Psa 32:1 Of David. A maskil.

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

A maskil – Derived from a Heb. word meaning ‘skilful’ or ‘wise’.  This psalm is, according, a psalm of instruction.

This psalm was ‘recited by Ashkenazi Jews as night prayer on each Monday and by priests in the Greek church for personal purification before conferring baptism’ (Harper’s).

Luther was once asked to name his favourite psalms: ‘The 32nd, the 51st, the 130th, and the 143rd. For they all teach that the forgiveness of our sins comes, without the law and without works, to the man who believes, and therefore I call them Pauline Psalms.’

It is regarded as one of the seven penitential psalms.  However, it may equally be regarded as a wisdom psalm or a psalm of thanksgiving.

Many modern writers on forgiveness emphasise the therapeutic value of forgiving and being forgiven. This psalm (e.g., v3) shows that there is a place for this. The mistake would be in neglecting other emphases – especially the moral dimension.

Blessed is he – Akin to the ‘wisdom’ of Psa 1, etc.  See also v10, with is typical ‘wise’ teaching, that the wicked are punished and the godly blessed.

‘O the blessedness or felicities of him that is pardoned! who can express the mercies, comforts, happiness of such a state as this? Reader, let me beg thee, if thou be one of this pardoned number, to look over the cancelled bonds, and see what vast sums are remitted to thee. Remember what thou wast in thy natural estate: possibly thou wast in that black bill, 1 Cor. 6:9f. What, and yet pardoned! full and finally pardoned, and that freely, as to any hand that thou hadst in the procurement of it! what can’t thou do less, than fall down at the feet of free grace, and kiss those feet that moved so freely towards so vile a sinner? It is not long since thy iniquities were upon thee, and thou pinedst away in them. Their guilt could by no creature power be separated from thy soul. Now they are removed from thee, as far as the East from the West, Psal. 103:11.’ (Flavel)

Sin is named using three synonyms:-

  1. Transgressions
  2. Sins
  3. Sin

But ‘the trinity of sin is overcome by the Trinity of heaven.’ (Spurgeon)

‘Blessedness is not in this case ascribed to the man who has been a diligent law keeper, for then it would never come to us, but rather to a lawbreaker, who by grace most rich and free has been forgiven.’ (Spurgeon)

Transgressions – Deliberate floutings of God’s known will (NBC).

Psa 32:2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

In v1f there are three expressions that together indicate the completeness of God’s forgiveness:-

  1. ‘Forgiven’ – lit. ‘carried away’.
  2. ‘Covered’ – not by ourselves, in an attempt to hide them, but by God, by means of atonement; they therefore belong to be past, and he will not bring them up again.
  3. ‘Does not count’ – this is the language of justification.  Rom 4:6-8 will quote this verse, and then go on to use the very language of justification.

In whose spirit is no deceit – The following verses will make it clear that David had previously been deceitful by attempting to hide his guilt.  Now he knows that the true path of happiness lies in confessing all.

Of course, if we wait until we are perfectly lacking deceitfulness we shall never know forgiveness.  Christ alone has that perfection, 1 Pet 2:22.  But we must have general sincerity, a willingness to face up to our sins and to bring them honestly and openly before our merciful God.  Such had Levi, Mal 2:6, and Nathanael, Jn 1:47.  God is willing to overlook a mountain of sin, if he finds a little grace.

‘Free from guilt, free from guile. Those who are justified from fault are sanctified from falsehood.’ (Spurgeon)

‘Because the confession of sin is the act of a sinner, it can be sinful. God is not deceived, but the sinner may deceive himself.’ (Mays)

Mays warns: ‘the practice of repentance can become so routine, inconsequential, shallow, lacking in real seriousness, wanting no sanctification that it is a presumption on the mercy of God and a belief in cheap grace…For the Christian, the cure for deceit comes by keeping the crucified Christ in view as God’s judgment on and pardon of our sin.’

Psa 32:3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

  1. Decline – ‘My bones wasted away’, v3.
  2. Discipline – ‘Your hand was heavy upon me’, v4.
  3. Decision – ‘I will confession my transgressions’, v5.
  4. Deliverance – ‘When the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him’, v6.
  5. Dependence – ‘You are my hiding-place’, v7.

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)

When I kept silent – ‘The condition of mind was evidently this:—he had committed sin, but he endeavoured to hide it in his own mind; he was unwilling to make confession of it, and to implore pardon. He hoped, probably, that the conviction of sin would die away; or that his trouble would cease of itself; or that time would relieve him; or that employment—occupying himself in the affairs of the world—would soothe the anguish of his spirit, and render it unnecessary for him to make a humiliating confession of his guilt.’ (Barnes)

Psa 30 also deals with the link between sin and sickness.

My bones wasted away through groaning all day long – See 1 Cor 11:30.  What an overpowering monster is a sense of guilt!  It makes us unhappy, bitter and twisted in a premature old age.  Have I cheated at work, lied to my spouse, neglected my children, ignored a needy person?  Let me neither forget my sin, nor seek to excuse it.  Let me, rather, take it to the person I have wronged, and, most of all, to the God to whom I am finally accountable.

