George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 32

1. Title

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. Verses 8 and 9 chime in with this “instruction” theme.

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

2. Outline

Iniquity covered
Confession and forgiveness
Humble yourself
The misery of the wicked
The blessedness of the righteous

3. 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 (see notes, Psa. 30), and the other at the time of Absalom’s rebellion (Psa. 41). The tone of 32:1-4 and its proximity to 31, suggest the latter of these two experiences.

On the other hand, the record in 2 Samuel 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. How is this to be reconciled with the apparently quick forgiveness of the sins of the earlier time (“I have sinned against the Lord” —“The Lord hath put away thy sin”: 2 Sam. 12:13)? (This is something of a problem, but perhaps a sufficient answer is to be found in Par. 5, verse 5, notes.)

In a more general vein, a close relationship between unacknowledged sin and serious illness (also postulated by many physicians and psychologists) is suggested by Paul:

“For this cause (eating and drinking unworthily — v. 29) many are weak and sickly among you” (1 Cor. 11:30).

4. Messianic reference?

Many students of the Psalms, who are willing enough to believe that Messiah’s experiences are foretold in some or even in many psalms, hesitate when they come to this psalm. The confession of sin is so explicit that it seems impossible to believe that divine inspiration intended this psalm to be not only about David but also about His Son.

Yet, viewed from another angle, such a reading has a certain seemliness. Consider these details, which all belong to a context of much miraculous healing:

“Jesus knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him....” (Mark 5:30).
“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, ‘Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses’ ” (Matt. 8:16).
“The Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20) — the words of a weary man.
A storm-tossed ship, yet Jesus is asleep (Mark 4:38).

If this side of Christ’s activities proved such a drain of his physical powers, is it not reasonable to presume that he experienced also a drain of his spiritual powers in his conflict against sin without and the propensities to sin within? Jesus, “tempted in all points like as we are” (Heb. 4:15), must have found the very existence within himself of impulses belonging to the fallen side of human nature. Before ever he died on the cross as a sacrifice, in this sense “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Other possible Messianic references:

In whose spirit there is no guile. Compare Isa. 53:7,9: Christ is the lamb brought to the slaughter, in whose lips there was no guile (1 Pet. 2:22,23). Contrast Zech. 13:3, and — as for those in Christ — cp. Zeph. 3:13 and Rev. 14:5.
Thou art my hiding place. The tomb of Christ (s.w. “secret” in 31:20).

Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Rejoicing at resurrection.

5. The repentant sinner

As this psalm was true for David, so also it is of exceeding value for all who have a comparable experience of sin and repentance.

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 — 1:1!) and the man whose sins have been pardoned (all the rest of us — 32:1!).

Transgression....sin....iniquity. If indeed there is any appreciable distinction, in usage as distinct from derivation, the references are to (1) word, (2) thought, and (3) deed.

Forgiven. Hebrew nasa, which signifies to be lifted up or away, as a burden being removed (cp. John 1:29).

Sin....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).
Imputeth, i.e. reckons. A key word in Paul’s theology. See how he uses it 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” (103:12).

In whose spirit there is no guile: 34:17,18. This means being not like Jacob the deceiver (Gen. 27:36; John 1:47), but like Jesus (Isa. 53:7; Rev. 14:5). It means having a spirit free from self-deception (‘If I don’t think about it, it will eventually go away’): v. 11; Luke 11:34.
When I kept silence (concerning my sin). Compare the sinners in Eden hiding from the presence of the Lord (Gen. 3:8). And compare David not wanting to see the point of Nathan’s parable until it was forced upon him: 2 Sam. 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 surface again.

My bones....Literally? Or is deep-seated anguish idiomatically expressed as the consumer or breaker of bones (22:14; Job 30:17,30; Prov. 12:4; Hab. 3:16)?

Roaring = Groaning (RSV, etc.; cp. Psa. 22:1).
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me. Psa. 38:2,3 has the same background. The “hand of the Lord” often refers to an inflicted disease: Exod. 9:3; Deut. 2:15; Acts 13:11.

My moisture was turned into the drought of summer. When God’s hand was upon him, he wilted like a frail plant in the heat of summer. Contrast Psa. 1:3. But the Hebrew here is obscure; the LXX has “while a thorn was fastened in me” — with possible reference to the crown of thorns in Matt. 27:29 and Mark 15:17.
It is significant, surely, that this verse 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 (Introduction, Chapter 7), 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. Luke 15:18-24.

I acknowledge my sin. Hos. 5:15; Jer. 3:12,13 (a wonderful passage).

I said, I will confess. This phrase seems to imply an interval in the text here. So also, perhaps, between accusation and confession, in 2 Sam. 12:12,13. David dwelt on Nathan’s words, probably 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. For a superb sequence of Bible passages on this theme, see:

  1. Prov. 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. Luke 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. 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Thou forgavest. An ecstatic exclamation: ‘And Thou....Thou forgavest!’ 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.
For this, i.e. many others learning from David’s experience, just as they had gloated over the contemptibility of his sin.

Every one that is godly. This indicates Gentiles as well as Jews.

In a time of finding out (the literal reading, as in AV margin), i.e. finding out of sin (s.w. 36:2; Gen. 44:16; contrast 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, i.e. 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.

Floods of great waters. A reference 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.
Thou art my hiding place, where I might hide from the consequences of my own sins. God is David’s “city of refuge”, his “strong tower” (Prov. 18:10). “He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (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).

Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. See v. 11; 33:1-3. This phrase is specially appropriate 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 (Exod. 15).
These are God’s words — to the forgiven sinner, or before forgiveness? Probably the words were delivered by the prophet Nathan.
I will instruct (cp. Maschil in title) thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. This implies a continuance in godliness.

I will instruct thee. Compare Maschil (title).

I will guide thee with mine eye 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 compare Luke 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)!
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”!) (2 Sam. 3:3 — and note 2 Sam. 18:9). The more profound meaning may be an allusion to the new and old natures in the servant of the Lord.

Horse....mule. Do not be as the horse or the mule, which obey only at the application of restraint and force (Jer. 8:5,6; Prov. 26:3; James 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.

Lest they come near unto thee. Verse 6 (s.w.) has the same reference to intense trouble. The phrase here should probably be: or else no one can approach them.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked. “Sorrows” = “sore wounds” or “scourges” (Exod. 3:7, s.w.), 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).

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

Compass him about: v. 7, s.w.
Righteous....upright. One of God’s miracles is that such descriptions should befit such a sinner. This verse carries us “beyond apprehended truth into the joy of personal experience” (Sargent).

6. Patterns

The four stages of David’s utterance:

1. Silence
v. 3
2. Prayer
v. 6
3. Songs
v. 7
4. Shouting
v. 11

And the seven steps in the journey of a believer:

1. Conviction
v. 4
2. Confession
v. 5a
3. Forgiveness
v. 5b
4. Prayer
v. 6
5. Protection
v. 7
6. Guidance
v. 8
7. Joy
v. 11

7. The sins of God’s people

Psa. 32:1
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

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