THE BLESSEDNESS OF

FORGIVENESS

(Psalm 32)

Mike Johnson

Psalm 32 describes the blessedness of forgiveness in a different way than in any other psalm. It describes the psychological, and perhaps physical, effects of unconfessed sins, and it speaks of the remedy for obtaining the forgiveness of sins and the happiness that follows.

We often have to speculate regarding the authorship of a particular Psalm.  However, we do not have to speculate regarding this particular Psalm as Romans 4:5-8 make it clear David is the author.

At what point in his life did David write this Psalm?  Many believe David wrote it in connection with his sin with Bathsheba.  However, it may be he wrote it at some other point when he harbored great guilt due to his sin.

This psalm is typically classified with Psalm 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 as a penitential psalm reflecting the author’s repentance. Some, however, also put it in the category as a Psalm of Thanksgiving, primarily because of verses 8-11.

Psalm 32 is often linked to Psalm 51, and the two are looked upon as the ultimate “confessional giants.” David is asking for forgiveness in Psalm 51 and says if he is forgiven, he will “teach transgressors” God’s Way (v. 13), and Psalm 32 has him doing that.

At the beginning of Psalm 32, the KJV notes it is a psalm of David, referring to it as a “Maschil,” which the NKJV translates “Contemplation.” The Hebrew word used means, “a poem, a song, or a poem of contemplation” (The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon).  Also involved in the word is the concept of “instruction,” and it is referred to as a didactic (intending to instruct) poem.

The psalm shows us how divine forgiveness of sins is truly the gateway to happiness.

The Happiness of Receiving Forgiveness (Vs. 1-2)

Psalm 32 starts by saying, (1) “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. (2) Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit” (NKJV).

The Psalm begins with two beatitudes. The word “blessed” here means “happy.” The original word found here means, “A masculine noun meaning a person’s state of bliss. This Hebrew word always refers to people and never of God. It is almost exclusively poetic and usually exclamatory, ‘O the bliss of. . . .'”  (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament).

Many are familiar with the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-10.  However, there are beatitudes not as well known in the Old Testament and especially in Psalms, e.g., Psalms 1:1-2, 40:4, and 84:5. However, the two beatitudes, at the beginning of Psalm 32 are rather unique compared to many others.  Typically, beatitudes start with a congratulatory exclamation, followed by the recipient’s conduct, i.e. what the person has done. After starting out with the congratulatory exclamation, though, these two beatitudes state what the recipient has received.

Who is happy (blessed)? The happy person is the one who has received forgiveness. In these two verses, three synonyms describe wrongdoing. They are “transgression,” “sin,” and “iniquity.” Distinctions might be made from the definitions of the Hebrew words, but they have about the same meaning.  Parallelism, used often in poetic language, is used here for emphasis.

Similarly, forgiveness is expressed in three different ways.  These verses speak of one who is “forgiven,” “one whose sins have been covered,” and one “to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” The word translated “forgiveness” is defined as, “… to lift, to carry, to take away” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament).  Sin is compared to a heavy weight.  When problems are solved, people often say a big weight has been lifted off their shoulders.  Sin also might be looked upon as a weight, and there is no weight heavier than sin. Forgiveness removes that weight.  Next, the psalmist speaks of sin being “covered.”  The word used here means, “…to cover, to clothe, to conceal. The active meaning of this verb is to cover, to cover up” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament). We must not carry this metaphor too far.  Often, when we speak of something being covered up, it is still there.  This is not the case with sin, as it can be completely taken away. In the verse, “covered up” is synonymous with “forgiven.” Note also Psalm 85:2-3 which says, “You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. You have taken away all Your wrath; You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger.” (Consider also James 5:20; Heb. 8:12, 10:17.)  Clearly, he is speaking of a person’s sins being completely removed.

Finally, he says God “does not impute iniquity.” The word used here (translated “impute”) means, “to consider, to devise, to reckon.”  God will not charge the sinner, or hold him accountable when he has been forgiven.  The NIV says, “…not account against him.” Even though a person may have sinned, because of divine forgiveness, God will count him as righteous.

The last phrase says, “in whose spirit there is no deceit,” speaks of a certain kind of honesty, i.e. which causes people to honestly confess the truth about their sins before God.

Silence Is Not the Cure (3-4)

Verses 3-4 says, (3) “When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. (4) For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”

This section begins a message of deliverance. The concept of “deliverance” is often found in Psalms, but usually it is about deliverance from an enemy.  In this case, however, David is speaking about deliverance from an internal condition.  These verses begin a personal narrative expressing what he actually experienced.  People will tend to pay closer attention to that which a speaker has actually experienced. 

About what did David keep silent?  He kept silent about his sins, being unwilling to confess them to God.  Instead of having the pardon and peace mentioned earlier, he was burdened with the pain mentioned above, and this would not change until he confessed his sins to God (v. 5). 

