Psalm 32 is a psalm about the joy that comes when we confess our hidden sins to God and receive his forgiveness. The joy of forgiveness is contrasted in this psalm with the spiritual depression and internal agony that accompanies a person’s refusal to confess their sin to God.1
Once again, the superscription (or title) at the beginning of this psalm attributes the psalm to King David. Many have suggested that Psalm 32 is a sequel of sorts to the well-known Psalm 51 where David records his personal prayer of confession and his plea for cleansing and forgiveness after he was confronted by the Prophet Nathan regarding his affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. While we can’t be sure about this connection, it is a helpful example of a time in David’s life when he was concealing a very grievous sin from God. Not concealing in the sense that God did not know about it, but concealing in the sense that David was refusing to acknowledge and confess the sin to God. As we will see, one of the main points to this psalm is that we should not be slow to confess our sin because it will only lead to spiritual and emotional suffering and will potentially lead to God’s hand of discipline upon us—by which he will forcibly bring about our submission and confession. Again, this fits well with the story of David and Bathsheba.
Freedom and Relief from Guilt (vv. 1-2)
Let’s begin by looking at verses 1-2.
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
The main point of these two verses is that there is great freedom and relief when we have confessed our sin and are certain that God has forgiven us and that our strained relationship with him has thus been repaired. David refers to a person who has lived this sort of experience as “Blessed.” They are joyfully blessed because their transgression against God has been forgiven (transgression meaning an intended and willful rebellion against God) and their sin (their failure to live up to God’s standard) has been covered or hidden by God from his sight—he remembers it no more. The word translated forgiveness here is the Hebrew word nasa (נָשָׂא) which means “to lift up.” This was an easy word to remember when practicing my Hebrew vocabulary in seminary because I simply associated it with the acronym NASA and thought of how they launch rockets into space. And there is a real sense here where when we confess our sin to God, he lifts it up from us and carries it far, far away. Much like the payload on a NASA rocket.
And because when we confess our sin, God takes it away, launching it far away from us, hiding it not only from our eyes but from his eyes as well, this sin is not counted against us in any way. We see this in verse 2 where we are told that it is also a joyful blessing to be among those whom God does not count their iniquity against them. The word translated “count” or “credit” or “reckon” or “impute” in this verse is an accounting term. Not only does God lift away our sins and hide them from his eyes, he also makes sure their is no official or legal record of them. In fact, for us as Christians, our sin was applied to Christ’s account, a debt he paid on the cross, and his righteousness has been credited to our account as a surplus we will enjoy for all eternity.
But as we see at the end of verse 2, this blessing is only for those “in whose spirit there is no deceit,” meaning that when we confess our sins, we must fully acknowledge them and not hold back or deny part of them in any way.2 In other words, our confession must be genuine and heartfelt, accompanied by an true intention to turn away from our sinful way of living, and not simply going through the motions.3 The person who seeks God’s forgiveness by acknowledging their sin and turning away from it in this way, is someone who is joyfully blessed and knows it.
Guilt’s Misery (vv. 3-5)
But the opposite is true for the man or woman who keeps silent about his or her sin and refuses to confess it to God. In verses 3-4, David describes the misery that accompanied him throughout this time in his life where he was slow to confess his sin to God. Let’s read verses 3 and 4. David says:
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
In these verses we see that our refusal to confess our sin sometimes results in God’s hand of discipline coming upon us. In verse 4 David talks about God’s hand being heavy upon him because of his refusal to confess his sin. The point is that while God is patient with his people, and waits for them realize their error and confess their sin to him on their own, he will, when necessary, use disciplinary means to encourage them to fall to their knees and seek his forgiveness.4
And the discipline David poetically and figuratively describes here does not sound enjoyable. He says in verse 3 that when he kept silent about his sin, “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” And he says in verse 4 that because of God’s heavy hand upon him day and night, his “strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Anyone who has worked outside in Alabama during the summer knows what it feels like to have your strength sucked out of you by the heat of the sun. Because of his unconfessed sin, David’s strength for living was evaporating from him. He was spiritually depressed and feeling the agony of being under God’s discipline.