‘Better suffer all the diseases which flesh is heir to, than lie under the crushing sense of the wrath of almighty God. The Spanish inquisition with all its tortures was nothing to the inquest which conscience holds within the heart.’ (Spurgeon)

Psa 32:4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah

Day and night your hand was heavy upon me – ‘God’s hand is very helpful when it uplifts, but it is awful when it presses down: better a world on the shoulder, like Atlas, than God’s hand on the heart, like David.’ (Spurgeon)

Psa 32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin – How ready are we to climb down from our obstinacy and acknowledge the truth about ourselves to God?  No wonder the David will refer later to the wilful horse and the obstinate mule, v9.  Yet, as the present verse confirms, the climb-down is well worth it.

Here now are three expressions of confession:-

  1. ‘I acknowledged my sin’
  2. ‘I…did not cover up my iniquity’
  3. ‘I will confess my transgressions’

I…did not cover up my iniquity – We might do so by excusing it, by re-defining it (“it’s not sinful, that’s the way God made me”), minimising it (“no-one is perfect”), by seeking to compare ourselves with (apparently) worse sinners (“Well at least I’m not as bad as him/her”), by seeking or accepting superficial remedies for it, by imagining that our ‘good points’ outweigh our ‘bad points’ in some imaginary ledger, by promises of future reform, by too-easy appeals to divine mercy (“Of course God forgives sin – that’s his job”), by busying ourselves with some displacement activity.

I will confess – ‘Not to my fellow men or to the high priest, but unto Jehovah; even in those days of symbol the faithful looked to God alone for deliverance from sin’s intolerable load, much more now, when types and shadows have vanished at the appearance of the dawn.’ (Spurgeon)

‘it fares not in the court of heaven as it doth in our earthly tribunals. With men a free confession makes way for a condemnation; but with God, the more a sinner bemoans his offence, the more he extenuates the anger of his Judge.’ (Isaac Craven)

Mays brings out the importance of verbal confession: ‘Secret remorse, counseling with the self, or intimations of guilt are not confession. The silence must be broken in the presence of the other…The indivisible unity is “I confess—you forgive.” The basis of this necessary sequence is the role of faith. Confession is the knocking to which the door opens, the seeking that finds, the asking that receives. Confession of sin to God is confession of faith in God.’

If the background of this psalm is David’s adultery with Bathsheba, then this verse corresponds to 2 Sam 12:13.

What a difference there is between our attempts to ‘cover up’ our iniquity (Prov 28:13), and God’s work in ‘covering’ it (v1); between our efforts to conceal it, and God’s mercy in dealing with it!

I said – Mays contrasts this with ‘I kept silent’ in v3.  He adds: ‘The contrast between silence and speaking has a correlation with general human experience. When one has wronged a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor—someone with whom there is a conscious relationship—and refuses to acknowledge it, to put the wrong into words so that it is there in speech available to be dealt with, then the wrong retained and sheltered begins to become part of one’s identity. It harms and hardens and diminishes. This experience belongs to the life of corporate identities as well as to individuals. Where God is the other, silence is the performance of stubborn pride or of a spirit struck dumb for fear of being found out. It is the way of Adam hiding from the presence. In the silence every affliction and problem takes the form of the judgment of God: “Thy hand was heavy upon me.” Worst of all, the silence is the rejection of grace.’

You forgave the guilt of my soul – ‘In regard to this, we may observe,—(a) the very act of making confession tends to give relief to the mind; and, in fact, relief never can be found when confession is not made. (b) We have the assurance that when confession is made in a proper manner, God will pardon. See Notes on 1 John 1:9. (c) When such confession is made, peace will flow into the soul; God will show himself merciful and gracious.’ (Barnes)

Let me neither refuse to forgive others, nor myself, when God has so freely forgiven me.

Psa 32:6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.

Therefore let everyone… – The same forgiveness is available to all, 1 Jn 1:9.  Therefore, the forgiven sinner will teach others to seek God’s mercy, Psa 51:13.  ‘Remarkable answers to prayer very much quicken the prayerfulness of other godly persons. Where one man finds a golden nugget others feel inclined to dig.’ (Spurgeon)

‘The conversion of one sinner, or the fact that one sinner obtains pardon, becomes thus an encouragement to all others; for (a) pardon is always to be obtained in the same manner essentially,—by humble and penitent confession of sin, and by casting ourselves entirely on the offered mercy of God; and (b) the fact that one sinner has been pardoned, is full proof that others may obtain forgiveness also, for God is unchangeably the same.’ (Barnes)

While you may be found – Cf. Isa 55:6.

David has, in vv1-5, confessed that prayer is sufficient to deal with our most serious problem of sin (by bringing us as penitents before our merciful God).  If this is so, then prayer is also the conduit that brings protection and blessing in other other, lesser, needs.

