v. 2 – “Wash me thoroughly” – It is not enough that the saint be forgiven of the legal guilt of his sin. He must be cleansed of its pollution and defilement as well. The Hebrew here is very emphatic. David feels his sin deep down in him. The more he is clean, the filthier he sees himself. The sinner who acknowledges his defilement ought to take comfort in the fact that this is the Spirit’s work and that the hypocrite is unconcerned about how polluted he is. The true saint is absolutely never content with his sanctification. The more he is sanctified, the more he sees his need of further sanctification and cries all the more earnestly for a more thorough cleansing. The saint is not satisfied with the forgiveness of sin’s guilt. He sees the havoc it has wrought on his person and its vileness in the sight of God; he feels how far it has thrust him from the presence of God and longs earnestly more than anything else for the day when he will be with God in uninterrupted communion and fellowship.
The Puritans sometimes practiced occasional meditations. They would take a sensible practice or object and think of it in terms of a type of what we would later experience of heaven, a foreshadowing of greater spiritual realities. The saint hungers and thirsts after righteousness, a hunger and thirsting which our Lord promises will be satisfied in those who experience it. When we go for a run and with relish drink down an entire bottle of water in seconds, this foreshadows and intimates the quenching of our spiritual thirsts that we will experience in heaven. Think about this from now on when you drink water. This is why our Lord uses such metaphorical language as “thirst.” The satisfaction we experience when we drink to quench our physical thirst foreshadows what we will experience on a much grander scale in heaven when our spiritual thirst is quenched. Eye hath not seen nor hath ear heard nor hath it entered into the heart of man what sort of experience this will be. If the quenching of this spiritual thirst is half as good as the misery of sin is painful, it will be the most glorious thing we will have ever experienced. Yet we can be certain that it will be infinitely greater than this, and it will be eternal. We will never have to mourn over our sin again.
Sometimes I’m convinced that I will be driven mad by my many failures and sins before I reach glory. I can hardly do a single thing without sinning. The defilement of which David speaks here is what he will later term “iniquity.” This refers to the psychological, existential and relational aspects of sin. It refers to the havoc which sin wrecks on our minds and our spirits and our relationships, rather than referring to its legal guilt and tendency to make us liable to condemnation.
David cries out in desperation for God to “wash” him. He sees the great guilt and ugliness of sin and is struck with horror, desperate to have its stain removed. It is like when we step in animal feces and our so utterly revolted that it is of first priority to have the defilement removed from us. We wash and scrub and cleanse ourselves with the utmost vigor until every last trace is gone. So most our attitude toward our sin and iniquity be. Sin is the smeared feces of the soul. It is in every respect foul and useless and deserves nothing but our utmost contempt. We must treat it as the most loathsome thing imaginable and our disgust and horror at our own sin, and the consequent desperation of having it removed, must be comparable in quality to what we experience when we come into contact with something like feces or vomit, yet infinitely more intense.
The high priest Yeshua in Zechariah 3 is said to have had filthy garments which only the Lord could remove. The Hebrew word used to describe the filthiness of the garment is quite strong, and is used with reference to feces and vomit. When I clean up my dog’s vomit, I am hardly stand to look at it and to feel it in my hand through the paper towel I used to throw it away. We must feel this way about our own inner defilement. We must likewise feel this way towards the notion that we ought to have high self-esteem instead of revulsion at our sin. To see ourselvs as inherently good is to see the feces and vomit caked upon our soul and to fawn over it and treat it not merely as something okay, but as lovely, beautiful and desirable, something to be prized and cherished. This is the mentality of the unregenerate person. It is a spiritual madness. Revulsion towards our own sinfulness is foolishness to the unregenerate person, who treats dung as though it were gold and vomit as though it were rubies. We are rightly horrified at such a mentality. Such was the case of Lot according to 2 Peter who was tormented internally at what he witnessed in those among whom he lived.
This is the essence of the godly sorrow of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 7. It is a passionate and overwhelming zeal and anxiety towards and against sin, a desire to be as far from it as possible. David begs God to have him washed whiter than snow. He would have himself never come into contact with such filthiness again. He realizes that he had basically, from a spiritual perspective, just been playing in a mound of manure. He is awakened from his spiritual madness by the prophet Nathan and almost dies of a heart attack when he realizes what it is he had been doing. Nathan strikes David by means of his parable with the great guilt of sin, but when David speaks here of his need for washing in order to become white as snow, he might do well to consider a parable in which a madman breaks loose from his strait jacket and deliberately dives into a mound of feces, plays in it, eats it, and is then suddenly delivered from his madness and, having come to his senses begs God to scrub the very essence of his being and the fabric of his person in order that no trace of this filth be left. He will do anything to be as though he had never engaged in such an activity, and the cleaner he becomes, the filthier he realizes his activity had become.
I have experienced this sort of thing quite a lot when I have cleaned my living quarters after letting it become dirty and cluttered and full of dust and dog hair. I do not notice filth very quickly. I am eventually encouraged by a housemate to clean my quarters, and I do so thoroughly only to realize, when the place is clean, how disgusting it had been before I cleaned it, and how much better it feels to live in now that it is clean. I think of my earlier dwelling habits as the result of a mind of madness and vow earnestly to never let myself fall into such a state again. This is an excellent illustration of how we ought to think about sin.