Finding Joy in Forgiveness
Lessons from Psalm 32
David was one of the greatest saints described in Scripture. He was the youngest of eight brothers who grew up in Bethlehem. David served as king over Israel, was the writer of numerous psalms, and was an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, David was one of the greatest sinners portrayed anywhere in the Bible. He sinned with cunning schemes—which would astonish us, except that we know the tendencies toward evil in our own hearts.
The 32nd Psalm is a joyful testimony from the pen of David, thanking God for His gift of forgiveness. The format of the Psalm is a kind of dialogue in which David describes the misery which unconfessed sin brought into his life, and then confesses his wrongdoing, and tells about the joy that resulted in his life when he confessed his sins (verses 1-7). Blessing comes to those who confess their sins.
The confession is followed then by God’s forgiveness, and His instructions for upright living (verses 8-11). David, the writer of the Psalm, declares that Jehovah God is ready to pardon, is able to deliver, and is willing to guide anyone who is broken and humble before the Lord.
There are five rather distinct sections in the Psalm: Those who are blessed (verses 32:1-2); those who are miserable (verses 32:3-4); those who confess their sins (verse 32:5); those who trust in the Lord (verses 32:6-7); those who receive wise counsel (verses 32:8-11).
- Those Who Are Blessed (Psalm 32:1-2)
The psalm starts out in verse 1 with the words, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” The word “blessed” is sometimes translated “happy,” but the Hebrew word conveys more than what is included in our English word “happiness.”
“Happiness” means “favored by circumstances” or “pleased because good fortune has come our way.” By way of contrast, “blessedness” describes a condition of inner peace, an untouchable joy that comes from knowing Christ and walking with Him.
The world tries to picture happiness in a multitude of ways: Happiness is a warm puppy; happiness is 16 candles on your birthday cake; happiness is a trip to Hawaii; happiness (when driving in the city) is five green lights in a row.
Happiness depends on favorable outward circumstances; blessedness is a deeper condition of inner peace that comes when the guilt of sin is removed.
The thing that spoils our happiness is sin. Several words are used (in Psalm 32) to describe wickedness: The word “transgression” is the strongest and the most serious Old Testament term for personal evil. It speaks of rebellion and treason against God. Another word used by the psalmist is the word “sin” (verse 1), which means “wandering from the way.” And a third word used to describe sin is the word “iniquity” (verse 5), which means “bent over,” “twisted,” or “crooked.”
The most beautiful term in Psalm 32, is the word “forgiven.” It means “lifted off” or “taken away.” When sins are forgiven (verse 1) and covered by the blood of Jesus, rebellious persons are restored to their rightful place as obedient followers of the heavenly Father, and life no longer is lived in rebellion against God.
Forgiven persons are heading in the right direction. Their lives are being straightened out, and they no longer are bent out of shape! Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
The message of the 32nd Psalm is that real happiness is the result of being freed from the guilt that comes from having sinned.
Verse 2 says, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” The words “imputeth not” (verse 2), mean that (after we have acknowledged our transgressions) “God does not charge us” with guilt for the sins we have committed. The iniquity is no longer charged to our account.
In our spirit “there is no guile” (verse 2b)—that is, our confession (verse 5) cleanses away deceit and hypocrisy, and we have a clean slate before God.
- Those Who Are Miserable (Psalm 32:3-4)
The psalmist says, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.”
The words in this section of the Psalm could possibly refer to a serious physical illness, but much more likely, they are a vivid description of the sickness of the soul! Verses 3-4 are a portrayal of the terrible physical toll that bottled-up sin can take on our lives.
David was a haunted man after he had seduced the wife of one of his soldiers, and had arranged with Joab (the commander-in-chief of his army) to see that the woman’s husband got killed out on the battle field. For the best part of a year, David put up a bold front and tried to forget his sin. He craftily tried to hide his sin and pretended that nothing was wrong.
David knew that he had sinned against God when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and indirectly arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah. During the months when David tried to hide his sin and excuse it, the guilt was like a heavy burden pressing him down. He was haunted by a guilty conscience.
The words “when I kept silence” (verse 3a) refer to the psalmist’s unwillingness to repent, and his refusal to confess his sins. When he tried to bottle up his guilty feelings, his “bones waxed old” through his “roaring all day long.” There apparently was groaning and constant complaining day after day—and this, along with his lack of confession—caused his physical body to waste away.
