The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 32

Psa 32:1

Historical background: One of the penitential psalms (Psa 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). These psalms probably refer to David's sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, and the aftermath. Probable order of these psalms:
SUPERSCRIPTION: "OF DAVID. A MASKIL". See Lesson, Psalms, "Maschil". "Maschil" means Instruction. But there is nothing particularly academic here. What a man, a sinner, needs to learn is the facts of his relationship with God. And how often, as in David's case here, does he learn not only by the counsel (v 8) of the searching wisdom of God's Word, but also (and especially) in the harder school of experience. Vv 8 and 9 chime in with this "instruction" theme.

This is the first of the 13 Maschil psalms (Psa 32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142).

Historical setting: In the course of his life David seems to have experienced two devastating illnesses: one at the time of his bringing the ark for Zion (Psa 30n), and the other at the time of Absalom's rebellion (Psa 41). The tone of Psa 32:1-4 and its proximity to Psa 31, suggest the latter of these two experiences. On the other hand, the record in 2Sa implies an appreciable lapse of time between the Bathsheba/Uriah episode and Absalom's rebellion; it was during the latter time that David suffered what he evidently regarded as a retributive sickness.

MESSIANIC REFERENCE: See Lesson, Psalms, "Messianic" sin?

BLESSED: This word, as in Psa 1:1, emphasizes more than the idea of receiving good things. It suggests exhilaration -- cp v 7: "songs of deliverance". Such a "blessing" may be the possession of the man who is without sin (Christ only -- Psa 1:1!) and the man whose sins have been pardoned (all the rest of us -- Psa 32:1!).

FORGIVEN: Heb "nasa", signifying to be lifted up or away, as a burden being removed (cp Joh 1:29).

WHOSE SINS ARE COVERED: Men, aware of their sin, seek to hide it (cp v 3 with Gen 3:8), but God is willing that it be covered (cp v 5 with Gen 3:21; see Psa 51:2,3). The sins of God's people: "covered" (Psa 32:1), "removed" (Psa 103:12), "cast behind God's back" (Isa 38:17), "blotted out" (Psa 51:1; Isa 44:22), "washed away" (Psa 51:2,7), "remembered no more" (Jer 31:34), "sought for but not found" (Jer 50:20), "cast into the depths of the sea" (Mic 7:19).

David is convicted and confesses and repents: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered'... It could be read like a cold theological declaration from a list of doctrines, but in fact it was a gasp of relief: 'Oh the blessedness -- the sheer joy, in fact -- of realizing that your black sin is covered and forgiven.'

Psa 32:2

COUNT: Impute, ie reckons. A key word in Paul's theology. Used in Rom 4:1-8 to establish that righteousness was imputed to Abraham by his faith (Gen 15:6) and to David apart from works ("I said, I will confess..."). The word does not mean a pretended absolution, but a very real removal of sin. The truth of the matter, in Bible expression, is that a man whose sins are forgiven is consequently sinless. Not only does God treat him as though he were sinless, but he IS sinless! "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psa 103:12).

IN WHOSE SPIRIT IS NO DECEIT: Psa 34:17,18. Not like Jacob the deceiver (Gen 27:36; Joh 1:47), but like Jesus (Isa 53:7; Rev 14:5). A spirit free from self-deception ('If I don't think about it, it will eventually go away'): v 11; Luk 11:34. (2) Cp Isa 53:7,9: Christ is the lamb brought to the slaughter, in whose lips there was no guile (1Pe 2:22,23). ct Zec 13:3, and -- as for those in Christ -- cp Zep 3:13 and Rev 14:5.

Reaching this state of sinlessness is conditional, upon being free of guile. That is something utterly crucial. David knew that his guile had been a barrier to pardon, an impediment to peace, an obstruction on the road to reformation. It keeps the prison shut -- it is an iron bar, a lock with only one key. Strangely the key is in the hand of the prisoner. The key is this -- quit the hypocrisy, stop the window dressing, open the heart and make the confession.