Verses 3-4 reveal three consequences of David silence.  The first consequence was “my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.”  He speaks of something continual as he says it was “all the day long.” This could be a very strong metaphor describing his emotional suffering.  However, it may refer to the physical toll his sin had taken on his body as internal anguish (regardless of the cause) can affect us physically.  Regardless, it describes a very intense suffering. Next, stating the second consequence of his sins, he says, “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.”  Again, this was something which never stopped as it occurred “day and night.”  God’s hand was upon him, and it was a very “heavy” hand. The concept of God’s hand being involved in a situation is found elsewhere in the Old Testament.  In Psalm 39:10, for example, the writer said, “Remove Your plague from me; I am consumed by the blow of Your hand.” In Job 13:21, Job asked God to, “Withdraw Your hand far from me, And let not the dread of You make me afraid.”  In Exodus 7:4-5, God said he would use his “hand” against Egypt to get his people from their bondage.  Usually, people speak of the “hand of God,” affecting an outcome in a positive way. However, here it could refer to some external chastisement which God had brought on David, or it still may be referring to his inward pain and guilt he felt due to his not acknowledging his sins to God.  As a third outcome, he says, “My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”  God’s heavy hand was upon him.  Instead of feeling fresh and full of vigor, he was like a plant drying up during a drought in the summertime.

David was a mental, and perhaps a physical, wreck. Considering what he had done, this is not surprising.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers.  Bathsheba conceived, and David tried to cover it up by calling in her husband, Uriah the Hittite, from the battle.  Uriah refused to go to his home because the ark and his fellow soldiers were dwelling in tents.  Instead of sleeping in his home, he slept outside the king’s door.  David tried getting Uriah drunk thinking this would encourage him to go to his wife, but he still did not go.  Finally, David sent him back carrying orders to Joab, the commander, to withdraw from Uriah in the heat of the battle so he would die.  Joab obeyed and Uriah, a very brave man, died, or perhaps saying he was “murdered” would be a better way to put it.  There is only one way for David to rid himself of guilt: he must confess his sins to God; he must follow the course of action found in the next three verses.

The Benefit of Confession (5-7)

Verses 5-7 say, (5) “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. (6) 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. (7) You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Verse 5 is pivotal in this Psalm, and David speaks of confessing his sins, openly and honestly, before God.  As in verses 1-2, he uses the words “iniquity,” “transgressions,” and “sin.”  However, it is now in the context of personal confession.  Often, people are not even willing to acknowledge they are guilty of sin.  In contrast, David knew he had committed sins and was willing to confess them before the Lord.

The Bible frequently speaks of the concept of confessing sin.  In Psalm 38:18 the Psalmist said, “For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.”  Proverbs 28:18 informs us, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” In the New Testament, I John 1:9 reveals, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is also important to note David is speaking about confessing his sins to God.  However, the Bible also teaches there are times we are to confess our sins to other people as well (James 5:16, Mt. 18:15-17).  The Psalm, however, is speaking of honest, open confession of sins to our Heavenly Father.   

Curiously, in the verses above, David says he did not hide his iniquity.  Yet, he did everything he could to hide his sin if he is speaking about his sin with Bathsheba.  How can this be explained?  First, it is possible this Psalm does not pertain to his sin with Bathsheba but to some other occasion when his guilt was great.  A second explanation is this is a very condensed account of his sin with Bathsheba.  At a certain point David did acknowledge his sins (II Sam. 12:13).  In this Psalm, he is simply speaking of the point when he freely acknowledged his transgression and sought God’s forgiveness.

The confession David made to God resulted in forgiveness. In the text, he says, “And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  Sin can cause all kinds of pain, but be assured, when we confess our sins to God, we will be forgiven. In the New Testament, we are told Christians who sin must also repent (Acts 8:22).  Confession is necessary!  The only unpardonable sin is the unconfessed sin!

In verse 6, David addresses the godly and instructs them to do what he did, i.e. to confess their sins.  These had been in a right relationship with God, but they had sinned.  Consider II Corinthians 7:10 where Paul said, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”  Many are sorrowful when they have sinned, but this may only be due to their having been caught.  When we sin, we must have a “godly sorrow,” realizing we have sinned against God, which will result in true repentance.  People of the world typically do not have the same pain and anguish as David.  They might even feel good about their sins. The problem often is they do not know enough about sin and its consequences to experience David’s anguish.

David also instructs regarding the need to seek when God when He “may be found” (Note also Is. 55:6). Cannot God always been found by the penitent sinner?  In a sense, the answer is “yes,” but something else is involved here.  The fact is that God is not hiding from the sinner but the sinner may not have the opportunity to find God. Many events in life can happen which take away opportunities to make ourselves right with God.  Consider three circumstances/events, which can occur: 

  1. Our conscience can become hardened or seared. Hebrews 3:13 speaks of a person being “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin;” Romans 2:5 described an “impenitent heart;” I Timothy 4:2 speaks of those “having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”  People often want to repent and confess their sins to God because their conscience bothers them.  However, as time goes on, and they continue to ignore conscience, it then ceases to bother them and becomes hardened or seared. They have lost their opportunity.
  2. We can die at any time (James 4:13-17).  We are going to be judged based on that which we have done in our body (II Cor. 5:10).  After death, it will be too late.
  3. Christ can return at any time (Mt. 34:36-44, II Pet. 3:10).  At a time when we least expected it, time, and our opportunity to repent, can end on this earth.