David had been a healthy man. He had lived an active, busy, outdoors life. He had experienced a great victory over the giant Goliath. He slew both lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:36). He was a military man, resourceful and courageous. But no longer was he strong and healthy. Sin and a burdened conscience were sapping his physical strength. His bones were waxing old, or as one translation says it, “my body is wasting away” (verse 3).
It is always that way when we have something weighing on our conscience. We think it is well hidden, but it cannot be hidden from God. If it is not confessed and cleansed, then God will deal with it Himself. There is a high price tag on sin. The way of the transgressor is hard.
The words “day and night thy hand was heavy upon me” (verse 4a) describe the sense of guilt which comes when one sits under the faithful preaching of God’s messengers. In 2 Samuel 12:7-14, we have the example of David, who after his sin with Bathsheba, was being confronted by the prophet Nathan. Nathan told him the tender story about a poor man who had one little lamb, and a neighbor came along, and took that lamb to prepare a meal for a visitor who had stopped by. David said, “The man that hath done this thing shall surely die” (verse 5). And Nathan said, “Thou art the man.” Nathan said, “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife” (verse 9). And David said (verse 13), “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan responded, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” David’s heart was convicted; his confession was immediate; and God’s forgiveness was gracious.
In the latter part of verse 4 (of Psalm 32), the psalmist says, “My moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” Or a better translation would be, “My strength was dried up, as by the heat of summer.” David’s strength evaporated like water evaporates on a hot sunny day. God brought conviction to David’s heart, and he sensed both his guilt and his need for forgiveness. As long as David resisted God’s voice, the inner struggle of conscience drained away his vitality—something like the strength which is dried up by the heat of summer.
Did you ever feel drained and worn out after working hard on a hot summer day? That’s how David felt as long as he harbored unconfessed sin in his life.
The Bible says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). There is no release from the burden of guilt until an honest confession is made.
- Those Who Confess Their Sins (Psalm 32:5)
In verse 5, we are told that the psalmist took his heavy concerns to the Lord in prayer and acknowledged his transgressions. The only real cure for the guilt of sin is confession.
When the psalmist said (verse 5), “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid”—and when he could say, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord”—then he found cleansing and healing. Then (and only then), David was delivered from his miserable state.
The word “confess” means “to be open before God without any attempt to conceal anything.” To “confess” is to say the same thing about myself as God says about me. Confession is agreeing with God, acknowledging that what God says about my sins is true. Normally, our sins are confessed to God, but when the integrity and witness of the church have been compromised by our sin, then the confession should be public.
True confession is not something done just with the lips; it must be done with a broken heart and a surrendered will. There must be a commitment to judge our sins and turn from them. First Corinthians 11:31 says that if we will “judge ourselves” (that is, judge sin in our lives), we shall not be judged.
The very last part of verse 5 (in the 32nd Psalm) says that when we confess our sins, then God forgives the iniquity (the guilt) brought on by our sins. Confession is the foundation for receiving forgiveness.
But how can a holy God forgive guilty sinners? The process is explained in Romans 4. When we confess our sins, God takes them from us and places them on Someone else! He places our sins upon the Person of Jesus, who on the Cross was “wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). God placed our sins on Christ, and Christ paid the price for them!
The New Testament gospel message is a commentary on the 32nd Psalm. Through Christ’s death on Calvary—when confession is sincerely made—God bears away, covers, and cancels the record of our rebellion and our crookedness. However, while God’s grace does forgive, God in His government sometimes permits us to reap what we sow. David reaped a sad harvest in the years that followed his sin and his confession.
- Those Who Trust in the Lord (Psalm 32:6-7)
The emphasis in verses 6-7 is upon God’s care for His restored child. David says that because the Lord forgives sins, and because forgiveness brings happiness—believers should pray and should claim the promises of God. When we honestly pray and seek the Lord’s forgiveness, He will respond. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “Thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, [and] thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
When the waters come in like a great flood (verse 6b), and times of great distress come our way, the people of God will be safe—like those who are on high ground when flood waters rise.