Psa 32:3

WHEN I KEPT SILENT: That is, concerning my sin. Cp the sinners in Eden hiding from the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:8). And cp David not wanting to see the point of Nathan's parable until it was forced upon him: 2Sa 12:1-5. So here is the silence of deception, as David attempted to push out of his conscience the memory of his offences. But the joy of life and fellowship with God was gone. David found himself in the condition of his first parents, who had tried to hide in the garden from the Elohim. He had placed a heavy lid over his conscience; but beneath the lid, the caldron boiled. It was only a matter of time before his sins would "blow the lid off"!

MY BONES WASTED AWAY: Lit? Or deep-seated anguish idiomatically expressed as the consumer or breaker of bones (Psa 22:14; Job 30:17,30; Pro 12:4; Hab 3:16).

"This is guile and it is guile with God. From Psa 32 it is evident that where there is guile there is no pardon. Reading it very carefully, the impression is gained that the guilt is fixed even firmer when guile is practiced. It is one thing to sin. It is a worse thing to justify it or by stealth to seek to hide it or deny it. The Psalmist says that when he did this something strange happened to him: 'When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer' (vv 3,4).

"It looks as though when he was trying to hide the sin, to forget it and submerge it, God gave him no rest. The hand of God troubled him. He wanted to silence the memory of the deed, but the consciousness of it was kept alive in his mind by God and there was no peace. God made the dark sin to haunt the sinner. God would not let him escape to oblivion. When he was ready to forget, God sustained the controversy. To put it bluntly, the sinner was miserable. Notice the figure he uses to describe it: 'My moisture is turned into the drought of summer' [v 4]. The picture is of a tree without sap, withered and wasted; a living thing, drought-stricken. This was God's method with a man who would not acknowledge his sin. It may seem severe -- it is severe but full of caring compassion. Mark the outcome: 'I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin' (v 5). The thing to notice is how quickly God responded. As soon as the man resolved upon confession the pardon came. 'I said... and thou forgavest.' It did not have to wait until the penitent was in the secret place on his knees. It was not delayed until the Sabbath service. As soon as the guile was abandoned the sin was forgiven. When deceit was ended, the pollution was cleansed. At the very moment the attitude of submission is revealed, God acts.

"This accords exactly with the parable of the prodigal son. When the boy said, 'I will arise and go to my father', the father went out towards him. There was no waiting until he came and knelt and did penance. Even his confession was smothered with love. Pardon is a swift grace when the
obstacles are removed. In a moment, at the twinkling of an eye, as fast as light and faster, as gentle as the first flush of dawn, upon the guilty man is pronounced the verdict of freedom" (DG).

Psa 32:4

FOR DAY AND NIGHT YOUR HAND WAS HEAVY UPON ME: Psa 38:2,3 has the same background. The "hand of the Lord" often ref an inflicted disease: Exo 9:3; Deu 2:15; Act 13:11.

MY STRENGTH WAS SAPPED AS IN THE HEAT OF SUMMER: When God's hand was upon him, he wilted like a frail plant in the heat of summer. Ct Psa 1:3. But the Heb here is obscure; the LXX has "while a thorn was fastened in me" -- with poss ref to the crown of thorns in Mat 27:29 and Mar 15:17.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 32:5

This v comes between two occurrences of Selah. If indeed the association of this term is with the offering of sacrifice at the altar of burnt-offering, nothing could be more appropriate. For that very act is associated with the confession of sin and with the pronouncement of sin forgiven: Rom 7:24,25; 8:1; cp Luk 15:18-24.

I ACKNOWLEDGED MY SIN: Hos 5:15; Jer 3:12,13.

