This psalm is simply titled A Psalm of David. A Contemplation. According to James Montgomery Boice, the Hebrew word for Contemplation (maskil) might be better understood as “instruction.” This is the first of twelve psalms with this title. It is full of instruction and contemplation, and it is worthy of meditation, as indicated by the frequent repetition of Selah, three times in only eleven verses.
The psalm itself does not tell us the specific occasion in David’s life which prompted this song. In Psalm 51 – which was clearly written after David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah – David promised to “teach transgressors Your ways” (Psalm 51:13), and this psalm may be the fulfillment of that vow. John Trapp said that Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 are “tuned together.”
“It is a Psalm of penitence, but it is also the song of a ransomed soul rejoicing in the wonders of the grace of God. Sin is dealt with; sorrow is comforted; ignorance is instructed.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
“This was Saint Augustine’s favorite psalm. Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better.” (James Montgomery Boice)
A. The great blessing of sin forgiven.
1. (1-2) The blessing of forgiven sin described.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
a. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven: David spoke of the great blessing there is for the man or woman who knows the forgiveness of God. His sin is no longer exposed; it is covered.
i. “The word blessed is in the plural, oh, the blessednesses! The double joys, the bundles of happiness, the mountains of delight!” (Spurgeon)
ii. Psalm 1 tells the way to be blessed: Don’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, don’t stand in the path of sinners, but delight in God’s word – thinking deeply on it all the time. Yet if one has failed to do this and fallen into sin, Psalm 32 shows another way to be blessed – to make full confession and repentance of sin.
iii. David had great opportunity to know this blessedness in his own life. This great man of God – a man after God’s heart – nevertheless had some significant seasons of sin and what may be called backsliding or spiritual decline. Notable among these were David’s time at Ziklag (1 Samuel 27, 29, 30) and David’s sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11). After both occasions, David came to confession, repentance, and forgiveness.
iv. Therefore, David knew what it was like to be a guilty sinner. He knew the seriousness of sin and how good it is to be truly forgiven. He knew – as Paul would later state in Romans 4:6-8 – the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works. If David were judged on works alone, the righteous God must condemn him; nevertheless he knew by experience, blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
v. “Sin is an odious thing, the devil’s drivel or vomit, the corruption of a dead soul, the filthiness of flesh and spirit. Get a cover for it, therefore.” (Trapp)
b. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity: David spoke of real forgiveness by the declaration of God, not merely the quieting of a noisy conscience or an imagined peace with God. This was a standing with God declared and given, not earned.
i. In these first two verses, David used three words to describe sin.
· The idea behind transgression is crossing a line, defying authority.
· The idea behind sin is falling short of or missing a mark.
· The idea behind iniquity is of crookedness and distortion.
ii. In the first two verses, David used three terms to describe what God does to put away sin.
· The idea behind forgiven is the lifting of a burden or a debt.
· The idea behind covered is that of sacrificial blood covering sin.
· The idea behind does not impute is bookkeeping; it does not count against a person.
iii. “The psalmist declares that the forgiveness of sin, of whatever kind – whether against God or man, whether great or small, whether conscientious or inadvertent, or whether by omission or commission – is to be found in God.” (VanGemeren)
c. And in whose spirit there is no deceit: The prior life of sin and double-living was over for David, the repentant and forgiven sinner. The forgiven life needs no more deceit to cover one’s ways.
i. “You must all have noticed in David’s case that after he had fallen into his foul sin with Bathsheba he ceased to exhibit that transparent truth-speaking character which had charmed us so much before.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The lesson from the whole is this: be honest. Sinner, may God make you honest. Do not deceive yourself. Make a clean breast of it before God. Have an honest religion, or have none at all. Have a religion of the heart, or else have none. Put aside the mere vestment and garment of piety, and let your soul be right within. Be honest.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-4) The agony of unconfessed, hidden sin.
When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
a. When I kept silent, my bones grew old: The now-forgiven David remembered his spiritual and mental state when he kept his sin hidden and was silent instead of confessing and repenting. The stress of a double life and unconfessed sin made him feel old, oppressed, and dry.
i. “I kept silence, not merely I was silent, I kept silence, resolutely, perseveringly; I kept it notwithstanding all the remembrance of my past mercies, notwithstanding my reproaches of conscience, and my anguish of heart.” (Evans, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “If David’s symptoms are exception, his stubbornness is common enough.” (Kidner)
b. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me: No doubt David was slow to acknowledge this, yet in looking back he understood that his misery was directly connected to the oppression of unresolved sin and rebellion against God.
i. “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)
ii. David seemed to ache under the result of his sin (guilt and the lack of true fellowship with God) more than the sin itself. Ideally we are all terribly grieved by sin itself, but there is something to be said for confession and humility for the sake of the result of our sins.
c. My vitality was turned into the drought of summer: David’s dryness and misery were actually a good thing. They demonstrated that he was in fact a son of God, and that the covenant God would not allow him to remain comfortable in habitual or unconfessed sin. One who feels no misery or dryness in such a state has far greater concerns for time and eternity.
i. “The pain of a blow upon an ulcerated part, however exquisite, is well compensated for, if, by promoting a discharge, it effect a cure.” (Horne)
ii. This work of the Holy Spirit, convicting the man or woman of God of his or her sin and hardness of heart, is an essential mark of those who truly belong to God. The consideration of this work is so important that David gave the pause for meditative consideration, Selah. “The Selah indicates a swell or prolongation of the accompaniment, to emphasise this terrible picture of a soul gnawing itself.” (Maclaren)
3. (5) The goodness of confession and forgiveness.
