Many of the psalms we’ve studied so far have been lamentations when the psalmist has cried out to the Lord for help because of the trouble he’s in. And it’s clear from Psalm 32 that the psalmist was once in trouble, because he refers to his suffering when his bones wasted away and when he was groaning all day long. However, it’s also clear that his sorrow and suffering were due to unconfessed sin. ‘When I kept silent’, he says in verse 3, ‘my bones wasted away.’ And he means: when he kept silent about his sin and did not confess it before the Lord. And so, this psalm is widely regarded as a penitential psalm when the psalmist confesses his sin to the Lord and seeks God’s forgiveness. Think of psalm 51 which is a penitential psalm and which begins like this:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
And there are other penitential psalms in the psalter. And certainly, in psalm 32 the psalmist refers to his transgressions and sins and iniquities and how he needed to confess his sin to the Lord. But psalm 32 is really a thanksgiving psalm, isn’t it? It’s a thanksgiving psalm, because David is rejoicing in the Lord who has forgiven him; and he’s calling on all of God’s people to rejoice with him. And so, while there are elements of lamentation and penitence, the overall mood of the psalm is thanksgiving and joy. And so, let’s study it together.
Verses 1 and 2
And it begins in verses 1 and 2 with an announcement:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.
The word ‘blessed’ conveys the joy the psalmist experiences because of what God has done for him. And what has God done for him? Well, God has done something remarkable, hasn’t he? The Lord has forgiven his transgressions; and the Lord has covered his sins; and the Lord has not counted his iniquities against him.
He uses three terms for sin. The first one can be translated ‘trespasses’; and just as a trespasser sees the ‘no entry’ sign and disregards it and keeps going, so the transgressor sees God’s ‘no entry’ sign and disregards it and keeps going. God in his law says to us:
You shall not do this.
But what do we do? Well, so often we disregard what he has said and we keep going. The second word — sins — is almost the opposite, because it refers to falling short. God in his law says to us:
For instance: Love the Lord with all your heart. Love your neighbour as yourself. But instead of doing what God requires, we fall short. The third word is ‘iniquities’, although the NIV translates it simply as ‘sin’. This word can mean ‘to go astray’, but it often refers to our guilt. So, for instance, at the end of verse 5 the psalmist refers to ‘the iniquity of my sin’, by which he means ‘the guilt of my sin’ or ‘the guilt arising from my sin’.
So, the psalmist refers to his sins in this threefold way: doing what God has forbidden; falling short of what God requires; and the guilt which arises because of our sin. He’s a guilty sinner. And yet, how wonderful, how marvellous. The Lord has forgiven him.
And again, the psalmist uses three terms for forgiveness. The first — forgiven — means to take away or to carry off. God removes from us the guilt of our sin. The second — covered — means that God covers over our sin and hides our sins from his sight. In other words, he does not pay attention to them any longer and he will not bring them up again. And for the third term — God does not count our sins against us — we’re to imagine a record book in heaven, which has recorded in it all our transgressions and all our sins and all our iniquities. Everything we’ve done wrong is listed there under our name. But here the psalmist is rejoicing because the record of his wrongs has been erased.
So, blessed is the man, blessed is the woman, whose transgressions have been forgiven; and whose sins have been covered; and whose iniquities are not counted again them. But notice at the end of verse 2 that the psalmist says:
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
He means that when we go to the Lord to confess our sins and to seek his forgiveness, we must not try to deceive the Lord or to hide our sins from him. We mustn’t try to cover up our sins ourselves, but we must confess them openly to the Lord. Isn’t this what the Apostle John refers to in his first letter where he says:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Instead of denying or hiding our sins, we must confess them to the Lord; and whoever confesses their sins to the Lord discovers that he is willing to forgive their transgressions and to cover their sins and to erase them from his record.