I SAID, "I WILL CONFESS...": Impl an interval in the text here. So also, perhaps, between accusation and confession, in 2Sa 12:12,13. David dwelt on Nathan's words, prob for a long while (see vv 3,4 there), before saying: "I have sinned against the Lord" -- and that made his confession all the more valuable, since it was wrung from him. Consider sequence:
  1. Pro 28:13: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy."
  2. Isa 65:24: "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."
  3. Luk 15:18,21: "I will arise and go to my f(F)ather, and will say unto him, 'Father, I have sinner against heaven, and before thee... and am no more worthy to be called thy son.' "
  4. 1Jo 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
YOU FORGAVE: An ecstatic exclamation: 'And You... You forgave!' Shock, surprise, and then rejoicing at a great spiritual miracle. "The Lord hath put away thy sin." No interval here, but only immediate response, as in Dan 9:21; Jer 29:12,13.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 32:6

EVERYONE WHO IS GODLY: Gentiles as well as Jews.

WHILE YOU MAY BE FOUND: "In a time of finding out" (literal, as AV mg), ie finding out of sin (sw Psa 36:2; Gen 44:16; ct Num 32:23). But, of course, the time when God "finds out" sin may also be the best opportunity for the (repentant) sinner to "find" God! And so we must seek the Lord while He may be found (Isa 55:6,7).

SURELY: This Hebrew word means "only", ie it is only when a man is beset with the inextricable danger of his own sin that he can appreciate the marvel of divine salvation. Those with no real sense of sin or of forgiveness do not know the meaning of this verse.

WHEN THE MIGHTY WATERS RISE: A ref to the days of Noah, and the trial and judgment of a wicked world. But at the same time Noah and his family were hidden, covered, and lifted up in God's Ark of salvation and protection.

Psa 32:7

YOU ARE MY HIDING PLACE: Where I might hide from the consequences of my own sins. God is David's "city of refuge", his "strong tower" (Pro 18:10). See Psa 91:1. For those of us who follow David's example and seek for forgiveness of sins, God has provided Christ as our "hiding place" (Isa 32:2) and our city of "refuge" (Heb 6:18). (NT) The tomb of Christ (sw "secret" in Psa 31:20).

YOU WILL... SURROUND ME WITH SONGS OF DELIVERANCE: See v 11; Psa 33:1-3. Ref to sacrifice in the Lord's sanctuary and to the priestly blessing (Num 6:23-27). Hence the Selah (cp vv 4,5). On the far side of the Red Sea, after being delivered through the "floods", the Israelites sang just such songs of deliverance (Exo 15).

(NT) Rejoicing at resurrection.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 32:8

I WILL COUNSEL YOU AND WATCH OVER YOU: "I will guide thee with mine eye" (AV) is 'I will guide you and lead you, with my eye upon you' -- a reference (by metonymy) to the ministering angel: Rev 5:6; Psa 33:18. Also cp Luk 22:61: "And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter." Surely that look, to a conscience like Peter's, was more powerful than any bit or bridle (v 9)!

Psa 32:9

Another Maschil verse. The horse and mule, needing to be held in and not allowed to come near, seem to be fitting symbols for Amnon and Absalom; the latter was the son of a mixed marriage (a "mule"!) (2Sa 3:3 -- and note 2Sa 18:9). The more profound meaning may be an allusion to the new and old natures in the servant of the Lord. 'Do not be as the horse or the mule', which obey only at the application of restraint and force (Jer 8:5,6; Pro 26:3; Jam 3:3). Instead, be as the docile lamb, which obeys out of devotion and dependence and meekness. The only "cords" which should bind the godly to the Lord are the cords of love (Hos 11:4), and these cannot by any sense be likened to a restrictive harness. Forgiveness of sins is the only true freedom. But if men will not serve God willingly, then they will be forced to serve His purposes in spite of themselves.

Psa 32:10

MANY ARE THE WOES OF THE WICKED: "Woes" = "sorrows" = "sore wounds" or "scourges" (Exo 3:7, sw), the wounds inflicted upon the Israelites by their Egyptian slave-masters. "They who would serve Egyptian gods must fall back into Egyptian misery" (W Kay).

UNFAILING LOVE: "Mercy" (AV) is a word with two outstanding Old Testament meanings, both significant here: (a) forgiveness of sins, and (b) fulfillment of God's covenants.

Psa 32:11

God has commanded His "everlasting covenant" to "a thousand generations" (Psa 105:8-10; Deu 7:9; 1Ch 16:15).

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