Whiter than Snow (Psalm 51:7)
I don’t know that I’ve ever cared all that much for snow. In the early 1980s there was a snowstorm for the ages. I don’t remember what year it was; Mom thinks it was in ’81 or ’82, and that seems about right. I remember it took Dad several days to get home to us. Dad worked for Coca-Cola, and the plant was about a 45-minute drive from home. I-64 was shut down for a while, and he spent one night–I believe–at the Coke plant. He finally got to town, but he had to stay in a shelter at least one night, because 460 was still shut down between town and our house. For a child of no more than 7 or so, it was really worrisome to have Dad so far away.
My mom’s parents lived about a mile or so away. We lived on one side of 460, and Nannie and Papaw lived on the other side. We walked to their house, and we didn’t even need to stop and look both ways before we crossed the street; a state trooper was just down the road and no traffic was being permitted. I remember snow drifts like I have never seen again in my life. I remember the preacher and his wife walking down the road to see us. You could walk from the church building to our house in about 5 minutes. We had a deep ditch in front of the house, but Billy and Lisa couldn’t see it for the snow and down they went. I remember that Mom always watched Good Morning America, and they were doing a story on the storm. My hometown of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, was, according to the story, the hardest hit town in the United States.
My wife and children, on the other hand, love the snow. I don’t know that they find it lovely or anything on its own. But, of course, it means they don’t have to go to school.
I don’t know what experiences you’ve had with snow. Some of you come from the North, and it doesn’t feel like home without a good bit of snow on the ground. Some of you may originate from further in the South, and any snow is just too much. Snow can create many difficulties. Travel can be a serious issue. I missed three days at the gym last week. It’s difficult to walk on sidewalks that haven’t been cleaned.
However, no matter the difficulties, you must admit that snow is so beautiful. Snow is a masterpiece of God’s creation. “He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes” (Ps 147:16). YHWH says to Job: “Have you entered the treasury of snow, Or have you seen the treasury of hail, Which I have reserved for the time of trouble, For the day of battle and war?” (Job 38:22-23).
Part of that divine masterpiece is the forgiveness we find with God. After his sin with Bathsheba, David writes, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:7). We want to think about that verse and learn: “Only God can make us clean.”
Scripture (Psalm 51:7)
Let’s pause to refresh our memories with the context of this passage. While his army was engaged in battle, David stayed behind. One evening David got up and walked out on his roof and saw a beautiful woman bathing. David had the beautiful woman brought to him, and he committed adultery. In the course of time, Bathsheba sent word to David that the king had fathered a child. Like any politician, David realized he had a scandal on his hands, and he begins a cover-up. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, is brought back from battle in hopes that everyone, even Uriah himself, would think that Bathsheba’s child was Uriah’s. Uriah refuses to lie with his wife while his fellow soldiers are in harm’s way. David quickly comes up with a Plan B. He sends Uriah back to battle, and Uriah carries a letter to Joab with instructions about how Uriah is to die. Uriah dies in battle, David makes Bathsheba his wife, and the nation was none the wiser.
David, of course, could not hide his sin from God. God sends Nathan the prophet to confront David. Nathan tells the king that a poor man had a lamb that was like a daughter to him. The lamb grew up with the man’s kids. This lamb is part of his family. The man’s neighbor, a very wealthy man, has company. Instead of killing from his abundant herd, the rich man kills the poor man’s lamb and prepares it for the company. David is indignant that such had happened in his kingdom, and he cries out, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” (2 Sam 12:5). Nathan looks at David and says, “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:7).
You want to know why an adulterer and a murderer could be a man after God’s own heart? When confronted with the truth of his sin, David says, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13). No excuse. No shifting the blame. Instead, David lays himself bare before God and acknowledges his wrongdoing.
Because of his sin, David faces some very serious consequences. The sword would never depart from David’s house. Absalom’s rebellion. David’s wives would be given to his enemy in the sight of all Israel. Absalom went into David’s concubines in a tent on top of the house. The child conceived through David and Bathsheba’s encounter would die.
Is it any wonder that David wants to be purged with hyssop and to be made as white as the snow? Hyssop indicated God’s grace and cleansing. As the children of Israel prepared for the Passover, Moses instructed them, “You shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning” (Ex 12:22). When one was cleansed of leprosy, the priest would use hyssop to sprinkle the leper with the blood of a clean bird (Lev 14:1-9).
David speaks of both his need of grace and his need of cleansing in this Psalm. His need for grace: “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions” (Ps 51:1). His need for cleansing: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin” (Ps 51:2).
David needs to be touched with hyssop and washed in order to be as white as snow. David’s need for cleansing indicates that sin is a black spot that needs to be eradicated. You find the imagery of sin as a stain throughout Scripture. Zechariah 3:1-5. “Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 23, ESV).
The imagery of sin as filthy garments comes from the Old Testament concept of purification. If you were unclean, you could not enter the presence of God (Ps 24:3-4). If we are polluted with sin, we may not stand in the presence of God. In the Revelation, John sees a great multitude standing before God: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). “Nothing unclean will ever enter it [the New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27, ESV). David needs reconciliation before God. That reconciliation can only occur if his garments are made white.
David understands nothing on his part could make him clean. He needs God to make that cleansing a reality.
“Only God can make us clean.” We need God to make us clean. We cannot do so ourselves. “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, ESV). If we can do absolutely nothing to make ourselves clean, what can we do?
One: Understand your need for cleansing.
David, as the man after God’s own heart, clearly understands his need for cleansing.
You, too, need to understand that you need to be made as white as the snow. Your sin is a cancer upon your soul that will keep you out of heaven. Without holiness “no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). “Outside [the New Jerusalem] are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Rev 22:15).
Take time to examine yourself very, very carefully. What sin is permeating your life? What sin has created a dark blot upon your soul? Scripture speaks of that need for self-examination. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5). Take time to see the sin in your life.
Two: Understand the high price of your sin.
The blood of an animal would be on the hyssop that would be applied to David.
The blood of an animal on some hyssop will not cleanse us from sin; we need the blood of the perfect Son of God. “Having now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom 5:9). “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19).
Go back and look at what Jesus did. With your mind’s eye go to the Garden and see Him pouring out His soul to the Father, begging that some other way might be found. See that crown of thorns pressed into His head, see Him blindfolded and smacked, look at the spit of the soldiers rolling down His face. See the flesh of His back hanging like bloody ribbons as He is being whipped half to death. See those hands and feet nailed to that cross. And NEVER forget that it was because of YOU!
Three: Cleanse yourself from sin.
Someone will surely say that I’m being inconsistent. I have said that we cannot cleanse ourselves from sin, but now I’m saying that you must cleanse yourself of sin. I trust you understand the difference. No amount of good works I could ever do could atone for my sins; atonement for sin only comes through Jesus’ blood. Yet, I need to obey Jesus in order to have His blood applied to my soul. Peter told those at Pentecost: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40).
We save ourselves by getting into contact with Jesus’ blood at baptism. “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). “In [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). There is only one way to get into Jesus: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). Unless you have been baptized into Christ, you cannot have the forgiveness through His blood.
We save ourselves by continuing to walk with Jesus. I’ve heard people say that we’re never more pure than when we’re baptized. I have a major problem with that. Jesus’ blood does not lose its power no matter how long ago we became a Christian. As we walk with Jesus, we are always as white as snow. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). As long as you’re walking with Jesus, you have His blood applied to your soul. John writes this as a conditional statement: If I want Jesus’ blood, I need to “walk in the light.” Are you walking in the light?