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Psalm 32 Biblical Commentary:
PSALM 32:1-2. BLESSED IS THE PERSON WHO IS FORGIVEN
By David. A contemplative psalm.
1 Blessed is he whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh doesn’t impute iniquity,
in whose spirit there is no deceit.
“Blessed (Hebrew: ‘eser) is he whose disobedience (Hebrew: pesa––transgression) is forgiven, whose sin (Hebrew: hatta’t) is covered” (Hebrew: kasah) (v. 1). The word ‘eser means blessed or happy or blissful. The psalmist says that we are blessed when our transgressions (pesa) are forgiven and our sins (hatta’t) are covered or concealed (kasah).
Transgressions (pesa) and sins (hatta’t) are much alike, but pesa (transgressions) has a more rebellious tone. Both disrupt the relationship between the sinner/transgressor and God, necessitating some sort of intervention to restore that relationship.
In the Old Testament, the remedy for sin included animal sacrifices in which the animal bore the punishment for the sin of the person offering the sacrifice. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ became the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
When God forgives us, our sins are covered or concealed (kasah) so that God no longer sees them. It is as if our sins have become invisible. The phrase “forgive and forget” comes to mind.
“Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh doesn’t impute (Hebrew: hasab) iniquity” (v. 2a). To impute (hasab) iniquity is to consider it––to charge the sinner with it––to hold the sinner accountable for it.
“in whose spirit (Hebrew: ruah) there is no deceit” (Hebrew: remiyyah) (v. 2b). The Hebrew word ruah means spirit, wind, or breath––much like the Greek word pneuma, used often in the New Testament, meaning spirit or wind.
Remiyyah means deceit or treachery. To have no remiyyah is to be honest and above board––dependable––reliable––truthful––a person of integrity.
PSALM 32:3-5. I ACKNOWLEDGED MY SIN TO GOD
3 When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me.
My strength was sapped in the heat of summer.
5 I acknowledged my sin to you.
I didn’t hide my iniquity.
I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
“When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (v. 3). About what has the psalmist been keeping silence? Verse 5 tells us that he was keeping silence about his sin––refusing to acknowledge it––refusing to seek forgiveness. His silence, however, was broken by the groaning that welled up from the core of his being all day long––and probably all night long as well.
The sense that we have from this verse is that the psalmist was aware of his sin, but was refusing to admit it. When we don’t want to deal with an unpleasant reality, we fight hard to avoid it––but reality will not long be denied.
“For day and night your hand was heavy on me” (v. 4a). Our hands make it possible to do things, and so have become a symbol of power and authority. In the Bible, the laying on of hands is a rite used to convey a blessing (Genesis 48:14) or healing (Matthew 9:18; Acts 28:8)––or to consecrate an offering (Leviticus 8:14)––or to set aside a particular person for a Godly purpose (Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).
We talk about the heavy hand of the law, a phrase that depicts the hand of a police officer on the shoulder of an offender––a hand that feels heavy even if the police officer has not applied great force. The police officer’s hand is heavy, because it signals the presence of a whole system of law enforcement that the offender is not likely to evade.
In like manner, Yahweh’s hand feels heavy when we are aware of our guilt. Adam and Eve hid in the Garden of Eden when they heard Yahweh coming their way. They hid because their eyes had been opened to their sin, and they knew that they were naked (Genesis 3:7-8).
When Yahweh commissioned Moses as his spokesman to Pharaoh, he promised, “I will lay my hand on Egypt, and bring out my armies, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments” (Exodus 7:4). When a person was to be executed, the witnesses against him were required to lay their hands on him just prior to his execution (Leviticus 24:14).
“My strength was sapped in the heat of summer” (v. 4b). The heat of summer saps our physical strength. The heat of guilt saps both our physical and spiritual strength. A guilty conscience weighs heavily, making it difficult to eat or sleep. It hammers away at us both day and night, wearing us down to the point that we have no strength left.
“Selah” (v. 4c). The word selah is used 71 times in the book of Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. Its meaning is uncertain, but it seems to be a musical notation, perhaps signaling a pause or a change of volume or intensity.
“I acknowledged my sin (Hebrew: hatta’t) to you.
I didn’t hide my iniquity. (Hebrew: ‘awon)
I said, I will confess my transgressions (Hebrew: pesa) to Yahweh,
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Hebrew: hatta’t)
Selah” (v. 5).
The psalmist uses three different synonyms for sin in this verse:
- hatta’t (sin)
- ‘awon (iniquity, particularly evil sin)
- pesa (transgression, rebellion)
All three of these disrupt the relationship between the sinner/transgressor and God, necessitating some sort of intervention to restore that relationship. In the Old Testament, that required animal sacrifice. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ became the ultimate sacrifice for all.
PSALM 32:6-8. YOU WILL PRESERVE ME FROM TROUBLE
6 For this, let everyone who is godly pray to you
in a time when you may be found.
