I recall visiting an orthodox Jewish rabbi who showed me a special room in his house. It was filled with books, all the books were about God. He had the complete Talmud, the Midrash, the Targums and the Mishnah as well as hundreds of other books. I remember how he picked up one book and said: “You Christians, you read the Torah like any book outside this room. You read the Psalms, yet you know nothing of the heart of David. You must read the Psalms with your heart, you must read the Psalms with an understanding of David’s heart and then you will understand the words God spoke through David.” That struck me: “The words God spoke through David.”
So I begin to read the Psalms as if it were my own heart cry. Then I come to Psalms 51:10 and I began to seriously examine my own heart, my own motives, and my own longings. I realized how far I was away from God and I longed for that clean heart. It was then, just as the rabbi predicted, I began to feel David’s heart.
I thought how David had committed sins that had separated him from the presence of God. Like us, he had uncontrollable impulses and before he realized what he was doing, he had sinned and separated himself form God. It wasn’t the consequences of his sin that troubled him, he was willing to accept that. In fact the consequences for his sins, adultery and murder, according to Jewish law, should have been the death penalty. Yet the prophet told him he would not die. In fact the prophet told him he was forgiven. But David had a broken heart, broken over the separation that his sin had caused between him and His God. Sins which were an act of passion committed out of an uncontrollable impulse. You would think that having your sins forgiven and the consequences of the sins removed and a free ticket to heaven would be enough. After all that seems to be the focus of many Christians and perhaps for many of us it is enough. Well my sins are forgiven and I’m on my way to heaven and praise alleluia for that. But then I think of David and His broken heart, a heart that was broken because his sin had separated him from the God he dearly loved.
I remember a story this rabbi told me from the Talmud which might explain David’s broken heart. There was a King who had a son that he loved very dearly. Whenever the son needed anything, he would come to his father and ask and the father would willingly grant it. However, the son soon became disobedient to the father. The father tried to correct him but the disobedience continued. Finally the King called a servant and commanded him: “Whenever my son needs anything let him ask you and you must give to him generously.” The servant asked: “But why give him anything if he is disobedient?” The king, the father replied: “I love my son, I do want him to be in need, however, I cannot look upon him in his disobedience so he cannot come to me with his request, so I will grant his request through you so I do not have to look upon him.”
Maybe for some of use it is enough that God still answers prayers and will still provide all the goodies for us. But for David that was almost irrelevant. He longed to feel the presence of God, he ached for those times when he and God shared their hearts while he was just a shepherd boy. He knew his heart was not right with God. He wasn’t in this relationship for a paycheck, he just wanted things to be ok between him and God.
As I read this passage I too begin to beg God for a clean heart. Even though I know the score between him and I was settled 2,000 years on a cross and that He is my Heavenly Father, I also know there are areas of disobedience in my heart that prevent me from enjoying that special relationship with Him. No matter how hard I try I just can’t cast off these sins, I still commit them. I just can’t change the attitudes of my heart, so like David, I have to plead with God to change my heart to clean it up for me.
David’s heart was broken because the God that he so loved, could not look upon him. Thus, he cried out: Lev tahor bara’ ti “Create a pure heart for me.” David tried mightily to make things right with his God. But he finally realized that his only hope was for God to bara (create, form out of nothing) a pure heart. Not only that but to renew a right spirit. The Hebrew word for renew is chadesh which means to restore but in the sense of a restoration of one’s strength or resolve. How many of us have some sin in our life that we just keep committing over and over. The strength of our resolve to conquer that sin seems to diminish such that we are almost ready to give up and give into the sin. Like David, that is the time to cry out to God for a clean heart, a heart pure and cleansed from this sin, but not only that we need God to chadesh, strengthen our resolve to overcome this sin.
Note that David has a further request, not just for a spirit that is strengthened with resolve to conquer this sin but a nakon spirit, a right spirit. Nakon comes from the root word cun which means to be firm and focused. Curious, the word spirit is rucha, not nephesh. Rucha or a spirit has many possible renderings. The article too is strangely indefinite. Renew or restore a spirit that is focused and firm. The word rucha’s many possible meanings to name a few would be wind, breath, mind, spirit, air, gas, vain empty thing, courage, temper, anger, patience or impatience, one’s disposition or uncontrollable impulse – bingo. Only the context will really tell you what English word to plug into here and only if you understand the heart of David will you know the context to decide what English word to plug in here. I believe uncontrollable impulse is the proper English word that fits the context of David’s heart. David’s heart was directed to God just as the Apostle Paul’s heart was who also said in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” David’s heart was like that of many of us. We really do not want to sin. I have met few Christians who really want to sin. For the most part a Christian sins out of an uncontrollable impulse. We hate it, but like the Apostle Paul, we still commit that sin.
That is why David is crying out to God to recreate his heart and make it pure. But not only is that he asking that he be given a right spirit or a firm and stable resolve against his uncontrollable impulses.