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Starting out in pastoral ministry, I was on the staff of a large and growing church, where a significant building project to add upwards of 300,000 square feet of space to the facility had just begun. As I watched the progress from my office window, it seemed as if the construction company was spending an inordinate amount of time pouring the foundation. After digging a large rectangular hole in the ground, dump trucks poured a variety of sand and gravel into the pit and fashioned a network of rebar. Eventually, concrete was poured and smoothed—rock solid and ready to support three stories of brick and mortar.
I am no expert in construction. But after observing the process of laying a foundation, I have gained a better appreciation for the effort it takes to make sure it’s done right. If the foundation is not solid, trustworthy, and dependable, the building will be in danger of cracking and becoming uninhabitable. It probably is not an overstatement to say the most important part of a building is its foundation.
King David of Israel knew this. He had built a massive palace in Jerusalem as well as other smaller but still substantial residences in surrounding towns. Archaeological evidence confirms that these homes were constructed on a monumental scale.1 For remains of such a building to exist 3,000 years later is testimony to some seriously skilled craftsmanship.
In Psalm 51, the foundation with which he is most concerned is not a royal palace. It is his standing before the Lord. The prophet Nathan had revealed cracks in the foundation of his soul. While he hoped either to ignore or hide the evidence, there was denying the King was living on a faulty foundation.
David is a guilty man who has just pleaded to God for mercy. Now, he appeals to the foundation of mercy as the ground for his confidence in the forgiving, reconciling grace of the Lord. He doesn’t take any of this for granted. Even as King, he was not entitled to receive the mercy for which he prayed. He deserved death and he knew it.
Cracks above ground that we can see reveal problems underground that we can’t. At one time, my family lived in an older home that began to reveal cracks around the door frames and that the ceiling corners. Over the years, the shifting Mississippi clay shifted and cracked the foundation. I knew if we stayed in that home long-term we would have to hire someone to fix the problem. I couldn’t do it myself. And at the time, I didn’t have the funds to pay anyone for the expensive repair.
Even if I could cover the cost to restore the foundation of my home, I never could cover the cost to restore the foundation of my soul. At some point, we must come to grips with our human condition, and like David, plead for mercy. This is a request the Lord is delighted to fulfill because he is in the business of foundation repair. Not of homes but hearts.
The foundation necessary for confidence in mercy is constructed with the mortar of the Hebrew word David uses in verse 1 of Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your hesed.” Hesed (חֶ֫סֶד) is difficult to translate because there is no one English word that captures the height, depth, breadth, and width of its meaning. Hebrew lexicons give it a try with definitions such as unfailing love (NIV), steadfast love (ESV), faithful love (CEB), lovingkindness (NASB), and loving devotion (Berean Study Bible).
The core concept they are seeking to describe is the covenant loyalty of the Lord whose love is stronger than mere emotion. Yes, the Lord has a zealous affection for those upon whom his hesed rests. God’s love is personal and relational, not abstract.
But it is more than emotional. Hesed, which is used at least two-hundred-and-fifty times in the Old Testament, is the foundational love upon which all other mercies and graces may be firmly placed, without wondering if the bedrock ever will crack. It won’t.
The Lord described revealed himself to Moses as one “abounding in hesed.” He is the God who is said to lavish hesed upon a thousand generations. It is the hesed of the Lord to which Moses appeals as the ground for God’s mercy toward the rebellious, as he prays,
“In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”2
HONESTY AND CONFIDENCE
In Psalm 40, David again feels the weight of guilt and shame. In verse 12, he writes,
“Troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.”
David’s example shows us that crying out for mercy is not a one time gig but an ongoing life of honesty about our need and confidence in the Lord’s provision of a foundation upon which to stand. In Romans 5:1-2, the apostle Paul speaks of this foundation as grace, saying,
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace [upon] which we now stand.
Now we see what David meant in Psalm 40. Having been overtaken by sin, consumed by and drowning in the filth of his flesh, he testifies,
1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
Let’s not miss the postlude of mercy to David’s cry. Standing on the firm, unshakable foundation of God’s hesed love, he begins to sing. Grace comes alive, and the result is a deep desire to worship with an overflow of emotion that’s been stirred by the redemptive acts of love of God toward and for him. More than just a personal response, a deep desire grows from within David for others to know the refreshing kindness of the Lord—the kindness that leads us to genuine repentance and renewed faith, with confidence that God is for us, not against us.
STANDING ON THE ROCK
Like David, from out of a bottomless pit of sin we are placed on a solid rock to stand and sing. If my singing is bland, maybe my gospel is bland. But that need not be the case because the gospel is anything but bland. It is astonishing. Especially when we realize the cost involved in building the foundation of grace upon which we are able to stand in the light of the Lord’s zealous, faithful, unfailing love.
Just like I was unable to fix the foundation on my old house those years ago, I am unable to cover the cost for what it takes to stand in the presence of God without fear. Remember, we, like David, deserve death. There is nothing in myself to which I may appeal. No goodness. No obedience. No sacrifice that is able to restore what is broken.
But in the gospel, hesed takes on flesh through the incarnation of Jesus, who shows us in living color what the word really means. Upon a cross, the Son of God lays the foundation of mercy, not with concrete but with blood, establishing the ground where grace may flourish and love abound. At the end of his famous Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus indicates that every human builds their life either on a foundation of sand or one of rock. The structure built on sand will surely crumble. But the one on solid ground will endure forever.
Jesus is the rock.
His blood and righteousness provide the mix that creates the bedrock upon which you and I are able to stand in the presence of God without fear. In fact, our standing is not just without fear. In Christ, you are the object of the most ardent, unrelenting love ever known.
So, beloved, just stand there. Rest there. Rejoice there.
2 Numbers 14:19 (NLT)
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