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
a. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden: David’s first problem was the sin he committed – in this context, probably the immorality with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband to cover the immorality. David’s second problem was the double life he lived to hide those sins. It was only as David was ready to repent and end the second problem that God would graciously forgive the first problem.
b. I will confess my transgressions to the LORD: Forgiveness was ready and waiting for David as he agreed with God about the nature and guilt of his sin. Restoration was ready, but the confession of sin was the path to it.
i. Before the communion service in the English Prayer Book, the minister is instructed to give this invitation: “Come to me or to some other discreet and learned minister of God’s word, and open your grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word you may receive the benefit of absolution.” There can be great value to opening one’s grief.
ii. Real, deep, genuine confession of sin has been a feature of every genuine awakening or revival in the past 250 years. But it isn’t anything new, as demonstrated by the revival in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19:17-20: many who believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Christians were getting right with God, and open confession was part of it.
iii. “Ah! but there are too many who make confession, having no broken hearts, no streaming eyes, no flowing tears, no humbled spirits. Know ye this, that ten thousand confessions, if they are made by hardened hearts, if they do not spring from really contrite spirits, they shall be only additions to your guilt as they are mockeries before the Most High.” (Spurgeon)
c. And You forgave the iniquity of my sin: David’s confession of sin did not earn forgiveness of his sins, but he did receive it. Fellowship with God was restored. David confessed and experienced this forgiveness immediately, just as the prodigal son confessed and was immediately forgiven. There was no probation, no wait-and-see period.
i. “Were angels to descend from heaven, to comfort the dejected spirit of a sinner, they could say nothing more effectual for the purpose, than what is said in the verse of our Psalm.” (Horne)
ii. Adam Clarke on the Selah in Psalm 32:5: “This is all true; I know it; I felt it; I feel it.”
B. Blessings for the pardoned: protection and guidance.
1. (6-7) The blessing of God’s protection.
For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You
In a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters
They shall not come near him.
You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah
a. For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You: Knowing that God is so great in forgiving mercy gives the godly a greater reason to seek God in the confidence that He may be found, and is therefore ready to connect with His servant.
i. “Coming where it does, its call for a teachable spirit drives home the lesson of verses 1-5 in a positive form. If forgiveness is good, fellowship is better.” (Kidner)
b. Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him: David knew what it was to be overwhelmed and mired in the guilt and misery of sin – and that God could deliver in that crisis and others.
c. You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance: Setting one term upon another, David gloried in the protection he now felt as one in fellowship with God and under His care.
· God Himself was his hiding place, a secure shelter. A good hiding place has strength and height, is not easily seen, and is reliable. In more modern phrasing we might say that Jesus is our safe-room or panic-room.
· David found security surrounded by God’s own songs of deliverance, sung in the joy and confidence of victory.
i. The idea of God as our hiding place is also associated with the idea of finding shelter in the house of the Lord, in His own presence. This is indicated by the use of the same Hebrew phrasing in two earlier psalms.
· For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle… (Psalm 27:5).
· You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence (Psalm 31:20).
ii. “Observe that the same man who in the fourth verse was oppressed by the presence of God, here finds a shelter in him. See what honest confession and full forgiveness will do!” (Spurgeon)
2. (8-9) God appeals to His people to pay attention and gain understanding.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.
a. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye: Here David prophetically spoke in God’s voice unto His people. Through this, God promised to instruct, teach, and guide His people.
b. I will guide you with My eye: The idea is of one who waits upon another so attentively that a mere look at the eye indicates the will. A butler waiting upon his master at dinner can illustrate this; the master need only look at the salt shaker and the butler understands that he wants it. God promised that for those who diligently seek and focus on God, He will also guide.
i. This is a great blessing that comes from being forgiven and having fellowship restored. In David’s season of guilt and misery, he did not (so to speak) look upon God for the guidance of His eye, and therefore he could not receive it. When fellowship was restored, the blessing of such close relationship could be enjoyed again.
ii. Many modern translators put the sense as merely God watching over the believer, which is true. Yet since the context in the following lines regards guidance and responsiveness to the Lord, it’s fair to render the lines as the King James and New King James versions do.
c. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding: The horse and the mule are used as examples of animals that are not easily guided. They need the bit and bridle, and sometimes rigorous training, before they are useful to the master.
i. “The horse and the mule are turned with difficulty; they must be constrained with bit and bridle. Do not be like them; do not oblige your Maker to have continual recourse to afflictions, trials, and severe dispensations of providence, to keep you in the way, or to recover you after you have gone out of it.” (Clarke)
d. Else they will not come near you: David understood this to describe his condition in his season of unconfessed sin – he was like a stubborn animal that could only be guided through pain or severity. God allowed the Amalekites to devastate David and his men (1 Samuel 30). God sent Nathan to speak sharply to David in his sin (2 Samuel 12).
i. Like a stubborn animal, David would not come near to God until he had these terrible experiences. God speaks to us through David’s experience and says, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding.”
3. (10-11) The blessings of mercy and joy.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked;
But he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
a. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him: David understood what it was to live (at least for a season) as the wicked, and the sorrows that came with it. The repentant David then had a renewed experience of the mercy of God surrounding him.
b. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice: This psalm gives repeated and compelling reasons for the believer to be glad, to rejoice, to shout for joy. The psalm appropriately ends with a call for God’s people to remember and respond to those reasons.
· Remember the blessedness of forgiveness.
· Remember the redemption from guilt.
· Remember the release from the hypocrisy and stress of double-living.
· Remember the protection God gives His people.
· Remember the guidance of the LORD.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com