, it seemed he could do no wrong. God’s presence and provision over his life was evident to everyone he encountered – even his enemies. However, as David’s influence grew, his pursuits turned away from the heart of God, and toward sin. He impregnated a married woman, and in a rash attempt to cover up the affair, he conspired to have her husband killed. In response and repentance, David penned Psalm 51, the famous confessionary psalm wherein David pleads to God in a series of entreaties:
Create in me a clean heart.
Renew a right spirit within me.
Restore in me the joy of your salvation.
Uphold me with a willing spirit.
Verse 10, in Hebrew, reads: bara’-li Elohim (“Create in me, God”). This combination of words is an intentional callback to Genesis 1:1, which reads,
“In the beginning, God created (bare’sit bara’ Elohim) the heavens and the earth.”
Bara’ is a unique verb because, when it is written in its root form, known as Qal (and it is in the Qal here), God is always the subject. Bara’ means to shape, fashion, create, or transform. This verb is never performed in the Bible by a human subject – only God. The study of the original Hebrew rendering of this passage lends profound meaning to David’s prayer. David realized that his sin had so distorted his own heart that it was as formless and void as pre-Creation earth (Gen. 1:2). In response, David called upon God to perform another miraculous act of creation that only God was capable of: to create in him a clean heart, just as God created order and life from primordial chaos. Recalling that God pledged from the very beginning to restore and redeem his creation from the grip of sin, David then calls on God to perform the same work of ongoing redemption in his own heart.
The beauty of Psalm 51 is in David’s recognition of the true source of joy. The word translated “salvation” is yeshah. This word also means “liberation, safety, prosperity, or victory”. Sin not only turns our hearts away from God; it also robs us of the joy and security that is found in yeshah – a relationship with him.
Yeshah is the root of the Hebrew name, Yeshua (“The LORD is salvation”). Yeshua is where we derive the name Jesus. Though perhaps incorrect to ascribe a Messianic prophecy to Psalm 51, it is interesting that David conflates three key biblical themes that find their fulfillment in Christ: salvation by grace, re-creation, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As I study and reflect on this passage, I am convicted of the ease with which I forget that true, lasting joy is found in a liberating, safe, prosperous, victorious relationship with the God who created the universe; who is the only one capable to re-create a clean heart and right spirit within his people.
Sin has so damaged the human heart that the most obvious source of joy – God – seems far, distant, impractical, or inconvenient. In reality, God’s salvation and upholding grace are immediate and available, while the mechanisms we use to create artificial joy are just that: fake, manufactured, fleeting. David’s story is a bit of an extreme example: his attempt to restore joy, a clean heart and a peaceful conscience resulted in a scandalous cover-up of his affair, and the death of an innocent man. It wasn’t until later that David realized that God is eager to restore in his people a clean heart, if they only turn back to him.
I find myself lacking in joy more often than I would like to admit. My coping mechanisms tend to exacerbate the problem. Psalm 51 reminds me that the source of true, lasting joy is a clean heart, created in me by the God of salvation. It seems so simple. It’s amazing how complicated we tend to make it.
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