The point is clear.  We must take advantage of the time we have now to receive forgiveness lest we lose the opportunity, i.e. we must seek forgiveness “in a time when God can be found.”  II Corinthians 6:2 says, “… Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

The last part of verse 6 says, “Surely in a flood of great waters, they shall not come near.” This can literally refer to floods and other natural disasters, which might occur.  In addition, hardships, persecutions, and troubles might be included. The idea is that God is always with us no matter what.  We sometimes sing a hymn that says God, is “A Shelter in the Time of Storm.”

In verse 7a, the writer speaks of God as his “hiding place,” and says God preserves him in times of trouble. This concept is used to speak of being safe under the protection of God, such as being safe from an enemy.  For example, Psalm 9:9 says, “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble” (Note also Ps. 27:5).  However, sin is the emphasis in this passage. Thus, an immediate application is that God is providing him a hiding place from the consequences of his sin, i.e. his sins are “covered,” or forgiven, (v. 1) by God.

In the last part of verse 7, the Psalmist speaks of God surrounding him with “songs of deliverance.”  David could sing of his deliverance from sin because of God’s forgiveness, and others might sing these songs of deliverance with him in joyful celebration because his forgiveness has occurred.  The vibrancy of these songs of deliverance is expressed by the fact he is “surrounded” by them.  (They did not merely follow him.)  Verse 7 is simply another joyful expression for forgiveness.

The Value of Trust (8-11)

Verses 8-11 say, “(8) I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. (9) 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. (10) Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him. (11) Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

It is interesting to note the parallelism (found frequently in poetic language) used in verse 8.  He uses three terms, “instruct,” “teach,” and “guide,” which are synonymous. Some even refer to this as “stair-stepping” parallelism as each word adds something to what was previously said.

Who is speaking in verse 8?  Some feel, starting in verse 8, God is speaking, and there are valid arguments for this view.  If David were still speaking in verse 8, then based on verse 7, it would seem he is giving instructions to God, which cannot be right.  In addition, the last part of verse 8, which speaks of guiding “you with my eye,” seems very authoritative if David were the speaker.  There are differing opinions as to when David begins speaking again among those who believe God is speaking.  Another view is that David is still speaking, but he is not speaking to God.  (The speaker is identified prior to verse 8.) David has repented of his sins, confessed them to God, has been forgiven, and he is able to again instruct others. As noted earlier, this Psalm is often linked to Psalm 51 where David asks God to restore to him the joy of his salvation, and then, he says, “I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”  Further, Psalm 32 is certainly a Psalm of instruction.  The position of David still speaking seems the most tenable.

In verse 9, the writer says not to be like a horse or a mule.  These have no understanding and “…must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you.” A bit and a bridle are needed for these animals because they cannot be controlled by reason and conscience. A similar idea is expressed in Psalm 73:22, which says, “I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.”  Thus, he exhorts people to be unlike a stubborn mule or horse but meekly yield themselves to the will of God.

Verse 10 says, “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.” This verse, which seems to be more of a proverbial statement, speaks of sorrow coming to the wicked but indicates those who trust in the Lord shall be “surrounded” (indicating abundance) by mercy. The wicked are like horses and mules as they do not have understanding and are unwilling to yield to God. These will experience sorrow.  This may be internal due to guilt, but eventually they will receive God’s eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46).  Those who, like David, who trust in God, having confessed their sin, will receive God’s mercy.

Verse 10 has two antithetical statements, i.e. the opposite being expressed. Many passages exist in the Scriptures expressing a contrast between the blessings of the righteous and the dreaded fate of the unrighteous (note Psalm 1:1-6).

Verse 11 concludes with, “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”  There are three terms for happiness: “glad,” “rejoice,” “joy.” The faithful are referred to as “righteous” and “upright in heart.”  Consider a similar passage in Psalm 61:10, which says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”  Restored to David is the “joy of his salvation” (Ps. 51:10).

A stark contrast exists in this Psalm.  David starts out with a general description of the blessed state of joy, which exists in a forgiven person (1-2). Then he states a personal narrative about how miserable he was when he was silent, i.e. he was not willing to confess his sins (3-4).  In verses 6-11, David returns to joyfully praising God.  He is now able to rely upon Him for protection and is able to instruct others.  What has happened to produce this change?  Verse 5 has the answer.  He points out, “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.”  He received forgiveness!

Sin is a heavy burden.  Followers of God do transgress but can experience true joy when they are willing, with a penitent attitude, to confess their sins to God!   Truly, divine forgiveness is the “gateway” to happiness.