But we see in verse 5, that this was only until God’s discipline accomplished its purpose and led David to confess. Let’s read verse 5. David says:
5 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.
And with God’s forgiveness would have come the relief David was seeking. Much like walking in from mowing the grass in the heat of the summer into a 70 degree air-conditioned room where a glass of sweet tea is waiting to bring you relief.
Avoid A Flood of Troubles (vv. 6-7)
And David is so happy about his experience of forgiveness and the relief that accompanied it, he wants to help others avoid the misery he endured while he kept his sin secret. So he say in verses 6 and 7:
6 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. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
In verse 6, David urges us to pray for God’s forgiveness before it’s too late. David knows that sometimes God’s prompts to seek him for forgiveness, go away.5 Therefore, David wants us to understand, that when we find ourselves under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, we need to be quick to confess our sin before our hearts become hard to it, and then we find ourselves in the midst of many troubles David describes for us as a “rush of great waters.” David knows that that by being quick to confess our sins we will often be able to avoid the troubles that normally accompany sin. When “the rush of great waters,” or the flood of troubles, follow behind our sin, David knows that our preemptive prayers of forgiveness will keep us from being swept away by them.
This is why, in verse 7, David calls God his “hiding place.” Now that David has confessed his sin, God is once again a place of protection for him. David is grateful that God once again preserves his life from the troubles that are all around him and that he is able to once again joyfully hear the shouts of deliverance in the congregation of God’s people. In other words, with his guilt gone, and God’s hand of discipline removed, David has his life back.
Instruction (vv. 8-11)
And now, in verses 8 and 9 it seems as if David is passing on to God’s people some specific and valuable instruction that he received from God.6 The instruction is this:
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 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.
What we are taught in these two verses is that God will guide us and instruct us as his people, and that we should not, therefore, be stubborn and resistant to his teaching. Nor should we be stubborn and resistant when it comes to confession. The example used here is of a horse or mule which can only be controlled and led using a bit and bridle. This is an example of what we should not be like. God should not have to force his people (though he will) to follow his instruction like a rider has to sometimes force a horse to do something against its will. God should not have to force us to our knees in confession either (thought out of his love for us he often will). Instead, as God’s people we should willingly and happily obey and quickly and willingly confess our sins as the Holy Spirit leads us through our lives by opening our eyes to understand Scripture.
The truth is as we see at the beginning of verse 10, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked.” In other words, those who stubbornly resist God—the wicked and the ungodly—will eventually encounter only trouble and sorrow. Those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their sin and turn from it should anticipate nothing but great trouble in their future. As we are told in Psalm 1: “the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalms 1:6 ESV).
But according to the end of verse 10, “steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” Those who trust the LORD, will find themselves surrounded by his special, covenantal love that he has reserved for his people. Those who are quick to acknowledge their sin against God will experience full forgiveness and great assurance in this life. This is not to say that God’s people will not encounter many difficulties in this life, but when we do, we can be confident that God’s love is always near and that our future is secure.
And so, the command in verse 11 is for us:
11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous [ones], and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
The truth is brothers and sisters when we fully understand that because of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross it is possible for our sins to be truly forgiven, we have a lot to be glad about. We have a lot to rejoice about. And we really do have a very good reason to shout for joy. And as God’s people we can experience this joy of forgiveness everyday, as we honestly acknowledge our sins to him, and trust his promise that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). There is truly much joy to be found in God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. We should not, therefore, put off confessing any sin we have been reluctant to acknowledge before God in prayer.
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41) (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 705. ↩
- Ross, 711. ↩
- Ross, 711. ↩
- Ross, 712. ↩
- Ross, 715-716. ↩
- Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 152; Ross, 717. ↩