Historically Psalm 32 has been called a penitential psalm (there are seven such psalms). At is at its core however it is a psalm of encouragement; encouragement of the assurance of God’s forgiveness. The psalm deals with the gravity of sin, make no mistake, but it begins and ends with passionate thanksgiving and contains a trifecta of three beautiful results of repentance, faith, and obedience- on the other side of sin. Where sin is ugly and cancerous, on the other side for those who genuinely believe there is joy, forgiveness, and thanksgiving!
This beautiful psalm, historically used in liturgy (in corporate worship proclaimed among the people of God), is both a call for us to thank God corporately and individually, but also it teaches us about the character of our loving Father, His command of obedience, His covenant faithfulness, and most of all; His forgiveness.
We Should Thank God for Forgiveness
The psalmist begins with thanking God thrice for Forgiveness. Its like a triple-take, only better- a triple-thanks in telling the people (and God) just how blessed he really is for forgiveness, covering, and not counting of his sin! And not only is the psalmist blessed, but this blessedness is the state of every one who fits the description of vs.1-2. Blessed of course is a true spiritual state of happiness, joy, and contentment. In fact, “true blessedness consists in having every kind of sin removed in forgiveness”- Richard Belcher Jr. , which is EXACTLY what the Psalmist is speaking of here.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit (vs.1-2)
If you notice, the psalmist uses three different words for sin here: transgression, sin, and iniquity. Now sin is not by any means the focus of this psalm, but in order to see the importance and the significance of this blessing of forgiveness it helps to know the depths of sin as scripture describes it. And David is certainly not sugar coating sin as society (and even the church) so often does.
Blessed is the one who has been forgiven of every transgression- that’s every act, thought, or heart attitude of straight up rebellion against God. Blessed is the one whose sin is covered, that’s anything we’ve ever said, done, or even thought within our heart that doesn’t jive with God’s will. Often sin in this sense is an intentional sin of commission (something we did), but it could be anything we ever haven’t done, that we should have! (Like giving thanks for example)
And also blessed is the one the Lord counts not iniquity in, which is a kind of perverse and crooked evil, often this is seen in our life when purpose to do something we just know is wrong. And also, blessed is the one in whose spirit there is no deceit, which is to say the one who knows they are guilty of all this sin, iniquity, and transgression.
While sin is ugly, and described here in triplicate, here’s a key question:
What is far greater (than sin) and shown here in amazingly absolute terms?
How blessed those are that God has forgiven, covered, and the Father does not count these sins against!
And the last clause is a wisdom piece (like a Proverb), which expresses the truth of the opposite, that the Lord knows who really is genuinely repentant. While he who has no deceit in his heart is forgiven and blessed, the Lord hates those who purposefully sin against Him. *The Lord counts, doesn’t forgive, and has not covered the sins of those who see themselves as blameless or without guilt before the Lord- and therefore His wrath remains upon them!
We Should Thank The Father for His Firm Hand
Now the psalmist thinks back to a point in time where he didn’t live in the joy of this blessedness (because he was holding un-confessed sin), a time when he experienced the reality of what Willem VanGemeren calls the festering sore of un-confessed sin.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long (vs.3)
He says when he kept silent, which is to say he held his sin in his heart, un-confessed before God-that his bones wasted away. Now David is probably using a metaphor here to describe the spiritual impact of un-confessed sin, but even still the physical effects of sin are without question, and he could feel it-all day long!
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (vs.4)
And not only did David feel the impact of this festering sore of his un-confessed sin spiritually and likely even physically, but he even recalls knowing that the hand of God was upon him (like divine discipline)! Not only was the hand of God upon him, by he found himself weakening under the strength of God’s mighty hand. Proverbs 3:11-12 teaches this truth, discipline by the hand of a loving Father is not something to reject, but to receive with thanksgiving as the Father’s loving hand in action. David was thankful for the Father’s loving and firm hand, and we should be to!
But then the psalmist recalls the great relief of confession to the Lord! And here again sin is described in all three Hebrew terms, which is to say that when he confessed he held nothing back, he laid it all out on the altar before God (every transgression, every sin, and every iniquity).
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin (vs.5)
And of course the beautiful response of the Lord was that He forgave the iniquity (the evil and the wickedness) of David’s sin (the very essence and nature of sin). And those of us who are in Christ know this forgiveness, although we may not always live in it. But a beautiful picture and testimony of the Lord’s forgiveness can be seen here from verse 6 on. Remember how we noted the absolute nature of the Lord’s forgiveness? Sin is not mentioned again in the entire psalm! As it shouldn’t be! His forgiveness is forever for those who are truly in Christ- and this is after all a psalm of thanksgiving; thanksgiving for forgiveness!
Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance (vs.6-7)
Here the psalmist encourages the godly to call out to the preserving and delivering God! But who is David hiding from? He’s hiding from God! That’s right, God s the hiding place, He is the preserving and delivering God, delivering the godly who cry out to Him, to save them from Himself!
Steve Lawson puts it this way: “God was David’s hiding place from God Himself. It was God who was chastening David. It was His divine hand that was heavy upon him” (because of un-confessed sin).
Likening his troubles to waves crashing in around him, David encourages the godly to cry out to our God who rescues His people from His own anger- and so much so that the psalmist is surrounded by shouts of deliverance (Singing songs of God’s great deliverance, just like Moses’ song in Exodus 15). What a beautiful kind of song! Whether he hears them in his head or he bursts into song himself, the idea is that instead of hearing everything crashing in around him, he hears songs of deliverance, songs of redemption of our great God! And at the end here he invites us all to join him in song!