Verses 3 to 5
In verses 3 to 5 the psalmist recounts for us his own personal experience. And so, he tells us that when he kept silent, his bones wasted away and he suffered in other ways as well. So, there was once a time when he tried to deny his sins and when he did not acknowledge them before the Lord. There was once a time when he was silent about his sins and when he was unwilling to confess them. And at that time, his bones wasted away through groaning all day long; and God’s hand was heavy upon him; and his strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. The psalmist could be referring to a physical illness which left him feeling weak. Or he could be referring to a kind of spiritual depression which he suffered at that time. In any case, the cause of his suffering was the hand of the Lord. God, of course, is a spirit and he does not have a hand. But by referring to God’s hand, the psalmist is referring to God’s power and strength which was — on this occasion — directed against the psalmist. And, of course, the reason the Lord’s hand was against him was because the psalmist had kept silent about his sin.
Now, I should add here that we mustn’t be like Job’s friends. Remember Job’s friends? When they saw how Job suffered, they assumed he must have done something wrong which he needed to confess. They assumed he must have been guilty of something. But Job was a righteous man, wasn’t he? God wasn’t punishing him. You see, God sends adversity into our lives for different reasons. So, we mustn’t assume that just because someone is sick or just because someone is suffering in some other way that God is disciplining them for some unconfessed sin. He may be. But he may be doing something else in their lives. And on this occasion, which psalm 32 is describing, the reason the Lord’s hand was heavy upon the psalmist is because the psalmist had kept silent about his sin.
But look now at verse 5. When he kept silent, and tried to hide his sin from the Lord, the Lord was against him. But when he acknowledged his sin to the Lord, and when he no longer covered it up, the Lord forgave him. Isn’t that wonderful? When we do wrong, our natural inclination is to cover it up. We don’t want anyone to know about it. And if they suspect us, we deny it. It starts when we’re children. Mum wants to know who knocked over the ornament and broke it. And what do little boys and girls do? They deny it. It wasn’t me! And it continues throughout our lives, so that when we do wrong, we try to hide our shortcomings and failures from others. Or, if we’re found out, we’re try to explain it away and to justify ourselves and to explain why it’s not our fault. That’s our natural inclination. And it’s what the psalmist tried to do once. He tried to hide his sins and he was unwilling to bring them out into the open and to confess them to the Lord. And so, the Lord laid his hand on the psalmist and the Lord began to discipline him and to cause him to suffer. The Lord was making clear to the psalmist that there was something wrong in his life which he needed to put right. And the only way to put it right was to turn to the Lord and to confess what he had done wrong.
And notice how the psalmist once again uses the same three terms for sin: I acknowledged my sin, he said. I did not cover up my iniquity, he said. I will confess my transgressions, he said. This is a full confession. And the outcome of his full confession is there at the end of verse 5 where he tells us very simply:
you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
And notice how simple it was. All he had to do was confess his sin. The Lord did not demand or require anything else from him. But as soon as he confessed his sin, the Lord forgave him and his sorrow and anguish and his groaning were replaced by joy: the joy of knowing that his transgressions are forgiven. And notice this too before we go on. In verses 1 and 2 he refers to his transgressions and sins and iniquities. And he refers to them again in verse 5. But then, after the words ‘and you forgave the guilt of my sin’, his transgressions and his sins and his iniquities are not mentioned again. They’re not mentioned again in the psalm, because the Lord had removed them and the Lord had covered them up and because the Lord had erased them from the record books. The psalmist did not bring them up again because the Lord had taken them away.
I’ve sometimes told the fictional story which my own minister once told about a woman in a small village who heard a terrible rumour about a fellow believer. Everyone was talking about this terrible thing which this person had apparently done before moving to the village. And the woman couldn’t believe it was true, because it was so terrible. Well, one night she was praying and in her prayer she asked the Lord was it true? Had this person really done this terrible thing which everyone was talking about? Is the rumour true? And the Lord answered the woman. And do you know what he said? He said:
I don’t remember.
That’s what God’s forgiveness is. When we confess our sin to the Lord, he’s willing to remove our sins from us; and he’s willing to cover our sins; and he’s willing erase our sins from his record books so that he remembers them no more. And since he remembers them no more, he doesn’t hold them against us.
Verses 6 and 7
That’s the psalmist’s own personal experience which he recounted for us. And then he goes on in verses 6 and 7 to apply his own personal experience to us. Now, he’s addressing the Lord in these verses. But really, these verses are directed to us, because he’s telling us that we should pray to the Lord. And he means we should pray to the Lord in order to confess our sins. And he instructs us to do this while the Lord may be found. So, don’t leave it too late. We often leave things too late, don’t we? We procrastinate and we dither and we leave to tomorrow what we should really do today. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but this matters. This matters. You mustn’t leave it too late, but as soon as you become aware of your sin, you must turn to God in prayer to confess it and to ask for his forgiveness.
