Of Walls and Worship

Never really paused over the last couple of verses of Psalm 51 before. Kind of an interesting way for David to wrap up his song of repentance, confession, and plea for restoration. It’s a song written after Nathan the prophet has exposed the king’s sin with Bathsheba and his sin against her husband Uriah. The song is a plea for mercy . . . as the guilt-stricken songwriter confesses that his sin is against God and God alone.

In the song there’s a recognition that apart from God’s merciful and gracious willingness to wash and cleanse the errant king of his transgression, there is no basis upon which David might hope to know again His presence. A recognition that unless God undertakes a holy and divine cleansing of the kings dark heart, there would be no place for the Spirit to reside. A recognition that unless God restores the fallen king and opens his lips, there is no song to sing . . . no praise to offer.

And then David concludes his psalm this way . . .

Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
 then will You delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on Your altar.   (Psalm 51:18-19 ESV)

And at first, I’m kind of taken aback. Why the focus on the city? Why the plea for walls?

I wonder if David isn’t concerned about the detrimental impact his failure as king might have on his people. If David isn’t now invoking his shepherd’s heart and crying out for his sheep. Or perhaps, it’s David the worshiper concerned about the glory of God . . . that his iniquity would derail his desire to see a temple built by which God might dwell in the midst of his people . . . a place where the people might rise up in worship of their great God.

Regardless, as I hover over these petitions of the repentant king for a few minutes, I find they are very consistent with the “big idea” of the rest of the song. God, if in Your good pleasure . . . if, in Your sovereign determination, because of Your love, and by Your grace . . . if You will build up Jerusalem, then there will be worship. Right worship . . . holy worship . . . worship from those who have been washed thoroughly of their iniquity . . . praise from those who have been purged with hyssop and cleansed whiter than snow . . . adoration from those in whom You have created a new heart and fueled with Your Holy Spirit. You build the walls, and worship will follow.

Our natural inclination is that if we sacrifice, then God will do good and build the walls. David, in his brokenness, saw clearer than perhaps he had ever seen before, that only as God, in His grace, first acts and pours out His pleasure upon a people in need of washing . . . then, will offerings be made by those who have been recipients of such undeserved favor. Our sacrifices are not a prerequisite to blessing, but a response to His goodness and grace.

Where God builds the walls, there will be worship.

O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare Your praise. (Psalm 51:15 ESV)

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