Jehovah God is our “hiding place” (verse 7), and He will preserve from trouble—not in the sense that troubles won’t come, but in the sense that there will be a way of deliverance. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). The Lord will surround us with glad songs of deliverance. When sins are confessed—vitality returns and songs come to our lips! The Lord will surround us “with songs of deliverance” (verse 7b). The sobs brought on by guilt will be changed into songs. The words of the hymn express the great truth:
“My sin! Oh the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
by Horatio Spafford
There is a source of joy for any poor sinner. God is willing to carry our sins away, to cover them, and to cancel them. God is the one who is offended by our sins, and He alone can bring final forgiveness. The psychiatrist does not have the answer to the problem of sin. Attempts to find a cure for sin by going to a psychiatrist are futile. The typical counselor generally encourages concealing sin under the cover of a “well-adjusted personality.” If a person is not willing to confess wrong actions and wrong attitudes, and come before God with a broken heart, there is no peace and neither does forgiveness follow.
The word “Selah” is found at the end of verses 4, 5, and 7 in the 32nd Psalm. It indicates a rest. It says, “Pause and reflect on the thought just mentioned.”
- Those Who Receive Wise Counsel (Psalm 32:8-11)
In the final section of the 32nd Psalm, the Lord replies to the trust expressed in verses 6-7. The psalmist says:
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse or as the mule . . . whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked, but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”
Life is pictured (in verse 8) as a journey, and the Lord promises to keep His eye upon us. “I will guide thee with mine eye” (verse 8b). In the earlier part of verse 8, the Lord says “I will . . . teach thee in the way which thou shalt go.”
The confession of our sins (verse 5), and the trust in God (expressed in verses 6-7), must be followed by proper behavior. God does not expect us to confess our sins, and then continue on in the sin for which we have received forgiveness. The call in verse 8 is for genuine repentance, for a change in direction, and for living by a new set of standards.
We are not to function at the level of a horse or a mule, animals that don’t always stay close to their master, and have to be forced into obedience (verse 9). God expects forgiven souls to willingly obey Him, so that we need not be compelled by a bit and bridle to go in the right direction. Ideally, the church should not have to have “rules” to help people carry out the great principles of New Testament living. But because we sometimes are like the stubborn mule, or perhaps like the sheep that wanders away—most healthy congregations believe there are certain basic rules necessary to serve as important guidelines for living.
In verse 10, the sorrows of the wicked are contrasted with the mercy that surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Those who refuse to trust in the Lord and serve Him face trials and hardships without hope. But the righteous (verse 11) can “be glad” and “rejoice” and “shout for joy.” Living for the Lord is a spiritual, personal, and joyful experience.
On occasion, I meet people who think that God could not possibly forgive them for all the awful things they have done. Some are caught in the deadly snare of believing that they are beyond redemption. The account of David’s pardon and restoration in Psalm 32 should give all of us a great deal of hope.
It is likely that some of our readers have seen Waterford Crystal. A few may even have seen the factory in Waterford, Ireland where the beautiful crystal pieces are made. The delicate glassware is beautiful to look at, but if you drop it, it shatters into a thousand pieces. And no matter how hard you try to glue the broken pieces together, it never looks as beautiful as it did before it was dropped.
Richard Fairchild, in one of his devotional books, says that often we get the idea that human beings are like those pieces of crystal. We are lovely until we fail God, and then life shatters into many pieces, and can never be put back in the way God meant our life to be. However, if we are to compare life to any object around us, it would be better to compare our lives to the material used in a child’s toy called “Silly Putty,” than to compare our lives to delicate glass. Like “Silly Putty” we can be pulled apart, rolled into little balls, flung against the wall, or smashed flat. But like “Silly Putty,” we can always (by the grace of God) be scraped back together again—forgiven, remolded, and reshaped into someone who is even more beautiful than before.
David, the writer of the 32nd Psalm, felt deeply the guilt of his conniving, and lying, and adultery, and his murder of Uriah. He asked the Lord to forgive him, and found joy and relief.
If you have not confessed your sins, and with fervent prayer begged God for cleansing and forgiveness and restoration—why not do it today? God will bring healing and restoration and blessing. Our lesson in Psalm 32 begins with the words, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Today is the day of salvation; tomorrow may be too late.
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