Remember now in vs.3 that David was groaning all day long, he was wasting away! But now he rejoices in songs of deliverance! He went from moaning and groaning to singing and dancing!
What follows in vs.8-9 can be a little confusing, but if you pay close attention it is clear that this is a voice of assurance, a voice that implies, trust Me… trust Me….trust Me. David here quotes Yahweh, He quotes the Father. This is the word of a loving Father who makes a threefold promise to His children (remember David thanks God for a threefold and absolute forgiving, not counting, and covering of sin). Here the Father promises to instruct, teach, and counsel David (which of course is a promise extended to all of God’s children). And I think perhaps the most beautiful, most Fatherly, loving part of this promise is found in the second part of vs.8.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you (vs.8)
What could be a more fatherly-loving promise than that He promises to instruct, teach, & counsel His children w/His eye upon us? And Following this beautiful promise of the Father comes a warning. A warning not to be stubborn and refuse His personal guidance, which He gives out of His abundant Fatherly love (one who knows us wand watches us)! *Remember in the garden, when the loving Father set everything that His children (Adam and Eve) could ever need right before them, and lovingly told them to eat and be filled of everything they could ever want, except for one tree. This wasn’t the Father being stingy! This was His loving protective word, and they rejected it! Sadly so do we, all too often. So in verse 9 the Lord follows this beautiful Fatherly promise with a Fatherly warning!
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you (vs.9)
The warning is pretty clear, but I’ve got to tell you, anyone that does not trust the Father completely can be pretty stubborn, refuse, and even be outright offended by this warning! I posted some thoughts and quotes about the Fathers warning here on Twitter, and the truth is that who do not trust in the Father’s love and sovereignty can and are often outright offended by such a notion! The truth is, as The Lord makes clear in this verse, if we refuse His loving instruction, teaching, and counsel- if we refuse His bidding- we get the bit and bridle! Now, for those of us that might balk at that- realize its for our own good! “The warning is clear for the person who will not humble himself before God’s sovereign rule. If we do not submit to the Lord, we will be controlled by bit and bridle”- Steve Lawson
“Animals such as horses or mules must be bridled to be useful. God gives the godly freedom on the highway of godliness. Anything other than the road of wisdom is folly and shows lack of understanding”-Willem VanGemeren And so the Father is showing great mercy and care when He reigns us in from our own folly!
In this case, when David was holding un-confessed sin, wandering aimlessly and not walking in the way of righteousness, he felt the hand of God pressed upon him and confessed. The response of the Lord was forgiveness, and David thanks God for this publicly in this corporate psalm of thanksgiving.
Those who do not draw near to God in confession must be held in and reigned in by His sovereign reign (even if by bit and bridle) for their own good and His glory- and we should thank Him for it!
We Should Thank the Father for His Covenant Love and Faithfulness
The psalm concludes with a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. And the key phrase in this is the steadfast love described in verse 10, which is actually one word in the Hebrew (hesed). You could actually spend weeks just covering that word, but let’s see this contrast.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD (vs.10)
The Lord’s hesed, or steadfast love in the ESV, His ever-loving kindness- is His covenant faithfulness. It is the Lord’s binding and unconditional promise to both Himself and His people- a promise which the NT tells us (in Hebrews 13:20) was made in eternity past. This promise of course is the driving force behind the Father’s forgiveness, covering and not-countedness of sin, His fatherly loving counsel, His heavy hand at times, and even corrective action by bit and bridle!
And none of this, especially these terms the psalmist uses like forgiven, covered, and not counted (counted not) can be fully realized in anyone apart from Christ, and so we would miss the whole point here if we did not ask of scripture, how does this Thanksgiving psalm point to Christ?
The word translated forgiven (vs.1) in the Hebrew literally means to be lifted off, or carried away. The sins of those who have genuinely repented and believed on Christ have been lifted off because Jesus Himself has born the weight! This means that we no longer have to bear it! Alleluia! Thank the Lord! He who will lift us from this world into eternity has lifted the weight of sin from me! And you too, if you are in Christ!
The sins of those in Christ are covered why? Because the blood of the Lamb has covered them!
Why is sin not counted against the psalmist, or anyone in Christ? It isn’t because we have any righteousness in our-self that’s for sure! It’s because He who is righteous (Christ Jesus) and lived a perfect, holy, and righteous life was counted as unrighteous; so that sin would not be counted against us; so we could be counted as righteous. He bore the full brunt of the Father’s wrath that we deserve, all so sin would not be counted against us.
This is what we have to be thankful for!
And now, as our High Priest, Christ stands before the Father Interceding for us, praying for us. Also, it makes sense for us to see the exhortation and warning of the Lord in vs.8-9 as also coming from the Lord Jesus, because He submitted perfectly to the Father and is able to sympathize with us in all things (Hebrews 4:15).
And finally, the One who suffered the cross for the joy set before Him, delivered only after death, now encourages us to rejoice and give thanks, just as He does- in the finished work of the cross! Let’s look at vs.11.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (vs.11)
Let us be glad
Let us rejoice and give thanks
Let us shout for joy
And of course, to any who may still be moaning and groaning in the festering sore of confessed sin, turn to Christ and acknowledge your sin to Him (vs.5), leave nothing uncovered- and begin to live in obedience and thanksgiving of His forgiveness.