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A Prayer for Cleansing

Psalm 51

I've just finished reading Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus at the outset of an annual quest to read through the Bible (A couple-months head start never hurts!). If one comes away from the book of Leviticus with any impression at all, it is likely that feeling of utter impossibility because of the sheer scope and quantity of rules by which the people were obligated to live. And that’s the point: That we would recognize the impossibility of a holy God dwelling with sinful people. Fairly mundane matters of daily life take on heightened significance in the law often to provide a helpful analogy to spiritual truth.

Take, for instance, the laws regarding leprosy. Modern leprosy, or Hansens Disease, was only one of many skin conditions that would have stigmatized and isolated an individual for Israelite society. Many of these conditions were not contagious or life-threatening, though some were both. In any case, extreme isolation was prescribed which we might initially surmise is simply the Lord looking out for the general health of the community… until we consider what was required for entrance back into society. According to Leviticus chapter 14, it was not a doctors visit that gave one a clean bill of health, but a once-over by the priest followed by a religious rite and sacrifices. That religious rite involved dipping a mop of plant fibers called "hyssop" into a cup of mingled blood and water then sprinkling it over the infected person after which he/she was determined to be clean and able to enter into society and join in public worship again. The external, visible, oozing sores of the leper served to illustrate how the unseen corruption of the soul separates a person from the Holy One.

I bring the procedure up today because David draws on that illustration of cleansing in his well known prayer of repentance found in Psalm 51. Specifically in v.7 “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” After being confronted by the prophet Nathaniel, David looks at the putrid blackness of his inner man and sees himself as he really is: a spiritually diseased person isolated from any right or ability to approach God or the people who love him. Like a leper, he is desperate to be declared clean.

After acknowledging his heinous sin, his utter lack of any ground on which to ask for forgiveness save the mercy of God, and going further to acknowledge not just this sin but the corruption of his very nature, David confesses his faith in the ability of the Lord to declare him utterly clean and restore him to fellowship again.

The prayer concludes with a return to service (v.13-19) encouraging us that if we will pray, confessing our sins, we too may be completely purged and renewed to useful service. Regardless of what crimes against the holiness of God you have committed in 2020, there is hope. That hope is based in God’s own willingness to cleanse and receive and not on your ability to convince him to do so.

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