And what you’ll discover is that, not only will he pardon you, but he’ll also protect you. That’s the point of verse 6 where he refers to the mighty waters. Think of a mighty flood that washes away everything in its path. Well, the psalmist is using the image of a flood to refer to all the troubles and trials of this life and the adversity which God sends to punish the wicked and to discipline his people. And he’s reassuring us that God is willing to protect his people who have confessed their sin and received his forgiveness, so that they are not overwhelmed by the trials which come. He will be a hiding place for them to protect them from trouble. And he will surround them with songs of deliverance. So, we’re to imagine all of God’s people who have gathered together to praise the Lord for having rescued them. And all those who have confessed their sins and who have received his forgiveness will be among them. The psalmist is not promising us a trouble-free life. But he is saying that the Lord will help us and will prevent us from being overwhelmed by the troubles and trials of life.
Verses 8 to 11
And then he continues to instruct us in the remaining verses of this psalm. Some commentators think that these verses were spoken by the Lord. Others think it’s still the psalmist who is speaking. In one sense, it doesn’t make any difference, because if it’s the psalmist, he’s speaking under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. And he says to us that he will instruct us and teach us and will counsel us. And this is what he wants to say to us. He wants us to make sure that we’re not like the horse or the mule. Well, you know what a horse and mule are like, don’t you? If you want a horse or a mule to go somewhere, you have to lead them using a bit and a bridle. And sometimes, it’s hard work, because they’re unwilling to cooperate and they dig their hooves in and refuse to move. And so, you have to pull hard.
Well, don’t be like the horse and the mull who have to be pulled to go in the right direction. God is able to pull us in the right direction. That was the psalmist’s own experience when he remained silent and did not confess his sin. As a result, the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him until he confessed his sins.
So, God is able to pull us in the right direction. But don’t wait until he has to pull you. Instead, go to him quickly, as soon as you become aware of your sins, and confess them to him. And while the wicked will suffer many woes — because the Lord sends all kinds of temporal punishments upon them in this life to punish them for their sins which they never confess — while the wicked will suffer many woes, the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in him to forgive them.
And so, rejoice in the Lord and be glad and sing to him. How can we rejoice and be glad and sing to him? Because even when we sin against him, as the psalmist did, he’s always willing to forgive us. If the Lord was unwilling to pardon us, we would live in fear and dread of him, waiting for him to find out our sins and shortcomings; and waiting for him to punish us. But since the Lord is willing to forgive us, then we needn’t be afraid to confess our sins to him, because he will forgive us always.
Before we finish, notice once again how the psalmist alludes to God’s covenant. Throughout the psalm, he refers to God as ‘the Lord’ in capital letters, which is God’s special covenant name and which speaks to us of his commitment to his people. And then, in verse 10, the word which is translated ‘unfailing love’ refers to God’s steadfast love, his covenant love for his people which is never-ending.
And do you remember what I said the last time? God was willing, out of his goodness and love, to bind himself to his people — who were by nature his enemies — with a promise that he would send his one and only Son into the world as one of us to suffer and to die to pay for our sins and to make a lasting peace between us. He promised that his one and only Son would take the blame for what we have done wrong and he would bear the punishment we deserve for all our shortcomings. And he promised that he would be our God and would bless us by forgiving our sins even though we do not deserve it. That’s what he promised his people: and all we would need to do in order to receive forgiveness from God and eternal peace is to trust in his Son who is the only Saviour of the world.
And so, that’s why you can go to God without fear to confess your sins and to seek his forgiveness. You can go to God without fear, because he has bound himself with a promise to be our God and to forgive us our sins for the sake of his one and only Son who gave up his life to pay for our sins. And so, whenever you sin, and no matter how bad your sins may be, you can go to the Lord without fear to confess your sins and to seek his forgiveness, knowing that he will remove your transgressions from you and he will cover your sins and he will erase your iniquities from his record books. He will do it, because he has promised that he will do it for the sake of Christ who died for sinners.