Day 134: The Lexicon of Restoration (Psalm 51)

Library copy of Webster’s 1937 dictionary

Through the Bible Reading: Psalm 32, 51, 86, 122

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:7-12

You may have heard that the Inuit people of Alaska have dozens of different words for snow. That’s not exactly true (this article explains why that urban legend is misleading), but it’s a useful idea nonetheless. It suggests that the more familiar someone is with a given thing, the more specialized vocabulary he or she develops to describe it. Thus, if you hang around a skateboarder, you’ll hear about kickflips, McTwists, nollies, ollies, and mongo-foots. Its the same with every other hobbyist and specialist, whether it’s golf, quilting, or nuclear physics. When you’re familiar with something, you have lots of ways of describing it.

Psalm 51 is the psalm David wrote after his adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder he committed to cover it up. It is a sad, sordid story, and if you are not familiar with it, you can read it for yourself in 2 Samuel 11-12.

In Psalm 51, David is a sin specialist. Throughout the Psalm, he uses three different words for sin, each of which has a different shade of meaning:

Transgression (verses 1,3,13): Transgression is the Hebrew word pesa. It implies a rebellion against God’s authority and law.

Iniquity (verses 2,5,9): Hebrew aon; means a distortion of what should be. It has a lot in common with our English word inequity–the state of things not being balanced or equal.

Sin (verses 2,3,4,5,9,13) Simply put, sin (chata) is to miss. It’s an archer failing to hit the target. It’s a hiker missing a turn and going the wrong way. It’s getting lost.

David has an expert’s vocabulary on sin. All of us do.

But if we are experts on sin, then praise God that He is an expert in forgiveness. David uses three words for sin, but he uses eleven phrases to describe how God deals with our sin!

  • Have mercy on me (v. 1)
  • Blot Out (v. 1)
  • Wash me (v. 2)
  • Cleanse me (v. 2)
  • Purge me (v. 7)
  • Hide Your face from my sin (v. 9)
  • Create in me a clean heart (v. 10)
  • Renew a right spirit (v. 10)
  • Restore me (v. 12)
  • Uphold me (v. 12)
  • Deliver me (v. 14)

Oh, beloved, take comfort in the fact that God has more ways to forgive our sin than we have to sin in the first place. God is so much more creative in His forgiveness than we are in our transgression! The dictionary of restoration is a multi-volume work that would spill out of the largest library. Compared to it, our glossary of sin would fit on a post-it note.





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