Read the Passage: Psalm 32
Sin and Guilt (32:1–4)
Most scholars believe that Psalm 32 was written by David in the context of his sin with Bathsheba and consequent confrontation by the prophet Nathan (cf. 2 Sam. 11–12). If this is correct, then it is likely that David penned this psalm after writing Psalm 51, for in Psalm 51 David asks for forgiveness and in Psalm 32 David reflects upon having received forgiveness. The superscription of this Psalm says that it is a “contemplation.” Perhaps, then, David penned this Psalm in the days after his encounter with Nathan the prophet, as David reflected upon receiving God’s gracious forgiveness for his sins. Note that in Ps. 32:1–2 David uses the three main biblical terms for sin, which are translated in English as “transgression,” “sin,” and “iniquity.” These same three terms occur in Ps. 51:1–2. Etymologically, “transgression” refers to rebellion, “sin” refers to failure, and “iniquity” refers to perversion.
David kept his sins of adultery and murder a secret for at least nine months. During this time his sins took a physical toll upon his own body. David writes of his bones aching, his personal groaning, his lack of sleep, and of his overall loss of vitality. We may be tempted to think that sin is only a spiritual problem, but human beings are a composite unity made up of body, soul, and spirit. Indeed, Jesus would not have purchased (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20) and redeemed man’s physical body (cf. Rom. 8:23) if it were just a temporary prosthesis used by the soul and spirit. While it is true that the physical body is not yet glorified (cf. Rom. 8:11; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2), since the body is part of the human complex, spiritual sins have an effect upon the material body. Moreover, the Bible teaches, by way of example and warning, that God’s judgment for sin is spiritual and material.
Confession and Forgiveness (32:5–7)
In Ps. 32:5 David uses the three terms for sin that he had earlier mentioned in Ps. 32:1, although at Ps. 32:5 David reveals that the sin in view is his own. David notes that he had confessed his sin to the Lord, which is recorded at 2 Sam. 12:13 when David told Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In Ps. 32:6 David teaches his hearers that no one should presume upon the Lord by putting off confession. Regarding the one who confesses his sin and is restored to God, David writes, “Surely in a flood of great waters they [i.e., trails] shall not come near him” (Ps. 32:6). In this verse, David teaches that the one who is in a right relationship with God will not be swept away by the trials of troubles that are a general part of the fallen world and which accompany sin (cf. Ps. 32:7). Note that Jesus gave a similar illustration in his teaching at the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 7:24–27).
Promise and Joy (32:8–12)
At Ps. 32:8 the speaker in the Psalm changes from David to God. Here God promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Note that the guidance promised here ought not to be viewed as some type of extra-biblical direction from God. Rather, in this passage David is remembering his transgression of God’s moral law, his confession of sin, and his return to a right relationship with God. In response to David’s confession, God affirms the goodness of His own instruction to mankind in His moral law, which is given to guide and to instruct man in the way of life. Further, in Ps. 32:9 God warns mankind to “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” (cf. Jas. 3:3).
The final two verses in this psalm serve as a summary, conclusion, and exhortation. In Ps. 32:10 the differing lives of the wicked and the righteous are contrasted. David notes that the life of wickedness, which would include unconfessed sin, results in “many sorrows” (Ps. 32:10). This, of course, is one of the ironies and follies of sinful behavior—that is, sin always results in despair. In contrast, David notes that the one who trusts in God, which would include the confession of sin, will be surrounded by mercy. Indeed, as fallen human beings, we are in desperate need of mercy. To the follower of Christ who has been forgiven of sin, David writes, “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart” (Ps. 32:11). Note the results of confession of sin that David mentions in this verse—that is, righteousness and uprightness of heart.
- Like David, are you moved to praise God on account of your being forgiven of your sins? Why do so many believers not rejoice, as did David, over forgiveness of sins?
- Why was David physically affected by spiritual sins? Have you ever experienced or witnessed the physical effects of spiritual sin?
- What does it mean to be hidden, preserved, and protected by God? If God loves His followers, why do Christians still experience the trials of life?
- What does God mean in promising to instruct and guide mankind in the way to go? How does God reveal His will to mankind?
- Like David did in Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, would you ever mention your past sins and forgiveness in a corporate setting?