So, this is not just about David and his sin: ‘everyone can pray in every emergency.’ (NBC)

Psa 32:7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah

You…surround me with songs of deliverance – Cf. Mt 9:2.  ‘With songs expressive of deliverance or salvation. It is not merely one song or a single expression of gratitude;—in his pathway to another world he will be attended with songs and rejoicings; he will seem to be surrounded with songs. He himself will sing. Others, redeemed like him, will sing, and will seem to chant praises because he is redeemed and forgiven. All nature will seem to rejoice over his redemption. Nature is full of songs. The birds of the air; the wind; the running stream; the ocean; the seasons—spring, summer, autumn, winter; hills, valleys, groves,—all, to one redeemed, seem to be full of songs. The feeling that we are pardoned fills the universe with melody, and makes the heaven and the earth seem to us to be glad. The Christian is a happy man; and he himself being happy, all around him sympathizes with him in his joy.’ (Barnes)

‘Over the returning prodigal, the word of welcome is here pronounced, and the music and dancing begin.’ (Spurgeon)

Psa 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

This verse is richly personal.  Assuming (as most commentators do – including NBC, EBC, Kidner, Broyles, ) that it is God (or a priest speaking on God’s behalf) who is speaking, how tenderly he does so to the penitent sinner!  And what a contrast with the way in which a brute animal must be controlled, v9!

Alternatively, we may understand this as the psalmist speaking (so MHC, Barnes).  In this case he is undertaking to instruct and encourage others in what he himself has experienced.  See Psa 51:13; 66:16.

I will…watch over you – To the ungodly, this would feel like a threat.  To those who have been ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’, however, it is a tender, fatherly promise.

The AV has ‘I will guide thee with mine eye’.  This may be poetic, but it is not really accurate.  ‘The point here is God’s vigilance and intimate care.’ (Kidner)

‘Take our need of divine guidance. Too many people regard it as an alternative to human thought, even a convenient device for saving them the bother of thinking. They expect God to flash on to their inner screen answers to their questions and solutions to their problems, in such a way as to bypass their minds. And of course God is free to do this; perhaps occasionally he does. But Scripture gives us the warrant to insist that God’s normal way of guiding us is rational, not irrational, namely through the very thought processes which he has created in us.

Psalm 32 makes this clear. Verse 8 contains a marvellous threefold promise of divine guidance, in which God says, ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you’ (RSV ‘counsel you with my eye upon you’). But how will God fulfil his promise? Verse 9 continues: ‘Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have not understanding, but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.’ If we put together the promise and the prohibition, what God is saying to us is this: ‘I promise that I will guide you, and show you the way to go. But do not expect me to guide you as you guide horses and mules (namely by force, not intelligence), for the simple”] reason that you are neither a horse nor a mule. They lack “understanding”, but you don’t. Indeed, I myself have given you the precious gift of understanding. Use it! Then I will guide you through your minds.” (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, 117)

Psa 32:9 Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

You cannot counsel a horse or a mule.  Having no understanding or conscience, they must be controlled and conditioned into doing what you want them to do.  As Kidner says, this illustration brings out the contrast with v8, which stresses ‘intelligent co-operation, which God has set his heart on eliciting from us (cf. John 15:15).’

This verse emphasises the fact that God does not coerce us into obedience.  He provides evidence; he reasons with us.

Psa 32:10 Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Many are the woes of the wicked – ‘Here and hereafter the portion of the wicked is undesirable. Their joys are evanescent, their sorrows are multiplying and ripening. He who sows sin will reap sorrow in heavy sheaves. Sorrows of conscience, of disappointment, of terror, are the sinner’s sure heritage in time, and then for ever sorrows of remorse and despair.’ (Spurgeon)

This teaching that the wicked are punished, and the godly blessed, needs to be set alongside the teaching of Psa 31.

Psa 32:11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Sing – = ‘Shout for joy’.  ‘If any of the dwellers on earth have occasion for the loud utterances of praise, they are those who are redeemed; whose sins are forgiven; who have the hope of heaven. If there is any occasion when the heart should be full of joy, and when the lips should give forth loud utterances of praise, it is when one pressed down with the consciousness of guilt, and overwhelmed with the apprehensions of wrath, makes confession to God, and secures the hope of heaven.’ (Barnes)

‘Our happiness should be demonstrative; chill penury of love often represses the noble flame of joy, and men whisper their praises decorously where a hearty outburst of song would be far more natural. It is to be feared that the church of the present day, through a craving for excessive propriety, is growing too artificial; so that enquirers’ cries and believers’ shouts would be silenced if they were heard in our assemblies. This may be better than boisterous fanaticism, but there is as much danger in the one direction as the other. For our part, we are touched to the heart by a little sacred excess, and when godly men in their joy over leap the narrow bounds of decorum, we do not…eye them with a sneering heart.’ (Spurgeon)