Surely when the great waters overflow,
they shall not reach to him.
7 You are my hiding place.
You will preserve me from trouble.
You will surround me with songs of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go.
I will counsel you with my eye on you.
“For this, let everyone who is godly pray to you
in a time when you may be found.
Surely when the great waters overflow,
they shall not reach to him” (v. 6). This is a call to everyone to pray to Yahweh while the opportunity exists. When disaster (such as flood water) strikes, they might find that Yahweh is no longer available.
That raises questions. Why would Yahweh no longer be available? Isn’t Yahweh always willing to receive a repentant sinner?
The problem is that the person who fails to pray during good times is likely to find it difficult to pray when times turn bad. I attended the funeral of a prominent man who wanted his funeral conducted with no symbols or expressions of faith, because he wasn’t a man of faith. I admired his integrity, but felt sorry that he died without hope for the future. I also felt sorry for his family, who could not find the solace in faith.
“You are my hiding place.
You will preserve me from trouble” (v. 7a). The psalmist experiences Yahweh as a great defender and protector. He experiences Yahweh as a hiding place––a safe place––a place where he can feel secure. Yahweh preserves him from trouble.
“You will surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah” (v. 7b). This brings to mind the spirituals sung by slaves working the cotton fields. “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel!” “Didn’t old Pharaoh get lost!” “Free at last!” “Go down Moses!” “In that great gittin’ up morning.” Those songs helped the slaves to endure miserable circumstances––and expressed their hope for deliverance.
For the meaning of Selah, see the comments on verse 4c above.
“I will instruct you and teach you
in the way (Hebrew: darek) which you shall go” (v. 8a). Yahweh promises to teach his people––to guide and direct them. The value of instruction depends on whether the teacher is competent and caring. Yahweh is both. We can depend on his guidance.
Derek (way) means a path or road. Yahweh uses it here to mean the way of life that they should follow.
Yahweh gave the Torah law as a primer––an instruction book . He gave his people prophets to tell them when they were in the wrong––and what to do to get in the right. He shepherded his people along their way, showing them where to find what they needed. He disciplined them when they went astray––as an instructional tool.
“I will counsel you with my eye on you” (v. 8b). Yahweh promises to keep an eye on his people, even as a mother would keep an eye on a small child––keeping the child safe from danger. Like the mother, Yahweh sees with the eyes of love.
PSALM 32:9-10. DON’T BE LIKE THE HORSE OR MULE
9 Don’t be like the horse, or like the mule,
which have no understanding,
who are controlled by bit and bridle,
or else they will not come near to you.
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but loving kindness shall surround him who trusts in Yahweh.
“Don’t be like the horse, or like the mule,
which have no understanding,
who are controlled by bit and bridle,
or else they will not come near to you” (v. 9). The horse and the mule are limited in two ways. For one thing, they have no understanding. For another, they refuse to obey unless controlled by bit and bridle––or a whip (Proverbs 26:3). Yahweh wants his people to come willingly and to obey gladly, knowing that Yahweh’s will for them is always good.
“Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but loving kindness (Hebrew: hesed) shall surround him who trusts in Yahweh” (v. 10). The psalmist contrasts the fate of the wicked with the circumstances of those who trust Yahweh. The wicked person suffers sorrow, while the faithful experience God’s loving kindness (hesed).
The word hesed has a rich variety of meanings –– kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. Yahweh has demonstrated his hesed (loving kindness) by his faithful adherence to the covenant promises.
Like the Greek word, agape (love), in the New Testament, hesed (loving kindness) is a word that involves action––expressed through kind or loving actions rather than just feelings.
PSALM 32:11. REJOICE, YOU RIGHTEOUS!
11 Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice, you righteous!
Shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart!
“Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice, you righteous!” (Hebrew: saddiyq) (v. 11a). This verse is a call to celebration. The psalmist invites the people of God (the righteous and the upright) to be glad and to shout for joy.
Joy and rejoicing are common themes throughout both Old and New Testaments. A man could rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18)––or for the prospect of salvation (Psalm 51:12). Women sang songs of joy when David returned from a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:6-7). The people could rejoice at the prospect of Yahweh breaking the rod of their oppressor (Isaiah 9:3).
The Hebrew adjective saddiya (righteous one) is closely related to the noun sedaqah (righteousness), which is life lived in accord with ethical principles––in accord with God’s law and God’s will.
A saddiya (righteous one) is a person who obeys God’s law. That doesn’t mean that they never sin, but that they make a serious effort to live in accord with God’s will.
“Shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart!” (Hebrew: yasar) (v. 11b). The word yasar means straight or right or upright or without guile. When used to describe a person, it carries the connotation of genuine, straightforward, and honest. Yahweh is upright in that he doesn’t come with a hidden agenda in his dealings with people––and he calls his people to the same quality of honesty.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Craigie, Peter C., Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 1-50, Vol. 19 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, Vol. 14a (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 1-41, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
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